The first thing I did when I arrived in Prague was get lost.
Not on purpose, mind you. What I did was read 119 where it really said 191 and end up taking a bus to the suburbs instead of the city center. Upon realizing my mistake, I had a small bout of panic, heart pounding, tiny thoughts like firecrackers going off in my head. I don’t know where I am, I don’t speak a lick of Czech, what do I do, do I just ride it out and see what happens, do I ask for help, what do I do, what do I do?
But I made it. And after leaving my bag at the hotel and taking a small break to convince myself that I was going to be fine if I went out there again, I went to the Franz Kafka Museum.
Located near the narrowest street in Prague, the Kafka Museum is a relatively small building overlooking the Vltava River, and is fronted by a courtyard with a café and a restaurant “with an international menu.”
The heavily-beamed interior is near-black darkness, illuminated only by the lightbulbs hidden inside the window stands filled with letters, photographs, and other knick-knacks, and behind the text screens lining the walls, all meant to narrate and illustrate Kafka’s life. The first line one reads is almost prophetic: Franz Kafka was born in a myth called Prague.
Maybe it’s fitting that Prague should be considered this way, since one of its many origin stories claims that the legendary prophetess and princess Libuše, co-founder of the Přemyslid dynasty, walked onto a rocky cliff overlooking the Vltava and said, “I see a great city whose glory will touch the stars,” whereupon she ordered a great castle and the city of Praha to be built.
Today, the city is a mixture of Medieval and Baroque architecture, contemporary sculpture, cobbled streets, pastel-colored façades, street musicians, storefronts advertising traditional toys and hand-made wooden puppets, and echoes of its communist era.
I still can’t decide whether that line colored my time in the city or if it revealed it ahead of time for me, because that’s exactly as I came to see it. As a myth, a mirage, an impossibility.
And yet undeniably, and fortunately for all lucky enough to go see it, real.