Kafka’s balcony, with lemongrass

March 12, 2012 at 3:06 pm (Uncategorized) (, )

Kafka’s been watching me sleep.

I’ve scribbled strange lines in my little red notebook over the years – some involving Finnish cowboys, taxidermy snakes, and my inexplicable phobia of crumpets –   but this remains one of my favourites.  

I’d collapsed on the couch of the holiday apartment I’d rented, after a killer long haul flight from Australia. I’d flung the balcony doors open to the summer evening just before I dozed, and when I roused myself and sat up I saw, painted on shutters on the other side of Cothenienstrasse, the intense expression of Franz Kafka staring up at me.

No wonder I’d been having nightmares.


Berlin is one of my favourite places on earth. About once a year I pack up my red notebooks and head over there, and each time I do I’m less certain why I leave it. I go there for the glorious language – truly the most beautiful on earth, pure seduction. I go there for the regeneration the city constantly exudes, for the smell of the U-Bahn and the feel of the Berlin Wall under my fingertips, Nina Hagen CDs and Goethe books, for their huge cheese and pickle breakfasts and the ivy that covers many a crumbling building and holds it all together.


But this time, I went for Kafka.

I’ve been counting the steps I’ve taken across the world in search of ink, having so far written posts on Iceland and New York. In Berlin, it’s hard to choose one writer in a city that held Bertolt Brecht, W.H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, Christa Wolf, Vladimir Nabokov, the Brothers Grim and yes, even John le Carré. Where the latter’s concerned, however, I have to admit I sat in the café opposite Checkpoint Charlie not so much because he used to watch the exchange of spies there as he worked on ‘The Spy Who Came In From The Cold,’ but more because they do the best apple strudel in Berlin.




The protagonist in my novel has crooked teeth, red boots and an obsessive compulsive disorder involving a Kafka short story. Come on, I’m not going to give it all away…I want you to read the damn thing, after all.

So to wake that first day and find his dark brows glaring my way, seemed a fitting sign.

One sunny afternoon I made my way to Muthesiusstrasse in Berlin’s southwest, where Kafka used to live. It’s a beautiful leafy street in a middle class suburb, and as I hadn’t been able to find the exact address, I did what any writer doing research would do: I walked slowly down the entire length of one side, crossed over, and walked back. If I told you this was so I could know my feet had walked where his had, you’d see that obsession is a trait I’m somewhat acquainted with. But then again, what writer isn’t?

I sat at a café on Muthesiusstrasse and worked on my novel, red book and black ink on a green street. I wondered if Kafka had sat on an ivy covered balcony to write, and if he’d ever come to this café. And I’ll be honest: I waited for something surreal and absurdist to happen, so I could pin a Kafkaesque moment down on paper.

All I could manage was a surly waitress in koala slippers, who plonked down in front of me that most traditional of German dishes: pad Thai.

You take what you can get, after all.


  1. Leith said,

    Green streets or mean streets, damn I love your black ink ridden words.

    • inkymouth said,

      Leith, words as warm as yours make me want to spill more ink – thank you!

  2. kaie w. bird said,

    Love this!!

    • inkymouth said,

      Thanks so much…Berlin is like a spell to me – it’s hard to keep posts down to a few hundred words once I get writing about it!

  3. The skulking wolves keep calling « inkymouth said,

    […] of ink: chasing Viking sagas in Iceland, Dylan Thomas and Sylvia Plath in New York, and Kafka in Berlin. I love this last city so much, and it carries such literary weight that forgive me, but I had […]

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