When I visited Prague to research my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I went to many of the places that were part of Kafka’s life. One such place – the small house where he wrote a whole book of short stories – became a setting for a third of my novel.
However,the building where he was employed, The Workers’ Accident Insurance Institute for the Kingdom of Bohemia in Prague, I only saw at a distance across a Square. It was not a happy place for Kafka, though he was very successful at his employ, and rose to an administrative position of importance. It was not really much of a setting for my novel.
That building is now a fancy hotel, and Kafka’s office is a room for rent. It is even designated The Franz Kafka room, and contains mementos. It is where I plan to stay when next I visit. I hope there is not a long list of folk wishing to spend the night there, too. It even includes a restaurant named after his fiancée, Felice.
Following is some information about the hotel, and some photos of the room.
In addition, this is one of the few diary entries I wrote, set in his office building,
16 February 1917
There was a commotion at the office today. It was late morning, and from far below, coming up the stairwell, I could hear a voice bellowing: “Doktor Kafka. Doktor Kafka.” It was a terrible voice, full of blood and darkness.
I got from my desk and went to the door. There were other voices, trying to calm, saying: “He can’t be disturbed.” But the voice was louder, more horrible, close in the corridor. “Doktor Kafka – for the love of God.” My secretary wanted me to stay inside, hoped the man would just move along the corridor until the police were summoned.
But – I was curious; the man had my name, and his voice was … terrified.
I opened the door and stood in front of it. “I’m Kafka,” I said. The man lunged at me, and went to his knees. “Doktor Kafka?” he said. “Yes, I’m Kafka.” He reached out, grabbing for my hand. “Jesus, Jesus, for the love of Jesus – they say that you’ll help me.”
He was a heavy man, and looked as if he had the strength to pull off doors, yet the tears burst from his eyes. “I can get no work. I fell from a bridge, and my back is twisted and in pain.” He slumped against the wall, looking at my eyes. “I have a family, Doktor Kafka. A baby not a year old.” “You were working on this bridge?” I asked. “Yes.” His voice slid down his throat. “I was helping repair the surface.” “Then you deserve your insurance. Why can’t you get it?”
He straightened up, and tried to stand. “I have to fill in papers; the doctor can see no wounds; the foreman said I drank; because my brother is a thief, I am not to be trusted.” I held out my hand, and he slowly stood. “I’m telling you the truth, Doktor Kafka.”
“If that is so,” I said, “you’ll get the money due you.” “I’m so tired,” he said.
I gave instructions to those standing around – no other work was to be done until this man’s case was decided. I took him to my office, where he sat.
He sat – practically without a word – for five hours. I summoned a prominent doctor to look at him. The doctor prodded, and the man screamed. Officials from his village were telephoned. I helped him with the details on the forms. His truth was in his pain. He left our stony building with money in his hand, and his worth restored.
The people who assisted me had smiles on their faces.
A man had needed their help.