Physical and mental conditions and their causes

From his early years, Franz Kafka suffered from a sense of physical interiority, a feeling that physically he was inadequately endowed for life. That feeling was intensified by his physically powerful father Hermann Kafka who enjoyed robust health. Kafka was embarrassed, for instance, when undressing at the swimming pool in the presence of his father.
Franz Kafka was dogged from his student years by feelings of physical weakness and inadequacy, as well as anxiety and a dread of noise, accompanied by headaches and insomnia and various symptoms of real or imagined illness. Sometimes he put it down to his tendency to hypochondria, on other occasions he ascribed his condition to neurosis. During crises he would display symptoms akin to nervous breakdown or suicidal moods and forebodings. Interwoven into this complex web of psychophysical problems was his writing which he increasingly came to regard as a primary existential need.
Kafka’s first trips in search of rest and convalescence took him to his parents’ holiday places. In Prague German society, the choice of a summer holiday location was an indication of a family’s social status. Upper-class families spent their holidays at foreign spas or resorts, particularly at the seaside. The middle classes, to which the Kafkas belonged, spent their holidays in ‘holiday apartments’, i.e. apartments rented for the holiday period from private landlords in the vicinity of Prague. These were most frequently located at well-known resorts on the rivers Vltava, Berounka or Sázava. While at high school, Kafka spent his summer vacations at Roztoky just outside of Prague and later he would spend any free days with his parents at Černošice, Radešovice or Dobřichovice, also within easy reach of the capital. During his university years he used to stay at Liběchov and especially enjoyed travelling to Třešť [Triesch] to stay with his bachelor uncle Siegfried Löwy, who was a doctor there. During his first years of employment, his holiday destinations included Děčín in North-Western Bohemia and Mount Špičák in the Šumava region.
During his later years at the university he would visit spas for treatment of his physical weakness and exhaustion. He spent two vacations in succession, 1905 and 1906, at the spa Zuckmantl (now called Zlaté Hory) in Moravian Silesia, the first prior to his final university examinations, the second before he started his compulsory year of legal clerkship.


Franz Kafka felt an early aversion to orthodox medicine and inclined towards natural healing methods, undergoing natural therapy on several occasions at Zuckmantl. At the Zuckmantl health resort (now called Zlaté Hory) well situated some 500 m. above sea-level in the upland country of Moravian Silesia, they employed the natural healing methods introduced there years earlier by Vincent Priessnitz. The conditions treated there included anaemia, rheumatism, gout, diabetes and obesity, as well as physical and mental debility. A combination of hydrotherapy and electrotherapy was employed togethe with gymnastics, walks and a controlled diet. The spa, which was open from spring to autumn, had a capacity of 170 rooms for 220 patients, most of whom came from Bohemia and Prussian Silesia. It was a spa favoured by Jews as they suffered no discrimination there. The sanatorium boasted a library of 2000 books and promenade concerts took place on its grounds. Kafka first stayed there from 3 to 27 August 1905. It was during that first stay that Kafka had his first sexual experience, involving a woman patient there, about which he made a passing reference in his Diaries years later. Kafka’s second stay in Zuckmantel was slightly longer, from 23 July to 29 August 1906.