Though Prague is only mentioned by name a few times in any of Kafka’s works, Kafka and Prague have a long and important relationship. It’s clear through his writing that the city left an indelible mark on his psyche.
A German-Jew, Kafka was doubly marginalized during a time when anti-foreign and anti-Semitic feelings were strong in Prague. Though he tried to leave Prague for Vienna and Berlin several times in his life, he always found himself drawn back to the city of his birth. The Prague of today is vastly different from Kafka’s city, but many of his old haunts are still worth a visit. We can only imagine how he would feel knowing that the city he felt so distant from has now made him one of its prime tourist draws.
1. KAFKA STATUE
Between the Spanish Synagogue and a nearby Catholic church stands the only statue in Prague dedicated to its most alienated son. Jaroslav Rona’s statue of Kafka has quickly become one of the city’s favorites. The writer appears seated on the shoulders of an enormous set of clothes, his finger pointed forward as if to say, “That way!” or perhaps, “I think that guy owes me money”.
2. FRANZ KAFKA’S BIRTHPLACE
The downer-to-be was born on July 3, 1883, in an old tenement building on the corner of Kaprova and Maiselova streets. Though the tenement has long since come down, there is a small marker on the side of the building marking the site.
3. DŮM U MINUTY
Kafka spent part of his childhood in the House on the Minute (Dům U Minuty) across from the famed Astronomical Clock, which at that time still sported an anti-Semitic statue, complete with beard and horns, for its depiction of Greed. While you’re waiting with your thousand closest friends for the clock to strike, take a minute to admire the building’s two-tone frescoes, which depict various biblical and classical scenes.
4. NATIONAL GALLERY AT GOLTZ-KINSKY PALACE
Kafka attended an elite secondary school on the second floor of the Goltz-Kinsky Palace. Every morning, he would make the walk from the House on the Minute (Dům U Minuty) to the school, accompanied by his family’s hostile cook. This seemingly inconsequential pattern seems to have had a profound effect on young Kafka, as he mentions the routine more than once in his letters and journals.
5. FRANZ KAFKA MUSEUM
Across the river, the Franz Kafka museum attempts to tell Kafka’s story, largely through his relationship to Prague. The museum contains many of the writer’s journals and letters as well as first editions of most of his works, providing a first hand look at the relationship between Kafka and Prague. The various audio-visual installations attempt to place you inside his mindset. If the haunting soundtrack and endless corridors of filing cabinets don’t make you feel appropriately isolated and insignificant, then you might be too cheery for this walking tour.
6. PETŘÍN HILL
Petřín Hill was one of Kafka’s favorite places to go as a teenager. It is also one of the only places ever mentioned explicitly by name in Kafka’s works. His story, “Description of a Struggle” warns against scaling its slopes during winter, however the view from the top during a summer evening is still excellent.
7. CAFÉ LOUVRE
After the walk (or funicular ride) from Petřín, have a cup of coffee in this elegant café. Kafka and his friends used to gather at the Café Louvre every fortnight to debate current events and philosophy. These are still perfectly acceptable topics of conversation, although nowadays it’s also a great place to reread “The Metamorphosis”.
8. GRAND HOTEL EUROPA
From Café Louvre in Národní, make your way to the base of Wencelas Square and start walking toward the National Museum. Though Wenceslas Square has undergone many changes over the past century, the Grand Hotel Europa, with much of its original Art Nouveau decor preserved inside and out, remains one of its most identifiable landmarks. On the second floor cafe, Kafka gave a reading of his recently completed story, “The Judgment,” to an appreciative audience that didn’t seem to mind having a damper put over their meal.
9. KAFKA’S GRAVE
Kafka died in 1924 at the age of 40. Though Kafka’s relationship with his Jewish heritage was very complex, he received a traditional Jewish burial. His grave, along with those of his parents, can be found in the New Jewish Cemetery in Žižkov. From the main entrance, walk to the right of the ceremonial hall, and you will find signs pointing to the author’s grave (sector 21, row 14, plot 33).
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