It’s thanks to the Czech Republic’s most influential literary export that the word ‘Kafkaesque’ has made its way into the English lexicon. And Kafkaesque is certainly an apt description for the museum dedicated to the novelist behind such classics as The Metamorphosis and The Castle. All gloomy, bureaucratic mazes, dimly lit corridors and jarring soundscapes, the Franz Kafka Museum successfully recreates the disquietude that the author conveys so eloquently through his works. Here are the top 10 highlights to look out for when visiting.
Local sculptor David Černý is notorious for his provocative wit. His bronze installation of two men urinating over a map of the Czech Republic dominates the courtyard in front of the Franz Kafka Museum; a fitting tribute to the author’s penchant for the bizarre.
Kafka enthusiasts will appreciate intimate glimpses of the author’s private musings, offered by unselfconscious scribbles in his diaries. Most of the Franz Kafka Museum’s exhibits focus on his private life rather than his literary achievements, creating an evocative immersion into the troubled world of the creative genius.
Film footage and vintage photos provide a fascinating window into the Czech capital during Kafka’s lifetime. Look out for peripheral glimpses of familiar landmarks such as Wenceslas Square and Petřín Park.
Kafka’s relationship with his father was underpinned by a strained formality, and his letters offer intimate details of their uneasy dynamic. Although in German, key sentences and phrases are translated into English for a comprehensive overview.
The corridor of black, gleaming file cabinets is a nod to one of Kafka’s most famous works; The Trial. Slide open a drawer to discover the files of Karl Rossman, the unfortunate protagonist of Kafka’s The Missing Person, a manuscript that was published as Amerika after Kafka’s death, aged 40.
A dark maze of unease, the Franz Kafka Museum echoes the edgy internal landscapes of its subject. For a breath of fresh air, look for the small window past the filing cabinets offering the best view of Charles Bridge in Prague.
Offering a graphic glimpse into an increasingly disturbed state of mind, Kafka’s sketches and paintings are as surreal as his stories. A favourite is the image of The Metamorphosis’ Gregor Samsa, who wakes to discover that he has inexplicably transformed into a giant insect.
A serial womaniser, Kafka had several fiancées but never married. In this exhibit, back-lit images of his girlfriends and lovers hang suspended above biographic fragments and photographs detailing their doomed romance.
Set amongst the display of Kafka’s books at the end of the exhibition are fascinating textual fragments detailing how his works were banned by the Communists and Nazis.
Brilliantly lit compared to the discomfiting gloom of the museum across the square, the Franz Kafka Museum Shop stocks a broad range of the writers works, translated into numerous languages. For something a little less literary, the Kafka Map, available to purchase, marks the author’s favourite haunts in the city, from his birthplace to his local coffee shop.