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Golden Lane (Zlatá Ulicka)

Golden Lane (Zlatá Ulicka) (32)

Inside the castle complex, between the White Tower and the Daliborka Tower, you will come across one of the prettiest and most-visited spots in Prague. It is the tiny Golden Lane, a row of small houses in lively colours attached to the castle wall and dating from the 16th century.

Some people say that dwarves lived here and that is why some floors are no more than one and a half metres high. What is more probable is that it was Rudolf II who ordered these houses to be built for the guards and fusiliers, who lived here with their families. Years later, in the 17th century, traders and goldsmiths lived in these tiny houses which look like dolls’ houses, and the latter’s trade gave the name to the lane.

Nevertheless, the legend insists on stating that here lived the alchemists who worked for Rudolf II in the search for the elixir of life and the manufacture of gold. According to this legend, Golden Lane was a secret and inexhaustible centre of occultism and esoteric arts.

The families who lived here were crammed into these houses until the 20th century and the lane became a spot frequented by undesirables or bohemians. 

In 1925, the people still living there were evicted and a restoration process carried out that left the houses with the appearance that they had when they were first built in the 16th century. What in yesteryear were goldsmiths’ workshops are today small but prosperous shops that sell souvenirs of Prague, books and Bohemian glassware to tourists.

When you walk along Golden Lane, perhaps you will be surprised by a small plaque at number 22 with the name of Franz Kafka. In fact, the writer, whose novels are amongst the most-read and admired of the 20th century, lived here with one of his sisters between 1916 and 1917.

Talking of Kafka, insist his followers, is to talk of Prague. Even though he dreamt of travelling and living in exotic places, the fact is that he very rarely left Prague, in particular the area of the Old Town. Son of a worker who had left the Jewish ghetto and who had become a wealthy trader and member of the bourgeoisie, the young Kafka was practically brought up by his nannies. As an adolescent he studied in the Imperial Institute in German, in the Golz-Kinský Palace. He was well-liked by his classmates, though he was shy and distant. On becoming a young man, his father made him study law, something he detested. He finished his studies successfully, but his promising career never went beyond the offices of an insurance company, a grey and monotonous place where he worked for 14 years.

To escape from the tedium of work and the asphyxiating atmosphere of his family, Kafka usually went to the literary debates of Berta Fanta in Stone Ram House in the Old Town Square. Writing was always an escape route that he never left, even when he was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1907. From then on, his life became a pilgrimage around different sanatoriums, accompanied by one of his sisters.

At the end of his life, he spent a while in Berlin, living in the house of Dora Dymant, where he wrote some of his last pieces of work. On his death in 1924, before his 41st birthday, he had hardly had anything published. Only thanks to Max Brod, his faithful friend and confidant, the world was able to discover the work of Kafka and marvel at such disturbing and influential books such as “The Castle”, “Metamorphosis” or “The Trial”. Compiling and publishing his complete works was no easy task, since the material kept in Dora Dymant’s house was sacked by the Nazis, along with the Kafka family archives in Prague, the majority of whom disappeared in concentration camps.

Finally published in the 1950s, the world still marvels at the work of Franz Kafka, with which he aimed to be understood in a world that he found inhuman and cold.

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