Pick of the Month

Charles Bridge, photo: CTK

In this edition of Pick of the Month: as Charles Bridge celebrates its 650th anniversary, Prague's mayor outlines the importance of famous landmark; the great Prague-born artist Vaclav "Wenceslaus" Hollar is remembered, 400 years after his birth; a new ferry opens on the Vltava; an expert on Czech beer tells us to get out of town; and are there elements of Dada in the work of the anarchic creator of Svejk, Jaroslav Hasek?

Photo: CTK
One of the biggest events here this month was the celebrations held to mark the 650th anniversary of the start of work on that great Prague landmark, Charles Bridge. Speaking to Radio Prague, Prague Mayor Pavel Bem outlined the importance of the famous structure.

"I think it is a unique jewel in the crown of the fantastic and unbelievable history of the city of Prague. It is not only a bridge and a major transportation hub, but it is also a mirror of different and unusual architectural styles which you can see in Prague, encompassing the early Gothic right up to the Baroque period - with its fantastic statues, and I am glad to say that Charles Bridge is going to be renovated."

Full article: http://www.radio.cz/en/article/93095

But the foundation of Charles Bridge wasn't the only significant anniversary this month. On July 13 it was 400 years since the birth of Vaclav "Wenceslaus" Hollar. The great etcher is perhaps best known for his renderings of London; indeed, he has been called the man who drew London. But, as Ruth Frankova reported, there was far more to Hollar than that.

Vaclav Hollar was born in 1607 in Prague but he soon left the country to work as a graphic artist in Germany. In 1636 he met the Earl of Arundel, an ambassador of the English King to the imperial court, and together they travelled across Europe, eventually settling in London. There, he witnessed and documented numerous historic events: the reign and execution of Charles I, the rule of Cromwell and the Commonwealth, the return of Charles II and the two greatest disasters that befell the City of London - the Plague, in which he lost his son, and the Great Fire of 1666. Ondrej Chrobak, director of the Czech National Gallery's Graphics and Drawings Collection, says Hollar became a sort of chronicler of his era:

"I think that the highlight of his work is cartography and its wider aspects. It is not only a perfect technique of etching, but Hollar also captured European towns which had been going through turbulent development. On his journeys with Arundel, they often came to towns which were subsequently burned down or hit by epidemics. It was a very restless era, which Hollar documented."

Full article: http://www.radio.cz/en/article/93372

Photo: Rosie Johnston
Rosie Johnston, meanwhile, was out on the Vltava recently, at the launch of a new ferry.

The Bohemia Sekt was flowing for the maiden voyage of Josefina, a ferry which now runs between Prague's Podoli and the Smichov district on the other side of the Vltava. The ferry is an extension of the capital's integrated transport system, which means you can jump on using your CZK 20 tram or metro ticket, though the link is being run by Vittus group, a private firm. Jaroslav Knapp was one of the people behind the idea, and also takes his turn to captain the boat. He explains the idea behind this ferry link:

"It's a big problem to get to the other side of the river on a bus at this time of the afternoon. The journey can take an extremely long time with all the traffic, so I think that we will help a lot of people get to work, and get directly home from work, without a big delay."

This is not the first ferry of its kind in Prague. In June, a ferry link between Charles Bridge and Mala Strana was introduced, though this was specifically aimed at tourists, and a ticket to ride costs 15 times the amount of one for the Josefina. Every summer a ferry links Prague Zoo up with Podbaba, in the north of the city, as well. All of these routes were served by ferries in the past, but one by one, they all died out.

Jaroslav Knapp,  photo: Rosie Johnston
Following on from the launch, Captain Knapp took me for a spin in one of the smaller boats that he rents out. Down on the river, the view up to Prague Castle was really spectacular. So, would Mr. Knapp capitalize upon this and turn his ferry into more of a tourist-y, sight-seeing, venture?

"I think first and foremost, this is a service for Prague residents, because they are really the ones that have been asking for such a service. We rent boats already here, a lot of people have been coming to us and asking us to take them to the other side. So, we are aiming this at people from Prague 4 and Prague 5 especially. But of course, if a tourist comes along, we are not going to have a problem with that at all. Most of our clients will most likely be from Prague though."

Full article: http://www.radio.cz/en/article/93553

I'm planning to try out that ferry myself some day soon - it sounds like a really nice experience. It seems, though, that for the best beer experiences in the Czech Republic, you really need to get out of the capital city. That's what I was told by the writer Evan Rail, when I spoke to him about his new book "Good Beer Guide Prague and the Czech Republic".

"I'm definitely optimistic for the future of Czech beer. I was so surprised at the quality of the beer being brewed, especially in the regions.

"There was one beer I found in Pribor, which is Sigmund Freud's home town, and they call it Freudovo pivo. You can only find it in that town, it's a 13-degree dark beer, and it's rich and chocolaty and malty - it's more like a desert than or a Sacher-torte than it is a beer itself.

"Well, I was reading recently that another brewer in nearby Vojkovice, also in the Moravia-Silesia region, started his own brewery because he was so inspired by that beer.

"Both of those beers just came on the market within the past few years. That's one brewer being inspired by another, really creating craft beers, high quality with great ingredients and a wonderful taste."

The Czechs, we often hear, are ranked number one in the world in terms of consumption per person. But is it possible that that figure is pushed up by the number of tourists who come here and often drink vast amounts?

"Definitely. It's definitely helped and I encourage every tourist to do his or her part. Please drink as many beers as you can and try as widely as you can to drink beers from different places."

Finally Evan, you've travelled the length and breadth of the Czech Republic and tried hundreds of beers. The million-dollar, or million-crown, question: what's the best Czech beer?

A beer too far...
"There are so many it's almost impossible to answer. But I can tell you what was my favourite beer experience. That was drinking a beer called Forman from Velichov. Velichovsky Forman is only served in one small pub, as far as I know, in this tiny little run-down town.

"If you go inside they'll tell you they have Gambrinus. But in fact they have this beer as well, and it is so lovely and so bright. Finding it is like discovering a secret, it's like being let in on something that nobody else knows about. For me that was my best beer experience in a year of drinking beer in the Czech Republic."

Full article: http://www.radio.cz/en/article/92980

Jindrich Toman
Evan Rail, who was my guest in One on One. Evan is a writer whose areas of expertise are food, drink and travel. A rather different kind of writing came up in Czech Books, with David Vaughan, where the focus was on the influence of the Dada movement on Czechoslovak writers of the 1920s and '30s. David put it to the academic Jindrich Toman that there were Dada elements in the work of Jaroslav Hasek, the anarchic author of the Good Soldier Svejk.

"Dada was not born out of nothing. There was a big cabaret culture, there was a big satirical culture before the war, there was a great culture of caricature in the second half of the 19th century that continued. Cabaret is about performance, about people getting on the stage, and doing funny things, and reciting crazy poems and singing.

"Hasek was part of the world of the cabaret in Prague and he prepared all sorts of performances, mystifications, he also wrote very funny things that the Dadaists would have liked, such as a short story composed of sentences from a language text book - simply picking up these idiotic sentences like, 'We have tea,' or something like that.

"He was also partially involved in a magazine called The Animal World. It was a magazine published by a pet dealer for his clients, and in it they had stories about animals. They also included funny photomontages with animals. That is in a way the funny pre-Dada history of photomontage, and Hasek was somehow close to it. So we would really find a lot in Hasek."

Full article: http://www.radio.cz/en/article/93051