Franz Kafka (1883-1924) is one of Czech’s most famous writers although, possibly because he wrote in German, his fame didn’t become apparent locally until after the fall of communism in 1989. His work was banned during World War II and the communist regime didn’t exactly embrace the themes he wrote about. So while Prague had a deep effect on Kafka, the writer’s influence on the city doesn’t amount to much. He is, however, a world-famous existential writer and philosopher and did indeed leave many footprints across Prague.
Kafka was born into a Jewish family on July 3, 1883 at U radnice 5, a house on the corner of Maiselova and Kaprova - a border between Staré Město and Josefov. There is a plaque on the building now and a small exhibition inside the house. Prague at that time was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and German was Kafka’s first language, despite his Jewish roots and Czech background. As a boy Kafka lived in the Minute House, U Minuty, the black and white graffitioed building that is part of the Town Hall on Staromětské nám. For some time he lived in an apartment, by all accounts a pretty substandard place, within the building that now houses the American embassy over in the Schornbornsky palac at Tržistì 15. He also lived for a time in another street off Staromětské nám, Týnska 3.
Kafka went to school in a German language gymnasium in the Goltz-Kinský Palace. He studied law but ended up working at an insurance agency while all the time just wanting to write. Kafka's favourite sister, Ottla, lived at Golden Lane 22 and he is reported to have written his short stories in her front room. Ottla was later shipped to the Terezín concentration camp in north western Bohemia from where in 1943 she volunteered to accompany a trainload of children to a destination which later turned out to be Auschwitz.