EU Open House 2014
12.05.2014 / 15:45
On Saturday, May 10, the Embassy of the Czech Republic welcomed more than 3000 visitors during the annual EU Open House. All day, we celebrated the work of Franz Kafka, who is one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. Please see the photogallery below.
Praga mater urbium (“Prague- the mother of cities”) is adorned by jaw-dropping architecture, reflecting its historical importance in Central Europe when it served as the capital of the Kingdom of Bohemia under King Charles IV in the 1300’s. The “golden city of a thousand spires” offers a taste of the Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and Art Nouveau eras at every turn, distinguishing the city center as a UNESCO World Heritage site. This magnificent city was the birthplace and home to Franz Kafka (1883-1924). His letters and fictional writings reflect his life’s experiences and surreal thoughts within its enchanting yet mysterious maze of cobble stone streets. Kafka is known for his writing style about the absurdity of life in bizarre even nightmarish situations, giving rise to today’s term “Kafkaesque.” Please pick up information at our welcome table.
One of Prague’s greatest architectural wonders and symbols is the 650 year old Charles Bridge, which crosses the Vltava River. Its builders mixed eggs into the mortar to strengthen its foundation for all time. Kafka crossed the Gothic stone bridge from the Old Town to the Little Quarter beneath the Prague Castle on his way to visit his sister or later vice versa on his way to work. In his spare time, Kafka devoted himself to writing stories such as The Metamorphosis, which involves an unexplained transformation of a salesman into a gigantic, monstrous bug. The work, which may offer insight into Kafka’s self-alienation and tormented relationship with his father, is considered one of the seminal fictions of the past century. See an adaptation of Kafka’s writings performed by students and faculty of Georgetown University’s Theater and Performance Studies on our “bridge stage.”
The Old Town Square is a historical gem, lined with the gothic Týn Church and the baroque St. Nicholas Church. Kafka lived on the square as a young boy with his parents and three sisters in the high-Renaissance house, covered with an ornate sgraffito facade. The square also boasts the famed medieval clock tower Orloj. According to legend, the clockmaker was blinded upon its completion so that he could never replicate the astronomical marvel. Opposite of it in the Grand Hotel, now stands Café Milena, named for the beautiful lover and Czech translator of Kafka’s story The Stoker, Milena Jesenská. Kafka and Milena exchanged passionate correspondence, which were published as Letters to Milena. Relax over coffee and Czech deserts provided by Bistro Bohem in the romantic café on the Embassy’s terrace while listening to the Blue Crescent Syncopators band play the music of Kafka’s time.
Prague’s Jewish quarter, located next to the Old Town Square and dating back to a 10th century Jewish ghetto, is one of the largest and best preserved in Europe. Named Josefov, it is home to the Old Jewish Cemetery, the Old New Synagogue, which Kafka attended with his father on High Holidays, and Kafka’s birthplace. Born into a middle-class family, Kafka wrote literature in German yet was also fluent in Czech. Being a part of the Jewish minority, Kafka struggled with his identity. In the Letter to The Father, which Kafka’s father never read, Kafka challenges his father on his upbringing. Inside the Embassy, view an exhibition on the author’s life by the Society of Franz Kafka and speak to Czech diplomats about the upcoming Mutual Inspirations Festival 2014 – Franz Kafka.
Wenceslas Square is a bustling commercial center in Prague. Historically, it is also the site of many public gatherings and demonstrations. Franz Kafka, upon completing his law studies, took on employment on the square with an Italian insurance company, albeit switching a year later to work for the Worker's Accident Insurance Institute for the Kingdom of Bohemia, where he investigated personal injury claims. The parnassah (“job for bread”) allowed him spare time to write works such as The Castle and The Trial, both novels being about oppression and struggle against bureaucracy. Converse with Czech diplomats and the American Friends of the Czech Republic about the massive yet peaceful demonstrations of the Velvet Revolution on Wenceslas Square which toppled the totalitarian communist regime and restored democracy to the nation on November 17 twenty-five years ago.
Just a stone’s throw away from Wenceslas Square lays the district of Žižkov, which is known for its pubs, beer, and Bohemians. The district also holds the New Jewish Cemetery, where Kafka is buried along with his parents. A plaque atop their grave honors his three sisters, who all perished in the Holocaust. A second plaque commemorates Kafka’s best friend Max Brod, who refused to follow Kafka’s dying wish to have his work burned. Kafka died in 1924 of laryngeal tuberculosis, which made it very difficult for him to eat. On his death bed, he completed A Hunger Artist about a performer who would fast for days but eventually was ignored by the passing public. Albeit unknown in his lifetime, Kafka became world famous soon after his death thanks to his friend. Let’s all raise a toast to his masterpieces with popular Czech brews Pilsner Urquell and Czechvar and eat traditional pub style grub.
Across the Vltava River, Petřín hill rises on the left side of the Charles Bridge. Petřín is featured prominently in one of Kafka’s earliest stories, Description of a Struggle. The hill is covered by charming parks and is a popular destination for couples and dog lovers. Petřín Lookout Tower, which stands atop of the hill, very much resembles the Eiffel Tower in Paris and was built during Kafka’s lifetime. Kafka was romantically involved with several ladies throughout his life, most notably with his two-time fiancée Felice Bauer, who lived in Berlin at the time but moved to America in the 1930s. The couple exchanged much correspondence and love letters, which have been published as Letters to Felice. Stroll with your loved ones over to the Embassy’s hill to watch a canine demonstration by Cpl. Marshall and Cpl. Dickerson of the Rockville City Police Department and their Czech born K9 Boomer and K9 Recon.
Malá Strana or the Little Quarter, a district sparkled with noble palaces and lush gardens, lays below the Prague Castle on the right side of the Charles Bridge. Many devotees visit the Church of Our Lady Victorious to pray for the miraculous healing powers of the Infant Jesus of Prague, a porcelain image of which is displayed in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. Franz Kafka lived in the Little Quarter for some time in a shabby apartment within what is now the American Embassy in the Schoenborn Palace. Oddly enough, although he had never traveled out of Europe, Franz Kafka wrote an unfinished novel titled Amerika (originally The Man Who Disappeared), inspired by émigré’s experiences to the New World. Join in with couples of Fidgety Feet perform American vintage swing and jazz dances to the music of Kafka’s days.
From the Little Quarter, the Old Castle Stairs lead up to the Prague Castle. Dating back to the 16th century, the escalating stone steps provide a glorious panoramic view of Prague below. Watch a fashion show inspired by the 1920s with hats provided by Czech company Tonak on the Embassy's stairs to the Ambassador's residence. Kafka most likely climbed the long stairway up to the Prague Castle when he frequently visited his favorite sister, Ottla, who lived in the Golden Lane within the castle walls, to concentrate on writing in her front room. Ottla was later sent to Terezín and Auschwitz concentration camps. Ironically, over a decade before her tragic fate, Kafka wrote a short story about torture and execution, In the Penal Colony.
The Prague Castle is the largest coherent castle complex in the world consisting of eighteen acres. Founded in 800 A.D., it contains elaborate palaces, spacious courtyards, and ecclesiastical buildings, with the most dominant being the St. Vitus Cathedral. An ancient symbol of Prague’s skyline, the cathedral embodies the genius of Gothic architecture. The entire complex is surrounded by elegant terrace gardens as well as the beautiful Royal Garden. The castle is the official residence and seat of the Czech president. The Czech Republic is a proud member of NATO and a strong ally of the United States. This May, the Czech Republic celebrates the tenth anniversary of its accession to the European Union. We welcome you to visit our picturesque country and capital city, for as Kafka once said, “Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.”
To learn more about the EU Open House 2014, please click here.