Pick of the Month

Photo: www.kinematograf.cz

In this edition of Pick of the Month: it's 20 years since the unveiling of the popular Skoda Favorit - an owner explains the car's appeal; it's the end of the road for aluminium heller coins; the great Lenka Reinerova tells us it was considered strange that she continued writing in German after the war - but suddenly things changed; a young film-maker compares developments in South Africa and the Czech Republic; and movie-going under the stars - we visit open air cinemas in Prague.

The Czech carmaker Skoda stopped producing the Favorit model over a decade ago, though you still see them in great numbers on the Czech roads. My colleague Jan Ricther marked the recent 20th anniversary of the Favorit's unveiling by taking a ride in a blue model, with its owner Martin Dusek.

"The story behind the car is so unique and interesting. Because it was produced at the end of communism, during the Perestroika times. So you have this very user-friendly, spacious, cheap car, and that's Favorit."

Skoda produced some interesting models in the 1950s and 1960s but the company's progress was halted in 1968 by the Soviet-led invasion. The company was forced to drop ambitious plans to compete with some of Europe's most prominent car makers. Instead, the infamous Skoda 120 was produced and became a symbol of the dreary post-invasion period.

In the middle of the 1980s when the communist regime in Czechoslovakia reluctantly started adopting reforms and political pressures began to loosen, it was time for Skoda to re-establish broken links with Italian designers. Martin Dusek again.

"At the end of communism, they decided to build a car which would be western style, its design and the whole concept of the car. That's why they hired Bertone Studio, a famous Italian design house. Bertone's chief designer, Mr Deschamp, came to Mlada Boleslav, and they started designing the whole car. They were really surprised by all the things that were not possible in a communist country and they had to put together Italian design attitude and the possibilities of a communist country."


August saw news of the passing of another Czech icon - the aluminum coins known as halere, or hellers. The country's smallest coin, the 50-heller piece, is next year set to follow 10- and 20-heller coins into oblivion, the Czech National Bank announced. Tomas Hladek, the executive director of the central bank's Cash and Payments Department, spoke to Rob Cameron.

"This coin is no longer used in the manner we expect of every coin - it does not circulate. Each month we issue millions of them but they do not return from circulation to the central bank. So it's starting to be a coin for one use only."

When coins are withdrawn from circulation people are usually worried about prices going up. Is that a valid concern do you think?

"It could be, but you know, prices are increased almost regularly on the basis of some inflation. On the other hand, I'm sure you know that inflation is not that high in the Czech Republic, and we at the central bank do not expect that this step will have a big impact on inflation. We can say that with the experience of having even lower denomination coins - the 10 and 20 hellers - which we withdrew from circulation several years ago."

Each time you phase out these little coins your fiercest opponents are always the country's card players, who use them in games such as Marias and so. They're not going to be happy that the 50 heller piece is going out of circulation. What message would you have for them?

"Well, I'm not a Marias player, but I've heard that these players either play with tokens or they're switching to 1,2 or 5 crown coins, and don't use such small coins as the hellers any more."


The 91-year-old Prague writer Lenka Reinerova was our guest in Czech Books. Reinerova, who is Jewish, is today renowned as the city's last living German author. As she told David Vaughan, the fact that she continued writing in German after the war was at one time considered "strange". But that changed.

"All of a sudden it changed completely, and now one of my highest qualities is that I continue as the last one to write in German. For me this is no problem, because I think language is an instrument - especially if you write. It is not important in which language you write, it is important what you write. I really don't know why I should have something against the language of Goethe, Thomas Mann and Brecht, Böll and Günter Grass - all those really good German authors. Language is an instrument and the question is what you do with it.

"A few years ago, all of a sudden, it became something very positive, that I was continuing in this tradition. There was a very well-known literary expression, the 'Prager literarische Kreis' [Prague literary circle]. Those were people who wrote in German - not only Kafka, not only Max Brod, but all those others. It makes this town even richer if we have another culture here."


The Prague-based documentary film-maker Keith Jones was Coilin O'Connor's guest in One on One. His latest film is about the often corrupt world of art and politics and South Africa, and the picture is said to be the first Czech-South African co-production. Keith says the two states are similar in several ways.

"The society of Czechoslovakia as an independent state and the Union of South Africa - the first unified South African state - more or less came into being at the same time. They came into being as a result of the turmoil around the First World War and the geopolitical situation of that era. And they were both in a way an odd early example of post-colonialism.

"The Czech Lands had definitely been economically and psychologically colonised by the Austrian empire - in a different sense than Africa was perhaps but I think in terms of the impression it left on people's attitudes and social structures, it can be measured in a similar way.

"Then after the end of the Second World War, again there was a strong parallel between the historical situations of the two countries. Both of them had a quasi-democratic attempt to create an open society after WWII, but both countries slid into dictatorship, again at the same time in the year 1948.

"And they more or less emerged out form that shadow of dictatorship at the same time as well with the collapse of communism here and of the apartheid system in South Africa at the end of the 1980s.

"Because that period of time spanned two generations in both cases, the issues of working through the transition and moving away from dictatorship to a free and open society have had very similar problems, especially as regards the generation gap in society and how people who came of age in the 1980s are very different, for example, to those who came of age in the 1960s in both societies. So I would say that the connections are historical and psychological and have been influenced by the same broader currents in world history."


Staying in the area of film, it's now September and the evenings are getting slightly chilly here in Prague. So don't forget to bring a sweater if you visit one of the Czech capital's outdoor summer cinemas. Rosie Johnston did just that in the Arts a few weeks ago (visited an outdoor cinema, not remembered to bring a sweater).

The Czech tradition of letni kino is finding it hard to survive. The season is only around three months long, and then these cinemas go into hibernation for the winter. Simona Cadikova is in charge of the open-air cinema on Strelecky Ostrov. She comes from a family of mobile cinema owners, which she says sometimes is like belonging to a circus. She explains the problems faced by those in the industry:

"Nowadays, people love big American movies, and these movies are playing in big multiplex cinemas, in shopping malls and the like. And people forget that these small cinemas are a much nicer experience. At least for me. And so people are going to these multiplexes and little village cinemas are just dying."

Here on Strelecky Ostrov, you can't get any popcorn, and you can't get any Haagen Dazs, but what can you get instead, what typically accompanies Czech cinema?

"It's beer, lemonade, sausage, chips. But, definitely, in an open-air cinema, it's beer! You know, people love coming to a movie out of doors, having a beer, looking up at the stars, at the trees. It's wonderful!"