People from all corners of the country are streaming to Prague to pay their last respects to the deceased Czech pop legend Karel Gott, who died of leukaemia last week. By 2pm on Firday, around 14,000 thousand had already passed by his coffin on public display at Žofín Palace. The hugely popular singer is to receive a funeral with state honours, as Czechs observe a day of mourning on Saturday.
Radka Ulmanová came all the way from Bohumín in the country’s north-eastern Moravian-Silesian region. She was one of the hundreds who could be seen queuing in front of Žofín Palace to pay their last respects at the coffin of the internationally acclaimed singer.
“I’ve been a fan since I was 10-years-old. That means he has been my hero for 43 years. He is simply the greatest master. You can’t even describe it in words. My heart is racing.
“We took the 4am train to be here and then walked from the main station. The weather is nice though. We are very happy to have the honour to say goodbye to him.”
Fans like Ms. Ulmanová have the chance to place flowers by the singer’s coffin until 10pm on Friday, although the authorities say a time extension is possible.
Over a hundred policemen have been tasked with overseeing the event and paramedics are also present in case some people collapse while waiting in the long queue.
However, in terms of security, Prague’s police chief Tomáš Lerch told Czech Radio that he does not have any serious concerns.
“During commemorative events such as this, our experience is that people tend to behave very calmly. We will be on the lookout however later this afternoon for signs of anxiety among those who may not be admitted to Žofín Palace for time reasons.”
On Saturday, the tribute will culminate with a funeral mass held in the country’s primary place of worship, the Cathedral of St. Vitus, at 11am.
Many of Karel Gott’s former colleagues and leading names in Czech show business will be attending the invitation only event, celebrated by the Archbishop of Prague Cardinal Dominik Duka.
However, organisers have ensured that fans will get the chance to take part at least spiritually through big screens placed on Hradčanské Square and access being allowed within the castle up to the front of the cathedral.
There are also other sites across the country connected with Karel Gott’s life where people have chosen to gather and pay their respects.
In the village of Újezd u Svatého Kříže near Plzeň, where the “Sinatra of the East” used to travel to visit his grandparents, locals have chosen to honour their idol on Saturday by gathering at Gott’s Linden Tree, planted in his honour when he fell ill a few years ago.
Meanwhile, members of Karel Gott fan clubs around the country have agreed to light candles in their windows and release paper lanterns at 8pm on Friday.
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