Monday, 15 August 2011

Jára Cimrman

Jára Cimrman was a celebrated Czech writer, inventor and explorer. Born in Vienna in the 1860s, his expertise was highly valued in his lifetime, even though subsequent history has not always recorded his outstanding contributions. Among the many great names assisted by or influenced by Cimrman were Thomas Edison, Count Zeppelin, and Marie Curie. It is quite astonishing to realize that many of the inventions we take for granted today, even the humble light-bulb, would not have come to fruition without Cimrman's input. He advised Gustav Eiffel on the location of the Eiffel tower, and helped Chekhov write his plays. He also very nearly discovered the North Pole. And recently it has been claimed that he developed prototypes for both the CD (the Cimrman Disc) and the Internet.

Since 1966, when his papers were re-discovered, Cimrman has been the subject of multiple books, films and radio programmes; and a long-running series of biographical plays are continuously enacted at a playhouse uniquely dedicated to his exploits, in the neighbouring suburb of Žižkov (Prague 3).  But today's photo comes from the south of Prague, from Michle (Prague 4), and shows a sign affixed to a hotel where the famous man once breakfasted.

Needless to add, Cimrman is a fiction, the brilliant invention of the equally polymathic, but real, Zdeněk Svěrák. But the enduring popularity of this Quixotic figure has made him one of the most popular figures in Czech history, as proved by the fact that he was voted the Greatest Czech in a TV poll in 2005. When Czech TV disqualified him on the grounds that he was not an actual person, there was a massive public outcry, which saw Cimrman rightly restored to first place, albeit in a special category all his own. He would have been delighted.