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Kafka In The Castle

Kafka And A Hungry Bird Give Thanks

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[Franz Kafka and his sister, Ottla.]

In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I fill in the many diary entries Franz Kafka either did not make, or destroyed after the fact. He would have made no references to an actual ‘Thanksgiving Day’, but I feel this is close enough.

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30 September 1917

There was a knocking at the window this morning. A polite and concise rap rap rap. It awoke me while the room was barely light.

Who could want me so early? And then again, an insistent rap rap rap. I was confused, wondering where I was. The panic of Prague weighted down the covers, and I was sorry I had opened my eyes. The room, the smells – even the bed – was not familiar, so I was both bothered and assured by the strangeness.

When I realized I was not in Prague – for who could knock on my third floor window – I remembered I was in Zurau, where things were different. Here my window looked onto a yard, and anyone could  be at it. Was there something wrong? Was Ottla after my help? I even wondered, as I searched for my slippers, if her young man had somehow arranged leave from the army, and after much travail had managed to reach the wrong room. I could understand that very well.

I walked hesitantly over to the window, and cautiously pulled back the curtain. Such a commotion ensued that I stepped back in some fright. A bird flew immediately past the glass, its wings frantic as it screeched in agitation. It had been perched on my window ledge, pecking away at the frame. Ottla says it may have been after insects or grubs settled in for the winter.

“Insects in the walls of the house?” I asked.  “Yes.” She was quite matter-of-fact.  “It is a warm place for them during the cold months.”  I was not inclined to argue with the logic, but neither had I thought I would be existing in such close proximity with the tenants of nature.

Houses for warmth and bugs for food. It is a blend of the base and the subtle which I can appreciate. Much – I like to think – as does the annoyed bird.

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Kafka Ponders Friday 13th And The Love Of A Good Woman

 

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In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I fill in the missing entries of his actual diaries.  There are many days to fill, as he either did not write during these days, or he destroyed the record.

Kafka did have occasion to ponder Friday 13th. The date was connected to “The Swiss Girl”, whom he met at a resort.  She was eighteen and he was thirty-four. It is unclear how intimate their relationship became.

Twice, I give him a brief recognition of Friday 13th. In reality, The Swiss Girl haunted him (pleasantly) all his life.

**************************************

13 April 1917

I almost wrote down the year as 1913. That was the year I met the Swiss girl. And I remember her joking about, and how we had missed it by just a day. She was superstitious – Christians seem to be. I wonder what precautions she is taking today. It will be three years and seven months since I saw her. Yet some of the things we did could have happened last week. I think that memory must be made of rubber.  You can sometimes pull it toward yourself – and sometimes it snaps away like a shot. Causing as much pain.

13 July 1917

Friday the 13th again. What better time to think of the Swiss girl, than with F. I don’t know if such memories help sustain me, or if they revel how intolerable the future can sometimes be. I can not imagine the Swiss girl’s face across the table from me, nor her voice singing one of her quiet songs. If I must be trapped, then why can’t I be trapped in the past?

[The Swiss Girl ~ Gerti Wasner] p8.storage.canalblog.com/89/52/207513/106933578_o.gif

Kafka Never Slept In This Prague Hotel

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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.

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The hotel is situated in the heart of Prague, next to the Old Town Square, where the famous medieval astronomical clock is mounted on the southern wall of the Old Town City Hall. The Neo-Baroque building was built in the 19th century by Alfonse Wertmuller, a famous architect in Prague. It was formerly the office of the Workers’ Accident Insurance of Kingdom of Bohemia, where Franz Kafka worked as an insurance clerk from 1908 to 1922. His spirit can still be felt in the hotel, as his bronze bust welcomes guests in the lobby in front of the majestic stairs.
hotel-century-old-town
room
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In addition, this is one of the few diary entries I wrote, set in his office building,

 
Excerpt from Kafka In The Castle

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.

Kafka Has A Beer With His Father

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In Kafka In The Castle, I fill in the ‘missing’ diary entries from Kafka’s real diary. He either did not fill in these days himself, or he destroyed them. There are some estimates that Kafka destroyed 70% – 80% of everything he wrote. 

On this day, Kafka spent the afternoon with his father – an unusual event. And he even had a beer – he was not much of a drinker. But Kafka knew his estranged sister, Ottla, was coming to visit. Her parting of months before had been vicious.

***************************************

25 June 2017

We are rarely alone with each other, and the strain was palpable. I wanted to act as normally as possible, but since my usual conversation is what generally infuriates him, that seemed unwise. We read the newspapers, and I managed enough comments about the articles, and elicited his tiresome opinions about the war, and didn’t argue with him too much, that the afternoon – although slow – passed with little rancour. I even had a beer with him, and he showed his surprise. And, I even enjoyed it – but then, I had earned it.

In fact, it may have been the unaccustomed alcohol which lessened the shock of seeing Ottla enter the apartment with mother. Father stood from his chair, the newspapers falling at his feet. “Ottla has an hour before she must catch her train,” said Mother. “I have asked her in for some tea.” Father glared at her an excessively long minute without speaking, managing however to give me an occasional menacing glance. He then abruptly sat again, gathering his papers and holding them in front of his face. “Don’t give her too much,” came his voice from behind the pages. “Too much tea can make a long journey uncomfortable.” I knew that he had already read the pages he held, and I wondered what he was thinking.

About ten minutes passed, and then mother came back and asked if we would like any tea. “Yes,” my father answered, but instead of waiting for it to be brought to him, as is his usual practise, he followed mother into the dining room. And I followed him. Ottla didn’t look up, but he did manage to ask some questions about the farm, and she delivered some cautious replies. She stayed another twenty minutes, then I walked her to the station. It had been mother’s idea to come home, and Ottla had not strongly resisted. I know that she and father will never apologize to each other, but at least they now speak. Once we were out of sight of the house, she gripped my hand and held it until we reached the train. “How can I love that monster?” she asked from the train as it pulled away. “How can you not?” I replied. I hope the noise from the wheels drowned out my words.

 

26 June 1917

Fight and you die. Surrender and you die.

 

27 June 1917

Live and you die.

 

[Image] https:/ /s.inyourpocket.com/gallery/148184.jpg

 

Kafka And His Hot Summer Night Of The Dead

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Kafka’s House: Number 22

 

In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I fill in Franz Kafka’s missing diary entries. Every day chosen is a day where he either left no record, or destroyed the pages.

On this night, he meets the woman who was the girlfriend of Kafka’s neighbour on The Alchemist’s Lane, who had killed himself. Kafka found the body. He also found a note addressed to her, which he kindly burned.

*****************************************

25 July 1917

I had not been here long – the newspaper only partially read – when I thought I heard a noise at the door. A woman was framed in the open doorway, her hand still hesitant upon the wood. I rose from my chair, and she stepped back into the lane.

“Yes?” I asked.

“You knew him?” she asked in turn.

She was a slender woman, sallow complexion, and younger in age than Ottla. I walked toward the door, for it seemed apparent she was not about to enter.

“You were his neighbour – the Herr Doktor?”

She did not retreat any further, and I was now standing in the doorway.

“Oh,” I said. “You mean … ” But I had to stop, for I could not remember his name. I finally had to point to the house next door.

“Yes,” she said. “He killed himself.”

“Yes.” I had to agree.

“Did he …” she began, and I could sense her difficulty in having this discussion. “Did he say anything about me. I’m Julie.”

“We can go in, if you like. I do have a key.” I am an expert at stalling for time. “No one has moved in.”

She looked at me in disbelief, her face seeming to age as various expressions moved across it.

“No – that isn’t …” she began, staring at the other door. “I was never here. We didn’t have that type of friendship. But I have not been able to remove him from my mind. If he ever spoke of me, I care to know about it.”

My hope was that she would never ask about an envelope addressed to her.

“So you don’t wish to go in?”

“No. That means nothing to me.” She took a step closer. “Just if he talked.”

“You were his girlfriend?”

“He thought me so – though I told him differently, and offered no encouragement. But perhaps he drank too much to pay attention.”

“You were with another man?”

“He told you that? So – he did speak of me.”

“Yes.”

“What else did he say?”

There are times to tell the truth; times to expand the truth for clarification; and times to compress.

“He said that he saw you together with a man. And that he missed you.”

“Did he say anything the night he killed … the night he died?”

I didn’t pause, because I had stalled just so I could answer this question.

“He asked me if I was going to be in my house over the evening.” Here I did pause, as if in thought. “And he said he didn’t like the other people on the lane.”

“Nothing else?”

“Pleasantries – good evening, etc. He said he liked our talks.”

“He talked a lot?”

“No, not really.”

“Was there a note?”

“You should ask the police about that.” I was very calm. “They searched his house.”

“Yes, perhaps I will. He said nothing further?”

“We did not really have conversations.” I shrugged my shoulders. “He was always drunk.”

“Even that night?”

“Oh yes. The night he hanged himself – most certainly.”

“And you were the one who found…”

“Yes, Miss. And, I contacted the police.”

“He was … was dead when you found him?”

“Yes.” I looked directly into her eyes. “He did a very effective job.”

She was quiet for a moment, staring at his door. She looked along the Lane, then finally at me.

“You have been most kind, Herr Doktor. I’m sorry to have troubled you.” She did not wait for a response, and was turning away when I spoke.

“If I may ask, Miss. This happened three months ago.”

“To the night,” she said.

“Three months. Why have you waited until now?”

“It does not seem long.”  She was conscious of others on the Lane looking in our direction. “His attention – though I never asked for it – was so total and persistent, that I have felt it deserved my interest.”  She shook her head slightly. “But not any more. I wish to put an end to it.” She unexpectedly stepped toward me. “That’s all right, isn’t it, Herr Doktor?”

The question was so intense that I touched her shoulder.

“Yes. Without any doubt – yes. You’ve spent enough time on a ghost within a memory.”

I smiled, and she walked away, quickly down the Lane. Death’s hand released its grip.

 

The World Celebrates (And Rightfully So) The Birthday Of Franz Kafka

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Yes, 03 July is Kafka’s birthday.
Imagine all the celebrations running rampant in the world.
No doubt a hearty rendition of “Hip hip hooray” and the occasional exuberant “Huzzah!”, echo through each major city and every quiet hamlet.
I have written him a letter (as yet, unanswered).
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My Present / Your Future

Still in this World

A Life Away

Dear F:

You would find it perverse to be wished a “Happy” birthday, but your response would be gracious. Such is the reality you understand, and how you deal with it. I have found that your reality is actually real.

Although it will give you no pleasure – well, ‘little’ pleasure – you are correct in all your observations.

Governments become the tools of the bureaucracies which run them. It doesn’t matter what type of Government, from the monarchy under which you lived, to the right wing horror of fascists that called themselves socialists, to the inept socialism pretending to be ‘for the people’. All three governments held their sway over the city where you spent your life. All three oppressed the people they ruled. All three looked after themselves first.

Writers are either writers or they aren’t. The urge to write encircles one like a snake around its prey. Feed it and it won’t quite squeeze you to death. You can not ignore it – even at your peril. It is with you every hour of every day, ever inquisitive and (sadly) always looking for something better.

Love is a see-saw of extremes. Every high guarantees a low. Every low reaches for a high. Every high reaches for a high. When these hills and valleys are eventually levelled, they are still desired.

Sex is highly over rated. The thing of it is, even rated fairly ’tis a consummation devoutly to be had. Yes – I know – you appreciate Shakespeare. On a par with Goethe, even if you can’t bring yourself to say the words.

People are just one damned thing after another. Of course, so many people have brought you blessings, you throw up you hands to ward off the snake. And sometimes – some few times – it loosens its grip.

There is no castle with walls thick enough to hide against the perils of being human. Which is why you never tried.

Except the grave, of course.

Except the grave.

Yours,

D

 

~~~~~~~~~~~

And, in my novel about him, Kafka In The Castle, I gave him this diary entry.

03 July 1918
 
The anniversary of my birth.

In celebration of the day, I did not make it my last.

War And The Army And Kafka

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Kafka recorded the beginning of the First World War in his diary this way:

August 2, 1914: Germany has declared war on Russia. Went swimming in the afternoon.

That was it.

But, regardless of his lack of enthusiasm, Kafka believed in the duties of the citizen. He tried to join the army to fight. In fact, he tried to join a number of times. He was always refused because the government deemed his civil/government job was too important for him to relinquish.

But, near the end of the war, when Kafka was so sick he had lengthy periods of leave from his job to recuperate, the army came calling.  Kafka had to appear before authorities with medical proof of his illness.

In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I ‘fill in’ one of his diary entries describing such a situation.

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07 February 1918

I find I must go to Prague at the end of next week. Such knowledge is proof that one should not open one’s mail. The Military yet again wishes to snare me, and I must once again prove that my hide is not worth the effort.

There were time (very rare) when my father would despair. Not his usual anger at the general incompetence and perfidy of the world around him, but a resignation to the belief that things would never get any better.

“If they want to drag me down,” he would say, “Then I may as well join them. I’ll go out into the street and let myself be swept away by the mob. I’ll become part of their common, grubby life, and let them wipe their boots on me.”

That is much as I feel right now. Let the army take me, dress me in their uniform, point me toward the Americans, and have some cowboy shoot me. Going into battle could be no worse than going into Prague.

[Image] https://www.ndr.de/kultur/buch/tipps/kafka115_v-contentxl.jpg

Kafka Had A Father For Life

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In Kafka In The Castle, I fill in the ‘missing’ diary entries from Kafka’s real diary. He either did not fill in these days himself, or he destroyed them. There are some estimates that Kafka destroyed 70% – 80% of everything he wrote. 

Kafka’s father gets a bad (and unwarranted) rap from Kafka and history. Hermann Kafka was emotionally distant, and devoted his life to his business (at which he was very successful). But he did this as much for his family, as for any other reason. He had come from hardship, poverty and want, and he wished different for his children. As long as they didn’t get in his way.

++++++++++++

01 January 1917

              There was a cloud caught in the branches of a tree today, outside my parents home. Or so it appeared. I got up from the cot and went to tell Ottla, but she was clearing the kitchen, tending to the dishes.

So I was radical, unthinking – driven by haste – and told the only one not consumed by labour. I told my father.

“In the trees?” he asked.

I propelled him from his chair, thrusting the papers aside. He followed me, and I could see the surprise on his face.

“Where?” he asked; and I pointed out the window. “But I see nothing.”  

“Oh, you have to lie on the cot.”  

“On the cot?”  

“And with your head just so.”

I pushed him onto it, and he lay, looking sideways.

“But you are right,” he said.

I thought, because of the holiday, he might be humouring me, but then I saw that his jaw hung open, and his face was astonished.

Does the boy never grow, that he can feel so good to be vindicated by his father?

“Kill Me, Or You Are A Murderer.”

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Franz Kafka was born in 1883, so he would probably be dead had he lived.

I wonder what Kafka would think about the worldwide communication and information of today. He was a rigid fixture of the staid (he hated using the telephone). He also was a keen observer of the world around him (he wrote the first newspaper report about aeroplanes, and he invented the safety helmet). It was more this deep divide in his personality which caused him his problems, about which he so famously wrote.

He did not fit into his personal world, yet he fit into the real world perfectly. He was adored by his friends and by many ladies. He was respected at his work and rose to a position of power. His stories were published to acclaim in his lifetime.

Kafka lived a Kafkaesque life. He died a Kafkaesque death (he caught tuberculosis because he drank “pure” unpasteurised cow’s milk). He was rigid in his personal beliefs (until proved wrong), yet he was a beacon of compassion to others.

Kafka was always on a tightrope. He looked at things with such accuracy that his comments can seem bizarre. Supposedly his last words were:  “Kill me, or you are a murderer.” They were to  his doctor, as Kafka beseeches for an overdose of morphine.

I have written much about Kafka. This is a diary entry I had him write in my novel Kafka In The Castle:

03 July 1917

The anniversary of my birth. In honour of the day, I do not make it my last.

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