Prague is a city of hidden alleyways.
Inside the Hradcany complex, tiny 16th century working class homes hug narrow cobbled roads. During the winter of 1916, Franz Kafka wrote many of his stories while living with his sister on 22 Zlata ulicka (Golden Lane). The unsettling effect of this strange geography is reflected in Kafka's chilling, surrealistic novel, The Castle.
Beyond the castle complex, cobbled roads plunge steeply down to Lesser Town and the famous Charles Bridge, where rows of Baroque statues form an elaborate display. Kafka spent his formative years in the nearby Staromestska namesti, the Old Town Square. The charming, eclectic homes which surround the square don't strike me as especially Kafkaesque... but it is unsettling to reflect that ancient Roman ruins hide behind the Gothic and Baroque facades.
Much of the oppressive architecture of Kafka's novels comes from Josefov, the Jewish ghetto north of the town square. Urban renewal efforts have swept away many of the original buildings, but the Old Jewish Cemetery remains.
Wandering through courtyards and back alleys of Old Prague, I made a startling discovery: Even the floor plans are strange and disorienting. Public and private spaces combine in passageways which run through houses from one street to another. Apartments are rarely divided up by corridors. Instead, one room opens directly to another - much like the rooms described in Metamorphosis, Kafka's nightmarish tale of a man transformed into a cockroach.
But don't let Kafka's creepy stories discourage you. When the sun shines on the river Vltava, golden buildings take on a cheerful glow. Even the somber surrealist would be pleased to spend eternity here.
Is there a building haunting you? Tell us about spooky buildings you've seen.