How about calling the series “Lonely Planet”?
Years before penning Metamorphosis, considered by some to be the greatest short story ever written, Franz Kafka hoped to make his fortune writing a series of budget European travel guides.
Kafka conceived a business plan for the books, dubbed “on the cheap”, while travelling across the continent with his friend Max Brod in the summer of 1911. This detail was revealed in volume three of Reiner Stach’s biography, Kafka: The Early Years, published in translation (by Shelley Frisch) last month.
The ahead-of-its-time idea (considering the popularity of budget travel tips today) sought to take on the traditional Baedeker travel guides, which then consisted primarily of hotel and restaurant listings, but lacked the insider knowledge Kafka felt was truly valuable to a traveller.
Questions that his guides proposed to address are ones that tourists still seek answers for now. On which days do museums have reduced fees? Are there any free concerts? Should you travel by taxi or tram? How much should you tip? There was also a suggestion to include advice on where to find erotic and sexual entertainment for a fair price.
Stach writes: “Kafka and Brod were convinced that a travel guide that answered all these questions candidly and supplied a select few reasonable and reliable recommendations would instantly beat out the competition … With a series of this kind, they could earn millions, especially if it was published in several languages.”
Yet it seems they were a wee bit clueless on their own travels:
For example, after discovering that Zurich’s city library was closed on Sundays, the pair believed they could still gain entry by asking at the tourist office.
…the pair were so afraid that their idea would be stolen that they wouldn’t reveal the full details of their pitch to a publisher without first securing an advance.
I would have enjoyed hearing the Swiss travel office response. Here is the full story, via Ted Gioia.