Changing times in the Czech Radio building

04-09-2004

Getting around in the Czech Radio building is something of an adventure at the moment. Bit by bit, the whole place is being rebuilt, and to get from our offices, in the old building at the front, to our studios in the new steel and concrete building attached at the back - we have to go down two flights of back stairs, through gloomy underground garages, past workmen with drills and piles of bricks and mortar - and then take the lift up again to the fourth floor. At a brisk pace you can just about manage the trek in five or ten minutes - but I wouldn't recommend to anybody that they leave things to the last minute, if they're about to read a live news bulletin - they probably won't find enough air left in their lungs!

I have mixed feelings seeing the building transform. In the twelve years I've been working at Radio Prague, I've seen much of Prague virtually rebuilt around me, but Czech Radio has stayed reassuring the same - even to the faded red-and-cream 1970s lino on the first floor landing. Set into the lino is the old communist-era radio logo and the word Czechoslovak Radio in huge letters - although Czechoslovakia hasn't been around for well over a decade now. I remember the old logo from my early days at Radio Prague, when our news stories would slowly pour out of an ancient, rattling telex machine at the end of the corridor, and the building would echo to the machine-gun rattle of heavy Soviet typewriters.

There's one room here at Radio Prague called the "fonoteka", used by our producers when they're not up in the studio. All the walls are lined from floor to ceiling with shelves, bearing thousands of big old radio tapes, each in its own faded brown-grey cardboard box. There's a big wooden ladder on wheels to reach the higher shelves, but nobody really knows what's on most of these recordings - maybe they're hiding some gems of radio history. The room has a special, timeless smell, which draws your senses back to earlier days of radio. Like the World War II bullet holes, that until recently could be seen on the crumbling - now thoroughly renovated - apartment block opposite the radio, it reminds you that this is a building with a history. After being bombed by a Luftwaffe aerial torpedo in 1945, and shelled by a Soviet tank in August 1968, the building is bearing up surprisingly well.

But much of the patina is about to go. Our headquarters is gradually undergoing a major renovation. The shell will stay, as the building, dating back to the mid 1930s is protected under conservation law, but the interior will be more-or-less gutted. Like many of my colleagues, I have mixed feelings. It will be nice to have windows that shut, and to sit in an office where temperatures in summer occasionally fall below 30 degrees Celsius, but I do feel that I'm losing a little bit of my own past and some of the last tangible reminders of older colleagues now gone, whose memories went back right to the early days of Czechoslovak Radio. As the French poet Charles Baudelaire put it, "Cities change faster than the hearts of men."

04-09-2004

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