Over the last few years here at Radio Prague I've developed a professional (some would say unprofessional) interest in a town in North Moravia called Sumperk. Sumperk lies in the foothills of the Jesenik mountains, about half an hour's drive from Olomouc. I've never actually been there, but photos show a regular Czech town with the obligatory medieval square and sprinkling of baroque churches. Nothing remarkable about that, you might think. Well, think again.
Part of my job entails trawling through dozens of daily reports issued by the Czech News Agency, in an endless search for important (and sometimes not so important) pieces of information. Sumperk rarely figures in this search, its contribution to the spectrum of Czech news being minimal. But the titbits it does throw up suggest that Sumperk is in the grip of a strange and destructive - some would say supernatural - force of nature.
Consider the following headlines issued by the Czech News Agency over the last 12 months: "Hunter Fires Shotgun at Block of Flats Following Argument". Or - "Youth Faces Year in Prison for Destroying Dummy of Policeman". Or how about this - "Lightning Kills Herd of Cows Sheltering Under Tree". Or my all-time favourite - "Burning Tractor Starts Itself Up and Drives Round Park."
I have to admit that I'd never noticed the spate of bizarre accidents and tales of woe until they were brought to my attention by a colleague. But ever since then, I've been transfixed. I've thought long and hard as to why Sumperk should produce so many odd stories, but have failed to come up with an answer. When I've asked friends familiar with the area, they're unable to shed any light. No, they say, it's just a regular kind of place. Kind of boring, really.
Well, anything but boring, if you read the Czech News Agency. So what's going on? Perhaps Sumperk is at the centre of some strange magnetic field, which makes its inhabitants prone to random acts of violence and weirdness. Perhaps it's the local micro-climate, or something in the water. Or perhaps it's simply the Czech News Agency's Sumperk correspondent, who has a knack for searching out - or possibly inventing - weird and wonderful stories.
Of course there are good things about Sumperk. Ales Valenta, the Czech Republic's Olympic Gold Medal champion in acrobatic skiing, is a native of Sumperk. Sumperk is the gateway to the Jesenik Mountains. It's even been described - if the town's website is to be believed - as "Little Vienna".
Who knows, maybe I'm being grossly unfair. Maybe the stories of desecrated policeman's dummies and self-propelled burning tractors are merely blips in an otherwise blissful existence. In fact, if you are from Sumperk, why not write in and tell me? Because I'm dying to know the truth.
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