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In Prague, on the trail of Franz Kafka

The entrance to the Kafka Museum. (Lina Marie Schulenkorf/YJI)

Prague, CZECHIA – After spending some time following Franz Kafka’s footsteps in Prague, I came to learn what the place is like and why anyone should care.

The exhibition about Kafka’s father. (Lina Marie Schulenkorf/YJI)

“Prague won’t let go. This little mother has claws,” the famous writer Franz Kafka once said about his hometown, and the first time I set foot in Prague’s old town center, I understood this feeling only too well.

I had come to visit the Kafka Museum in Prague and experience Kafka’s Prague. I spent almost a whole day in Prague, which clearly shaped my view of the very somber writer.

My day began with a guided tour of Prague’s historic center and Kafka’s various places of residence. Kafka, who never really left his hometown and perceived it as both a place of safety and a prison, had nevertheless left behind a considerable number of different places, which we visited.

These included his birthplace on Námêstí Franze Kafky (Franz Kafka Square), his primary school, grammar school and school route, which Kafka mentions several times in his diaries, as well as his university, synagogue and the various places where he lived and worked as an adult.

Of course, we also stop by the Cafe Louvre, where Kafka used to meet other writers and scientists – even Albert Einstein, our guide explained. But the real highlight of my visit came after we took one of Kafka’s favorite walks across the famous Karlův most (Charles Bridge) and reached the Kafka Museum.

The museum is located in a former brickworks and offers a direct view of the Old Town and the Vltava River. The old building is dark, small and rather gloomy and lets you experience the meaning of the adjective “Kafkaesque,” inspired by Kafka’s novels.

Inside, the atmosphere is almost reverent; the interior is dark, while sparsely lit quotes and a family tree adorn the walls.

The exhibition is divided into two parts, the first of which deals with Kafka’s relationship with Prague and his family – especially his father and his love life.

Nearly two rooms are entirely dedicated to Kafka’s relationship to his father and his work Letter to the Father.

First edition manuscripts at the Kafka Museum in Prague. (Lina Marie Schulenkorf/YJI)
The Kafka statue. (Lina Marie Schulenkorf/YJI)

More rooms give an insight into Kafka’s work as an author, activities in Prague and his relationship to writing, as well as his beliefs and relation to Judaism.

The next room surprises with the dedication to Kafka Love Life, presenting each of Kafka’s girlfriends or former fianceés, giving a better insight into his life and relationships through letters.

In the second part, numerous original editions of Kafka’s works are on display, thematically elucidating each of his works in short clips, pictures and sceneries.

The room in the museum that is dedicated to Kafka’s lovers. (Lina Marie Schulenkorf/YJI)

All in all, the museum provides an intensive insight into the life of the famous 20th-century author and sheds new light on his work.

The Kafka Museum at the former brickworks in Prague. (Lina Marie Schulenkorf/YJI)

For every reader of Franz Kafka, a visit to the museum is almost a necessity, as it brings you closer to the time in when Kafka grew up. It’s a time that seems more distant than ever to us today, even though it is so urgently essential in order to understand Kafka’s place in world literature.

Even if the amount of different information can be quite overwhelming, I finished the day with a deep and better insight into this marvelous author who was writing such enigmatic stories.

Lina Marie Schulenkorf is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

Read more from YJI students about Kafka:

Postcards from Prague: journalism, cultural exchange, friendship and self-discovery

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