In this edition of Mailbox: letter from Franz Kafka, Italian bus accident, low birth rate. Listeners quoted: Gusta Bloemhof, Massimo Bernardi, Samuel Ashi

Gusta Bloemhof from Rotterdam, in the Netherlands has sent us an e-mail asking:

"Could you tell us more about a new letter that was apparently written by Franz Kafka to his girlfriend? I think it was found here in Holland."

Yes, that is true. A letter written in 1917 by the Jewish Czech-born but German-speaking writer Franz Kafka (1883-1924) was recently found in the Netherlands. However, it was not written to his girlfriend but rather to a friend of his sister Ottla. Ruzenka Wettenglova's name has appeared in several of Kafka's letters to his sister Ottla and his girlfriends Felice and Milena but it is the first letter that was written to Ruzenka directly. What is also interesting is that it was written in Czech and not in German.

The content of the letter itself is not as interesting. Unfortunately, only the first and last pages of what seems to have been a three-page letter were found. Kafka writes that he hopes to get a flat in Prague's Mala Strana or Hradcany district, thanks Ruzenka for some fruit she sent to his sister, Ottla, and tells her that Ottla herself cannot thanks her in writing. That is where the first page ends; the page that probably talks about why his sister cannot write to her friend. On the last page, he says that Ottla will be sending her some potatoes as soon as they are harvested.


Massimo Bernardi is from Naples, Italy and writes:

"I heard that a bus from Italy had an accident in the Czech Republic. What happened?"

Well, last week, on January 15, a bus from Naples on route to Poland crashed near the Moravian city of Brno. The accident occurred in the early hours of the morning when roads were icy and motorists were advised to drive carefully and respect speed limits. However, the bus driver failed to control the vehicle on an icy stretch, skidding off the road and into a ditch. All 38 passengers managed to crawl out of the bus through the ventilation window on the roof. Twelve luckily got away with light injuries but one Polish woman and the driver suffered serious injuries. Witnesses saw the driver recklessly overtake cars minutes before the accident. He has therefore been charged with being a danger to public safety and could face up to eight years in prison, if found guilty.


Samuel Ashi lives somewhere close to Prague and sent us an e-mail with the following comment:

"I just read in the newspaper that only 92,786 children were born in the Czech Republic in 2002. I come from Africa and I am shocked to see that you have so few children."

It's true that the number of children born here is very low and it has decreased dramatically since 1991 - by over thirty thousand children. In fact, the last ten years have seen the lowest birth rate in three hundred years. The simple reason is the fact that today's younger generation wants to have a career or at least a stable job that ensures security before starting a family. Instead of getting married and settling down in their early twenties, they now do so in their late twenties. While it is tradition in most of Africa to have children so that they support the family, in the Czech Republic, parents feel they have the responsibility to support their children throughout their lives. But you are right, Mr Ashi, when you say that the figures here are quite alarming. The government has noticed it too and promises to take steps in its next wave of public finance reform that would encourage young couples to have children earlier.


It's time for our listeners' competition. You have just about a week left to "name the distinguished Czech composer who lived from 1874 to 1935, whose 130th anniversary of his birth is being celebrated this month." Please send your answers to the Radio Prague English Section, 120 99 Prague 2, the Czech Republic or by e-mail to english@radio.cz. Your answers should get to us by January 31.


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