Kafka’s another one of those authors that I feel I should know better than I actually do. I have a vague recollection of reading “The Metamorphosis” at some point, but none of his other works. Nonetheless, the English major in me clearly likes the idea of visiting literary museums, and I’d heard the Franz Kafka Museum was (appropriately enough) meant to be rather surreal, so I was game.
The museum was clearly aimed at tourists, with a pricy (by Czech standards) 200 CZK (£5.50) admission fee, and guidebooks available in a range of languages, but everything in the museum is translated into English, so English speakers can safely skip the guidebooks (even though the lady at the desk may try to sell you one). Other than the attempted upsell on the guidebooks, I quite liked the shop (across the courtyard from the museum, it’s where you have to go first to buy tickets), as they had an excellent range of postcards, much better than any I’d seen elsewhere in Prague (albeit with a price tag to match). I also loved the “fountain” right in front of the museum; there seems to be some kind of phallic fixation in Prague, and this fountain was no exception. The man on the left had a rotating pelvis, so that his pee-stream was directed from side to side. I was so impressed, I took a video (you can find it in my old posts on Instagram if you’re interested).
There were no pictures allowed in the museum, so photos of the courtyard and of one of the passages into the museum will have to suffice. Basically, you immediately head upstairs when entering the museum, and go into a dark room (seriously, if you wandered too far into the edges of the museum, you risked smashing into the weirdly shaped walls, it was so dark) that details Kafka’s childhood growing up in the Jewish quarter of Prague. I was relieved (literally) to find a bathroom in the corner, as free public toilets are hard to come by in Prague; unfortunately, there was only one unisex stall, so I ended up waiting for quite a while to use it (please, add some more stalls!). After that ordeal was over, I was able to read about some of Kafka’s friends (fellow intellectuals), and then move into the next room to learn about Kafka’s romances courtesy of some hanging shelves that gave me motion sickness. For real, they swayed back and forth like we were on a ship or something, and trying to read them was slightly nausea-inducing, which was a shame, because they were interesting. Finally, I was most keen to learn about the progression of Kafka’s tuberculosis (before visiting the museum, I wasn’t even aware that he was consumptive), since tuberculosis is one of my favourite diseases. Yes, I know it’s no laughing matter to the people who contract it (and it’s one of the top killers throughout human history), but I find it fascinating (and I still maintain that the only time Val Kilmer has ever looked good was when he was Doc Holliday dying from TB in Tombstone…I think I just have a thing for gaunt, pasty men).
There was a red-light infused portal at the end of the floor with steps leading down that I joked was the descent into hell, and I suppose it was, in a way. This was the point where things got surreal (as I’d been hoping all along); really it dealt with the inspiration behind some of Kafka’s books and stories, but it did so in a rather fantastical way. The gallery was basically configured like a giant filing cabinet that stretched on for the length of a couple rooms, and included constantly ringing phones and jabbering voices to give the visitor a real taste of the bureaucratic experience. I could see how working in such a place (even a less exaggerated version) could be enough to drive one to the brink of madness (which is why I’ve always been terrified of office jobs (though it’s not like I’ve had much luck with non-office jobs either)). There was also an odd little film in an all-white room that I think depicted a sketch coming to life (Kafka was a doodler, and I really liked his pieces of artwork that were in the museum. I forgot to check if they had any prints in the gift shop, but I didn’t notice any).
The museum finished, rather lamely, with a boring round room that had early editions of some of his books, kind of a let down after all the surrealism (which also included a section about an imaginary torture device that Kafka dreamed about and used in one of his stories; the mock-up of it was really rather horrible). I was a bit annoyed that no one had bothered to check our tickets at any point, but I would imagine they do sometimes, so I certainly wouldn’t recommend trying to sneak in without one, pricy (relatively speaking) though it may have been.
I do wish the museum was just a bit cheaper, but by British standards, especially that lame-ass Lamb House that the National Trust charges £6 for, I don’t think £5.50 was that unreasonable. I really enjoyed all the surreal stuff, and I learned enough about Kafka’s life to make me interested in reading more of his work, though I’m still not convinced existentialism is my thing. To be honest, the whole reason I have any kind of fondness for Kafka is because I read Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore in my early 20s when I was going through some emotional stuff, as people in their early 20s tend to do, and I loved it to bits and memorised a bunch of quotes from it, which maybe says more about my partiality for Murakami than Kafka, but it was still nice to find out more about him, especially as his life seemed so closely tied to the city of Prague itself (he once said something about all his life being contained within a certain square within Prague)…in this way I suppose he was similar to James Ensor and Ostend. At any rate, I think the Kafka Museum is worth a look if you have literary inclinations/interests. And definitely at least stop by to check out the fountain in the courtyard; it was one of my favourite things in Prague! 3/5.