A jumbled collection of tiny, ancient, brightly colored houses crouched under the fortification wall look remarkably like a set for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Purportedly, these were the lodgings for an international group of alchemists whom Rudolf II brought to the court to produce gold. But the truth is a little less romantic: The houses were built during the 16th century for the castle guards. By the early 20th century Golden Lane had become the home of poor artists and writers. Franz Kafka, who lived at No. 22 in 1916 and 1917, described the house on first sight as "so small, so dirty, impossible to live in, and lacking everything necessary." But he soon came to love the place. As he wrote to his fiancée: "Life here is something special, to close out the world not just by shutting the door to a room or apartment but to the whole house, to step out into the snow of the silent lane." The lane now holds tiny stores selling books, music, and crafts, and has become so popular
that an admission fee is charged. The houses are cute, but crowds can be uncomfortable, and the fact remains that you are paying money for the privilege of shopping in jammed little stores. Within the walls above Golden Lane, a timber-roof corridor (enter between No. 23 and No. 24) is lined with replica suits of armor and weapons (some of them for sale), mock torture chambers, and the like.