27-07-2003

Topic's this week: Aero Vodochody, Safari in Dvur Kralove, Masaryk University, Pupendo. Listeners quoted: Mark Pons, Illiana Maine, Adolfo Maiorana, Gerda Broheim.

Our first question is from Mark Pons, who writes to us from Atlanta, Georgia, in the USA asking:

"One of my main hobbies is to read about different plane manufacturers. From your website, I came across Aero. I tried to get on their website but wasn't able to access the English version. Could you tell me more about the company?"

Well, it is true that we often have Aero Vodochody in the news and just call it the Czech Republic's aircraft manufacturer without any more detail. The history of the company dates back to 1919, when the Aero Aircraft Factory Prague was established. In the period between the World Wars, Aero successfully developed and produced numerous types of both military and civil aircraft. Initial production capability and technical skills were developed through purchase orders from the Ministry of Defence. During the Second World War, when Czechoslovakia was occupied by Nazi Germany, Aero was controlled by the German aircraft industry and produced German planes. After 1948 Aero, when the Communists came to power, it became an integral part of the state owned Czechoslovak aviation industry.

In the early fifties, the Czechoslovak government decided to build a new aircraft factory for the production of Soviet jet fighters. Aero's staff was moved to new grounds in the outskirts of the Prague East district. The first assembled MiG-15 took-off from the Aero Vodochody airfield in 1953. In the late fifties, Aero Vodochody launched the licensed production of MiG-19 (Farmer) interceptor aircraft. But they were soon replaced by the more advanced Mach 2 class MiG-21F (Fishbed) fighters, which were also produced for Egypt. Other famous planes manufactured thanks to Aero's design team are the L29 Delfin (Dolphin) - many of them are still in operation and Aero still supplies several Air Forces with spare parts - and the L39 Albatros, which was first flown in November 1968.

Today, Aero Vodochody is jointly owned by the Czech state and US Boeing. The company is supplying the Czech army with new sub-sonic fighters L-159, but has problems penetrating international markets and faces financial difficulties.

And we have a question from Illiana Maine, who listens to us from Oslo, in Norway.

"Is it true that one can go on a Safari in the Prague zoo? Is it still open after last year's floods or did it have to be closed down? I will be coming to the Czech Republic with a friend and our two sons later this year. Is it worth visiting?"

I'm afraid there is no Safari in the Prague zoo but there is one in the zoological garden in the town of Dvur Kralove, which along with the Prague Zoo, is the most famous in the Czech Republic. The Zoo in Dvur Kralove, which was opened in 1946, has the biggest collection of African animals in Europe and has the largest animal collection in the Czech Republic, with some 2700 animals - 380 species and subspecies on 64 hectares. The African animals include rhinos, giraffes, zebras, antelopes, and buffaloes.

Every summer, the zoo lets its visitors go on a Safari in a bus to see free living animals and birds on 27 hectares of land. Unfortunately what most of us would expect - i.e. animals such as giraffes, elephants, lions, and tigers are only in the part of the zoo that does not allow animals go about freely.

The Safari-bus ride is included in the entrance fee and from July 1 to August 31, the zoo also offers an evening safari ride. The Safari is open from May until September.

But no matter what time of the year, the Zoo in Dvur Kralove is certainly worth a visit. It has cheetahs, hyenas, tigers, leopards and boasts the largest ape collection in the Czech Republic and other primates such as orang-utans, chimpanzees, colobus monkeys, lemurs, marmosets as well as the largest crocodile exposition and other attractive places such as the large fresh water aquaria called the "Tropical River", expositions of coral reefs and the "Moonlight World" with a number of interesting animals with nocturnal activity.

Adolfo Maiorana is from Italy. He met a Czech student in Milan and wrote to us saying

"She said she likes her university because it is one of the best in the country. It is not the Charles University in Prague. It is a big university in Brno. I thought the Charles University was the only good university in the Czech Republic."

Well, the Charles University may be the most famous Czech university but it's certainly not the only good one in the country. The university your friend goes to is probably the Masaryk University. After the First World War, the Moravian capital of Brno became the second most important city of the Czechoslovak Republic. In 1919 three institutions of higher learning were founded there, including the Masaryk University, named after its founder T.G. Masaryk, with four faculties - law, medicine, natural science, and arts.

The Masaryk University in Brno is currently the second largest university in the Czech Republic in terms of the number of students in accredited degree programmes. The number of university applicants is growing every year. Today, the university's curriculum is based on disciplines grouped under the faculties of Law, Medicine, Science, Education, Economics and Administration, Informatics, Social Studies, and Sports Studies. The recent introduction of the three-year Bachelor's and two-year Master's degree model, as well as of a university-wide credit system based on the principles of the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) has ensured greater flexibility and helped in the internationalization of curricula.

Classes are mainly in Czech, of course, but an increasing number of individual courses in English is being offered throughout the university, as well as a few Master's programs; most doctoral programs can be studied in English. In addition, two special semester-long English-language programs have been created for international students, the Central European Studies Program (CESP) and the TESOL Teacher Education Program. For foreign students seeking a degree, there are yearlong intensive courses in Czech language, civics, and culture. Shorter programmes of study are available for post-graduate students.

And now a question from Ulm, in Germany. Gerda Broheim wants to know: "What does Pupendo mean? I saw the movie in Prague in Czech with English subtitles and I don't think I understood it correctly." Pupendo is a game that small children used to play. They take a small metal coin and slap it onto a friend's stomach, leaving a mark behind.

The film really has very little to do with it. It's set in the 1980's when the generation of the 1968 Prague Spring, who remember the violent end to freedom brought by the Soviet occupation, find their lives standing still. The main character is sculptor Bedrich Mara, who was forced to leave his job as the head of a studio at Prague's Academy of Art for political reasons. His work is banned from being exhibited and he is deliberately overlooked for lucrative orders. Then there is the elementary school principal who with his ambitious wife went to the Academy of Art with Mára. By sticking to the rules but denouncing the system in private, they lead a comfortable life.

27-07-2003