Public outraged over the possibility of Charles Bridge being closed down for a private party

Photo: www.czechtourism.cz

It was to be the party of the year given by the prestigious fashion company Louis Vuitton on Prague's most famous landmark - Charles Bridge. However the idea that Charles Bridge, considered a national treasure, should be closed to the public for two days because of a private party has elicited so much criticism that city councilors have had to step in and lay down strict new rules pertaining to the two day lease.

Louis Vuitton had big plans for Charles Bridge - a fashion show and a private party featuring the American pop star Madonna. The famous Gothic bridge dating back to the 14th century seemed the perfect setting and the company received all the necessary permits needed to organize the event - including the green light from Prague 1 mayor Vladimir Vihan. However Mr. Vihan, who said he thought the event would bring the Czech capital excellent publicity, clearly underestimated what Charles Bridge means to Czechs. News that it was to be closed to the public for two days elicited a storm of criticism - from the public, from the media, from a number of senators and, last but not least, from many Prague councilors, who said they had not been informed about the decision. Too much fuss about a two-day party? Richard Bigl from the Club for Ancient Prague explains that for most Czechs Charles Bridge is almost "sacred ground".

"What's interesting for me in all this is the reaction of the public. People in Prague and indeed the entire country feel that Charles Bridge is almost sacred ground. It's a symbol of the nation, a symbol of the city. They see the rent of Charles Bridge in the same light as they would the rent of a cathedral. It could be used for a cultural event - that would most likely be accepted - but not for business, not for commercial purposes or a private party. I myself think that Charles Bridge is really unique and frankly I was astonished to hear that it was to be rented to a private company."

The mayor of Prague Pavel Bem entered the dispute, promising that Charles Bridge would not be closed to the public for so much as an hour and that every precaution would be taken to prevent it being damaged. Jiri Wolf is the Town Hall spokesman:

"Of course we understand that this would give Prague excellent publicity, but at a meeting of city councilors on Tuesday it was agreed that certain conditions would have to be met: primarily the bridge must not be closed down altogether for any amount of time, secondly that we would have a surveillance team on the spot throughout to make sure the bridge is not damaged and thirdly that the event should not last longer than one day. The problem is that we had no rules about this in the past, which is something we are going to correct right away - produce a set of rules relating to the potential lease of any Prague landmark."

Louis Vuitton has been offered alternate locations where it would not be restricted in its plans. Either that or it must accept the tough new conditions laid out. Most Czechs heartily approve - all of those I spoke to in the streets of Prague were opposed to the idea of Charles Bridge being used for a private party.

"It's part of our national legacy - and should not be used for commercial purposes."

Foto: www.czechtourism.cz

"With respect to the tourists - I'd say no."

"In this case I'm against. It's a cultural monument - I could accept a cultural event but not a fashion show."

"It's outrageous - this is a cultural monument which should be protected by the state - and maybe even by some higher power like the Almighty."

"Of course I mind. Charles Bridge belongs to the people. It is there for all of us."

"I don't approve of this. It's a national legacy that should be open to the public, like Prague Castle or the National Theatre."

"Closed to the public? That's bad. It's a national monument - it should be open to us and to tourists."

Photo of Charles Bridge: www.czechtourism.cz