Whenever I go to another city, I like to visit the cultural hotspots. Last april I went to Prague with a group of friends, some of them also really interested in literature, so we went completely literary crazy. So when you go to Prague, what to see, do and read?
The Strahov library – Strahovské nádvoří 1/132
The Strahov library is part of the Strahov monastry in Prague. It’s not really central, but if you put on good walking shoes you can get there. Otherwise, take public transport. The library itself is made of two halls, the theological hall and the philosophical hall, connected by a hallway stuffed with fancy bookcases. But don’t be amazed by these bookcases: you won’t have any amazement left for the halls. The theological hall was completed in 1679 and although it is not as high as the philosophical hall, it’s still really cool. The ceiling is covered with paintings from the 1720s, the bookcases are beautifull, there are globes and best of all a rare wooden book wheel.
In 1779 the new abbot decided it was time for a new library, so he build the philosophical hall. This time the library was more of a classicist style. It’s a lot higher, which makes it very impressive. If you want to get a tour through the halls (and not just watch from an open door) you have to make a reservation in advance. I really recommend doing this, because there is not much information available for other visitors. If you don’t take the tour, at least buy the book in the gift shop, or you have no idea what you just saw.
Kafka museum – Cihelná 635/2b
Kafka is awesome. I think we can all agree on that. Luckily, Prague has a great Kafka museum. This museum starts with telling you about all the ins and outs of his life, the impression the city made on him, his lovers, his father, his disease and his death. Downstairs, the museum focusses on a few books, like The Castle and The Trial, showing first editions, artwork inspired by the books and other related objects. The whole museum feels kind of spooky, like there could be a giant dungbeetle around every corner, but there’s no real jump scares. It just fits the books really well. Be sure to visit the gift shop to buy your own little statue of Kafka!
Klementinum – Mariánské nám. 5
The Klementinum is the national library of the Czech Republic. Together with the Strahov Library, it’s in all the lists of best libraries in the world. They are very strict about taking pictures, so you don’t have to go here to boost your Instagramaccount. Luckily, they give you enough time to goggle at the baroque library, with an incredibly large number of globes and a tourguide who is ready to answer all your questions. Something the Strahov library can learn from.
Hradcany Castle nr. 22
I have to mention this because Kafka lived here, but besides that it’s a freaking tourist trap. So if you go with a group and you have to visit the castle because the rest wants to, be sure to walk by number 22 to cross it off your list, and then go get some ice cream and read a good book. The amount of people visiting this place is not ok.
Café Slavia – Smetanovo nábř. 1012/2
Hungry or thirsty? Café Slavia is memorable for its many literary visitors. Also, a scene from Rilke’s Two Stories of Prague takes place in this café. Great place to have a drink a feel literary.
Café Montmartre – Řetězová 7
Hungry or thirsty but on a budget? Café Montmarte is the place where writes like Vaclav Havel used to come. They know this, so it’s full of people wearing weird classes, reading hand-written letters while glancing at the pictures of famous writers on the wall. The food and drinks are awfull (I order sausage, expecting a big Czech sausage with sides. I got two tiny hotdogs and dry bread) but it’s also extremely cheap so it kinda fits.
Divadlo na Zábradlí – Anenské nám. 209/5
Because I gave a talk about Vaclav Havel we all got kinda excited about him, and we wanted to visit the place where his first play got performed. We weren’t disappointed: the theatre still exists (so if you speak the language, go see a play!) and they even mention Havel on the building.
I’m sorry to tell you: books are not extremely cheap in Prague. It’s just normal price. But ofcourse, this shouldn’t stop you buying some books. Here are some bookshops I recommend:
Franz Kafka Society – Široká Street 14: Every book by Kafka in different languages, and some by other Czech writers as well. Cool merchandise, and good service in English. It’s also close to the statue in honour of Kafka: great place for pictures.
Shakespeare and sons – Krymská 12: English bookstore with a great collection. Unfortunately, not as much second hand as I hoped. They do have a lot of comfy chairs, so if you find yourself in Prague on a rainy day, this is a good place to spend your time.
The Globe – Pštrossova 1925/6: Also a good English bookstore (the service isn’t even native but is apparently made up of expats and international students) with also great non-fiction. There’s also a bar connected to the bookstore, so you can browse while enjoying your cup of tea.
Antiquariat Aurora – Opletalova 8 a Spálená 53: This huge shop has a small but likeable English section. Done with the books? Take a look at the vinyl, old maps, postcards and much more!
Books to read:
So what to read when preparing for a trip to Prague? At the very least, some Kafka. You really can’t go wrong here. Don’t have much time? Focus on some of his short stories, like The Metamorphosis, The Judgment or In the Penal Colony. If you got a bit more time, give his novels a try. I’d also like to recommend the plays by Vaclav Havel. Havel made a huge impact on the country (which you’ll notice as soon as you land, because the airport is named after him) and his plays are also quite political, so you’ll be introduced to some recent history of Prague. Like science fiction? Try R.U.R. by Capek: this play introduces the word robot. Ofcourse I could make an endless list with cool Czech literature but these are the writers I focused on myself.