After spending some time in souvenir shops in Prague, I noticed an overwhelming amount of items with Franz Kafka on them. It made me want to learn more about this famous Prague icon.
Franz Kafka was born in Prague on July 3rd, 1883. His father Hermann was from the Czech proletariat, and lived in the neighborhoods of old Prague ghetto. His mother Julie Löwy came from a wealthy and educated German-Jewish family.
His father owned a haberdashery, a store that sells items for sewing and needlework. The emblem of the store was a crow because a crow is called kavka in Czech. The stores profits allowed the family to live a cozy life. Parents entrusted the role of parenting Franz to their governesses and a cook who severely scolded him daily. This is a direct cause of Franz Kafka and his fathers strained relationship. Moreover, Franz had quite distant sisters, who were often the cause of torment, stress, and anguish throughout his life. Kafka’s anxieties become an obsessive themes in his stories and novels.
His father was described as dominant and pretentious, which stifled his son. Despite an intense relationship with his mother, Kafka identified more to her, particularly with his intellectual side. The person he probably appreciated the most was his sister Ottla, with whom he kept very good relation throughout its life.
Kafka’s mother tongue is German as 10% of the population of Prague in this era.
From 1889 to 1893 he was in primary school on Masna street. After primary school, he was accepted to the German State College in Prague.
He finished his education at the German State College of Prague in 1901, and in the fall of 1901, he enrolled at Charles University. He’s spent two weeks studying chemistry, until he finally decided to devote his studies to law and art history. He was also a leader in the student association that organized literary presentations.
In 1906 Franz received his doctorate in law, and had a one-year internship at the court in Prague.
In 1907, he worked for a company, Assicurazioni Generali an italian insurance business. But he only worked for nine months, and resigned in the summer of 1908, because of the long hours prevented him from exercising his passion of writing.
After two weeks, he found a new job working for the Arbeiter-Unfall-Versicherungs-Anstat fur das Königreich Böhmen (Insurance Institute for Workers’ Compensation of Bohemian Kingdom). He worked for the company until 1922, he decided to retire prematurely for health reasons. Franz never did like his work, it was simply a livelihood.
He was fragile man since childhood. In 1917, he began to spit blood regularly and was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Kafka showed signs of hypochondria, which is characterized by excessive anxiety and fear and overwhelming for the health and functioning of an individual. It is also believed that he suffered from clinical depression and social phobia. Social phobia causes significant distress and decreased capacity. This phobia causes the fear of being judged negatively in social interaction and gradually leads the individual isolation. Kafka also suffered from migraines and insomnia. The man also followed a strictly vegetarian diet and did not trust ‘regular’ medicine.
In 1924 he was diagnosed with tuberculosis of the larynx. Kafka became increasingly difficult to feed. His doctor sent him to Krieling near Vienna to try to cure his tuberculosis. He died there on June 3, 1924 at the age of 40 years. His body was brought to Prague to be buried in the new cemetery Jewish Zizkov.
Throughout his long sleepless and loneliness night the writer acquired a humorous and acid prose which has conquered other authors such as Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre.
His early writings began in the era of imperial school. But Franz later destroyed his own writings because he judged them too vain and not sufficiently precise. He viewed writing as a spiritual rescue. It was only in and through writing that could burn “with a fire which warmed the icy space of our world.” A world that sometimes seemed “hoarding” silent and inert. He never ceased to write, even with the disease he never gave up his passion. He has only published two books in his lifetime The Metamorphosis and The Verdict. In his writing, he emphasized that the bureaucracy can make absurd man.
He is a man with a sensitivity to social and political problems which had strengthened during his life. Just before Kafka died, he asked his friend Max Brod to burn all that he had written, even all the letters he had written but never sent. Max Brod decided to keep all of the literary work, specifically to publish all of his friends work, and make him famous posthumously.
Kafka addresses the themes of loneliness, dreams, fears and complexes. The characters in his novels and books are often as disoriented as the reader. The adjective “Kafkaesque” refers to something absurd, illogical, confused.
Kafka also put in place in his writings the complex relationship he had with Prague, he loved the city, while it felt very negative at times because of the historical context of the time. Kafka is considered an author unclassifiable and his style is unique, it is avant-garde.
Near Charles Bridge you can visit the Kafka Museum on the side of Mala Strana. I had the chance to visit last weekend. The museum makes you return to the world of Kafka through his writings, his childhood, his loves, his work, and his illness. You can see very beautiful pictures of Prague in the early 20th century. Also, Kafka is presented as a Czech who spoke german living in Prague, not as a German who lived in Prague.
The museum is quite disturbing at the end of the tour, you have two rooms in which you can not stay very long because you feel mad. The museum is open all week long, it costs 120 crowns with student card and 180 crowns per adult. Anyway Kafka’s life made me want to read The Metamorphosis.
And have you ever been to Kafka Museum? What is your favorite part books or novel of Kafka?