[Kafka’s Alchemist Lane “Burrow” with open door]
A burrow offers security and comfort. Kafka found both in his sister’s tiny house on the Golden Lane.
The Golden Lane is a narrow, dead-end yet massively historic lane, hugging an interior wall of the huge Prague Castle. Centuries ago the small buildings along the lane housed workers of the Castle, including some resident alchemists. Thus the name.
Ottla – Kafka’s sister – had rented it so she could spend time with her lover, and not be bothered by parents and comments. Her lover was not only a Christian, but he was soon going to leave to fight in World War I. Time was precious. However, she rarely had opportunities to use it other than the weekends, so she offered Franz the use of the tiny house for most of the time. And use it he did, though he never stayed the night.
Through fall, winter and spring Kafka wrote a whole book of short stories there. For a single block of time, it was one of his most creative periods.
When I visited, under the Communist rule of the time, it had been converted to a book store. Of course (which he would have appreciated) there were no books by Kafka for sale. Today he is displayed in the windows.
It was only when I went thorough the small rooms, and looked out the window into The Stag Moat, that I realized how important the house would become in Kafka In The Castle, my novel about Kafka. It was cozy – even with the space cramped by tourists. It had been little altered. I could easily imagine Kafka looking through the same glass and walking through the same doorways. No doubt stooping because he was tall. Research met reality.
One of the last stories Kafka wrote, during his final year in Berlin, was called The Burrow. A version exists and is published, though a longer version is supposed to be among his ‘missing’ papers. In it a tiny animal keeps incessantly burrowing to keep away from an enemy. A vague noise convinces the animal to burrow deeper.
Yes – that’s Kafka.