On December 5th Prague kids got an early Xmas present - an outdoor ice skating rink in the very heart of the city. The idea proved to be an enormous success with young and old and may set a new tradition. Find out more in this week's Magazine.
Central Europe has just had a spell of freezing cold weather but with Xmas just around the corner and music filling the streets of Prague -nobody's staying indoors. Most Prague squares are now crowded with Xmas stalls, street musicians and children's choirs play late into the night and the air is filled with the smell of grilled sausages, roasted chestnuts and svarak -the popular spiced hot wine that many Czech like to drink at Xmas time. Craftsmen ply their trade - a blacksmith will fashion a Xmas bell while you wait - and if you are lucky there's even a bonfire to keep you warm......
Such is the picture of Xmas Prague every year -and most people stop to take a break from their Xmas shopping to savor this particular atmosphere. This year however Prague has a new Xmas attraction - like Paris, Amsterdam or New York the Czech capital now has a skating rink in the very heart of the city - right behind the Estates Theatre, less than five minutes walk from Wenceslas Square. The skating rink is part of the telephone operator Oscar's promotion campaign and it's opening attracted a crowd of incredulous youngsters.
As kids strained to get a better view, Oscar's general director in Prague Mrs. Carla Stevens officially opened the skating rink.
"With Xmas becoming so commercial and loosing its "Xmas spirit" what we wanted to do was create an experience that would bring back the magical time of Xmas and create an old fashioned Xmas in the middle of commercialism at its best. So this is our gift to Prague and to the loyal customers of Oscar and we hope you enjoy it, we hope you bring your families down and I can tell you that I myself will be coming here many times over the next month. So thank you for coming and thank you for sharing in this great experience with us. "
Not surprisingly the first to hit the ice was a hockey team of ten year olds - all dreaming of becoming the future Czech Dominator or Jaromir Jagr. But it wasn't just the young who cued up to rent skates for twenty crowns a pair in order to savor the incredible experience of skating in the centre of Prague.
Young woman: " I just love it! It is so magical and so "Xmassy". And it means so much to the kids. Nothing like it in Prague before."
Are you going to try it?
"Of course I will. But I've never skated before so it will be .....miraculous."
Old man: "It looks real nice, real nice. It's a pity the market place isn't a bit bigger so they could have had more room to make the rink bigger as well, but the kids are having a great time as it is. It's a terrific idea. My grandchildren will love it and frankly I'd love to give it a try myself even if I'm in my seventies. Maybe I will when there are less people watching."
While the skating rink quickly filled with people, I asked Mrs. Stevens why Oscar had decided to spend its promotion budget in this particular way.
"I think as a team we wanted to do something unique, something that had not been done before. And we wanted to bring back the magic of Xmas because Xmas is loosing -you know - the whole wonderment of it. And we wanted kids to be able to come downtown Prague and skate in a skating rink that's surrounded by the magic of Xmas and to bring them a sort of winter wonderland. Although, Prague does not always have snow so it is difficult to have an outdoor skating rink."
I know that a century ago children could ski down Wenceslas Square but I have never seen anything like this in the city centre before. How did the mayor's office respond to the idea?
"Very positively, we worked really closely and well with the mayor's office. He was really open to the idea and he also wanted a winter wonderland for the kids at Xmas time. So we established a great relationship."
How long will it remain open?
"Till January 6th. Skating is free for everyone. Renting skates costs 20 crowns for non-Oscar clients."
Is this going to be an annual event or do you want a different surprise every Xmas?
"I would love to have a different surprise every Xmas but also I think this is so great. I myself love skating and so I think it would be great to have it every year and make it annual."
How have children responded from what you've seen so far?
"Oh they love it! I love it. I'm not even a kid and I love it! "
Just to sum up - the "Oscar on Ice" skating rink is for free for everyone, Oscar clients get to borrow skates free of charge, everyone else pays a symbolic twenty crowns for them - and the money will go to charity - to the People in Need Foundation, to be precise. The ice rink is open from 10 am to 10 pm every day until January 6th - so if you are listening to us in Prague -don't miss that particular treat - and Merry Xmas!
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