About 10 years ago I had the privilege of living in Europe and of visiting Prague in the Czech Republic. Among the things I had wanted to see: the former home of Franz Kafka. I found myself on Golden Lane.
Golden Lane is not what I expected. It is in fact a community of Tiny Houses built behind fortified walls. Originally 24 Tiny Houses that were built for the royal marksmen in the 15th or 16th century. Later, when marksmen were no longer employed by the King of Bohemia, he housed the alchemists who were trying to turn various items into gold. It is from this period that the street took its name. Obviously alchemy was not very successful and so they also moved on and through these many years a diverse group of people lived in these Tiny Houses. Kafka happens to be one of them this is where he lived from 1916 to 1917, during WWI.
From the outside, the houses are certainly charming. Clearly they were built to last. But there is a huge problem with light in them. You see when they were built the King did not want any windows to face toward the castle, therefore the only windows in them face out into a narrow street; then there are very high fortification walls on both the back and front, and these walls serve to keep out most light. If this is not enough, the windows are small. Further compounding the problem is that the homes are of timber, stone and mud construction. These very thick walls mean that what little light gets past the high walls outside must pass a long way in order to get in the homes. The consequence is that not only are these houses Tiny but they are dark and cave like inside. The homes are, in fact, so small and so dark that I was unable to take a photo of the interior.
So, this was my first experience with Tiny Houses and truthfully it was not overly positive. The houses themselves have been restored since I was there. But I imagine this would not make much difference because the lack of natural light is the key problem. I remember thinking quite clearly that I could never live there and while I know now that I could, I still it would not be my first choice of a home.
Yet, despite the lack of light in these Tiny Houses, 22 Golden Lane is where Franz Kafka lived and worked his magic. His house is made up of a foyer and two rooms, all so small that I could reach across and touch the walls on either side. There, in that Tiny House he went about the quiet art of writing. While there, he wrote short stories for The Country Doctor and he went on to develop ideas for The Castle. Interestingly, he wrote a letter to his fiancé about his Tiny House (there is a German translation here). Essentially this translation says: he was looking for a small quiet spot to work and his impression of it was the same as mine, dingy, unserviceable but quiet. In this letter he goes on to write that he did some work on the house to make it more functional and how much he came to appreciate the quietness of the place. In fact, 22 Golden Lane started for him as a writing room, but fast became his home.
I do not find the exact size of this Tiny House but I estimate that it is about 110 square feet. Not a bad amount of space particularly because people really had very little in the way of possessions. Kafka, unfortunately caught TB and was forced to leave his Tiny House to a be cared for in a sanatorium and this is where he lived out the remainder of his life.
There are many interesting stories about the people who lived in these historic Tiny houses if you care to look them up. Most importantly they show us that people have been living happily in Tiny Houses for a very, very long time.
Here is a half hour radio show on them, if you wish to have a listen
Laura Moreland is a contributing writer for Tiny House Listings and lives in her tiny house in Eastern Ontario with her husband and four dogs. You can learn more about Laura through her website “Tiny House Ontario” here.