Franz Kafka and Prague

His Family
His Working Life
His Isolation
His Relationships

Franz Kafka was born in Prague on July 3, 1883, into a middle-class Jewish family.   Although Prague is now the capital of the Czech Republic, at that time it was part of Austria-Hungary, and had a large German-speaking population.  Kafka spoke German, and all his writing was also in that language.

Kafka's father, Hermann Kafka, was a merchant, and was a notorious tyrant, both to Franz Kafka and to his mother, Julie Lwy. Kafka’s two brothers died in infancy, and so he became the oldest child. Ottla, the youngest of his three sisters, was the member of his family that he was closest to.

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Kafka's father

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Although Kafka was not especially close to his mother, he identified more with her side of the family. These people were intellectual, spiritual and melancholy, and shared his sensitive nature and delicate physical disposition.

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Kafka's mother and sister Villi in 1916

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Kafka’s father was a bully, both to his wife and to Kafka himself. In his autobiographical work "Brief an der Vater" ("Letter to the Father"), written in 1919, Kafka blamed his father for his inability to break his family ties and establish an independent married life for himself. He believed that his father had broken his will, and made him feel permanently impotent. Kafka’s father was the very opposite of Kafka himself: he was a down-to-earth shopkeeper who was obsessed with money and social success. In Kafka’s imagination, this man belonged to a race of "giants": at the same time he hated and admired him. Kafka’s relationship with his father comes out in some of his books as a hopeless conflict against an overwhelming power: for example, in The Trial, or The Castle. This relationship is addressed more directly in Das Urteil (The Judgement) (1916). Yet despite the obvious need to get away from this person, Kafka spent a major part of his life living with this awful man.


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