Tue, Aug 24, 2004 - Page 15 News List

It's `just like Niagara Falls,' as suicidal Czechs jump off Prague bridge

DPA , Prague

No one knows the artist who scrawled white-paint outlines of sprawled bodies on the streets and sidewalks beneath Nusle Bridge.

The artist is a nobody -- just like most of the nearly 400 people who have died by leaping from the deck of the huge concrete span, Prague's strangely inglorious suicide bridge.

Unlike scenic suicide bridges in other cities, such as the Golden Gate in San Francisco or the Butte Chaumont in a Paris park, the Nusle Bridge is a skeleton-grey hulk that looms over a depressed neighbourhood of dirty sidewalks and crumbling flats.

Almost everyone who jumps from the bridge dies on pavement from the impact of a 40m fall, and is suddenly transformed into a grotesque spectacle for those who are living in the bridge's shadow.

"Sometimes when I go home from school, I see blood on the street," said Petr Paukert, 15, who lives with his family in a building under the bridge.

As he spoke Paukert glanced down at one of the painted body outlines. He flashed a nervous smile and added, "One time my neighbor took home a part of someone's brain in a cup."

Nusle's square concrete legs and wide deck were designed in communist times and tested for strength with Soviet tanks.

It opened in 1973 with six traffic lanes on the top deck. On the second level is an enclosed, two-track passageway for subway trains.

As long as anyone can remember, the bridge has been a favorite for the suicidal. It's easy to reach, and a fall is almost certain to kill. The anti-suicide fences installed some years ago will slow but seldom stop the jumpers.

Prague's unfenced river bridges, by contrast, do not attract people with a death wish because their decks are only half as high as Nusle's.

Almost every week, and more often in winter, police and firefighters respond to calls from motorists who see a distraught person preparing to jump off Nusle. Or they're called by someone below who found a body.

Hundreds have died, but hundreds have been saved as well.

On a Friday night this August, for example, firefighters used persuasion and guts to rescue a man with a young woman standing on the bridge's edge. They had apparently planned to leap together.

Among those who've witnessed many less fortunate victims is Victor Maticka, whose newspaper and tobacco shop is under the bridge's center.

He said every year at least 20 bodies fall on the street, sidewalk or onto parked cars near his shop. "The worst is around Christmas," he said.

Maticka talks about the experiences with a matter-of-fact grin, staring out his shop door toward the bridge. "It's just like Niagara Falls," he said.

Occasionally a Nusle suicide makes headlines. That was the case last year when the 21-year-old son of popular Czech singer Dalibor Janda jumped to his death.

Paukert remembers that suicide. "My father and I saw him lying on the ground," he said with a hint of pride.

"But this," the boy said, pointing to a body outline on the sidewalk, "is just art. It's nobody."

This story has been viewed 7741 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top