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Kafka Never Slept In This Prague Hotel

hotel-century-old-town

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.

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Kafka Dreams A Dream In Place of A Dream

franz-kafka-statue-prague
A dream of dreams
Is a dream confused.
 
Do you wake up
Into another?
 
Do you blend
Into reality?
 
Do you pick up
Where you left off?
 
Or leave off
Where you joined?
 
If it’s not making sense,
Is there sense to be made?
 
Did Kafka have the answer.
Or was Kafka the question?
(Image)www.npennydreams.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Franz-Kafka-statue-Prague.jpg

Altered History With Hitler And Kafka

 

10

[Kafka’s passport]

There are rumours (none of them started by me) that Kafka had direct dealings with Einstein, Joyce, and even Hitler.

The first two are more than possible. Einstein taught at Charles University when Kafka was a student there. Joyce was in Prague when Kafka lived there. It is quite probable they travelled in the same literary circles. Went to the same coffee houses (which Kafka frequented). Attended the same readings, or literary events, or even book stores.

The Hitler connection is far more tenuous, but based on fact. Hitler was treated, in Munich, by a doctor who had dealt with Kafka’s family in Prague. And Kafka did visit Munich in the right time frame. Kafka did, after all, predict Hitler’s world as much as he did the Communists.

Although I have, in my novel about Kafka,  “filled in” his missing diaries, I never give him such speculative encounters – tempting though it was. All events in my Kafka novel are based on detailed research from his own writings, writings of his friends, and multiple biographies.

I have written one short story that is totally speculative, where Kafka is encouraged to meet “the Austrian with the tiny mustache”, so as to kill him and stop an impending terrible war. And save his sisters from the camps.  But that doesn’t  happen in my fiction, either.

If Kafka Welcomes Spring, Can Summer Be Far Behind?

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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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

08 April 1917

I seem to end in the most absurd situations. This afternoon, before Sunday dinner, Ottla took me away for some gardening. Rooting around in the earth, with the frost barely gone. Only Ottla could find such a plot of ground in Prague, or expect me to grub about in it like some hungry animal.

It was obviously some sort of communal land – such places are popular during this war. There were even families at work. Children also. One small boy was caught between his interest in the garden, and his desire to be a small boy. And what a dilemma it was. He’d work in the ground for awhile, following the example of his mother, then suddenly race around, exploring like a small boy. He came over to Ottla and me, and hunkered down beside us. He shook his head with a sigh of exasperation, and reached over to put his hands on mine. “Mummy says that’s wrong,” and with great patience and determination, began to show me how to prepare the earth. I thought there could be no better proof to Ottla of how inept I was.

I followed the movements of his hands, and between us, we dug quite a hole. At last the little fellow stood, obviously satisfied. “I go now,” he said, and ran away to see some other entertaining oddity. Ottla hadn’t laughed for fear of offending the boy, but she didn’t show such restraint when we were finally alone.

It fell to me to find the flowers.

Such things prove God’s sense of humour, for I have no interest or understanding for flowers. There was a fellow at university who could talk about flowers for hours. Otherwise, he was quite pleasant to be with. So it seems a joke that I would find them, between a pile of rubble and the wall of a house.

I had been exploring, much as the little fellow had done. In fact, he was running past when I found them, so I showed him also. They were white, with frail leaves close to the ground. Quite nondescript. But the boy was fascinated. He put his face close, although he didn’t touch them.

“Can I tell Mummy?” He obviously thought they were my flowers. “Yes,” I said, and he ran to get her. She followed him as he chattered all the way, and then she too hesitated, looking at me cautiously. “Perhaps your wife would like to see them,” she suggested. It took a moment to realize she was referring to Ottla. The flowers had become my possession. “Yes,” I said, “And tell anyone you like.”  “The first flowers of Spring,” she said, and she went to tell the others, taking care to stop at Ottla first.

Tiny white flowers.

I can still not believe the looks upon their faces, as they crowded around. Even the children were silent.

The relief they showed.

 

(Image)https:/farm5.staticflickr.com/4122/4807642892_042ac4d5f9_z.jpg

Kafka In His Writer’s Burrow For World Book Day

87348a86cd918068ad4e09c1b813c3cf

A burrow offers security and comfort, and Kafka found both in his sister’s tiny house on the Golden Lane.

Ottla – his sister – had rented it so she could spend time with her lover and not be bothered by parents and comments. Her lover was a Christian and ready to go to war. Time was precious.

However, she rarely had opportunities other than the weekends, so she offered Franz the use of the tiny house for most of that 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. For one single block of time, it was one of his most creative periods.

When I visited, even under Communist rule, 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 my novel about Kafka. It was cozy – even with the space cramped by tourists. It had been little altered and I easily imagined 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, and deeper, and deeper.

Something Kafka himself attempted to do.

(image)https://i.pinimg.com/736x/87/34/8a/87348a86cd918068ad4e09c1b813c3cf.jpg

New Year & Kafka Meet In Prague

40061270

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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

31 December 1917

The end of the year. The end of a love. The ebb of a life. Even the Empire can not last much longer.

 

01 January 1918

It is strange how we are expected to wake up on a Tuesday morning – just as any Tuesday morning – and be full of hope because it’s the first day of some arbitrarily appointed year.

I walk the streets and it is still Prague.

(image)https://cloud10.todocoleccion.online/coleccionismo/tc/2013/11/19/12/40061270.jpg

Kafka Settles Into December from “Kafka In The Castle”

Franz-Kafka-em-Praga-1922

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.

In these entries, the chill of winter begins to settle over the chill of his life.

10 December 1916

My father is so suspicious, he rarely suspects what is really going on around him. He has no idea that Ottla has rented this house, or that I come here like a thief in the night. He would think that it is another plot against him. And, he is right about the plots – but he’ll never realize they are done solely for defensive purposes. Which is a shame, for he fully appreciates self-preservation.

Of course, even I do not fully know Ottla’s reasons for renting this tiny house. I suspect a young man is involved, but I will keep my queries to myself. It is not the place to bring Felice – but is nice enough to set out on new adventures. I’ve had adventures in less suitable surroundings. The shop girls. The hotels with their chilly rooms.

12 December 1916

Max wants me to publish more. He may even wish upon me the horror of his own proliferation. His novels, and stories, and all his comments and reviews about the “arts”. I do not tell him this, for I think he would be greatly offended, but much of the time my opinions do not even interest me.

 

14 December 1916

Overheard a woman talking to Max today – complained of being lonely. But what it sounded like to me was that she was only tired. She had children at home, family in the neighbourhood, and friends (obviously) whom she could talk to. Yet, she chooses to feel lonely. Yes, her husband is in the war, but a partial loss does not make one lonely. Perhaps alone – but that is entirely different. Being lonely is waking from a nightmare, and realizing there is no one to wake you.

Truth As Pointed Out By Kafka from “Kafka In The Castle”

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(Image by Kafka)

I have filled in Kafka’s missing diaries for a two year period in my novel, Kafka In The Castle. So, a hundred years ago he was – in reality – realizing that his escape from Prague, as he stayed with his sister is a small farming community, was nearing its end. He made some trips back to Prague to try to get his leave from his employer extended. I imagine this happened on one of these trips.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

07 May 1918

Max and I to a coffee house. It was not something I really wanted to do, but I have no good reason for wanting to be on my own. He would take offence. Max – although observant of my needs – becomes (it seems to me) more and more full of himself. And – although I don’t tell him this – his life is just not interesting enough to be exposed in every drop and detail. I did not miss these forays into his loves, his family, and his career, as I lived the eight months in Zurau. And, as far as I can tell, little has changed. The names, perhaps. The places of rendezvous. But the bickering simmers, and his wish for flight still bubbles to the top. Flee to the freedom of the Palestine. All this is more difficult for him, because he wants to be as truthful as he can with everyone. I confess my ears pricked up at this, as my interest (or annoyance) was engaged.

Doktor K: Being partially truthful is like being partially pregnant.

Doktor Max: A truth you’ve brought back from the farm?

Doktor K: Truth does cling to the feet – and the smell lingers.

Doktor Max: Which permeating truth do you think I should know?

Doktor K: That you can not possess a truth and it’s opposite.

 

08 May 1918

I have acquired a farmer’s eye for the weather. My predictions for the next day have so far been surprisingly accurate. Much to the amusement of my father. I at last possess some ability which is of worth.

Escape From The House of Hell

alh5baf0f_ottla[Franz & Ottla]

Franz Kafka lived way too long with his parents (his discord with his father is famous), and stayed in the city of Prague (which he described as “The little mother with claws”) for most of his life. But his sister, Ottla, escaped both. In my rendition of Kafka’s missing diary entries, in Kafka In The Castle, I show his reaction to his sister’s escape.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

20 April 1917

Fate laughed up its sleeve, and this morning’s post brought a letter from Felice. A letter of no consequence, except for its arrival.

And I, in fact, have answered it. Perhaps too hastily. Perhaps too truthfully.

I have praised Ottla so much previously that F. has, upon occasion, made comments about my admiration.

That was her word, and I think it was not used favourably.

But the truth is – I have great admiration for my youngest sister. She does not think and think and think.

She does not discuss things for weeks.

She acts.

My God – she got away from Prague!

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