Among all the famous people from Prague, Franz Kafka is perhaps the most notable one. Although he never explicitly mentioned Prague in his works, there are traces of how the city influenced his life and ideals. The political turmoil and social divide during his time are expressed in many of his works, which center on human suffering and the search for meaning and purpose.
To get a glimpse of his roots and understand his works better, many fans of Kafka go to Prague. With the city well-preserved over the years, they can visit the places Kafka used to frequent when he lived there. There are also several sculptures and museums dedicated to him.
If you’re one of the many fans wanting to pay homage to the surrealist writer, here are the places you ought to visit on your trip to Prague.
Náměstí Franze Kafky
Start your tour at the place where Kafka was born in U Radnice 5 in Josefov. Franz Kafka was born to Julie and Hermann on the third of July 1883. They lived in a neighborhood at the edge of a Jewish ghetto. Their home was located at the northeast corner of the square, just a few steps from the Church of St. Nicholas. The actual building he was born in was burnt down, but the doorway remained intact and was preserved even after the house was rebuilt.
Today, the place is marked with a bust of Kafka and a small plaque that commemorates his birth. Inside is a small exhibition dedicated to him. The area is also now called the Franz Kafka Square in honor of him.
Old Town Square
With the Old Town Square right next to his home, it’s no surprise that Kafka spent plenty of time in the square and neighboring streets. Around age 10, he took lessons in a German grammar school at the Kinsky Palace. He also once lived in a house just beside the Astronomical Clock. You can visit this place at the Old Town Square No. 2—just ask around for the House at the Minute (Dům U Minuty).
Statue of Franz Kafka
About 5 minutes away from Old Town Square is a sculpture inspired by Kafka’s short story, “Description of a Struggle.” Created by famed sculptor Jaroslav Rona, it depicts a small man in a suit on the shoulders of a large empty suit. This image represents the narrator of the story riding on the back of the acquaintance. You can find this sculpture at Dušní in the Jewish Quarter.
A few blocks away from the Franz Kafka Statue is the Old-New Synagogue where Kafka’s bar mitzvah was held. On the west wall of the synagogue’s main hall is a glass case with small light bulbs inside. These bulbs light up during the death anniversaries of people they are dedicated to, one of which is Franz Kafka.
Across the Vltava is Castle District, where Kafka stayed with his sister when he needed some peace and quiet to write his stories. He lived in a small stone cottage within the walls of the Prague Castle for nearly two years. The building he stayed in has been repainted and now stands at the Golden Lane with other colorful houses. Dubbed as House Number 22, this place is a must-visit when you go on your Kafka tour.
Franz Kafka Museum
From Golden Lane, head back toward the Vltava to visit the Franz Kafka Museum on Cihelna. Learn more about Kafka’s life and the influence Prague had on it. The exhibitions tend to be dark and peculiar, but they perfectly exude the surrealist nature of Kafka’s work.
As you tour the museum, you’ll discover original manuscripts and first editions of Kafka’s works. Correspondences and photos are also on display, along with other items. Recent additions to the museum are three-dimensional installations and audio-visual pieces.
Take a breather from all the walking, and enjoy a meal or a cup of coffee at Café Louvre on Národni, Nové Město. Opened in 1902, this café was a popular hangout for the cultural elite of Prague during that time. Kafka spent a lot of time here meeting close friends, including Max Brod. So as you indulge in coffee, black tea, and sweet pastries, imagine Kafka writing drafts or discussing philosophy on one of the tables around you.
Head of Franz Kafka
A short walk from the café is another architectural landmark built in commemoration of Kafka. Created by David Černý, the Rotating Head of Kafka features a kinetic sculpture with over 40 rotating panels. This creates an illusion of Kafka’s face shifting as it looks around the city of Prague.
Hotel Century Old Town
Many believe that Kafka’s works were greatly influenced by his experiences at the Workers’ Accident Insurance Company. As a clerk, he was in charge of reporting industrial accidents. This may have inspired themes on how humans struggle to survive and the obstacles faced by workers. Accounts from his acquaintances also narrated how Kafka complained about the difficulties of balancing his day job and his writing.
The place where Kafka worked is now called the Hotel Century Old Town. As you enter the hotel, you’ll be greeted by a bust of Kafka at the lobby. Relax a little at the hotel bar as you read his books. Kafka’s office—which used to be room 214—is now the Kafka Suite, so try and book the room for a night or two if you can.
Another favorite haunt of Kafka and Brod is just a few blocks away from Hotel Century Old Town. Built in the 1900s, Café Arco became one of the most popular gathering places for German-Jewish writers in the early 20th century. However, it has lost its glory over the years and has become an inconspicuous cafeteria for the Interior Ministry.
End your Kafka tour by paying homage to Franz Kafka at his final resting place. Although he died in a sanatorium in Kierling near Vienna, his remains were buried at the New Jewish Cemetery in Prague. His parents are also buried in the same plot. Marking the grave is a white obelisk with his name and his parents’ names engraved on it. A tablet also commemorates his sisters who died in concentration camps during the second world war.
Although the cemetery is vast, you won’t get lost, as there are signs that lead you to sector 21 where Kafka’s grave lies.