In this week's Spotlight, we visit Prague's infamous TV tower and find it in the middle of a major re-construction.
I’m standing in Prague’s Žižkov quarter in a small park and in front of me are three steel-concrete pillars shooting up into the sky because I’m in front of the Žižkov Television Tower, which is just marking twenty years since it opened in 1992. Construction on the project began in 1985, still under the communist regime. Many Prague residents despise this construction, while others love it. It’s 216m tall and was designed by architect Václav Aulický; there’s a restaurant up at 66m and a viewing cabin up at 93m. In the year 2000, the sculptor David Černý adorned this rocket-like structure with several crawling baby statues. So we’re going to go and talk to somebody inside and learn more about this structure.
So I’m just meeting Roman Lain, who is the representative of Oreathea, which is a company that recently secured a 25-year lease for the television tower. We’re up in the 66m-high restaurant; however, it is a building site at the moment as it is in the middle of being reconstructed. So my first question is: what’s happening here?
“Presently, reconstruction is underway on the restaurant section. After that, renovation will take place of the observatory above us. At this point, the raw demolition work has been completed and efforts will be shifting towards the creation of new interiors for the restaurant.”
Explain to me the ownership situation. Who is Oreathea and why did it change hands?
“At present, the owners of České Radiokomunikace [which owns the tower] are Australian investors [Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets Europe]. And we have a lease agreement, effectively for twenty-five years, with the stipulation that we invest in this site and then we spend the next two-and-a-half decades running the restaurant, park and the garages at the bottom of the structure.”
So does this tower primarily operate as a telecommunications hub or as a tourist spot?
“České Radiokomunikace own and run this tower for telecommunications purposes, while we have a lease on all the public places, including the restaurant for the purposes of serving tourists.”
Many Czechs have differing opinions about this tower. Some hate it; others love it. What’s your own take?
“For our purposes, aiming to run the place for tourists, it is actually an advantage that this structure was once voted the second ugliest on Earth. That presents a marketing advantage as people will certainly be interested in seeing such an infamous place.”
Can you tell us a little about the history of the tower? Why was it built?
“Building started during the former regime, but it wasn’t opened until just after the Velvet Revolution. And now we’re marking twenty years since the opening of the publicly accessible part of the tower. I don’t fully know why it was built, but I do know that it still serves some kind of military purpose because military staff often visit here, but at the same time it functions to provide a telecommunications hub for television, radio, mobile and Internet. Broadcasts began twenty-one years ago and the public part only opened a year after that.”
And what will be different after reconstruction is complete? Was it in desperate need of work?
“We’re slightly changing the interior of the tower because in the past there were an unnecessarily large number of rooms here – lots of catacombs and visitors would become disoriented as to where exactly they were. So we’ve entirely demolished the interior and we will do the same in the observatory so that everyone who enters the tower will be able to have a 360 degree view and know exactly where they are.”
And working here everyday – are you still inspired by the view?
“Yes, and that will form the basis of our marketing approach - that the restaurant will provide the greatest view in Prague.”
So when will this renovation be completed?
“Our target date at the moment is June 1st.”
OK, so we’re just stepping into the service elevator and we are now going up to the observation platform, which is on the ninth floor. So what is above in the space where people are not allowed to go? How high can a human being go here?
“The public isn’t allowed any higher. That belongs to České Radiokomunikace and those are purely technical floors.”
So you can’t go there either?
So we’re at the top of the tower as far as the public is concerned. 93 meters high and there are lots of visitors here today looking out of the windows at the panoramic view of Prague. Today is a remarkably clear February day, so there’s a good view. What can we see here?
“We can see all of Prague from the observatory here. There are three copulas up here and they basically enable a 360 degree view of the city. When the weather is good, you can even see the Krkonoše Mountains and the Great Peak in Vršovice if the weather is good enough – sadly, today it isn’t good enough, although you can make it out a little. From this copula we can see the Old Town, the castle and the entire centre of Prague.”
How far are the Krkonoše Mountains from here then?
So we are now going to have a look at the other side, which faces in the opposite direction. And here we have a view looking out eastwards. How many people come here every day to the tower?
“Presently, it about two-hundred visitors a day all year round. And that is before the reconstruction is complete. We will obviously try to increase that, but right now we haven’t undertaken any advertising of the fact that this place is having a make-over and we won’t be doing that until we’ve re-opened.”
What do you think of David Černý’s babies on the tower?
“I like it and think it belongs here as much as the tower itself. Tourists certainly like it and find it interesting too.”
So once the restaurant reconstruction is complete, you’ll be doing some work up here too?
“The reconstruction will take place while keeping the place partially open so as to minimize disruption. If a visitor has come all the way here, we don’t want to be telling them that we’re closed. We’ll be doing the same thing as with the restaurant: demolishing a lot of walls to make the place more open and to create a true panoramic view. So that visitors coming up here have more than the view, we will also be adding interactive touch-screens and Internet-based features so that they can learn about key places, historical figures and moments in the history of Prague and the Czech Republic.”