24-03-2002

Today's Mailbox includes Topics: Was the VW Beetle car model taken from the Czechoslovak Tatra V570 car? Powdered beer now produced in Czech Republic. Activities of listeners' club in Bangladesh. Listening via the Internet. Is Prague threatened by floods? Bedrich Smetana's composition Vltava (Moldau) is well known in Japan. Quotes from: Michael Popovich, Tomas Mezek, A. K. M. Nuruzzaman, David Schiappa, Joan Hemsworth, Yusuke Kamimura

Yes, this is and welcoming you to today's Mailbox, the program in which we read listeners' letters and answer their questions.

When we do find the answer, that is, sometimes that isn't at all easy. For example when Michael Popovich from Johnstown, Pa. U.S.A. asked

"Is it true that during the German occupation, the automotive designs of Hans Ledwinka were stolen and utilised by Volkswagen to produce the Beetle?"

Well, first of all, the VW beetle type car was already being produced before the war, so the timing in Michael's question is wrong, but still, the question itself is interesting. I had heard there were rumours that the VW beetle car resembled the Czech Tatra V570 so closely, it couldn't have been just coincidence. But was there any proof of any, shall I say, undue inspiration?

The two cars do look very much alike. Look at the photo - listeners with access to the Internet can see it on Radio Prague's web-site in the text of this week's Mailbox. The Tatra's beetle like back is the same in both cars. And the Tatra V570 did have a flat twin air-cooled rear engine - and it, the Tatra I mean, was built first - in 1933. The similarity has aroused numerous speculations, but not even the Tatra materials we have been able to find go any further than asking whether it could be a coincidence.

And neither Hans Ledwinka, nor his son Erich, who was the actual constructor of the Tatra V570 were charged with any unethical conduct, even when they were tried after the Second World War.

Maybe we should explain that, say a little more about the Ledwinkas - Hans Ledwinka was the chief constructor of the Tatra factory in Koprivnice, North Bohemia and in the 1930 he was joined by his son, Erich, who was the constructor of the new streamlined cars first produced at that time, including the Tatra V570 which is so much like the VW Beetle.

After the war Hans was tried and sentenced to 6 years in jail for collaborating with the Germans because his work helped the Nazi war effort. In 1992 the Supreme Court reversed that sentence, stating Ledwinka's innocence.

But Hans Ledwinka did not live to receive the satisfaction, he died in Munich in 1967, having left Czechoslovakia in the 1950s after serving his sentence.

All of which could have left the connection between the Tatra and Volkswagen cars somewhat of a mystery, but then I called the head of the car department in the Technical Museum and asked him. And there the answer was quite definite. There is no connection, he says. The air cooled rear engine was the rage throughout Europe in the early 30s. A year before the Ledwinkas produced the Tatra 570 it was already being used in the Czech Skoda car factory, and it was being tried by other car producers as well, including the Volkswagen factory, where it had the backing of Adolf Hitler himself, who used it as a publicity stunt - German workers were to get a cheap car as part of his social program.

But the whole story does prove that Czech constructors were really among the top experts. Czech products do have a good tradition, which also goes for another important Czech product - beer. Tomas Mezek from Slovenia is interested in a rather unusual Czech beer product

"I would like to find out more about Jan Oliva's invention - beer powder, or malt extract. He patented it but I can not find any information on the subject."

Well, once again, we had trouble finding out more about it, too, because to any Czech, the very idea of powdered beer is so outrageous, he refuses to even think of it. Beer has to be carefully stored at a very special temperature, and preferably drafted beer, right from the pub. Even when people drink it at home, with lunch, for example, a family member brings fresh beer from the pub in a pitcher. Bottled beer is acceptable when there is no alternative, but tinned beer is an insult for real Czech beer lovers. So the idea of powdered beer shocked everybody we asked.

Nevertheless, we learned that it is a fact, Jan Oliva who works in a malthouse in North Moravia has started producing beer powder, which contains malt and dried yeast which starts turning into alcohol when you add water. You can let it mature to taste, but your beer should be ready in ten days. I don't know what it tastes like, and I probably never will - the beer powder is to be exported, Russia is the first market.

If any of our listeners come across beer powder in their country, maybe they'll let us know about it. But, more important, many of you are keeping us informed about your listening activities. A. K. M. Nuruzzaman, Director of the Friends' World DX Association in Rajshahi, BANGLADESH writes:

"March 26 is Bangladesh Independence Day, our 31st Anniversary. On this occasion we're arranging an exhibition of stamps and international short wave station souvenirs. We printed some leaflets and distributed them to our local schools and we have also invited short wave fans and people interested in short wave radio."

Well, all the best, and we do hope the event is a real success. There aren't many listeners' clubs left, so it's always nice to hear about one that's still functioning.

Most listeners hear us in the comfort of their homes, and some don't even worry about the problems connected with short wave listening. We keep getting more letters, or, in this case, e-mails, like this one from David Schiappa

"What a thrill to find the Radio Prague web-site and start listening to your live broadcast! Thirty five years ago, I built my first shortwave radio. As a young teenager in New York, I spent countless hours wandering through the shortwave bands, in search of voices from distant lands. One of the stations I remember well is Radio Prague. My compliments to you and your staff on your web-site and your excellent broadcasts over the Internet. I must say, it's a great improvement, being able to hear every word clearly, not having to worry about weather, sunspots etc. I look forward to future broadcasts, and of course, exploring your web-site in depth."

And the address of our web-site, if you haven't found it yet, is www.radio.cz/english.

And our e-mail address, while we're at it, is english@radio.cz. But Joan Hemsworth from New South Wales in Australia used our postal address - Radio Prague, 120 99, Prague 2, Czech Republic, to ask this question:

"Now, with Spring arriving in your part of the world, I guess you'll be threatened by floods once again. I know there's a river flowing right through the centre of Prague, so I'd like to know whether Prague is ever flooded."

The river is the Vltava, sometimes known in the world under its German name Moldau. As for floods in Prague, we don't have them nowadays, even though there used to be huge floods here. The earliest really big flood documented was in 1273, there were 5 big floods in the 14th Century, and they came over and over again. As late as in 1890 twenty soldiers were drowned trying to help people in Prague escape the waters of the Vltava River. There were 80 centimetres of water in the Old Town Square that year and Charles Bridge was partly torn down by the strong currents.

After that the banks of the river in the city were enforced and built up higher and in the middle of the 20th Century a number of dams were built on the Vltava River, before it reaches the capital, so the river is regulated and we're pretty safe from floods in Prague.

Which is fine, even though the dams have somewhat diminished the beauties of the Vltava River, which many people abroad know from the composition by Bedrich Smetana, usually under the river's German name - Moldau. It certainly is very well known in Japan, as Yusuke Kamimura from Yokohama City states in his letter

"We in Japan often sing the song Moldau, which is a part of Bedrich Smetana's symphony My Fatherland. Did you know that we have words to it?"

No, we didn't know that. It would be fascinating to hear such a typically Czech composition sung in Japanese. Maybe some listener will send it to us one day. Meanwhile, we'll do the best we can, with the original version, as composed by Bedrich Smetana.

So, good bye for today from Dita Asiedu and Olga Szantova

24-03-2002