Thursday, 7 August 2008

Franz Kafka Museum, Prague

Perhaps one of the most surreal museums I visited in my travels was in Prague in the Czech Republic. The Franz Kafka Museum is located right around the corner from the Charles Bridge on the Vltava River and is an experience. Kafka was born in Prague and lived and worked there most of his life. Because I was visiting the city, and because one of my favorite books in high school was The Metamorphosis, written by Kafka, I decided to visit the museum.

From the very beginning of the tour the visitor is transported into a surreal environment. Letters written by Kafka to family members are displayed under what appears to be rippling water. There are also the sounds of dripping water and static noise. Despite the unconventional setup the exhibit moves in a linear pattern. The historical sources and manuscripts follow a young Kafka throughout his life and work as a bureaucrat. They outline the troubled relationship between father and son and offer insight into the authors numerous love affairs. Most of the documents are facsimiles and many of the originals are housed at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.
The exhibit moves from the life of Kafka and concentrates next on the publication of his books. The cover page in the picture above is the original published in 1916 in German. Kafka, Czech by birth, wrote and published almost entirely in German. I was fortunate enough to see a letter written by the author at the Bodleian library in his native Czech, a rare occurrence.
The last portion of the exhibit attempts to take you inside Kafka's novels themselves. The picture of the red staircase, shown above, marks the descent into a world of alienation and surrealism. The visitor is presented with long hallways of filing cabinets and the sound of a telephone ringing endlessly. Kafka worked as an insurance agent for many years and his writing reflects his frustration with his work. Also represented in the exhibit is Kafka's belief that life should be looked at from different angles in order to get a different perspective and gain insight. This is represented by the mirrored room above.
I found this exhibit to be truly extraordinary. I've never before seen an exhibit which challenges the viewer to step inside an authors mind in this way. Also, I have never seen documents displayed in such a nontraditional way. I would definitely reccommend this museum to anyone who is remotely interested in Kafka or surrealism.

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