This unusual and wonderfully creative museum consists of a long-term exhibition called “The City of K., Franz Kafka and Prague”, which originated in another city entirely, namely Barcelona, where it opened in 1999. Numerous people from Barcelona were involved in creating the exhibition, which seems to have benefited enormously from their insights and fresh input.
After Barcelona, the exhibition was moved to the Jewish Museum in New York, where it was shown in 2002-2003. Then in 2005 it was finally installed in Prague, the city where Franz Kafka was born in 1883 and where he lived, worked and wrote for most of his life.
For me this museum was a series of memory jogs, since I read most of Kafka’s books and stories nearly half a century ago.
One of the things I learned at the museum was that Kafka’s day job was not nearly as senseless as he made it out to be. Kafka claimed to hate his office job, and in his stories he often wrote about people who were helplessly caught in the web of a mindless bureaucracy, in situations that are now often described as “Kafkaesque”.
But at another level Kafka was a diligent employee who was rightfully proud of his accomplishments at the Worker’s Accident Insurance Institute, where he worked for many years in a department devoted to preventing industrial accidents. He wrote the department’s annual reports on factory safety, and was even promoted to department head shortly before he had to resign because of illness.
My personal connection to this is that my Canadian/American grandfather, who was only five years younger than Kafka, was the managing director of the National Safety Council in the United States from 1913 to 1942, so he was very much involved in industrial accident prevention throughout his working life. But otherwise my grandfather was a very different sort of person who never even read any of Kafka’s books as far as I know.
(Yes, this is the same grandfather who was booked on the maiden voyage of the Titanic in 1912, but changed his booking at short notice for business reasons. No doubt his narrow escape from the sinking of the Titanic reinforced his life-long interest in safety and accident prevention.)
The Franz Kafka Museum is on the left bank of the Vltava (Moldau) River,
below the Charles Bridge. GPS 50° 5’16.46″ North; 14°24’37.35″ East.
My photos in this post are from 2011. I revised the text in 2019.
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