The very first on-line birth in the Czech Republic! Toasting the New Year with the Water Sprites - why do some Czechs pour fire water into their river on New Year's Eve? And, how much respect do Czechs have for their Parliament deputies? Roughly as much as they do for their cleaner. Find out more in Magazine with Daniela Lazarova.

91 year old Ladislav Nicek swims in the cold river, photo: CTK91 year old Ladislav Nicek swims in the cold river, photo: CTK Traditionally, several dozen Czechs greeted the New Year with a swim in one of the country's rivers. These so called "otuzilci" or hardy-men pride themselves on taking a dip whatever the season and on the first day of each new year they always draw a crowd of admiring onlookers. This year temperatures were two to three degrees above zero - what they call "mild weather" for a swim - and many of them nostalgically recalled the days when they would have to cut holes in the ice in order to take a dip. The doyen of these hardy men is 91 year old Ladislav Nicek who says he is living proof of the fact that this particular lifestyle is good for you!


The Decin Society of Practical Jokers has its own way of greeting the New Year. They also head for the river but in this case it is not to take a dip - but to present an offering of goodwill to the local water sprites -or vodniky - who rule that particular realm. The offering is a few bottles of the best local brandy which is poured into the river so that the sprites too can drink a toast to the New Year. This way we try to keep in their good books, so that they will be benevolent to us in the coming year and cause no damages, one man says. According to Czech folklore water sprites collect the souls of drowned people and in general take care of their stretch of the river, punishing humans who venture too far or pollute it. They are bright green and occasionally surface to visit dry land.


Not everyone has such bizarre ways of greeting the New Year and many Czechs simply have a food and drink orgy at home. This would not be so bad if they didn't have an adverse influence on their pets as well. According to vets the number of pets who are brought in suffering the after-effects of over indulgence rises every year. Usually their masters are in a similar condition, says one Prague vet. They feed their pets much too often and let them consume a vast amount of scraps from their own table. But for household pets the New Year celebrations are usually a big stress - overeating combined with panic when the fireworks start going off at midnight. This year over a thousand dogs escaped from their masters in panic, straying for hours before they found their own way home or were placed in dog shelters until their owners came to pick them up.


What's a new year's celebration without champagne? We all have it but some like it served with a flourish. Wine connoisseur Oldrich Bujnoch feels that the New Years's toast is always a special occasion and every year he treats his friends to an impressive sight - he opens champagne bottles with a sword -like Russian cavalry officers used to do at the beginning of the last century. He takes off the wrapper and in one swift move of his sword he cuts through the neck of the bottle just below the cork. Thanks to years of practice the cut is perfectly smooth and the champagne spurts out into the prepared glasses. Oldrich says there's nothing to match the experience - and of course, you must treat yourself to the finest Russian caviar to make it perfect.


The very first on line birth over the internet in the Czech Republic is reported to have taken place last week at the U Apolinare Maternity hospital in Prague. It lasted for five hours and the proud father watched it from the family home in Moravia. As an airline pilot he was expected to be in south-east Asia at the time of the birth and arranged for the hospital to give him a private viewing, paying for all the respective equipment. It was a fantastic experience - he told newsmen later. The hospital said the transmission had been a success and it would offer the service to the public -not just to fathers who are increasingly present at the birth, but maybe to grandparents who'd be interested -providing the mother is happy with the idea. The first Czech baby whose arrival was thus documented is a bouncing baby girl called Anicka.


A recent survey on which professions Czechs have the highest respect for put doctors at the top of the list, followed by scientists and teachers. The poll showed how little respect Czechs have for MPs - putting deputies and senators at the bottom of their list, with only cleaners getting a lower rating!


Vaclav Smolka is getting very little sleep these days. He's working night and day to perfect a unique musical instrument - an organ the pipes of which face downward and are submerged in water to create a bubbling effect together with the music. This unique creation is to grace the Czech exhibition at the world expo in Aichi, Japan in a couple of months. Smolka, whose has made organs for churches in many Czech towns and cities, has until January 10th to perfect the "water organ". "I'd been asked to produce circular organs in the past but I always laughed and said no, it was a ludicrous idea - and look at me now, Smolka says, admitting that the challenge to produce something truly unique for the Czech pavilion - The Garden of Fantasy and Music - was too tempting to refuse. And you can see - but more importantly hear the result for yourself - at the World Expo in Japan which takes place from March to September this year. The idea is for this unusual musical instrument to remain permanently in Japan once the Expo is over.


Prague citizens have been promised brand new trams in 2006 - the biggest that the city has ever seen. Designed by Porsche and produced by Skoda, the new trams should accommodate up to 280 passengers and have barrier-free access for the elderly and disabled - which no Prague trams have at the moment, only some buses. Each of the 47 trams which are to run in the Czech capital at the start of 2006 will cost 50 million crowns. The currently trams - which date back to the 1980s -will gradually be taken out of service.