Why Prague's Astronomical Clock won't be ‘springing ahead’ this weekend

Old Bohemian time just doesn't compute with European Summer Time, a concept that's still ticking people off around the European Union.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston
Published on 26.03.2021 19:00 (updated on 26.03.2021)

People will lose an hour of sleep this weekend – potentially making the lockdown one hour shorter. Central European Summer Time (CEST) begins on Sunday, March 28, at 2 a.m., when clocks are pushed forward an hour. The change lasts until Sunday, Oct. 31, at 3 a.m., when clocks are switched back to standard Central European Time (CET).

The simplest way to remember what to do is the old adage “spring ahead, fall back.” Most computers, phones, and other electronics switch automatically, though. Manual clocks and some appliances like microwaves still need to be fixed by hand.

In normal circumstances, the change causes havoc with bus, train, and plane schedules but that is unlikely to be an issue for very many people this year.

Commonly, the practice of changing clocks is called Daylight Saving Time, but actually that is just the name for it in the U.S. and Canada. For Europe, the correct term is Summer Time.

The European Union has been calling for an end to Summer Time, and held a poll in 2018. The European Parliament in March 2019 had set the switch back in October 2021 as a goal for the last change. But it now seems unlikely the end will come soon, as little progress has been made in implementation. The Czech Transport Ministry in October 2020 confirmed that virtually no talks were taking place at the EU level, and nothing seems to have changed since then.

The issue has stalled with the European Commission and European Council each saying the other has to take the next step. And with the coronavirus pandemic, the clock issue has taken a back seat. Brexit also adds complications, as Ireland and Northern Ireland could wind up on two different time schedules unless the UK follows along with the EU in dropping Summer Time.

People claim that the switch no longer serves any real purpose. At one time, it was suppose to save energy, but with the energy efficient lights that have been commonly available for years, this is no longer the case.

Czechoslovakia, and subsequently the Czech Republic, has been using Summer Time consistently since 1979.

Summer Time was first introduced during World War I. Most countries discontinued the practice after the war. It was used again in World War II, but was widely canceled by the 1950s. In the late 1960s the energy crisis saw it reintroduced in some places.

Different countries had different practices, and this caused problems with transport and communications. Starting in 1981 the European Community began issuing directives to standardize start and end dates for Summer Time, and there have been several adjustments over the years.

So far, the last adjustment was in 1997 when an EU directive set European Summer Time between 1:00 UTC on the last Sunday of March and 1:00 on the last Sunday of October. That rule was extended indefinitely four years later and is still in effect.

One clock in Prague that will not be changing is the Astronomical Clock on Old Town Square. Its rather complex face shows several different times including Old Bohemian time, Babylonian time, sidereal time, as well as Central European Time. But the clock cannot be set forward or backward to show Summer Time without throwing off the rest of the display.

The Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square can't be set ahead an hour. (Photo: Raymond Johnston)
The Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square can't be set ahead an hour. (Photo: Raymond Johnston)

The clock tracks the movements of the sun and moon through the Zodiac constellations, linking them to the time, and this can’t be changed without redesigning the entire clock mechanism.  

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