Youthful sexual experiences

The first woman to crop up in Kafka’s life-story was Selma Kohn, the daughter of the postmaster at Roztoky near Prague. Kafka met her in 1900 while he was still at high school and spending his summer holidays with his parents in a summer apartment at the Kohns’. He would sit with her in the beautiful countryside on a hillside overlooking the Vltava River and read to her from Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. On 4 September 1900 he wrote for her scrapbook an elegantly-worded poetical entry to the effect that words cannot be compared to the magic of living memory. It is the oldest surviving example of Kafka’s creative writing. It was also intended as an elegant farewell. Two years later, however, the magic of memory had passed and Kafka wrote to a friend that he was ‘indifferent’ to Selma. As the memoirs of his fellow students confirm, Franz Kafka’s sexual innocence lasted much longer than for other boys of his age and he showed no interest in matters related to the opposite sex. In various places in his Diaries, we can find evidence of his awakening interest in women and femininity. Evidence of the fear-ridden nature of Kafka’s sexual urges and experiences is provided by a recollection of an incident from his student years contained in a letter to Milena Jesenská. The description and his comments are so extensive and detailed that he clearly regarded it as an important event. Kafka’s first sexual contacts with women arose during nocturnal walks around Prague with his friends during his time at university and in his first years of employment. In those years of ‘double moral standards’, such perambulations would end up at all-night cafés with female staff, such as the Trocadero or the Eldorado, or at Goldstein’s brothel, immortalized by Werfel as the ‘Gogo’. According to the testimony of his friends, Kafka took part in those visits as a timid, silent and attentive observer. It would seem that his erotic fantasies were aroused more by observing women in everyday situations, such as at work.

Student years

Kafka’s second physical relationship with a woman occurred during his stay at Dr. Hartung’s sanatorium at the north Italian spa of Riva where he spent three weeks in late September and early October 1913. She is referred to in Kafka’s Diaries either as ‘the Swiss woman’ or by the initials G.W. For a long time her identity was shrouded in mystery. Only recently did Klaus Wagenbach reveal that this was Gerti Wasner and that she was not Swiss but in fact a German from the north German town of Gleschendorf not far from Lübeck and Travemünde. It also helped to clarify another reference in Kafka’s Diaries. In 1914 Kafka was intending to take a short holiday at Gleschendorf with Felice Bauer and her friend Grete Bloch. However, after breaking off his engagement to Felice he simply phoned to Gleschendorf and then spent a few days at the Danish seaside resort of Marielyst. Wagengach’s discovery, however, has recently been questioned.