Franz Kafka was one of those unlucky sorts who never saw his talent recognised during his lifetime. He also never did anything he wanted. Thankfully, for those of us with an existential bent, a friend of his decided his works were worth publishing after his death rather destroying them all, as Kafka wished. With a few hours to kill in Prague while Anička has exams, I’m off on a quick tour of the statues that have been erected in his honour.
I march from Mánesův Most, one of the many bridges across the Vltava, through the narrow, tourist filled streets towards a main road called Národní. Here, outside a modern shopping centre, David Černý has just installed a sculpture of Kafka’s head. His silvery noggin is separated into tiers that spin around – sometimes in sequence, sometimes not.
It seems quite apt. Kafka was at times able to control his actions – he wrote in his leisure time – but most of the time he did what his dad told him. He wasn’t in control of what he could think about because he had to study law or work in insurance.
However, it’s big and flashy. It screams look at me. Kafka would possibly have preferred to hide in a dank hole. It’s also placed in a small square outside the shopping centre Quadrio. This could be a comment on the trial of shopping. I fear it is art in the service of commerce. Its purpose is to pull visitors in to spend.
I get into my stride again and head down the Vltava. Oddly, there are less tourists to block my path. I have a wondrous view towards the castle and cathedral rising out of the opposite bank almost to myself. With minutes to spare before the end of Anička’s exam I arrive back at the bridge.
We stop for an hour with some overpriced coffee, orange juice and sandwiches from a café around the corner. Anička is cramming even though she will do brilliantly. Back she goes to her exam hall where the window frames Saint Vitus Cathedral.
With a bit more time on my hands I walk towards the Jewish Quarter. After getting a tad lost, and taking a detour past the Old Jewish Cemetery, I finally find the Spanish Synagogue. Just outside stands a less ostentatious, but more impressive, statue – the Franz Kafka Monument.
The bronze sculpture shows a little Kafka riding on the shoulders of a headless, handless man – an image taken from the story Description of a Struggle. It is placed in the square where Kafka lived for most of his life.
The square is at the centre of the Jewish Quarter. Formerly a walled ghetto, it is full of Jewish history. Kafka himself was a German Jew, who was born in the Czech lands of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
He was a minority within a minority, living among a minority people.
The statue itself is nearly new. It was not erected until 2004 – eighty years after his death. It took a long time for Czechs to celebrate Kafka and his work.
But the monument has quickly become a tourist hotspot and today people are posing alongside in the heat.
I have another quick walk along the Vltava. This time I walk south and turn back in towards Prague’s Old Town.
It has started to rain and so I am looking for somewhere to grab a quick cuppa.
I stumble upon a Kafka Café on Náměstí Franze Kafky. It is very expensive and I go somewhere else for my fix.
There are at least three other Kafka sights for me to catch – the house of his birth, the Kafka museum and a giant mural painted on the side of an old building. Unfortunately, I am out of time. Anička will have finished her exam soon and we need to catch a bus. Next time perhaps.