Franz Kafka’s Prague: a centenary tour of the writer’s home city

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A hundred years after his death, the author’s presence is as strong as ever in the Czech capital – from his childhood homes and the literary cafes he frequented to the remarkable buildings immortalised in his work

It’s a boiling summer’s day in Prague and I’m staring into the austere face of Franz Kafka. Not the real Kafka, of course – he died exactly a century ago, which is why I’m here – but a cast-iron plaque on the wall of his birthplace. The house, a replica as it turns out, sits pretty much on Old Town Square, which as usual is thronged with tourists snapping pics of its fairytale architecture, sipping drinks on terraces and gawking at its 15th-century astronomical clock. It’s impossible to imagine Kafka – 6ft tall and skinny, with dark, intense eyes – in this vibrant, carefree milieu. But then the Prague that Kafka was born into, in 1883 – the capital of the Kingdom of Bohemia, part of the Austro-Hungarian empire – was a very different city. And Kafka himself, alienated both as a Jew and a minority German speaker, had a sensitive imagination that interpreted the city’s narrow, winding streets as claustrophobic and its looming spires as threatening.

I’m here on the Kafka trail because the city is celebrating the centenary of the author’s death throughout 2024, with events, lectures, exhibitions, tours and more. There’s a forthcoming biopic, Franz, being made here too, by Polish director Agnieszka Holland (Europa Europa, Green Border), starring German actor Idan Weiss as the enigmatic author. Local artist David Černý’s famous 11-metre kinetic sculpture, Head of Franz Kafka, outside the Quadrio shopping centre, has also been refurbished for the occasion.

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