Franz Kafka is perhaps Prague’s best known author. He died of tuberculosis in 1924, but his three sisters lived long enough to perish in the Holocaust. Here is a photo of the bronze monument dedicated to him, on the edge of the Jewish Quarter, as enigmatic as Kafka himself.
In one of his novels, a man awakens in the morning to find he has been transformed into a giant cockroach; in another, Josef K. is accused of, and punished for, a crime which is never revealed, neither to the reader nor to Josef, even though he resolutely flails his way through a maze of incomprehensible court proceedings; and in yet another novel, the narrator, K., arrives in a village governed by a mysterious bureaucracy operating from a nearby castle, the purpose of which is never explained nor understood.
And so Prague today is a city of resplendent architecture, block after block of Baroque, Art Deco, Cubist, Modern and Post-Modern buildings — like “The Dancing House”, shown here — full of color and decoration above, but tainted at street level by massive graffiti as well as the scourge of contemporary signage and commerce.
For example, the Charles Bridge and its approaches, historical gems, are polluted with trinket shops, pizza parlors, “museums” of medieval torture, street buskers, panhandlers, pickpockets, caricature artists and a never-ending flood of tourists. Kafkaesque? Yes. But like plucky Josef K., we must keep moving forward to focus on the beauty above and not be baffled by the Byzantine hub-bub around us.
Oh, by the way, don’t even think about parking illegally — you won’t just get a ticket, but a lift truck will arrive with lights flashing and in a few moments your car will be plucked out of the street, placed on the back of the truck and whisked away, no doubt disappearing into some bureaucratic hellhole of which Franz Kafka himself might have conceived.