Prague’s literary past is so interesting that it can change the entire way that you see the city. If you’ve read some of the works of Prague’s greatest writers, then, in some ways, you’ve already visited Prague. Prague’s literary history includes the authors Franz Kafka and Milan Kundera and the poet Rainer Maria Rilke.
It’s difficult for Prague to show off its greatest writers because their works cannot be hung in a museum. The famous painter Alfons Mucha lived most of his life in Prague, and the Alfons Mucha Museum is there to tell you all about it. If you’re into literature, this article aims to help you see the streets and most important sights in Prague through the eyes of its best authors.
Walking the street that your favorite author once walked can be a profound experience. Franz Kafka was born in 1883 on the corner of Kaprova and Maiselova streets in the Jewish Quarter. The neighborhood is in the center of Prague. Kafka had a near-compulsive desire to take walks in order to breathe fresh air. To walk here is to walk in Kafka’s footsteps. The house that Kafka was born in has since been demolished, but the Kafka Museum can be visited. The museum doesn’t just display his manuscripts and offer a timeline, it manipulates environmental factors to take you inside of Kafka’s personality and the personalities of his characters.
Kafka lived with his sister in Hradcany Castle (aka Prague Castle) for a short time. His sister Ottla rented house #22 and allowed her brother to stay with her for a short period. For one winter, Kafka lived in the largest castle on earth, and you can visit house #22 today. Wandering the grounds of the Hradcany Castle, it’s hard to ignore the similarities in the severity of Kafka’s writing and the architecture. Kafka died in 1924 at the age of 41. You can visit Kafka’s grave by taking the metro to the Jewish Cemetery (Zidovske hrbitovy in Czech Republic). Kafka’s three sisters are commemorated alongside him, having died during WWII in concentration camps.
The poet Rainer Maria Rilke was born in Prague in 1875. He left the city at the age of 22 when he went to university in Munich. He never lived in the city again, but traveled constantly, working alongside such masters as Auguste Rodin. His childhood was not a happy one. Famously, his mother dressed him in girl’s clothes, refusing to acknowledge his gender. Next, his parents separated and he changed out of little girl’s clothes into those of a cadet’s. The military school was a brutal experience, and the poet eventually quit due to poor health.
Rilke regularly spent time in Café Slavia on Smetanovo nábeží 1012/2 in the center of Prague. This café, frequented by many of Prague’s writers and intellectuals, can still be visited today. It is located opposite the National Theater. Rilke writes a scene that takes place in Café Slavia in his Two Stories of Prague.
Milan Kundera, author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, was born in the Czech Republic, and spent much of his adult life living in Prague. He taught at the Prague Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts from 1952 to 1969. When the Soviet Union invaded the city in 1968, during the period known as Prague Spring, over 400 Prague authors were told that they could no longer publish their “liberal” works. Among these authors punished for expressing their views was Kundera. He was also fired from his teaching job. His books clearly show his frustration, and Kundera moved to France in 1975 and is said to rarely visit Prague. In fact, it’s said that he only visits in disguise.
Prague has yet to create a museum for Milan Kundera, but the Museum of Communism will give you a look at the difficulties its literary figures faced under Soviet control.
Written by Mattie Bamman for EuropeUpClose.com