Czech Radio’s property empire

15-02-2009

Ask practically any inhabitant of the capital for directions to Czech Radio and you'll be pointed to an imposing functionalist building, tucked just behind Wenceslas Square. In this, and the neighbouring buildings, hundreds of 'rozhlasáci' crouch over computers, talk on telephones and read reports such as this in one of the numerous studios. But, as well as the mothership on Vinohradská Street, Czech Radio owns a surprising number of other, smaller buildings, scattered all over the capital, which are overshadowed, perhaps sometimes unfairly, by their media-friendly bigger sister.

Main building on Vinohradská streetMain building on Vinohradská street I am far from immune to the unlikely charms of Český rozhlas's 'Žižkov bunker' – a crumbling portacabin on Jeseniová Street, which was never meant to stay up beyond, one would guess, around 1965, and which seems to be the place to go with one's taxation queries. This may not sound very rock and roll, but it is also the home of youth channel Radio Wave, so for every bespectacled accountant wandering about the premises, there is also at least one be-dreadlocked hipster, and this odd marriage just sort of works.

And perhaps mention should be made here to the Czech Radio building that never was – a ghoulish, 1970s office-block that for years towered semi-finished on Prague's Pankrác Plain. The cursed, forsaken building was something like Český rozhlas's own Tower of Babel – an attempt to bring all Czech Radio employees together under one, asbestos-insulated, roof. This attempt was smitten down by years of technical difficulties, with the death blow being the change of regime in 1989. A very good pub stands in a park nearby this building, and on a summer's day, you can spend a good couple of hours in the vicinity of the skyscraper, spooking yourself by running through all the ghastly rumours of death and despair that go hand in hand with its construction.

But the jewel in Czech Radio's crown that I really wanted to tell you about is the Regina building, some miles away in Karlín. When I first saw them, I thought these studios must have been a private mansion swallowed up by the state – they were all sweeping staircases and mansard roofs. But, it turns out, they were built by the same architect who designed Charles University's Philosophical Faculty, to be a restaurant and cafe complex back in 1911. The offices on Vinohradská may have famously witnessed some of the most significant moments in modern Czech history – but so, indeed, have these. In fact, the Czechoslovak Communist Party was founded right here in 1921. The studios were souped up by the Nazis to broadcast propaganda during the Second World War, and then all but obliterated in the 2002 floods.

Every summer, you can go and watch films projected in the gardens outside this Regina building. In the winter, there's often the chance to go and watch a big-band or rock group perform. If you never get to go and see one of these events though, at least next time you listen to a Czech Radio broadcast, do think about the locations around the capital from which that sound could have come.

15-02-2009