Czechs go crazy as pop singer Gott turns 80

Prague (AFP) –


Hundreds of people from home and abroad queued in steady rain in central Prague on Sunday to buy a "Zero Euro" souvenir banknote depicting Czech pop singer Karel Gott in honour of his 80th birthday.

Some eager fans and collectors had waited for days, arriving as early as Thursday, to buy the zero-denomination banknote for the equivalent of two euros from special ATMs in the shop of a local record company.

One fan, Lukas Gandzala, said he had slept outside the store after coming all the way from the northern Slovak city of Poprad, some 450 kilometres (280 miles) from Prague.

"We arrived at 6:00 am on Saturday. We slept in sleeping bags on the pavement," he told AFP.

"We collect the banknotes, the Zero Euro is a big phenomenon in our country, and so is Karel Gott," he said, folding his umbrella to finally get inside the shop after a rain-drenched 26-hour wait.

Unlike Slovakia, with which it formed a single state until 1993, the Czech Republic has not yet introduced the euro and its government has no plans to replace its koruna currency in the near future.

Created by Frenchman Richard Faille in 2015 and authorised by the European Central Bank, the Zero Euro notes used solely as souvenirs depict well-known sites and people like the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben and Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn.

The Gott banknote was issued in a limited edition of 5,000 and sold out in four hours. Each buyer could snag a maximum of two banknotes.

Dubbed "Divine Karel" for his impeccable tenor voice, Gott has been voted the most popular singer 42 times in the annual Golden Nightingale poll of Czech music fans.

Gott has released almost 300 LPs and CDs, selling dozens of millions of them.

Fans in neighbouring Germany, relishing the singer's hits as well as the title song for the "Maya the Bee" children's TV series, have in turn dubbed Gott "the Golden Voice from Prague".

- 'Sinatra of the East' -

His hits include cover versions of Roy Orbison's "Pretty Woman" and Alphaville's "Forever Young," but most of them were written by Czech composers.

Born on July 14, 1939, Gott was trained as an electrical fitter before studying to be an opera singer.

He rose to stardom in the 1960s when he sang in the US and what was then West Germany, and represented Austria in the Eurovision song contest.

At that time, German papers described him as the "Sinatra of the East".

Gott managed to retain his popularity following the 1968 invasion of Prague by Soviet-led armies, a time when many singers were banned from the stage for political reasons.

Gott, who is also a skilled painter and an occasional actor, has won awards in countries including Germany, Poland and Russia.

At the weekend, Czech Television filled its prime time with Gott-related shows, while the top-selling broadsheet DNES published online recipes for Gott's favourite meals, including steak tartar with cognac and Indian curry.

At the front of the winding, bulky queue, Jana Vankova from Ricany near Prague, who spent the night in a folding chair, said she would buy the banknote as a birthday tribute to Gott.

"We're all fans, not banknote dealers. We really love Gott," she said.