Literature tours in Prague
First a playwright, then a political prisoner, and finally state president – that’s some career. And it’s not all that surprising that the place where it all happened to Václav Havel was Prague. The Czech capital has played a significant role in the lives of several leading literary figures – including Franz Kafka, Egon Erwin Kisch and Rainer Maria Rilke. And it’s still possible to discover traces of many authors in this city.
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City of literary figures and coffeehouses
German literature enjoyed its most productive periods in Prague in the decades immediately before and immediately after the 19th century. Anyone wanting to get a feel of the spirit of those times should stay at the Hotel Europa. Erected in 1905, the then essential ornamental accoutrements of a grand hotel are still on display in the salons and corridors of this magnificent Art Nouveau building.
Information: Václavské náměstí 826/25, +420-224 215 387; Single room without bath from approx. €35 with bath from approx. €60; www.evropahotel.cz
Franz Kafka is without doubt the most famous of Prague’s many writers, and his novels are some of the most important literary works produced in the 20th century. Many of them, for example, The Trial and The Metamorphosis, make very disturbing reading. Several of the places where he lived – for example, the house on the Namesty Franze Kafky where he was born – still exist. And he now has his very own museum.
Virtual sightseeing tour through Kafka’s Prague: www.kafkaesk.de Franz Kafka Museum: Cihelná 2b, Tel.: +420-257 535 373; open daily 10am – 6pm; Admission: approx. €7.40 or approx. €5 for people qualifying for reduced rates; www.kafkamuseum.cz
Cafés as writing room and salon – well-known writers at the turn of the 20th century loved Prague’s cafés. Many of them wrote complete novels there, others came to meet soul mates and hold endless discussions. One of their favorite cafés was The Louvre, frequented by the likes of Franz Kafka, his friend and later executor Max Brod and Egon Erwin Kisch, a.k.a. the Rampaging Reporter. The Louvre is still one of Prague’s nicest cafés.
Národní 22, Tel.: +420-224 930 949, open Mon – Fri 8am – 11:30pm, Saturdays and Sundays 9am – 11:30pm, www.cafelouvre.cz
Prague – inspiration for artists, composers and writers
Artists (Viktor Oliva), composers (Bedřich Smetana), writers (Rainer Maria Rilke, Václav Havel) and actors from the nearby National Theater were all regular customers of the Café Slavia. No other café has been immortalized as often as the Slavia in poems and short stories. One whole novel was written around it. Tourists flock there to drink in its turbulent history and sun themselves in its 1930s charm.
Smetanovo nábřeží 1012/2, Tel.: +420-224 218 493, open Mon – Fri 8am – 12 midnight, Saturdays and Sundays 9am – 12 midnight, www.cafeslavia.cz
Prague’s Old-New Synagogue is the oldest in Europe. Erected during the 13th century, it is the place where a very strange legend was born. In the year 1580 the rabbi Judah Loew is alleged to have created Golem, a robot-like servant, out of a pile of clay. Many leading writers have found inspiration in the Golem legend and written it into their own works. Some even believe that Goethe’s ballad "The Sorcerer’s Apprentice" is based on it.
Červená 2, Tel.: +420-224 800 812-13, open April through October, daily except Saturdays 9:30am – 6pm, November through March daily except Saturdays 9:30am – 5pm; Admission: approx. €8. Approx. €5.50 for people qualifying for reduced rates; www.synagogue.cz
Prague was the center of a lively Czech-language literary scene even during the days of its famous German-speaking writers. Ex-President Václav Havel is now one of the best-known Czech authors. He started his career in the early 1960s at the Divadlo Na zábradlí theater, first as a stage technician, later as a playwright. The theater still specializes in staging controversial contemporary plays.
Anenské náměsti 5, Tel.: +420-222 868 868, www.nazabradli.cz/en/
Photos: Masterfile, Corbis (2), Pompe/Look-foto, Spalek/Modrak/Bilderberg