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Last Updated: Monday, 2 April 2007, 21:35 GMT 22:35 UK
Woman gondolier defies male club
Venice gondola
For centuries gondolier jobs have been a male preserve
A German woman has won a 10-year battle to steer a gondola through Venice - the first woman to do so.

Alexandra Hai, 35, successfully challenged the all-male Venice Gondola Association and city authorities.

Ms Hai failed the gondola test three times - and was also fined once by police for illegal gondoliering.

Ms Hai began her new job on Sunday and will be able to take tourists to small Venetian hotels. But officially she cannot claim the title "gondolier".

Ms Hai, the daughter of an Algerian civil servant and a German midwife, moved to Venice from the US in 1996 and became fascinated with gondolas.

All gondolas are painted black
Venetian gondolas are 11 metres long, weigh 600kg and are made from eight different kinds of wood
The centre of gravity is shifted to the right - to make up for the gondolier's weight
More than 400 are operated by the Venice Gondola Association
A 50-minute trip from St Mark's Square can cost as much as 77.50 euros
"It's just a destiny - it was not a child dream, or something like that. It just happened," she told BBC Radio 4's PM programme. "I saw it and said 'I want to try this.'"

She said there was no rule that women could not become gondoliers, but she thought that the fact she was both a woman and was not Italian had not helped her case with the authorities.

"Somebody in a high position was concerned and not very happy there was a stranger and a woman at the same time trying to take over such an old tradition."

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