Plaque to "legendary genius" Jara Cimrman on Czech Radio building unveiled

Jiri Sebanek, Zdenek Sverak, Ladislav Smoljak and the plaque to Jara Cimrman, photo: CTK

When walking in Prague, one can see many plaques mostly marking houses where a famous personality was born or lived. On Tuesday, another plaque was unveiled on a Czech Radio building in Dykova street in the Prague 2 district. It was there that 36 years ago, a great Czech genius, Jara Cimrman was "born".

Jiri Sebanek, Zdenek Sverak, Ladislav Smoljak and the plaque to Jara Cimrman, photo: CTK
Involved in the creation of Jara Cimrman were Zdenek Sverak and Jiri Sebanek and they were immensely successful in mystifying first radio listeners, and later theatre audiences, about this 'great Czech prodigy'. Nowadays, Jara Cimrman is a phenomenon, because - according to his creators - he was a genuine Jack of all trades, ranging from a playwright, opera composer and engineer to a self-taught doctor. The Jara Cimrman Theatre in Zizkov is hopelessly sold out all year round, and whoever wants to see one of the plays - Cimrman allegedly wrote - must be prepared to queue for at least two hours to get tickets. Mr. Sverak told me that the plaque was unveiled on the very day that marks the 36th anniversary of a memorable meeting when he, Jiri Sebanek and two other Czechoslovak Radio editors sat over a bottle of vodka and created the personality of Jara Cimrman for their new radio programme called "Wine Cellar at the Spider". Soon after, the Jara Cimrman theatre was established. I asked Mr. Sverak how long had people believed that the character really existed?

"It depended on their sense of humour and on how attentively they listened. We tried to be fully authentic, and did it as a regular live broadcast from a wine cellar, and only now and then did we hint that it was all nonsense. But many people believed that Jara Cimrman really existed, because many simply believed in whatever they heard on the radio. The name of the bar in the programme was 'Non-alcoholic Wine Cellar at the Spider' and it was intended to be suspicious. But yes, we were quite successful in our mystification."

Mr. Sverak told journalists that as far as he knew, there were altogether fifteen other plaques and memorials to remember Jara Cimrman throughout the country, and that passing through some places, he saw inscriptions such as "Jara Cimrman never entered this house", undoubtedly created by his fans.

I asked Zdenek Sverak what Jara Cimrman meant for him today, after 36 years of "existence"?

"First it's how I make a living...but actually that comes second. First it is a source which I take strength from. I love acting, and although I'm exhausted and sometimes even lose some weight, I get a kind of charge from the audience. Then it's how I make a living and a never-ending inspiration. I would say - if it hadn't been for Cimrman, no one would know about us, but on the other hand, without us, no one would know Cimrman."

The Jara Cimrman Theatre has fourteen comedies on its repertoire at present. Long-term fans received a great treat recently when the team staged a new Cimrman play, entitled "Africa".