Money makes the merry-go-round: The fight to save the Letna carousel

Prague's Technical Museum is in the midst of raising funds to repair an antique carousel, which has stood on the edge of Letna Park - right by the museum, since 1894. The carousel is one of the oldest surviving constructions of its type in the world, and quite something to behold; festooned with knights, ribbons and, of course, many a lavishly decorated horse. Rosie Johnston went along to experience all the fun of the fair.

The Letna carousel or merry-go-round originally stood miles away in another part of town, but shortly after its first birthday was moved to its current location. Newly constructed tram links at the time brought people from all over Prague to Letna, in order to have a ride. More than a century later, this extraordinary construction belongs to Prague's Technical Museum, which is battling to save it. Barbara Resnerova is a museum spokesperson:

"The carousel or merry go round was built in 1892, and it hasn't once been closed, nor repaired and it has worked all this time. In the past a man used to have to turn the carousel, but now it has an engine."

On a visit to Letna, I talked to long term resident and seasoned carousel rider, Marie Sediva, about the memories she had of the merry-go-round.

"When we were children, we spent every moment that we could on the merry go round. There was a man who always looked after it. All the horses were attached to a big round base. He would hang on to one of the horses, and with one foot push the whole thing round. He would do this fast and for a long time and we used to absolutely love it. And then when I had children I took them there, and my grandchildren too. It was so beautiful and clean. It was decorated with ribbons and other such frills. It was decked out in the style of its day. And then the Communists came and gave it a face lift. They added some cars to the carousel, which were just too kitsch. The kitsch was just horrible."

The carousel was originally very well made. The materials used in its construction were for the most part of a very high quality, which as Barbara Resnerova tells me, makes the carousel expensive to repair.

"What is interesting is that the horses were originally made of horse hide and wood, and of course we have to find specialists to reconstruct them. Each horse will cost around 250 000 crowns to repair."

The approximate sum that the Technical Museum needs to fix the merry-go-round amounts to around 6 million crowns, which is nearly 260 thousand US dollars. Until this is raised, the carousel is closed to the public; and Honzik, Semik, Blesk and the other horses are well and truly confined to graze. But as Letna inhabitant and Unesco chairwoman, Jaroslava Moserova explains, funding may well be at hand:

"I would say that it is not only a work of art and a heritage piece, but it is also an institution for the Letna people. I think that if they made a collection then a lot of Letna people would contribute, and I will have to think about whether Unesco can do something."

So here's hoping that sufficient funds can be raised to allow yet another generation of Czech children to play at jockey.