Television traveller 

14 Jun 2001 0 tbs.pm/1919 Report an error in this article

We don’t get much Czech television in the UK. Some with a keen memory may remember the Czech cartoon featuring Krtek, the unintelligible little mole, and more recently some might have tuned their digital satellite boxes to receive some Czech television stations from the Eurobird satellite.

Perhaps one reason why we don’t get much Czech television over here is that it seems to be a tricky language to learn. I recently spent four days on a city break in Prague (or Praha in Czech) and through all that time I couldn’t master how to say “Thank you.” The phrase book had it pronounced one way, and the Czechs themselves seemed to say it another.

Fortunately, most people we came into contact with spoke English, albeit to varying degrees, so if my Czech pronunciation failed me I could always default in that most English of ways to English!

Speaking in English seemed to work pretty well in the more tourist-oriented areas, as one would expect. Moving off the beaten track, though, was a different matter.

For example, whilst in Prague we paid a visit to the National Technical Museum. There is much of interest here to those of a technical frame of mind, and for those not quite so handy with a soldering iron it is still an interesting place to visit.

It was refreshing to visit the museum, as it isn’t primarily meant for foreign tourists, so one gets to see the ‘real’ Prague. There is a pleasant park nearby, where the locals walk their dogs and rollerblade, sometimes both at the same time.

This was one place where the phrase book failed me – it took me some time to manage to get the phrase “Three, please” across. The man on the Czech Lottery (televised after the Manchester United vs. Real Madrid game) said the number in completely different (and easier!) way than the book did. I recommend actually listening to some Czech before you visit!

Having managed to communicate eventually, we paid the entrance fee and made our way inside. There is an interesting exhibit on the measurement of time, with plenty of timepieces to look at. There was an enormous room containing a transportation section, with lots of old cars, steam trains, planes, bicycles, boats and motorcycles to look at.

By the time we’d looked around the transportation exhibits, time was getting on so we cut straight up to the Development of Telecommunications exhibition via the café (where I managed to say “Can I have a bottle of Coca-Cola, please” in Czech and was understood), missing out on a couple of exhibits.

The time we allocated for the visit wasn’t sufficient – should the reader ever go there, not far off a whole day is recommended!

Anyway, the telecommunications exhibit began with, as one would expect, telegraphy. After telephony and modem communications was the part most likely to interest readers of EMC – television. There was a working studio set up in a darkened corner, which was very popular with a party of visiting schoolchildren who couldn’t decide whether they wanted to have the closed circuit TV camera pointed at them or not. We couldn’t get very near that part of the exhibit due to their interest.

Not to worry though, as just outside were the really interesting bits – an old television camera, presumably from the 1960s, which was of the type that had four lenses on it that could be rotated by the operator. No doubt the attached plaque would have offered more information had I been able to understand Czech.

Right next to this was another cabinet describing colour television, containing one black and white and one colour test card.

Typically, the batteries in my digital camera decided to call it a day before we got to the museum, so I wasn’t able to get any pictures of anything. There are, however, some small pictures on the museum’s website (www.ntm.cz) which has an English version.

On the way up to the museum, before the batteries decided to take a holiday themselves, I did manage to get a picture of a mystery object on the horizon:

Some call this object the ‘Launch Pad’ as it looks like a rocket about to take off. Some Czechs, though, call it the ‘Prague Penis‘.

We walked everywhere whilst in Prague (one can’t really see a city from the backseat of a taxi), and with the strange object in the distance being over the other side of town we saved that for the next day.

Having discovered that the strange object was the TV Tower, I read that the public could actually go inside the tower up to a viewing platform just above a café/restaurant. The view and the promise of a cup of coffee was enough to persuade my travelling companions that a visit to the tower would be a good idea.

We walked to the tower through a residential area in Prague. The buildings appeared to be mostly flats, and were pleasant to look at. Sadly, there is a graffiti problem in the non-tourist areas of the city.

After a walk up a steep bank we arrived. The tower was slap bang in the middle of a residential area.

There were many complaints when the plan to build the tower was first proposed about the radioactivity given off by the transmitter. Of course, it seems that the complainants got mixed up between radio waves and radioactivity – no radioactivity is given off by transmitting aerials. It is still suspected by many that radio waves are dangerous to health, but researchers haven’t yet determined either way if there is a hazard or not.

On this picture can be seen the tower itself, with three Y-shaped structures at various heights. The top level was not open to the public; on its roof appear to be dishes and other equipment, so I assume that this level was for engineers. The middle level is the viewing area, where there is a splendid view of Prague, and the bottom level is the restaurant/café.

Last, but not least, are the strange sculptured babies crawling up the side of the tower. There is a plaque that says that they are called the “Mimina Babies” by David Černý, but it fails to offer a reason of why they are there.

Being able to go inside a working transmitter was a bit of a novelty, as this is not possible anywhere in the UK. A shame – imagine the view from the platform on Emley Moor!

Visitors have to be scanned for metallic objects via a similar machine that can be found in airports. Once the entrance fee had been paid, we entered the lift, which shifts along quite scarily at 4 metres per second (9 mph) on its way to the viewing area8.

As the UK calls its transmitting stations after nearby landmarks (like Emley Moor), this tower is called Mahlerovy Sady, or Mahler Gardens.

The old transmitter at Petřín had broadcast television to Prague since 1953. A new type of facility was needed that would be able to provide the burgeoning telecommunications needs of Prague, and so Mahler Gardens was built.

Construction of the tower began in 1985 by the Communist government, controversially displacing a Jewish cemetery, and was completed after Communism fell in 1992. The viewing platform has a montage of photographs depicting its construction.

Mahler Gardens serves quite a few purposes (not just TV), just as masts and towers do in the UK. It broadcasts four terrestrial channels: ČT1, ČT2, Prima and Nova (at 60kW), transmits radio stations, serves as a mobile phone mast, is a hub for cable TV connections and carries meteorological equipment.

The view is quite remarkable – one can see the beauty of the architecture in Prague.

The colours of the buildings make all the difference to the landscape, in contrast to the monotonal colours that architecture seems to have in the UK.

On the platform is the usual map that one gets in these places that tells the visitor what landmarks they are looking at. There is also a more descriptive, multilingual plaque.

After the view was taken in a visit to the restaurant/café was called for – it was quite posh, with prices to match. Once the coffee and pivo (beer) had been drunk, we took another scary trip in the lift to ground level.

At the end of our holiday, as we waited for our flight, we had time to wander around the various shops at Prague Airport. There were gift shops, and amongst the traditional Czech toys and puppets he was there – a soft toy of Krtek the cartoon mole!

Recommended Surfing

  • www.ntm.cz – National Technical Museum, Prague. Contains details of permanent and visiting exhibitions, along with all the usual information such as its location, etc.
  • www.tower.cz – TV Tower, Prague. The official website has a small English section – the Czech version appears to be larger.
  • www.cra.cz – České Radiokomunikace. Website of the owners of the transmitters at the TV Tower. This organisation appears to be the Czech equivalent of NTL or Crown Castle. To find out more technical data about the tower, choose Mahlerovy Sady from the location drop-down menu in the Transmitter Search page.
  • www.czech-tv.cz – Česká Televize runs the public service channels ČT1 and ČT2. www.czech-tv.cz/teletext allows you to browse Czech teletext online.

Jason Robertson

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