2) Třešť: Kafka’s frequent summer hideaway

Bust of Franz Kafka placed on the house where his uncle lived

One of the places writer Franz Kafka liked to visit was Třešt'. Indeed before he entered the workforce he regularly visited his uncle in the small Vysočina town in summer.

We begin our journey in Franz Kafka’s footsteps at the former synagogue in Třešt'. Our guide is Romana Št'astná, head of the Department of Culture at the local municipal office. She leads the way through an arcade into a striking white building and we continue up the stairs to the first floor. There we find an exhibition dedicated to Kafka and his family.

Synagogue in Třešť | Photo: Martina Schneibergová,  Radio Prague International

The Prague-born German-language writer regularly came to Třešt' during his studies, between 1900 and 1907. He spent his holidays there with his uncle Siegfried Löwy, who had a medical practice in the town. Dr. Löwy was the youngest brother of Kafka’s mother.

“Franz Kafka liked to visit his uncle. Siegfried was single and a little shy. Kafka had a very nice relationship with him, perhaps because his uncle made time for him, listening to him when he was worried and giving him advice when he needed it. Kafka enjoyed the kind of country life here that he wasn’t familiar with from Prague.”

In 1907 Kafka sent a letter to his friend Max Brod from the small town:

“...I ride my motorbike a lot, I bathe a lot, I lie naked in the grass by the pond for a long time. I’m in the park until midnight with a girl I’m in love with in a complicated manner...”

Kafka goes on to write that he helped with trees after a storm, herded cows and goats and played a great deal of billiards. But he also went for long walks, drank his fair share of beer and had already been to temple at the local synagogue.

St. Catherine of Siena church in Třešť | Photo: Martina Schneibergová,  Radio Prague International

As alluded to above, the future literary great also had a summer romance in Třešt'. Hedwig Weiler came from Vienna, where she was a grammar school student, and was visiting relatives in the town. Kafka first mentioned Hedwig in a letter to Brod in August 1907.

After leaving Třešt', Kafka sent Hedwig Weiler a number of letters, 14 of which have survived. They corresponded for about a year, but the long-distance relationship was to be short-lived. A letter from Kafka to Hedwig in which he ended it with her is preserved to this day. Hedwig Weiler later married Leopold Herzka, in 1917, and both survived the Holocaust in Vienna.

However, as Romana Šťastná says, Kafka experienced more in Třešt' than summer love.

Romana Šťastná | Photo: Martina Schneibergová,  Radio Prague International

“Here he got to know the reality of working-class life and what it is like to live from hand to mouth – the very things that he hadn’t seen in Prague. There were several factories in the town and his uncle’s patients included workers. Kafka saw that life was not entirely simple.”

Doctor Löwy, who Kafka was fond of staying with, was a well-known figure in Třešt' and the surrounding area.

“He was very popular and people remembered him very fondly. He had a strong social sense and was a pioneer of natural healing. Kafka’s father, Hermann, mocked him for it. As we know, Kafka himself liked to exercise by an open window. He adopted some of Uncle Siegfried's views. He nicknamed his uncle ‘twitter’. This was not a derogatory nickname, but rather a kind and gentle one; perhaps his strangled voice reminded him of a bird’s call."

Doctor Löwy | Photo: Martina Schneibergová,  Radio Prague International

Siegfried Löwy was very well-read and had an extensive library. He had a regular medical practice in the town and even took up dental treatment. Indeed, he was the first doctor to give patients fillings in Třešt'. But people also remembered him for another reason, Romana Šťastná says.

“He made quite a stir in Třešt' by being perhaps the first person in the whole region to buy a motorcycle. That was a rarity at the time. But this technical miracle did not last long. When he was on his way from a patient in Stonařov, he hit a log on the road. He himself survived without major injuries, but the motorcycle was destroyed. He soon got himself a proper, sturdier motorbike. It was more convenient for him because he could ride to patients in the remote area and get to them quickly. He didn’t have to hire a wagon with horses, as he had done before.”

Siegfried Löwy with his motorbike | Photo: Martina Schneibergová,  Radio Prague International

At the exhibition in the synagogue, our guide points out historical photographs that show Dr. Löwy both on horseback and on a motorcycle. In a picture from July 1914, he is being pushed by four ladies, including Kafka’s sister Ottla. A text beneath the photograph states that this was apparently the second machine the doctor acquired; what’s more, even Kafka was enthusiastic about it, as he mentioned it in a letter to Max Brod. Another photograph shows the doctor sitting in his office. Löwy came to Třešt' in 1899 after graduating in medicine.

Doctor Löwy in his office  | Photo: Martina Schneibergová,  Radio Prague International

“He stayed in Třešt' for 25 years and during all that time practiced medicine. To give you an idea of what it was like here then: Shortly after his arrival, in 1901, Třešt' was promoted to a town by an imperial decree of Franz Joseph. It had about 5,000 inhabitants. There were two nationalities and the Czechs were in a slight majority. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Jewish inhabitants, mainly businessmen and factory owners, contributed to the economic, social and cultural rise of Třešt'. The Jewish community then had its own school, yeshiva, synagogue, ritual bath and hospital. It was a relatively rich Jewish community. Since the two ethnic groups lived here, Dr. Löwy had to use both German and Czech in his work; this is also evident from the medical prescriptions that have survived.”

Dr. Löwy lived at house number 131/9 on Malé náměstí in Třešt'. In 2001, a bust of Franz Kafka by sculptor František Häckel was unveiled on the inconspicuous green building.

House,  where Franz Kafka was staying at his uncle | Photo: Anaïs Raimbault,  Radio Prague International

Siegfried Löwy may have inspired Kafka to write his famous short story The Country Doctor, which was first published in 1919. Romana Št'astná shares this view.

“Sometimes there are disputes about this, but we in Třešt' claim that the short story is inspired by the personality of Dr. Löwy, who worked as a country doctor here. We can also find other similarities in Kafka that remind us of him. The resemblance is great, even though this is challenged by some.”

When Kafka’s health deteriorated, Siegfried Löwy was close by. He went to visit the sick Kafka in Berlin in early 1924.

In the summer of 1925, a year after Kafka's death, the doctor retired, moved away from Třešt' and settled in Prague. However, Siegfried Löwy committed suicide on 20 October 1942, just before he was to be deported to Terezín.

Photo: Martina Schneibergová,  Radio Prague International

In 1942 all the Jewish inhabitants of Třešt' and its surroundings were deported to concentration camps. Romana Št'astná points to the street leading to the train station and recalls the fate of the town’s Jewish community.

“They walked down Nádražní St. to the station, from there they were taken to Třebíč and then to the extermination camps. Only 11 people survived, though none of them returned to Třešt'. The history of the Jewish community in Třešt' came to an end in 1942.”

Victims of the Holocaust are commemorated by a memorial in a former prison yard, behind the town hall. A group of pupils from Třešt' have been searching for their missing one-time Jewish neighbours in recent years and, as our guide points out, they have managed to discover fascinating facts.

“They have found amazing eye witnesses to those events, but also members of Jewish families who live abroad. They made contact with them and interviewed them. Several of them even came to Třešt' to visit. Two beautiful publications full of recollections were created.”

Photo: Martina Schneibergová,  Radio Prague International

A small exhibition on the ground floor of the synagogue is dedicated to the search for Třešt'’s missing Jewish neighbours. Apart from a few small exhibitions along the walls, the space is almost entirely empty, and a local Torah is kept in the town museum. The synagogue building was used for several years as a storehouse for vegetables, as well as for theatre sets. In the 1950s it was bought by the Czechoslovak Hussite Church, which still owns it today. The synagogue is a very remarkable monument, says Romana Št'astná.

“The synagogue was built sometime after 1672, but the first written mention dates back to 1693. Unfortunately, we are not familiar with the Baroque form of the building, because in 1824 the entire Jewish quarter was severely damaged by fire. The synagogue was rebuilt within a year. Another fire struck this part of the town in 1920. Then the synagogue was rebuilt and the arcades were partially walled up. The way it is laid out makes this synagogue unique.”

Old picture of synagogue in Třešť | Photo: IC Třešť

From the synagogue, we take a short walk through the former Jewish quarter. Romana Šťastná highlights a narrow street opposite the synagogue.

“You can see the building of a driving school at the back of this alley. In that low house there used to be a Jewish school, and next to it a hospital. In front of us today stands a rather unsightly building. Years ago it was a rabbi’s house. The rabbi had an apartment there, while there was also a meeting room. A yeshiva was located on the right side of the street, in a house that is partially crumbling. Back in the days when scholars from all over came here Třešť was nicknamed ‘little Berlin’.”

We walk along an inconspicuous alley past a former guard house and continue toward an area of town known as Kozí plácek.

“A lot of the original houses are still here. We now find ourselves in a completely different world of houses; often they are repaired, but the original look is preserved. The houses are inhabited, but still they look like they used to in the past.”

From Kozí plácek we pass a house where matches used to be produced and find ourselves back near the synagogue on Nádražní. There we say goodbye to our guide. She recommends us to visit the town chateau, which stands on the other side of the town’s stream. The white building on a small rise above the road, which has been renovated several times, cannot be missed.

Chateau in Třešť | Photo: Martina Schneibergová,  Radio Prague International

Since 1984 it has been owned by the Czech Academy of Sciences, which runs a hotel there. Some believe that the chateau in Třešt' may have inspired Kafka to write his novel The Castle. However, many other places may also be regarded as possible sources of inspiration. All that is certain is that the writer used to visit the large Třešt' chateau park. And Franz Kafka is commemorated in the hotel, says its director Jan Křivánek.

“This year we have prepared an exhibition in the courtyard dedicated to Franz Kafka and his stay in Třešt'. We commemorate Kafka at the chateau with various motifs. We also use his writings and his drawings in the navigation of the hotel itself.”

The chateau has recently undergone considerable renovation. The interior design, which draws on Kafkaesque motifs, comes from the most recent overhaul of the building.

In the room where we are sitting with Jan Křivánek, there is a library. Visitors’ attention may be drawn to a number of Kafka's works displayed on the shelves, not only in Czech but also in English translations. Do visitors, some of whom come from abroad, ask about the connection between Kafka and Třešt'?

“People in the academic community naturally know that Franz Kafka spent time here and are familiar with him. But since we've put together the exhibition about Kafka this year, we sometimes get questions about him.”


The 100th anniversary of Franz Kafka's death offers the opportunity to look at Kafka's work and life from current and new perspectives. All events, exhibitions, lectures, literary links can be found on the Project Kafka2024 website.



  • In Kafka's footsteps

    Franz Kafka was born in Prague, but where specifically did the world-famous writer grow up? Where did he draw inspiration, or even go on holiday?

  • Czech Books

    Kafka, Čapek, Kundera and Havel, these are all world renowned names, but what about all the others? How well are Czech authors actually known abroad? 

  • Discover Czechia's regions

    With its rich history, stunning architecture and beautiful skyline Prague attracts visitors from all over the world. But there is much more to see in Czechia.