Franz Kafka (1883–1924), the Czech author of German-language novels The Trial, The Castle and Amerika, is one of the most important figures of 20th century world literature.
The heart of his literary and real worlds was Prague, a city full of secrets and myths, dazzling decorative architecture and magic. In his novels and stories Kafka, with few exceptions, never names the cities that he describes. Nevertheless, Prague leaps from his pages like an omnipresent and fantastical city, full of metaphors and allegories. Join us in commemorating the 130th anniversary of Kafka's birth by taking a walk in the footsteps of the famous writer, through the maze of side streets of the historical centre and the picturesque recesses where Kafka lived and wrote.
Old Town and Old Town Square
Kafka spent most of his short life in Prague's Old Town. The house at U věže, in which he was born, stood on the corner of Maiselova and Kaprova Streets. After the redevelopment of Prague at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, however, all that remained of it was the original stone portal. Today it is marked only by a commemorative plaque.
As the Kafka family often moved, sometimes even just a few houses down the street, the trail of Franz Kafka will take you to Old Town with almost every step, mainly around the Old Town Square. From 1889 to 1896, for example, the Kafkas lived in the charming U minuty house with its exquisite sgraffito decoration in close proximity to the Old Town Hall. From there it was only a short walk for the future writer to the German grammar school in today's Kinský Palace, on the ground floor of which his father Hermann Kafka had a haberdashery shop. The palace today is home to the National Gallery, and you can also visit the Kafka Bookshop.
Your journey through Kafka-related sites in Prague, both real and fictional, can be guided by the Franz Kafka Society, which is devoted to his life and work. It also has a bookshop housed on Široka Street, between narrow Maiselova Street and luxurious Pařížska Street. The bookshop virtually neighbours the Maisel Synagogue and is a stone's throw from the High and Old New synagogues. Another noteworthy sight is the memorial between the Church of the Holy Ghost and the Spanish Synagogue on Dušní Street, where Kafka went to school.
From Kafka to the museum and the castle
In the works of the famous writer, the former Prague ghetto as well as Malá Strana (the Lesser Quarter), Prague Castle and other places come to life. The Franz Kafka Museum will help acquaint you with every detail of Kafka's world and home town. This remarkable exposition was created after the James Joyce Museum in Dublin and the Fernando Pessoa Museum in Lisbon as the third in a series of exhibitions of world writers’ cities. In 2002–2003 it could be seen in the Jewish Museum in New York, since 2005 it is housed in Hergetova cihelna restaurant in Malá Strana, just a few steps from the Charles Bridge. The museum also has a shop with a complete selection of Kafka’s works and biographies of the writer.
Lovers of Kafka's novels often also make the journey to Prague Castle. Although it is often cited as one of the places where he lived and worked, the miniature house at No. 22 on Zlatá Street actually belonged to his sister. Kafka sometimes used it as a refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city centre, where he found it hard to concentrate on his writing. The stories from this period were later published under the title The Country Doctor, but Kafka apparently never even spent the night here.
In 1917 he was stricken with pulmonary tuberculosis and the last years of his life were spent mostly in sanatoriums and medical institutions in Bohemia and abroad. He died in an Austrian sanatorium in Kierling Au Klosterneuburg. He was buried in the family grave at the New Jewish Cemetery in the Strašnice district of Prague.