The Prague Circle

Ječná 11

CZ - 120 00 Praha 2

The Prague House of Literature was founded by Lenka Reinerová (1916-2008), a Czech writer who writes in German to commemorate writers such as Egon Erwin Kisch who write in German. She met Kisch while in exile in Mexico.  Her idea flourished in 1968, however, it came into fruition only after the Velvet Revolution of 1989 under the Presidency of Vaclav Havel. Every year, the Prager Literatur House give out grants to aspiring Czech writers continue this linguistic tradition.

"Kein Traumcafé, sondern ein Literaturhaus als realer Standort für Interessenten und Gönner des einst so berühmten "Prager Kreises" dem Franz Kafka, Max Brod, Egon Erwin Kisch und weitere namhafte Autoren deutscher Sprache angehörten, sowie als Treffpunkt für Freunde der zeitgenössischen Literatur - dies soll das Prager Literaturhaus deutschsprachiger Autoren sein."

Lenka Reinerová zur Gründung des Stiftungsfonds

Franz Kafka (born Prague 3.7.1883 – died Kierling near Vienna 3.6.1924) Doctorate in law, worked as a civil servant for insurance company (accidents) until early retirement in 1922, he published one volume of short stories (incl. Vor dem Gesetz, das Urteil, die Verwandlung were published during his life time in the press)
Most of his work published posthumously.
Novels: Der Prozess (The Trial), das Schloss (The Castle),
Short Stories: Forschungen eines Hundes (Investigations of a dog), Vor dem Gesetz (before the law), das Urteil (the Judgement), Die Verwandlung (the Metamorphosis), Der Jaeger Gracchus (Gracchus the Hunter), Ein Bericht fuer die Akademie (A report for the academy)
Various: Memos to improve work conditions, poems (Fragments) : incl. Paradies, Aphorisms

German speaking Franz Kafka, who also learnt French found much interest in literature, ethics and philosophy and he was fascinating by performing artists, especially those from Eastern Europe. The writers who interested him were Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard who is regarded as the founder of existentialist philosophy, the French writer Gustave Flaubert who wrote about the French middle classes and their hypocrisy as well (cf Madame Bovary), the Austrian writer Hugo von Hofmannstahl who adapted Everyman, an allegory from England and called it
Jederman (cf Paul Tabori: Requiem for Europe , 1942). As a person, Franz Kafka was an amicable but not very talkative and very much stepped into reality. He became very ill, suffering from insomnia and a lung disease – however, he did not get proper treatment, worse, he had to wait a long time because he was able to get retirement from his job. He was good friends with Czech language journalist Milena Jezenska but in the end she did not leave her husband for him, and married Dora Dymant. He published a small volume of short stories (Das Urteil, ein Landarzt) and Milena translated some of those in the Czech language. His novels: The Trial, The Castle amongst others were published posthumously by Max Brod. Most of his writing has been lost.

This is the story of a man whose name translates into the jackdaw. The master of absurd stories that can happen to anyone  You may wake up and find yourself in a strange situation  Or you may have had a bad dream  where the narrator can metamorphose himself into any kind of creature
You may have to wait forever in front of a door only meant for you

Kleine Seele, springst im Tanze Legst in warme Luft den Kopf Hebt die Füße aus glänzenden Gras, Das der Wind in zarte Bewegung treibt, Frische Fülle, quellendes Wasser, Stürmische, friedliches, hohes, Sich ausbreitende Wachsen, Glückliche Oase. Morgen nach durchtobter Nacht, Mit dem Himmel Brust und Brust Friede, Versöhnung, Versinkung.

from Diaries adapted by Max Brod
Translation - You little soul, you leap in a dance. You lay your head in warm air You lift your feet from the shining grass which the wind sways in tender movement. Fresh fullness, streaming water, stormy, peaceful, high, spreading-out growth, you happy oasis. Tomorrow after,after a heavy night, to be breast to breast with the sky. Peace, reconciliation, let yourself go. 

Franz Kafka at Work
These are the notes I took on the 28th of November 2002, after a Kafkologue came to give a lecture in an insurance building in Vienna.

Animals, transcendence, Jewish-protestant Prague, Messiah in suit Contact your friendly insurance company if you want us to insure you against everything including death (cf Catholic tradition of indulgences) ????, eh? I didn't understand a thing that intellectual was raving about.

Franz Kafka, born in Prague in 1888, used to work for an insurance company dealing with accident claims until he took early retirement for health reasons in 1922. He did not believe in such nonsense sorry illusions as just displayed. his job at the insurance company was to deal with accidents and sort the bureaucratic paperwork for the injured worker to get compensation. Kafka wrote a piece about cutting machines and drew pictures to illustrate that the hands needed to be protected, also in his times the miners did not wear helmets, and was seeing the injured people at his desk. He attended a conference hosted by medics on prevention, they talked about jargon words such as “Lohnlistenzwang” which means that an insurance company can have a look at salary sheets – which for Kafka was too abstract a notion to be an improvement to the situation. At the same time in town, there was a Zionist conference as the pogroms in Russia were rising to dramatic heights, however this conference too was stuck in bureaucracy. His friend Max Brod would later attend these conferences but was also involved in helping the pogrom refugees materially thanks to fundraising.

When the first world war happened, Kafka and his company discovered that the soldiers were not insured because of Austria thinking the war was going to be successful and short, the opposite happened so the secretary of state declared that soldiers shell-shocked and/or maimed could claim at the insurance company. Kafka himself who had been battling with panic attacks quite successfully on his own, and in his days was living with a healthy diet and sports, declined because of the material conditions after the war. Food was scarce and heating material lacking, this and the sight of his visitors at the insurance company triggered his nightmares and health troubles…

But whilst some like the myth of the miserable Franz Kafka tortured by nightmares and bad health, we also know that this eccentric person was very intelligent and warm-hearted. His stories are full of compassion as he intended to describe reality in a surreal way. Of course he had some family problems, and our self-appointed specialists like to dwell on that, but we just say that this is nothing but the same old story of parents not tolerating their children to be themselves. Franz Kafka was highly intelligent and personally I can understand why he did not fancy taking over the family business of Hermann Kafka who owned a shop. He was very sensitive but to me this is more a quality for a bureaucrat as the people who visited him with their injuries and distress probably also wanted an inclined ear. Of course, Franz Kafka was an artist with an imagination to defy many of his colleagues. For instance I like him musing about technology and saying that machines should be playthings rather than invading private space, and he imagined to combined a parlograph with a telephone, or a gramophone with a telephone. The only talent he did not have was music because he was tone deaf and so did not want to be recorded, at the same time he had a friend who was very musical and got him to do the music or to talk about it.

In 1982, I picked “The Trial” by Franz Kafka from the shelves of the school library and I was fascinated by the atmosphere and the style, later the person and the place he lived, and this started the Bohemian Tales.

Franz Kafka's influence can also be seen in the works of two great personalities:
Vaclav Havel, former Czech president, dissident of the CSSR, playwright and essayist, 
Franz Kafka's friend, Max Brod was a literary critic, albeit working at first at the post office. His influences were at first the eternal pessimist Arthur Schopenhauer, which depressed him a lot. Also he had a spine deformation which forced him to wear a corsett and so he was much more in contact with books than with society. He met Franz Kafka at university where they both studied law, and graduated to a doctorate. At university he developped his philosophical views and abandoned Schopenhauer’s resignated attitude to life. We are the despite generation , he writes in his book Streitbares Leben as opposed to Hemingway's Lost Generation . Like the others in the Prague circle he was a pacifist and sought for ways of building up peace. His Bible studies and a meeting with Martin Buber got his ardent interest for the Jewish identity as he was a spiritual man. He was convinced that culture and education were making people better (= perfectibility of a human being , cf Comenius aka Jan Amos Komensky), hence his love for literature.
His choice of books is eclectic because he read Rilke with equal enthusiasm as Meyrink, and that made him quite an interesting figure as a literary critic because he introduced Franz Werfel, Jaroslav Hasek and the composer Leos Janacek to the world via his newspaper Prager Tagblatt which he ran in the 1930s. As much as he was convinced of their talents, he was convinced that the manuscripts of Franz Kafka that had ended up with him and Dora Dymant were worth promoting. His own work is eclectic too with the recurrent theme of beauty, menace, culture and his despite (trotzdem) attitude.

Ich habe mit Interesse eurer Essay über Max Brod gelesen. Also ich kann aus meiner Warte Max Brod gut verstehen. Dass er und Kafka sich ab und zu nicht gleicher Meinung waren kann ich mir vorstellen. Das Buch Tycho Brahes Weg zu Gott ist ja eine Geschichte von einer Freundschaft zwischen zwei ungleichen Menschen und dem Kafka gewidmet. Dass der Brod auch Zweifeln an seinem Handeln hatte ist auch durch seine Schriften dokumentiert: im Buch Franzi kann man das in einer Romanform lesen, dass der Autor trotz seiner Klugheit nicht sehr selbstsicher ist. Ich glaube als er den Nachlass verwaltete hat er nach dem guten Glauben gehandelt etwas für die Erinnerung zu tun, nicht nur an einem verstorbenen Freund, sondern auch an eine verlorene Zeit - denken sie an seinen eigenen Lebensweg.
Wenn man sieht was für Individualisten sich im Prager Kreis zusammengefunden haben, vom Futuristen Karel Čapek, den Jaroslav Hašek, Milena Jesenska, Egon Erwin Kish - ich denke, dass Literaturhistoriker manchmal Dingen zum Tode analysieren. Ich schreibe nur als Fan, wie viele mag ich den Kafka sehr gern, aber der Max Brod hat es in meiner Ansicht verdient, als eigene Person gewürdigt zu werden.
Sorry ich musste dieses Mail schreiben, sehen Sie im Buch "Tycho Brahe" wartet die Hauptfigur dass seine Freunde ihn verteidigen, und daher glaube ich dass ich als Max Brod Fan ihm dessen schuldig bin
PS haben sie im Buch "Alles ist Leben" von Milena Jesenska den Nachruf gelesen.
Auch empfehle ich Ihnen ein kluges Buch von Jiri Grůza, Botschafter Tschechiens in Österreich: es heißt "Gebrauchsanweisung für Tschechien"
D.A Hoffman , Werfel  (born in Prague, 10.09.1890 – died Beverly Hills, 26.08.1945)
Went to school and studied in Prague. Moved to Vienna. Emigrated 1938 to France with his wife Alma Mahler-Werfel (composer) via the Pyrennees. Moved from there to the USA in 1940.
Poet: Der Weltfreund (friend of the world), Wir sind (we are)
Novels: Nicht der Mörder sondern der Ermordete ist schuldig (Not the Murderer is guilty but the victim), Verdi, The Song of Bernadette (written in English), Stern der Ungeborenen (Star of the Unborn), das Veruntreute Himmel (The wasted heaven)
Short Stories: Manon, The Man who cheated death
Plays: Der Spiegelmensch (the Mirror person) (a magic trilogy), das Reich Gottes in Böhmen (God’s empire in Bohemia), Jakobowsky und der Oberst (Jakobowsky and the Commander

Franz Werfel ist in keiner Weise psychologisierend oder theoretisierend, in keiner Weise programmatisch oder auf das Zeitgemäße als ein Besonderes gestimmt. Werfel’s Gestaltung kommt nicht von der Analyse, nicht von der Psychologie, auch nicht von einem Programm her. Das alte lateinische Grundsatz „Individuum est ineffabile“ - „Das Individuum ist nicht in Worte zu fassen“– hat ihn immer beherrscht. Dieses Unaussprechliche wolle er gestalten.

Entwurfe eines Vorworts zu Das Lied von Bernadette
"Leser, die mein Buch schon kennen, versichern mir, es sei eine der „spannendsten Geschichten“. Sie hätten den Roman verschlungen und nicht aus der Hand legen können, obwohl ihnen das Thema – die Begegnung eines jungen Mädchens mit einer geheimnisvollen Dame, der Kampf dieses Mädchens gegen eine ganze Welt, ein ganzes Zeitalter – am Anfang wenigstens sehr fremdartig erschienen sei. So angenehm dieses „Statement“ auch in den Ohren eines Schriftstellers klingen mag, es kann den Verdacht erwecken, in meinem Buche sei kein „meaning“, keine „message“ enthalten und ich hätte bloß einen interessanten, ungewöhnlichen Stoff in ein „escapistisches Entertainment“ verwandelt.
„Nein“, so muss ich auf diesen Verdacht erwidern, trotz der Dramatik meines Romans, trotz meines künstlerischen Entschlusses so wenig wie möglich zu kommentieren und zu reflektieren, keines meiner Bücher, auch die „Forty Days of Musa Dagh“ enthalten mehr „message“ und „meaning“ als „Song of Bernadette“. Ich bin fest überzeugt davon, dass ich ein höchst aktuelles Buch geschrieben habe, obwohl seine Handlung schon im Jahre 1933 abschließt. Ich habe mit vollem Bewusstsein ein aktuelles Buch geschrieben, ein Kampf-Buch dieses Krieges.
Niemand versteht diesen Krieg, sofern er währt, es werde vor allem um die Macht der Nationen gestritten, um ihren „Lebensraum“, um ökonomische und soziale Formen. Nicht ein materielles, sondern ein geistiges Prinzip steht in diesem Krieg auf dem Spiel. Noch sind die Fronten verworren und die Entwicklung nicht abzusehen. Auf der einen Seite kämpft der radikale Nihilismus, der im Menschen nicht mehr Gottes Ebenbild sieht, sondern eine amoralische Maschine in einer völlig sinnlosen Welt. Auf der anderen, auf unserer Seite, kä­me die metaphysische, die religiöse Conception des Lebens, die Überzeugung, dass dieser Kosmos vom Geiste verschaffen ist und geistiger Sinn daher jedes Atom durchströmt.

„Das Lied der Bernadette“ ist ein jubelnder Hymnus auf diesen geistigen Sinn der Welt. An einen holden einfachen Beispiel wird gezeigt, wie selbst mitten in unserm skeptischen Zeitalter die geistlichen Kräfte wirken und ein unwissendes, aber geniales Geschöpf hoch über das gewöhnliche Mass hinausheben. Obwohl die Geschichte unterm katholischen Volke spielt, bleibt sie nicht gebunden an den Katholizismus, sondern geht gleichermaßen alle an, Protestanten und Juden, alle Menschen, deren Herz offen ist für den Anhauch der Göttlichen Kräfte in der Wirklichkeit des Lebens.
Ich weiß nicht, ob es mir gelungen ist, ein besonders gutes Buch zu schreiben. Eines aber weiß ich gewiss: Der Leser wird durch das Verdienst und Mittlertum meiner Heldin Bernadette Soubirous Gaben des Trostes und der Aufrichtung empfangen, die er in einem andern und vielleicht besseren Roman nicht finden würde.
Franz Werfel

Franz Werfel is neither psychologizing nor theorizising, and in no way programmatic nor focused on the contemporary as something special. Werfel'’s construction does not stem from analyses, nor from psychology, and not from a programme either. The old Latin principle “Individuum est inefabile” – the individual cannot be put into words" always dominated him. He wanted to construct what cannot be put into words.
Draft for a preface to “The song of Bernadette”
Kind readers who already know my book assure me this is one of my most thrilling stories. They devoured the novel and could not put it down, even though the subject – the encounter between a young girl and a mysterious lady, the battle of the girl against a whole world, a whole epoch – might, at the beginning, have sound very strange indeed. As pleasant as this statement sounds to the ear of this writer, this could arise suspicion that there is no “meaning” in my book, no “message”, and I might merely have transformed an interesting, extraordinary subject into escapist entertainment. “No” must I reply to this suspicion, despite the dramatization of my novel, despite the artistic decision to comment and reflect as little as possible, none of my books, even “The forty days of Musa Dagh” contains more message and meaning than “The Song of Bernadette”. I am firmly convinced that I wrote a topical book, even though the story ends in the year 1933. I was aware that I wrote a clearly topical book, a battle-book of this (second world) war. None understands this war. When they mention it, it is about nation power, territorial expansion, about economic and social structures. Not a material but a spiritual principle is at stake in this war. At the moment, the frontline are confused and one cannot foresee future developments. On the one hand, there is radical nihilism, which does no longer see the person as the image of God but an amoral machine in a completely meaningless world. On the other, on our side, there is the metaphysical, conception of life – the firm conviction that the cosmos was created by the spirit, hence spiritual meaning flowing in every atom.

The song of Bernadette is a joyful hymn to this spiritual meaning of the world. A comely simple example shows how even in our sceptical times divine forces have an effect and a creature with no knowledge but much genius, which is lifted high above the common ground. Even though the story unfolds amongst the Catholic people, it is not bound to the Catholic religion but relevant for us all, Protestants, Jews and all people whose heart is open for the inspiration of divine forces in the reality of life.

I do not know if I was successful writing a good book, I certainly know one thing: The readers will receive a gift of consolation and resilience through the merits and mediation of my heroine Bernadette Soubirou, and that might not be found in another and maybe better novel.
Franz Werfel.

Franz Werfel was sensitive writer and poet, able to craft the form and give a content. His early poetry was filled with sadness and beautifully written. Unlike many people for whom sadness is a poise or an attire, and the world of literature and arts is full with posers, it stands at the core of his personality and his work. Franz Werfel wanted to end sadness, bring consolation – and so he was an idealist, who often stood before shattered dreams, and much sorrow.
His fascination for Catholic spirituality certainly derives from that Prague-born poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1924). RilkeÂ’s poetry is at home with the ideals of the Prague Renaissance, the Franciscan spirituality, the ideals of Comenius and, his contemporary Thomas Mazaryk. Perhaps the best way to illustrate the similarity of minds is to quote “The Marked Man” by Franz Werfel, in German with the excellent translation by Leonard Forster (Penguin Books 1967), and “Ernste Stunde” by Rilke (my own adaptation).
To place Rilke and Werfel into the context of their time and place, a place where they were born and and later left to become Bohemian seekers – Rilke travelling to Switzerland and Italy, Werfel emigrating to the USA.,
Das Lied des Gezeichneten (Franz Werfel)
Wenn dich der Tod berührt hat,
Bist du nicht mehr beliebt,
Eh er dich abgeführt hat,
Wirst du schon ausgesiebt.

Du warst ein munterer Kunde
Du spieltest schön Klavier.
Nun rückt die Freundesrunde
Geheimnisvoll von dir.

Einst hat man dich gepriesen
Wie standest du im Saft
Jetzt wirst du strenge verwiesen
In deine Einzelhaft.

Die Wangen wurden kleiner,
Die Augen wurden groß.
Vielleicht fragt Irgendeiner:
Was ist mit dem nur los?

Bevor du wirst dich stricken
Zur letzten Nacht bereit,
Muss du den Zwieback schmecken
Der Ausgestossenheit.

Und eh du darfst einsinken
Dem leergwordenen Kreis,
Bekamst du längst zu trinken
Des Weltraums Äether-Eis.

(Translation by Leonard Foster - The Marked Man . When death has touched you, no one likes you any more, by the time he takes you away you have already been separated out..

You used to be a happy fellow, you played the piano well, now your circle of friends mysteriously withdraws from you.

Once people used to praise the way you looked so vigorous, now you are sternly sent into your solitary confinement.

Your cheeks have grown smaller, your eyes have grown bigger. Perhaps somebody asks: “What IS the matter with him?”
Before you lied down ready for the last night you have to taste the dry biscuit of ostracism.

And before you can be allowed to disappear from the now empty circle, you will long ago have had to drink the ether-ice of interstellar space.
(translation: Leonard Forster (1957) Penguin Books Harmondsworth/England)

I thought in times when the world is getting more radical, sectarian, nihilist and commercial at the same time, it would be a change, or a challenge to read about how various idealistic people tried to bridge the gap between cultures, seeking truth and beauty and the unspeakeable – and giving a message about hope in the darkness of despair. Franz Werfel was a seeker for spirituality and he put the unspeakable into beautiful world, showing us the richness of a human being. Franz Werfel whose heart cared for the lonely, the innocents, the victims, the seekers never fails to touch me as a reader.

Johannes Urzidil

Johannes Urzidil was born 3.2.1896 in Prague, and died in exile 2.11.1970 in Rome.
He was a journalist by profession and published expressionist poetry already in 1919. Then he wrote a novel called "The Lost Lover"  which is dedicated to Prague.

In 1939 he emigrated to England, 1941 he went to the United States to return to Europe after the war.
Poetry: Sturz der Verdammten (the Fall of the Damned), Die Memnons
äule (the column of Memnon). Novels: Das Grosse Halleluja (The great Hallelujah), Short stories: Der Trauermantel (the Coat of Mourning), die Verlorene Geliebte (the Lost Lover), Anton ist fortgegangen (Anton has left) in das Elefantenblatt (the pages of elephants). Autobiography: Das Prager Tryptichon (The Prague Tryptich) Essays: Goethe in Böhmen (Goethe in Bohemia), Da geht Kafka (There goes Kafka)

Anton ist fortgegangen from The Pages of Elephants
This is a story of Adele, a five-year old girl who lives in an impoverisched suburb of Prague in the 1920ies. She has a friend called Alf who plays with her by the wasteland owned by a reclusive old-fashioned lady. The local doll factory daily unloads the misshapes on the wasteland and the children collect them and invent lives for them.

Johannes Urzidil describes himself in "Prager Tryptichon" as a child who grew up on the streets, and his stories have a Mark Twain feeling. They are not comely stories though, in Anton ist fortgegangen, for instance, there is a motive that the whole city is divided into administration and the use of the word "Vernichtungslager" ("death camp") when describing the limbs and torso and heads being thrown to the wasteland by people who only do their duty. And yet, it is a charming story of childhood, how a little girl and her friend pick the pieces up to bring new life.

To me, Urzidil deserves a re-print of his works and this excerpt is a way of saluting another member of the legendary groups of writers also known as the Prague Circle.

Anton ist fortgegangen - from Das Elephantenblatt

"Gehen wir zum Puppenamt," sagte Adele zu Alf. Die Erwachsenen wissen, dass sie fünf Jahre alt ist. Ihr selbst ist das natürlich nicht bekannt, obwohl sie schon mancherlei erfahren hat und sogar bis hundert zählen kann. Aber was bedeutet hundert? Es gilt ihr weniger als zwei oder drei. Ihr Vater ist jedoch sehr stolz auf das Zählen, und deshalb tut sie es, erst von eins bis zwanzig und dann weiter in acht großen Sprüngen bis hundert. Ziffern sind lustig. Woher sollte sie wissen, was ein Jahr ist? Aber eine Woche misst sie nach den Küchenprogrammen der Mutter. "Puppenamt", sagt sie, weil der Vater, ein Postbeamter, täglich nach dem Frühstück verkündet: "Ich gehe also jetzt ins Postamt". Warum also, weiß niemand zu sagen. Das "also" bedeutet irgend etwas oder schließt etwas ab oder reißt etwas auf oder alles zusammen. Eine gewisse Unzufriedenheit klingt dabei mit. Jedenfalls hat sich Adele die Welt der Übersichtlichkeit halber in Ämter eingeteilt. Puppenamt, Obstamt, Zuckerlamt, Kuchenamt und so weiter.

Das Puppenamt befindet sich in einem Graben am Rande eines riesigen Brachfeldes. Längs der einen Seite des Grabens wandert eine Reihe schlanker Pappeln wie eine Garde neben dem Brachfeld dahin; auf der anderen Seite, oberhalb des Grabens verläuft die Fahrstraße, die drüben von Häusern begleitet wird, eines die Spielzeugfabrik, die anderen Mietshäuser. In einem davon wohnen Adele und Alf in verschiedenen Stockwerken. Das Brachfeld, der Graben, die Strasse, die Häuser gehören zu einer Vorstadt namens "Die Königliche Weinberge". Der Kürze halber und weil es auch längst keinen König mehr gibt, sagt man bloß  "die Weinberge". Aber die Weinstöcke, die der König einst dort anpflanzte, wollten nicht gedeihen und nicht verkommen. Also hat der Name keinerlei praktische Bedeutung, und das ist gut. Rings um das Brachfeld ist Vorstadt.

Aber das Brachfeld selbst, etwa tausend Schritte zum Geviert, lässt die begierig vorstrebende Häuser nicht heran. Seine Eigentümerin, ein altes Fräulein Grohmann, weigert sich beharrlich, ihr Grundstück für Bauzwecke loszuschlagen, obzwar sie es zu nichts verwendet und nie etwas darauf anpflanzen lässt. Je nach Jahreszeit ist das Feld bedeckt mit Löwenzahn, Gänseblumen, Massliebchen, Wegerich, Schafgarbe, Hirtentaeschchen, Sternmieren, Taubenkropf, Pechnelken, wilden Mohn, Sauerampfer und immerzu mit Disteln und Kletten. Das es seine abhängige Flache bildet, lässt sich außer Drachensteigen im Herbst und Rodeln im Winter kein Sport darauf betreiben. Aber auch das wagen nur sehr wenige, obwohl Fräulein Grohmann sich noch nie dagegen geäußert hat. Sie äußert sich überhaupt kaum jemals, und nur wenige wissen, wie sie eigentlich aussieht. Sicher ist, dass sie mit dem Gelände nicht etwa spekuliert oder abwartet, bis sein Wert infolge des Anwachsen der Stadt höher und hoch genug gestiegen wäre. Ein derartiger Gedanke kämme Fräulein Grohmann nicht. Sie ist eine noble Dame. Ihr alter Garten mit dem noch alteren Wohnhaus in der Mitte grenzt an das Brachfeld, dessen unkräutliches Durcheinander und weglose gr
ünende Wirrnis ihr behagen.

In dem Graben läng des Brachfeldes ist also das Puppenamt in dem Adele tätig ist. Gefühllose Leute würden es einen Puppenfriedhof nennen, wo die gegenüberliegende Puppenfabrik Misslungenes und Unbrauchbares ablädt. Was aber der Fabrik zum toten Abfall wurde, bedeutet für Adele eine lebendige Welt. Es liegen da geborstete Puppenleiber, schiefgeratene Köpfe, handlose Arme, fusslose Beine, abgebrochene Füße oder Hände, einzelne Augen, blau oder braun; auch Garderobenst
ücke finden sich, angerissene Kleidchen, Schühlein aus Lackstoff, zerknitterte Häubchen. Eigentlich könnte Fräulein Grohmann gegen dieses Vernichtungslager Einspruch erheben, denn der Graben gehört zu ihrem Terrain. Aber vermutlich ist ihr derartiges noch nicht eingefallen.

Alf lebt mit Adele täglich im Puppenamt zusammen, in einer sich stets verändernden Welt, weil immer gegen Abend eine ganze Menge neuer Puppenteile eintreffen, was Alf vom K
üchenfenster der Elternwohnung zu beobachten pflegt. Da erscheinen dann zwei Männer mit einem Holzkarren, den sie am Rand des Grabens umwenden, sodass Köpfe, Rümpfe und sonstige Körperteile und Ausstattungsstücke, hinunterkollern. Die Männer bekunden nicht die geringste Teilnahme bei diesem Geschäft. Sie tun nur ihre Pflicht. Sie schneuzen sich und rauchen. Wie lange wird Fräulein Grohmann sich solches bieten lassen? Sie kommt nie aus ihrem in die Bäume eingelagerten Haus hervor. Alf weiß von ihr und ihrer Macht und Herrlichkeit nur aus Elterngesprächen. Sie kann sich nicht mit allem befassen. Wahrscheinlich besitzt sie viele solche Gräben. Zu diesem hier wird sie wohl auch noch einmal gelangen. Alf betrachtet das Hinabrollen der Torso und Gliedmaßen als etwas, was in der Welt eben vorkommt. Es gehört zum Leben. Der Vater hat ein Buch mit einem Bild darinnen: "Den Sturz der Verdammten". Darauf sind alle Köpfe, Rümpfe und Glieder durcheinandergeraten, und die Gesichter zeigen verzweifelte Grimassen. Auch da sagt der Vater: "Das gehört zum Leben." Für den Vater gehört einfach alles zum Leben. Dieser Sturz der Verdammten ist zum Totlachen, während er traurig ist, denn alle leben noch, obschon sie eben sterben. Vielleicht, ist das mit den fortgeworfenen Puppen auch so.
Für Adele jedenfalls leben sie. Sie haben Namen und Eigenschaften. Täglich stellt Adele zwei oder drei aus verschiedenen Gliedmaßen zusammen und siedelt sie einer bestimmten Ecke des Grabens an. Etwas Gesträuch, das sich dort verfangen hat bietet Schutz und Deckung und bildet eine Art Höhle. Ganze Familien wohnen dort.

Copyright: "Anton ist fortgegangen" from "Das Elefantenblatt" Editions Langen Mueller/Herbig, Munich/Germany

Czech futurism and Karel Capek 09.01.1890   25.12.1938
Karel Čapek, příslušník literární generace, která dozrála v letech první světové války, se narodil 9. ledna 1890 v Malých Svatoňovicích. Pocházel z rodiny lékaře jako nejmladší ze tří dětí. Bratr Josef vynikl jako malíř a spisovatel, sestra Helena kromě několika próz je autorkou vzpomínkové knihy Moji milí bratři (1962).

Karel Čapek byl žurnalistou, prozaikem, dramatikem, překladatelem a kritikem, autorem knih pro děti. Studoval na gymnáziu v Hradci Králové a Brně, maturoval na Akademickém gymnáziu v Praze, studium na FF UK v Praze ukončil v roce 1915 doktorátem.
V době Čapkových vysokoškolských studií vznikla knižně publikovaná seminární práce Pragmatismus čili Filozofie praktického života (1918). V letech 1910 – 11 byl Karel Čapek na studijním pobytu v Paříži a v Berlíně.

Po ukončení vysoké školy byl Karel Čapek vychovatelem v hraběcí rodině Lažanských, knihovníkem v Národním muzeu, do roku 1938 pak i redaktorem v Národních listech a v Lidových novinách. Ve Vinohradském divadle působil v letech 1921 – 23 jako dramaturg a režisér.

Karel Čapek podnikl řadu cest do zahraničí, z nichž získal podněty pro své cestopisné fejetony a prózy. Byl zvolen prvním předsedou československého PEN-KLUBU.

Ve své vinohradské vile organizoval Karel Čapek přátelské páteční besedy. Ženou Karla Čapka byla herečka a spisovatelka Olga Scheinpflugová.

Čapkovo mnohotvárné a neobyčejně bohaté dílo přervala náhlá smrt. Zemřel 25. prosince 1938 v Praze na zápal plic. Je pochován na Vyšehradě.

some of his publications
Továrna na Absolutno – 1922
- Krakatit – 1924 – v románu položil Čapek otázku možnosti pokroku v technické civilizaci a současně bezpečnosti lidstva. Byla to podivuhodně výstižná vize krize lidstva ve století atomové bomby

Because I am publishing in cyberspace, I am entirely in favour of reading a science fiction novel from time to time and also use technology, html dpi jpg words, deal with alien subjects completely incomprehensible to me, there is a lot of imagery with facets, sparkling, astronomy, time recurrent on the whole website. The scholar in the library with a candle light and parchment belongs to the renaissance. The printing press is a wide used commodity and its relatives the printer and photocopier doing well. Also, I need a futurist page to show how modern I am because I always seek trying out new things, or better said, to incorporate the new.

Enters Karel Capek, the inventor of futurism. Everyone should know about him because modern life would not be conceivable without a word that he coined. Robot .

Next time you use an electric appliance that does all the work for you, think of Karel
Čapek and his Rossum Universal Robots (R.U.R.) He was a visionary idealist that is to say that he tried to imagine the future of his country as Czechoslovakia had become independent and was seeking for a new identity away from the Austro-Hungarian heritage. As a friend of Tomas Mazaryk who had championed a neutral state with social reforms, Capek had long conversations with him which have been released for print recently.

Čapek and his brother had an interest in architecture which might be due to the fact that Čapek was interested in mathematics and calculation as well - just like Max Brod who wrote that Tycho Brahe book about calculations in astronomy. One of the architect was called Josef Chochol who built the Neklanova House and based its shape on the way crystal is cut.  Czechy Bohemians patented lead crystal in the times of the renaissance and researched on the field of optic (including telescope, lenses and spectacles), and crystal is a symbol of transparence and truth. Which leads again to that Bohemian Prague circle of idealistic people.

In the second decade of the 20th C,
Art Nouveau was pretty much associated with the old Habsburg regime, the newly independent Czechoslovakia was looking for a new style to assert its identity.  because they were looking for a new style to assert their identity. These people were looking at Tomas Mazaryk, the scholar and friend of Rainer Maria Rilke and Oskar Kokoschka, and at Josef Capek who imagined a "building of the perfect forms and great emotions". any people in Prague disserted about the crystaline as an absolute form, one of the publications of the day was by Wilhelm Worringer and it was called  "Abstraktion und Einfühlung", Worringer argues that the abstract pattern is not inferior to figurative pattern.  His Austrian counterpart, Alois Riegl saw in "the crystal and the organic a polarity of all artistic development". Abstraction, expressionism, cubism was the new language for new times.

Josef Capek's brother, called Karel, became friends with Max Brod, and with RUR wrote a novel that very much influenced our vocabulary - when we talk about Robots, we use a Czech word that means work.

website of the The Neklanova building in Prague
website neklanova

On a personal note (DKav 2002)
Czech futurism found me in 1999. As I was visiting London to see some friends, there was an exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Design where Future Systems - with Czech born Jan Kaplicky introduced surreal buildings in aerodynamic forms and refered to Czech futurism as his inspiration.

279 Selfridges 1999
The ambition of this scheme is great. Selfridges require a state of the art department store. They also wish to have a building that will provide an architectural landmark for Birmingham. It is this ambition that has driven our design. Enabling the building to become a genuine catalyst for urban regeneration. The ambition for the interior is to meet the expectation of the exterior, balancing the curiosity created by the unique fa硤e. The fluidity of the form of the building is matched inside with an organically shaped atrium stretching across the floor plan. Like an urban canyon, the atrium creates shafts of natural light penetrating deep inside the space. We have re-interpreted the notion of a department store, not just in its form and appearance. We have also analysed the social function such a building now plays in our society. The form of the building is soft and curvaceous in response to the natural curve of the site, sweeping around the corner and wrapping over the top to form the roof. This building expresses what it is in a way that is aesthetically innovative but also clearly signifies its function as a department store without the need for signage.
221 Lords Media Centre 1994

There exists at Lord's a tradition of patronage of innovative structures - the objective of the design has been to respect and savour the essential nature of Lord's while bringing to it a building that will herald the coming millennium and provide the most elegant and state-of-the-art media centre in the world. The NatWest Media Centre at Lord's will be one of the most innovative buildings this century. It will be the first all aluminium semi-monococque building in the world. It represents a breakthrough, not just in the creation of a new three-dimensional aesthetic but in its method of construction; this building was built and fitted out not by the construction industry but by a boatyard, using the very latest advances in boat building technology. Raised 15m above the ground, the aerodynamic contours of the building reflect the sweep of the plan of the Ground with the enclosing skin formed by a smooth, white, seamless shell. The west facing glazing is inclined to avoid any glare or reflections while providing unobstructed views of the game for the world's media.

What will people exclaim as they see this gigantic spaceship in the middle of London. I had to include the remarks by Jan Kaplicky and his futurist architecture because back in 1999 the subjects that fascinated my friends were the eclipse and the millenium. I do not have fond memories of the autumn 1999 because my health took a nosedive only to re-emerge in May 2000 and down again in Summer 2000 to Autumn 2002 during which I met the acquaintance of modern architecture as in hospital architecture, functional, airy and the lot. Hypermodern medical treatment including Magnetresonnanztomography and another thing which has something to do with radioactive technology and machines looking as if they came out of a Kafka story, plus forms and incomprehensible speak.

This is why I found writing about Max Brod and his friends so interesting. There I was in that modern hospital last year in February reading a book dating 1914 about an astronomer from the renaissance. And then I understood. The scholar Brod who corresponded with Karel Capek felt inadequate with modernity. We noticed that his office in Tel Aviv looked just the same as the one he had in Prague and in his book "Beinahe ein Vorzugsschí±²íµ²" he goes on about these modern buildings in Tel Aviv which have no memories. Brod was being himself, a romantic idealist who would have wished to turn back the clock and erase all the bad things that happened in the past, however, what sets him apart is his undeterred wish to carry on in the present, discovering new things, building or rebuilding culture with an open mind. And doing so with a flame that seeks respect. A dream is often a wishful thinking for some, and others decide to make them real. Peace and peace of mind were his dreams. He achieved much.

Brod shared his inadequacy with Franz Werfel and Johannes Urzidil. On the other hand, Franz Kafka was quite interested in new inventions and his imagination had no limits what technical improvements could be made to make life easy. We read that he imagined a telephone connected to a dictaphone and all sorts of stories set against a backdrop of machinery, a machinery not always kind to humanity, mind. A machinery that can also be used as an instrument of torture. I guess this is why there is this ambiguity with modern architecture as well. The crystal buildings that marvelled Sochor with its purity of form look absolutely frightening in a film by Robert Wiene called "The Cabinet of Dr Caligari", which was made in Germany and featured some prominent names as we had Gustav Meyrink scripting the story.

At the time, when Robert Wiene made his film, another visionary called F.W. Murnau experimented with photography and the way to make a film atmospheric. What makes his Nosferatu particularly scary is the lack of subtility of facial expressions. Murnau explained that this was due to the fact that his actors all came from the stage where you accentuate the expression for it to be visible but if you meet such a figure in real life, you are scared because the face does not move or if it does it's an abrupt change. This makes explanations impossible. This is also what makes comic strips inhuman, you get a bubble with a whole message and the face does not move - hence a disconnection. All this is called expressionism, and if you do expressionist photography for instance, you are left with icons or that is to say that the expression is more important than the person. Personally I don't like iconic photography because of that. The essence of expressionism however remains.

Max Brod - the stars as a compass

EGON ERWIN KISH - the roving reporter

Milena Jesenska was born 1896 in Prague, died in the concentration camp of Ravensbrueck in 1939. She spent many years in Vienna. As a journalist in her home town she wrote many articles, reviews and reports for Czech-speaking Prague papers. They have been collected into “Alles ist Leben” anthology.

Milena Jesenskas reports about the situation in Northern Bohemia in the times of the Henlein terror against the defenders of the republic, whether of Czech or German language, about the mobilisation of the CSR army, about the Munich treaties and the march of the Wehrmacht in Prague, they are all historical documents of first degree.”
Writes Peter Demetz for Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

I chose a charming essay for our Bohemian tales: it is the Praise of the Kitsch. Or as we will see how cheap and cheerful pretty toys and ornaments can make us smile – it shows Milena’s light-hearted side and her sense of humour.

Praise the kitsch by Milena Jesenska (translation DKav 2002)

When I want to praise the kitsch, I don’t mean that it is honourable and good. I don’t get the idea to declare it beautiful. I would even be lost for words if I had to name its good qualities. However, after a two-hours stroll through the morning, eerily sunny, town, the desire to do something crazy comes over me.

Kitsch? What is kitsch? Something useless, vain, a bubble on the surface of time – however, a colourful, splendid one. Something very obscene and obvious. There is no good and bad kitsch, there is just kitsch. A pretty toy with no soul. By the way, day by day we are fed with kitsch. Who recognises it? Only the very few. However, we struggle against it with patronising grumble, without exactly knowing what or where it is. How should our era of factories, cars, bars and stock exchange express itself? Where should it – metaphorically speaking – shine through? At… “Succini” for instance. Sweet pleasure to surrender to this non-art, to stand face to face to this brave cheekiness and to savour it. Enjoy does not mean to succumb to pleasure, it means to take the pleasure, wrestle it and hunt it with healthy happiness.

The poor who were never drunk. The unhappy who were never naïve. The miserable who never fell in love with a slightly bow-legged shop-assistant whom they saw a figure of worship. The world is not as it is but how we see it. And that doesn’t make it richer, quite the opposite: it is poorer. We are to heavy to be really virtuous. Virtue is not: to avoid sin – virtue is: to know what sin is.

A gaudily-painted vulgar merry-go-round behind the city in the bend near Palacky Bridge – it gets unnoticed. However, it is not because it not magically beautiful but because the people who pass by fear the kitsch. Their soul marches dressed in tuxedo and stiff collar from bureau to bureau, and, to them that merry-go-round dressed in tassels and bells does not awake the image of a magic castle and a beautiful princess like it does for a young boy who stand it front of it, thumb in his mouth. And yet, the merry-go-round is a bit of youth that has gone. Today, they are very serious and they have a high art taste; today they are poor and mean. However, red velvet and wooden ducks are charming, only our daft experience makes us believe they are worn out and full of fleas…

There are people who fear to spend money for the enjoyable. Do not believe them when they pretend to be sensible. They are weak, they know that they don’t have the strength to say “enough” and they would always shout “more!”, and this is why they say “never” with a sense of pride. Someone can only be foolish if they have a spirit, to be foolish out of despair is just an empty phrase. To enjoy foolishness and to stand above things is the high form of life which Stendhal praised but did not master because he was vain, which Laforgue mastered and for which he died – and which was sung by Jules Romains. Long live the happy comrades who went aground lightly.

Whoever takes kitsch seriously is tasteless. Kitsch does not want to be taken seriously....


Biog written by Penguin Books, England
Jaroslav Hasek was born on 24. April 1883, in South Bohemia, the son of a teacher of mathematics. Forced by the dictates of necessity to earn some sort of living, he became a bank clerk but soon abandoned it in favour of an eccentric and wandering life. He spent a good deal of time tramping off the beaten track in central and south-eastern Europe. He also did various jobs as a journalist and soon became known as a comic character and a practical joker who was fond of associating with devotees of taverns. He wanted to write, and before the catastrophic years of the first world war, he had published sixteen volumes of short stories.

Taken prisoner on the Eastern front he spent several years in Russian prison camps. On his return he began to write “The good soldier Svejk”…

“Great time call for great men. There are unknown heroes who are modest with none of the historical glamour of a Napoleon. If you analysed their character you would find that it eclipsed even the glory of Alexander the Great. Today you can meet in the streets of Prague a shabbily dressed man who is not even himself aware of his significance in the history of the great new era. He goes modestly on his way, without bothering anyone. Nor is he bothered by journalists asking for an interview. If you asked him his name he would answer you simply and unassumingly: "I am Svejk..."
And this quiet unassuming, shabbily dressed man is indeed that heroic and valiant good old soldier Svejk. In Austrian times his name was once on the lips of all the citizens of the Kingdom of Bohemia, and in the Republic his glory will not fade either.

I am very fond of the good soldier Svejk and in relating his adventures during the world war, I am convinced that this modest, anonymous hero will win the sympathy of all of you. Unlike that stupid fellow Herostrates he did not set fire to the temple of the Goddess in Ephesus just to get himself into the newspapers and school books.
And that is enough.
The author

The story of Svejk and Jarolav Hasek is a variation on a familiar Prague circle theme: once again superior forces deciding the fate of ordinary people. Orders are orders, this reminds me of an eponymous English film with Peter Sellers, where he plays a chubby soldier obeying orders. Even if the orders are absurd, cruel or humiliating. "Maul halten und dienen" is the motto. One of the characters in the book is called Cadet Biegler, and he is unfortunate enough to be sent to the front and get shellshocked. The symptoms of his ordeal translate into inflamable bowel disease. Far from getting a soft handed treatment, Biegler gets sent to a cholera station and then has to get back to front for fight. To him that means that he is looking for a toilet all the time and has to travel by train. I was impressed by the way the joke is never on mild-mannered young Biegler, and that shows an author who has empathy for the victims. The good soldier Svejk, a good-natured uneducated chap from the country is also a victim. His story is a tragedy. He is made to obey orders. And yet his character appeals to most readers. A grafter who likes his food and drink, and other good things in life, he likes to tell anecdotes when inspired. In fact, the book is remarkably lively due to the anecdotes and also one gets hungry for food and life when reading Hasek's prose. Svejk, either he has a cousin somewhere, or something happened to him or his acquaintances. He is a good natured character - and his bubbliness annoys serious officers who brand him an idiot. So Svejk has to endure many punishments, he gets sent into the slammer - and yet that does not change him he is aware of what happens to him, he improvises the best solution, then he grins and bears it.

I could go on praising the novel and say that to me it ranges amongst the very best of contemporary literature. Because of Svejk's resillence, one still believes that it is possible to see a light at the end of the tunnel (even if it is a train coming the other way). This book is a good illustration of putting up with Murphy's law. Murphy's law is of course a totally unfair, cruel and absurd set of laws that one has to endure - the book itself was written after the second world war by Mr Bloch.

I like the unassuming personalities - both Hasek and Svejk are just doing their job. And Hasek does his with a twinkle. ;) - and what job he did! The book is brimful with details, it looks chaotic and yet, I think that Hasek knew exactly what he wanted to say and did not loose target. There are parallels between Hasek and Svejk, both were soldiers but rather than writing his memoirs, Hasek prefered constructing a fictional character to live his times. Once again, a trait of an unassuming character. And what impresses me the most is the humour, how can one write a comedy about such a subject - it should be a serious drama. No, pacifist French author Boris Vian once said that humour is politeness of despair and a story written in black humour brings home what the author meant to convey, and what he conveys, just like his colleagues from the Prague circle

Hasek never intended his Svejk as a novel. Just like the Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, the adventures were published in newspapers. Hence the deprecative title of Colportage-Novel or Novelettes.

Hasek's style has been a major inspiration for my own writing. I do not hesitate a minute to say so. I like the idea of interlocking anecdotes, and I like Svejk's personality. A lot of affection goes to this Czech man from South Bohemia, he drank a bit too much local pilsener but he had his head firmly switched on and.... a lot of bottle.

He is a member of the Prague circle because his novel was discovered by Prager Tagblatt editor Max Brod, who went all enthusiastic in a way only our Max can. 
Die Reise um Europa in 365 Tagen. Eine groteske Begebenheit in 15 Bildern. Arcadia Berlin 1930 (geschrieben mit Jaroslav Hašek)
"Hasek ist ein Humorist des allergrossten Formates, den mit Cervantes and Rabelais zu vergleichen in einer spaeteren Zeit nicht allzu gewagt erscheinen wird." he said, and one can absolutely agree that Svejk compares with Cervantes and Rabelais.

Max Brod also explains that he likes ambiguous, mixed characters and constructed stories: "Das zweideutige, hintergruendige, gemischte, das alle untersterbliche Gestalten der Weltliteratur auszeichnet, umschwebt auch den "Guten Soldat Svejk" Er ist derb aber fuegsam, gar nichts von Ekrasit ist an ihm, durch beflissenes Jasagen bringt er den Krieg, den Militarismus grinsend ad absurdum. Er siegt durch seine Weichheit, in der unauffaellig das gesunde Empfinden des Volkes und eine Dosis wurschtiger Hinterlist steckt - Pallenberg hat die Figur sehr wirksam aber falsch gespielt. Der erste tschechische Darsteller des Svejks (Noll) war um vieles echter, stiller, vertrottelter. Man kann ein Trottel sein und doch tausendmal gescheiter sein als unsere Weltpolitiker."

Hasek's reply: "Lieber Herr Brod! Ich danke Ihnen fuer ihre liebliche Kritik und moechte Sie bitten, mir die Exemplare zu senden unter meine Adresse: J. Hasek, Lipnice u Svetle N. Sazavou. Mit vielem Gruess. Ich sende ihnen ein Bild! Jaroslav Hasek. Ihr Longen. (+ Longerova, Lvova.)

The letter is very charming, Hasek uses the expression "lovely comments" - also this shows him as a convivial person, because it is signed by his wife - Countess Lvova, his friend E.A. Longen who was a painter, and Xena Longerova who was an actress who played the role of Galgentoni in Egon Erwin Kisch play of the same name.

"Lieber Herr Brod. Wir feiern meine Ferien mit Hasek zusammen und duerfen dabei des besten Menschen = Herrn Brod! nicht vergessen. Wir sind vorbereitet dabei grosse Szenen aus dem Svejk zu spielen: Den Feldkurat wie mit seinem Svejk saeuft. Wir gruessen Sie und Frau Gemahlin herzlicht und verbleiben ihre Freunde, E.A. Longen

Brod and Reiman adapted Svejk for the Berlin stage a few years later. Svejk became also a successful radio programme. Hasek himself was too ill to enjoy fame - he died in 1923 - at least he said "Now you will see, I am going to be famous".

PS: The Good Soldier Svejk is one of the earliest book of literature depicting a person who suffers from Crohn's Disease. To me the story of Biegler who spends times trying to find a toilet at the front and getting treated in hospital rings true. Unlike him, many Crohn's patients are not in the same ward as cholera patients but other things happening in the book still happen today.

Jaroslav Hasek and his party: “Partei für gemäßigten Fortschritt in den Schranken der Gesetze”
Anecdotes from "Streitbare
s Leben" (by Max Brod) 1967
Sous-pages (2) : Egon Erwin Kisch Max Brod