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Kafka’s Prague

“The Metamorphosis”, by Franz Kafka (1883–1924), is undoubtedly one of the major works of the 20th century. Kafka took just 21 days to write it, yet nothing would be the same in literature after that, for, in this concise story, he soared to the heights of the genuine literary titans like Kleist, Dickens and Flaubert. Also the author of “The Trial” and “The Castle”, Kafka features among the leading figures of world literature. His theatre of operations and his inspiration were centred on Prague, the essence of which has thankfully has been preserved practically intact.

What is “The Metamorphosis” About?

“When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin”. Thus begins the “metamorphosis” of a man who “thinks about nothing but his work”. Gregor Samsa is actually a person who stands for all of humanity. One fine day Gregor discovers that he has turned into something repulsive which should be hidden from everyone else. But, what does that suffocating story actually refer to? The novel sets out to make us aware of what we really are. The transformation into an insect involves an awakening. It is only then that Gregor sees the profound metaphysical horror he is living in. And, as he is the only person that notices it, he becomes a social outcast.

Kafka’s Prague

Prague was the centre of both his literary world and his life – a mysterious city, but also a dazzling one for its entangled layout and fanciful architecture. In his short stories and novels, Kafka does not name the places he describes, except for a select few. Nevertheless, Prague emerges in his work as an ever-present, imaginary city charged with metaphor and allegory. Indeed, if we look at his writings closely, it is easy to retrace the famous author’s footsteps through the maze of streets in the old city and the picturesque spots where Kafka lived and wrote.

The Old City and its Square

Kafka spent most of his life in Prague’s Old City. U věže, the house he was born in, was located on the corner of Maiselova and Kaprova street. After the city’s facelift in the late-19th and early-20th century, the only part of the building still wrought in the original stone is the facade – emblazoned on it is a simple commemorative plaque.

While the Kafkas moved often, and usually did so within a few houses of the original one, the trail of Franz Kafka is present at virtually every step through the Old City, but mainly around the Old Town Square. For instance, in the period 1880–1896, the Kafkas lived in the charming Minute House, very near the City Hall, which stands out for its beautiful sgrafitto decoration. The future writer lived just a stone’s throw from the German Institute, the present-day Kinský Palace. His father, Hermann Kafka, ran a haberdashery on the ground floor of the same building. Today the palace houses the National Gallery. On Široká street, between the narrow Maiselova street and the luxury Pařížská Avenue, stands the must-see Kafka Bookshop, virtually next door to the Maisel Synagogue and within view of the High Synagogue. Travellers are also urged to visit the Church of the Holy Spirit and the Spanish Synagogue, on Dušní street, which houses the school that Kafka frequented.

In Kafka’s Footsteps – the Museum and Castle

The famous writer’s work brings to life both the old Prague Ghetto and the Malá Strana quarter and Prague Castle. The Franz Kafka Museum is located near Charles Bridge in Malá Strana. A Kafka exhibition entitled “The City of K” was organised by the Barcelona Contemporary Culture Centre (CCCB) in 1999 and, after touring New York’s Jewish Museum, it arrived in Prague in 2005. The exhibition was arranged in two distinct parts – the first showed how Kafka was influenced by the city and how it affected his life, while the second part reviewed the way Kafka describes the city without actually mentioning the names of places that emerge in his novels and short stories.

The characters in Kafka’s novels often follow routes leading up to Prague Castle. While it is often said that one of the places he lived and worked in was the tiny house at 22 de Zlatá Ulička – Golden Lane – the house actually belonged to his sister and Kafka used to sometimes take refuge there to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre. The stories dating from that period were later published under the title “A Country Doctor”.

In 1917, the writer went down with pulmonary tuberculosis and later died in a sanatorium in Austria. His mortal remains lie in a family pantheon in the New Jewish Cemetery of Prague-Strašnice.

If you’re eager to experience a feeling of being shrouded in mystery, make sure you visit Prague. Check out our flights here.

Text by ISABELYLUIS Comunicación

Images by Czech Tourism, Nico Paix, Jose Mesa, Roman Boed

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