As a disturbingly peaceful road of Basel, Switzerland leads to Café Kafka, a black-and-white picture of Franz Kafka sitting on a beach smiles at you from behind a spotless window. Once you enter, you realise that the place has nothing to do with the inscrutable plots and characters, or the inexplicable darkness that dominated Kafka’s oeuvres. There are no compelling symbolisms that reveal the great writer’s frustrated personal struggles either. Through this cozy café buzzing with men and women having leisurely bites, you enter Literaturhaus, or the House of Literature – a place where thinking minds meet.
Set up in 2000 by a group of writers, Literaturhaus is not just a library or a publishing house or a bookstore. It’s all of it and more. Being one of the 40 specialty bookstores of this small town, Literaturhaus lets the lovers of literature meet and discuss everything to do with the printed word. This is where authors of international fame come down to deliver lectures. Discussion groups on translation and literary competitions always keep the House on the uptick. Business, media, and political figures also participate in these activities.
With its focus on contemporary literature, Literaturhaus aims at promoting Swiss as well as international authors. Counselling and placement of budding authors draws many young writers to its fold.
As you step out, the noise of the Christmas market lets you soak in its colourful atmosphere. A steaming cup of cappuccino is what you would die for especially if you are visiting Basel during winter. If it is at the Grand Cafe, so much the better. A short stroll reveals enough about Basel’s love for aesthetics. So much so that even McDonald’s is forced to shrink its ostentatious yellow ‘Ms’ to tiny little specks on the glass windows. As you sip coffee, you can see an imposing cathedral dotting the skyline.
Next: Munster Cathedral, Rathaus, and Rhine.
(Pro Helvetia, the Swiss Art Council sponsored this trip a few years ago).