October 2, 2004
"Kafka was Prague and Prague was Kafka." Prague native and absurdist author Franz Kafka has emerged from decades of Communist suppression to become an icon of the new Prague.
Kafka was born, a turn of events he may later have come to regret, on July 3, 1883 in a run-down tenement in modern Kafký Náměstí (Kafka Square); the tenement has since been demolished, although the original stone portal now fronts the Exposice Franz Kafka. This "museum" is an uninspired collection of photographs and document that attempt to recreate the author’s brief and tortured life, possibly the last thing that Kafka would have wanted. He spent his childhood in Staré Město (Old Town) in various houses around Staroměstské Náměstí (Old Town Square); "Within this little circle, my whole life is contained." His family lived at Celetná 2 (1888-89), U minuty (at the Minute) (1889-96), now part of Staroměstské Radnice (Old Town Hall) where you see the balcony that Kafka was banished to by his father, and Celetná 3 (1896-1907) where he could see into from his window, Kostel Týn (Týn Church). Kafka attended school at Volksschule (1887-93) on Manná and Alstadler Gynasium (1893-1901) in Palác Goltz-Kinský (Goltz-Kinský Palace), below which his father ran a haberdashers, now a Kafka Bookshop. Kafka studied law at the Karolinium (1901-06) going on to work as an insurance clerk at Václavské Namesti (1906-07) and Na Poříčí 7 (1908-22). During this time, the Kafkas lived at Parizska 36 (1907-13) where Kafka wrote "The Judment" in just 8 hours, and then Oppelthaus overlooking Staroměstské Náměstí where Kafka first turned into an insect, prompting him to write "Metamorphosis" and his family to find Kafka a place of his own.
Kafka found his lodgings at Dlouka 16 (1915-16), but it was too noisy to concentrate on his most famous work, "The Trial", instead spending a productive winter at his sister’s cottage in the castle grounds at Zlatá Ulika 22 (1916-17), now another Kafka Bookshop, before moving to Palác Schönborn (Schönborn Palace) (1917) in Mála Strána, now the U.S. Embassy. Ill health forced him to return to the family home; "I closed the windows in the palace for the last time, locked the door; how much like dying this must be."
After his early retirement, he visited various spas in Central Europe and tried living in Vienna and Berlin, returning each time to his family at Oppelthaus; "Prague doesn't let go. This old crone has claws. One has to surrender or else."He died of tuberculosis on June 3, 1924, and is buried alongside his parents at Žižkov Hrbitory (Žižkov Cemetery).
The museum costs 40Kč and isn’t really worth it, but, as the quote from Kafka’s friend Johannes Urzidil at the beginning of this entry suggests, to get to know Kafka is to get to know Prague, with its imposing official edifices and dark twisting alleyways. According to Gustave Janovich, another of Kafka’s friends; "Kafka loved the streets, palaces, gardens, and churches of the city where he was born" Kafka himself is a little more circumspect; "Prague that I not only love but also fear."
From journal Prague’s Jewish Ghetto: Exotic Museum for an Inextinguishable Race