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FRANZ KAFKA is recognized as one of the most influential writers of the 20th Century—and certainly one of the more complex. He’s rarely thought of as a travel writer, and even less as an aviation enthusiast.
The air show at Brescia, Italy, in 1909 was one of the world’s earliest international aviation gatherings—and Franz Kafka was there.
In fact, Kafka’s article “Die Aeroplane in Brescia,” published in the Prague newspaper Deutsche Zeitung Bohemia is considered one of the first German-language accounts of aviation.
What’s more, in its entirety (some of which succumbed to the editor’s blue pencil), Kafka’s Bohemia article was a travel piece, a buddy story of three pals encountering adventure on the road. Franz, his life-long friend Max Brod and Max’s brother Otto traveled down to Italy from Prague. Their primary destination was Riva, at the northern tip of Lago di Garda, at the time part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. (See http://wp.me/p2ETap-14L. )
Brescia, in northern Italy about half way between Milan and Venice, is west of Garda, and its Air Show made the city a must-see.
As in the typical buddy flick, our trio stayed in a real fleabag of an inn (“the robber’s cave,” they call it). They got overcharged by a horsecab driver for what turned out to be a one-minute ride, possibly “to a café chantant, if not a more disreputable place,” notes author Peter Demetz.
At the Air Show, they encountered Louis Blériot enjoying the fame of his English Channel exploit earlier that year. (See http://wp.me/p2ETap-M7). In his Bohemia piece, Kafka observed that his hero was heavyset, “his head firmly on his neck.” Blériot was said to be flying his “historic machine” at Brescia, though in fact it was another Type XI, not the actual Channel craft.
Glenn Curtiss was also there, “tired and grave,” reading an American newspaper in his hangar. During the Air Show, Glenn would give Italian poet and patriot Gabriele d’Annunzio his first trip in a flying machine. See http://wp.me/p2ETap-dt.
Writes Demetz, D’Annunzio was “king of the air show… giving interviews to the press, reciting a poem about Icarus… always moving to strike a photogenic pose with a famous pilot or principessa.”
The Brescia Air Show contributed to Kafka’s evolving complex views on life. By trade an insurance writer, he had a technical appreciation of flight as well as its mundane aspects. Writes Demetz, Kafka “creates the impression that the aviator, up there among the stars, by a stroke of the pen has been taken down to a branch of a Prague insurance company. He is not among d’Annunzio’s winged supermen.”
On the other hand, this ambiguity didn’t preclude Kafka’s urges for buddy adventure. There’s a photo from a few years later of Kafka and friends visiting Vienna’s Prater fairgrounds.
The foursome is posed in a mock papier-mâché aeroplane. Franz is the only one smiling. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2014