Kafka was not ambivalent about his opinion of Prague. Of the city he said: "The little mother has claws." And in my novel about Kafka, I have given him the line (though I can not shake the feeling that I actually read it somewhere else): "If I could get out of Prague, I wouldn't have to get out of Prague."
Regardless, Kafka had negative feelings about living in Prague. This might explain his frequent vacations; his pleasure at taking business trips; and his inclination to move to either Berlin or Palestine. He finally did get to move to Berlin, and died within a year. [DE]
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by Lucie Kavanova
Translated by Lani Seelinger
Gaunt marionettes with popped-out eyes, mugs, absinthe or vodka glasses. Even a few years ago, souvenirs bearing the name of Franz Kafka cried out from all the shop windows in Prague’s center. Today, however, it’s as though Prague’s most world-renowned author has flattened into the ground during a walk through Old Town.
Shopkeepers agree that this tourist symbol simply doesn’t have the traction anymore. And Kafka, who this week would have celebrated his 130th birthday, has received an excellent present. Masses of tourists don’t respond to his likeness or his empty legend anymore. Now, once more, trails to the second most-translated writer in history pose themselves primarily for those who have a real interest in him.
Who will be Mozart?
In a smurf-blue house on the Golden Lane, tourists briskly take their turns. They take pictures of each other with the sign stating “Here lived Franz Kafka” and curiously peek into the tiny room inside. Hungarians, Australians, Albanians – everyone knows Kafka from school. “We haven’t read anything by him, though. He’s definitely not a symbol of Prague for me, that’s [football player Tomáš] Rosický,” says Attila, a football player from Hungary.
40 year-old Luka from Italy, on the other hand, has read almost everything. “My parents had him in their library, I read The Castle when I was 14, and back then I didn’t understand him at all. A few years later, though, a radical left-wing paper gave The Trialout as a free supplement, so I gave Kafka a second chance and became absolutely addicted to him,” says the tanned man. “It fascinates me how he goes into the depths of human thought and exposes uncomfortable questions.”
Those who would like to add to their knowledge have a choice of many of Kafka’s books in a bookstore located in a house on the Golden Lane that once belonged to Franz Kafka’s sister. They can also buy souvenirs there, notebooks, pencils, or a calendar with his portrait – all in subtle styles and colors. But five years ago, they would have found sketchy exhibits of Kafka’s portraits that stylized him into a strange ghost, and similarly, the whole Royal Way would have been lined with racks of Kafka souvenirs.