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Kafka looking for peace in Riva del Garda

Kafka came to Lake Garda twice in totally different circumstances and both stayed in Riva del Garda, which, at that time, was still under the Habsburg Empire, but which for him, as for many other guests, was already considered Italy.

The first time came in 1909 with the brothers Max and Otto Brod. They came from Prague, which was also German at the time. Kafka is Jewish of Czech origin, but speaks and writes in German, is a restless spirit and is twenty-six years old. Max is his best friend, a writer and lecturer, the one who knows Franz’s life and the one who will help make his works known. Kafka has long wanted to take a holiday and the two offer him the opportunity.

Riva at that time lived its maximum splendor: it was a dynamic town, a popular destination for artists and writers from northern Europe, who came here to take care of themselves in a nursing home that applied cutting-edge natural methods. So, this location was tempting both for the climate and for a series of infrastructures that offered worldly comforts and entertainment with music, dancing, parties, events, cinema, theatre and Venetian masked boat evening parties. Kafka arrives at a time when he hasn’t been able to write for months making him almost desperate and his friend tries to help him to resume his artistic streak.

He will be in Riva from 4 September for about a week, perhaps as a guest in a central pension in the current Piazza Cesare Battisti, which is now a private home. Friends spend their days on the beach bathing and visiting the city and its surroundings in a serene and relaxed atmosphere.

How important the impressions he will get will, it will be discovered only years later, in the setting of his story Il Cacciatore Gracco, set in Riva. A metaphysical story with a difficult processing. In summary, it is the story of a hunter who falls from a cliff dying, but who in reality still wanders the earth because the boat that was to lead him to the afterlife has gone the wrong way.

On that holiday they will spend a lot of time at Bagni della Madonnina, under Ponale road, from which you can admire Riva del Garda, Torbole and the other shore of the lake. They will also take advantage of this stay to go to Brescia for a couple of days stimulated by the curiosity of seeing the first air flights during the first Aviatory conference, since none of them had yet seen an airplane. Of course, the modernist poet and writer Gabriele D’Annunzio and also Giacomo Puccini, the famous musician, took part in these races.

During that period, they visited the surroundings: Ponale waterfalls, which can now be seen only from the lake, they will go to see Varone waterfall, which was already well known at the time. They will go to Torbole, where Goethe had stayed, and then will go to see Arco with its perched castle, from which perhaps he will draw inspiration for one of his major works The castle, even if there are different opinion on that point.

They will also go for a trip to Lake Toblino, which still nowadays remains one of the most spectacular and fascinating places with its castle that is reflected in the small lake, a destination not to be missed, and, not far away, they will visit also the castle of Madruzzo.

Kafka, in those years, still does not keep a diary, which he will begin only later and in which many memories and citations related to his first stay in Riva will occur. Impressions and memories are made details or summaries in his diaries and are used in the elaboration of his writings.

His second journey in 1913 was very different, with the aim of recovering physical, but above all recovering mental strength. Depressed and sad, he decides to spend his holidays in the Sanatorium of Hartungen, which was actually a nursing home that healed with hygienic and naturalistic practices. This time Kafka wants to be alone, he will almost always remain in the institute apart from a boat trip to Malcesine.

But his vacation has an unexpected and overwhelming outcome. In fact, he meets a very young girl with whom he falls in love that distracts him from his ailments and throws him into another dimension. He arrived on September 22 and left on October 12, deciding to spend his last week of vacation here instead of taking a small trip he had planned.

He writes about this stay in Riva on his return in his diaries, temporarily interrupted on vacation, telling this ideal of love and telling how he spends afternoons in the park on boat trips in the sun. At his departure it is already decided that this love affair will not have a future. It is strange to think that, perhaps for fear, he chooses to return to his certain unhappiness rather than the uncertainty of unpredictable happiness. It is also clear how strong was the influence that these Italian holidays had on his works.

Cristina De Rossi
Italy4golf Italian Ambassador

Arco, Arco castle, Bagni della Madonnina, Brescia, Cascata del Varone, Cascate del Ponale, castello di Arco, castello di Madruzzo, Cristina De Rossi, Franz Kafka, Giacomo Puccini, I° Convegno Aviatorio, Impero Asburgico, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Lago di Toblino, Lake Toblino, Madruzzo castle, Malcesine, Max Brod, Otto Brod, Piazza Cesare Battisti, Ponale waterfall, Riva del, Riva del Garda, Sanatorium di Hartungen, Torbole, Varone waterfalls

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