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Approaching Kafka

As a Jewish writer who lived in Prague most of his life and wrote in German, Kafka’s reputation and influence have grown, and people have read him, understood him, knew him, and interpreted him in various ways. There are many ways to approach Kafka. We can read his works, read his biography and research materials, or read the descriptions and records of his contemporaries and friends. Of course, we can also travel thousands of miles to Prague and follow Kafka. The footprints of Fuka’s growth, life and work, to explore the traces of his activities and the trajectory of spiritual changes. Comparatively speaking, the last method may be the most direct and the easiest to feel. In an era of globalization and jets, it’s also getting easier and easier. It is reported that Hainan Airlines has opened the Beijing-Prague route on September 23, 2015. There are three flights every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, using Boeing 767 to fly, which makes it more convenient for us to go to Prague and approach Kafka.

On July 8, 2015, I visited Kafka’s hometown at the invitation of the Prague Kafka Society. Since there is no direct flight from Beijing to Prague before, we first flew to Munich, Germany, and then took a bus to Prague from there. At 10:15 am, the bus departed from Munich bus station on time and went straight to Prague. The scenery along the way is picturesque, the rural scenery of Germany is connected with the rural scenery of the Czech Republic, and there are no toll stations or any checkpoints in the middle. The bus goes all the way east, driving at a constant speed. The bus does not stop all the way, there is a toilet on the bus, and passengers do not need to get on and off. About halfway through, the car stopped at a rest stop, and it was later learned that the driver had changed. There was a broadcast notification on the car, but all passengers waited quietly in the car, and no one asked to get off the bus. The bus was on time and arrived at the Prague bus station at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. We hurried to the hotel we contacted in advance and packed our luggage, and we couldn’t hold back and went out to visit Kafka’s Prague.

First, we went straight to the Vltava River, which is called the Mol Island River in German. This needs no introduction, because we used to pass the Vltava River by car. Going westward from the residence, you will soon come to the famous “Dancing Building”. The building was designed in 1992 by Canadian avant-garde architect Frank Gehry and Czech architect Vlado Milunik and completed in 1996. The building’s shape is full of curvilinear rhythms, and the twisted twin towers resemble two dancers embracing each other. The glass building on the left is the “female dancer”, and the column on the right is the “male dancer”. The two danced lightly and danced, forming the main body of the building. It was later known that the building was the building of the National Life Insurance Company of the Netherlands, which turned out to be an insurance company, which was related to Kafka’s occupation. On the top floor of the house is a French restaurant. Of course, this building is also often criticized. For example, the Czechs dubbed the glass curvilinear tower as a “twisted Coca-Cola bottle”, and many people believed that the building destroyed the style of the entire city. As we all know, Prague is a city of architecture. Walking in Prague is like reading a European architectural history, from classicism, Gothic style, to Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, as well as Cubism, Modernism, Postmodernism and other types Specimens of buildings can be found here. However, the general style of Prague architecture is still classical and traditional, so this twisted glass building does look a bit out of style compared to Prague’s classical buildings. Fortunately, this kind of post-modern architecture is located in the entire Old Town of Prague, and it is quite interesting to integrate it into the classical architecture.

Then we walked onto the Ira Seku Bridge from here and watched the scenery on both sides of the river along the bridge. The Vltava River draws a beautiful curve that divides Prague in two. The river water is sparkling, and it is extraordinarily beautiful under the reflection of the setting sun. There are a total of 17 bridges on the river, which are generally evenly distributed on the river. In addition to the most famous Charles Bridge, there are Manes Bridge, Czech Bridge and so on. After crossing the bridge, stroll along the west bank of the river. Then from the other side of the river to the Charles Bridge, the bridge is called Karl’s Bridge in German. Prague is a city of multicultural clashes. Prague’s rivers, hills, streets, and everything else have at least two names, one in Czech and one in German. Of course, Czech is what we hear the most and see the most, but that wasn’t the case in Kafka’s day. There is a saying in Prague: You haven’t been to Prague without walking over the Charles Bridge. Built in 1357, the bridge is the most famous bridge over the Vltava River and has almost become a symbol of Prague. The southeast of the river is the old city, and the northwest is the new city. The Charles Bridge is 520 meters long and less than 10 meters wide. There are 29 statues on the bridge. Most of these statues are story characters handed down by Christianity for thousands of years. They are called “stone icons” by Kafka. On November 9, 1903, Kafka attached a little poem of his own composition to a letter to his friend Pollack:

people walking on the bridge,

clouds floating in the sky,

the river flowing at night,

everything is moving,

only stone icons,

The church tower and him stand still,

He stood silently on the bridge,

hand-held stone,

Stare at the current.

This is the scene on the Charles Bridge back then. For more than 100 years, there has been little change except that there are more and more people on the bridge. On June 19, 1916, Kafka wrote in his diary: “Walk through the pier, the stone bridge, a short, short walk, a new bridge, and go home. The statue of the saint on the Karl Bridge is thought-provoking. On the empty bridge at night, the summer twilight is strange.” The scenery on the Charles Bridge gave Kafka the creative inspiration we may still touch. Among these stone statues on the bridge, the eighth statue of St. John is very famous, and it is said that touching the two metal reliefs on the base of the statue can bring blessings. There are many small stalls selling all kinds of art on the bridge, artists who paint pictures for tourists, and some special beggars. To the west of the Charles Bridge is a hill, and the highest point of the hill is the famous Prague Castle. Looking at Prague Castle on the other side of the Vltava River in the dark, dim lights shine on the river, and the castle on the dark hills on the other side of the river is looming, and it seems to hang in the “void” in mid-air. After walking across the Charles Bridge, you will soon enter the Old Town of Prague.

Looking around the Old Town Square, I soon found the building that seemed familiar, Kafka’s father’s shop. This is the famous Kinski Palace, where Kafka’s father opened his clothing store from 1912 to 1918. Entering the gate, there is a stone tablet under the wall on the right, and the gold letters on the black background are also striking: This is the clothing store of Franz Kafka’s father, Herman Kafka. The second floor here used to be a German secondary school, where Kafka attended school from 1893 to 1901. Today Kafka’s father’s shop has become a Kafka bookstore. Because it was past 7 when we got there, and the bookstore closed at 6. Since it was summer, it seemed to be early before dark. Through the glass on the door, the furnishings in the bookstore are clearly visible. In addition, various art exhibitions are held in the courtyard. After wandering here for a long time, I have a lot of thoughts. Sitting on the stone steps next to the stone monument, I saw that the square outside was bustling with people, but it was very quiet here. Occasionally someone walks in here, it turns out that there is a paid toilet in the yard. Kafka belongs to Prague, but Prague does not seem to belong to Kafka. Thinking that this was the first real close encounter I had with Kafka, which used to be a place Kafka frequented as a teenager. Looking at the small stone pavement in front of me, maybe I can see Kafka’s former figure when I turn around, and I can’t help but be moved.

On the east side of the Old Town Square is the magnificent Hus Monument group, showing the image of the Czech national religious reformer Hus and his followers. The tall image of Hus stands majestically in the center of the group. The author of the group sculpture is the expressionist sculptor Saloun. The sculpture was unveiled on July 6, 1915, the 500th anniversary of the death of Huss at the Papal Inquisition in Constance. Hus (1369-1415) was a Czech religious thinker, philosopher, and reformer in the 14th century. He was a Czech national hero. He actively promoted and popularized the Czech language. He was executed for heresy charges, which aroused great indignation among the Czech people, which led to the Hussite War. The Kinski Palace is just behind the Huss sculptures to the right. Kafka had to face the Hussite sculptures often, and his feelings must be very complicated, and it is by no means a simple love and hate that can be explained clearly.

On July 9, he was invited to visit the Prague Kafka Association. The Kafka Society is located behind the Kafka Bookstore at 14 Sloka Street in Prague’s Old Town. When I came to Sloka Street, I soon found the Kafka Bookstore. The Kafka Society is hidden in the courtyard behind the bookstore, and the bookstore is full of photos or pictures of Kafka at a glance. The Kafka Association was established in 1989 and has been in existence for 26 years. The Society aims to preserve and develop Prague German literature, as well as the fusion of German, Czech and Jewish literature. The specific work of the association is to publish books, organize seminars, creative meetings and literary nights and other activities. The association has a library, and a private Kafka library open to the public. The Association organizes a student essay contest every year, and awards the “Max Broad Literary Award” to the winner. This Brod is Kafka’s executor. Of course, the most important work of the association is to organize and award the Franz Kafka International Prize for Literature. Established in 2001, the award is one of the most influential literary awards in Europe. Familiar Philip Roth, Jelinek, Harold Pinter, Haruki Murakami, Peter Handke, Javier, etc. have all won this award. In 2014, the Chinese writer Yan Lianke won the award. It seems that the Kafka Society does not specialize in the study of Kafka, it is not a specialized research institution for Kafka, it is just a cultural institution in the name of Kafka. Kafka here is more of a cultural symbol than just a research object.

Across the bookstore is a small courtyard, where Villenova, the secretary of the association, is waiting for us. The secretary, a young female doctor, led us carefully down the narrow spiral staircase to a small conference room. Dozens of chairs are neatly placed there, and small presentations can be held. There are more than ten bookshelves neatly placed on the two walls of the podium, and some books are stored in them. These books are said to be books that Kafka read. Then we visited the Kafka Society and walked into the office of the president of the Kafka Society. The President, Dr. Joseph Chemack, is away on business and is not in Prague. It’s a pity that I didn’t see the president this time. There are many Kafka-related items carefully arranged in the president’s office, such as photos, paintings, and sculptures. There is a writing desk in the prominent position of the office, which is said to have been used by Kafka.

Came out from the association and selected some souvenirs in the Kafka bookstore. Books about Kafka are of course essential, in addition to T-shirts, satchels, backpacks, umbrellas, tea cups and other daily necessities with Kafka’s portrait printed on them, as well as pencils, ballpoint pens, erasers and other cultural items. As soon as I went out, I found it was raining, so I hid in the Kafka Cafe next to the bookstore and asked for a beer. The short shower stopped when it stopped, and it rained after a while. We crossed the Manes Bridge and turned left to the Kafka Memorial (also translated as the Kafka Museum). This memorial is very distinctive, and the design of the form is integrated with the content of the exhibition. It was built and opened to the public in 2005. It is located on the west bank of the Vltava River, under Prague Castle, on the Lesser Town Square, which has nothing to do with where Kafka lived and worked. The Kafka Memorial Museum is probably built here mainly for the convenience of tourists, because people can see the striking sign of “Kafka Memorial Museum” on the stone wall of the river bank when standing on the Charles Bridge, which is a must for tourists. That logo should have some kind of magic, attracting thousands of tourists and spectators there to discover the secrets of Kafka and his “Castle.” The memorial hall consists of two ordinary two-story buildings, the former one sells various Kafka works, souvenirs and tickets, and the latter one is the memorial hall. On the square between the two buildings, there are two huge K characters, which share the vertical painting in the middle. They stand firmly in front of the memorial hall, like an open book, which makes people naturally think of Kafka. And those “K”s he wrote. In the center of the square, there are also two human sculptures with patina copper plates that can be rotated at the crotch. Two adult men are urinating face to face, and the urinating pool resembles a map of the Czech Republic. The author of the sculpture is the Czech avant-garde artist David Czerny. The sculptor presents human embarrassment and secrets to the world. Kafka was called a “spiritual nudist”. After all, spiritual nudity is not easy to express, and physical nudity is naturally easier to express. The exhibition hall of the memorial hall is divided into two parts: one part introduces Kafka’s real-life world; the other part introduces the world depicted in Kafka’s novels. The designer of the memorial hall mobilized all available methods, such as materials, colors, lighting, lines, scenery, sound, video, etc., so that everyone who entered the memorial hall could understand Kafka as much as possible. Here, language does not seem to be a problem, nationality is not a problem, even cultural differences are not a problem, what matters is how you feel, in this dimly lit light, in this cramped space, in this In this strange music, in this changing color, you can feel the character and meaning of Kafka. Of course, there’s a huge amount of Kafka’s manuscripts, letters, photos, as well as transcripts, visas, medical records and other relics. Some of these exhibits are placed under glass panels, some are placed in open bookcases, some looming apparitions can be seen through the gauze cover, and some when you pick up the old phone, there will be voices from a distant era. This situation is quite similar to K in “The Castle” picking up the phone and asking the castle to confirm his identity as a land surveyor.

When I walked out of the memorial hall, it was already lunch time, and I happened to find a good soldier Shuike Hotel. According to a friend, this kind of restaurant chain is very popular in Prague. Order a barbecue, a mashed potato, a piece of steamed bread, and a glass of beer here. After eating it, I feel that it really lives up to its reputation.

On July 10, about 12 o’clock, take a taxi to the Kafka cemetery. On July 3, 1924, Kafka died of illness in the Kirring sanatorium near Vienna, and on July 11 Kafka was buried in the new Jewish cemetery in Straschnitz, Prague. A taxi from my residence to the destination cost about four stops and cost more than two hundred crowns. Bought a bouquet of flowers at the flower shop in front of the cemetery for 120 kroner. Entering the gate of the cemetery, there is a sign in black on a white background: arrow points: 250 meters: Dr. Franz Kafka. Going in this direction is a narrow and secluded path. Along the path, there are tall courtyard walls on the right and rows of tombstones covered by dense woods on the left. The whole cemetery was silent, except for the occasional chirping of birds. Walking and walking, Kafka’s cemetery suddenly appeared in row 21, and here is another sign: Dr. Franz Kafka’s cemetery is here. Continuing along the path, the weeds on the road gradually increased, and the traces of trampling were significantly reduced. On the right side of the Kafka cemetery, a path led directly to the center of the cemetery. I lay flowers in Kafka’s cemetery to express my respect and condolences.

Then take a taxi to visit St. Vitus Cathedral and Golden Lane. Although Kafka’s cemetery is not far from the city center, taxis are scarce here. Trams come and go, apparently the main means of transportation for citizens. The taxi we took went all the way to the top of the mountain and cost 350 kroner. Suddenly we came to the foot of the castle. Prague Castle is located on the hills of the Vltava River. It has a history of more than 1,000 years. For more than 60 years, the offices of successive presidents have been located in the castle, so it is also known as the “Presidential Palace”. Prague Castle includes Prague Gallery, St. Vitus Cathedral, Old Royal Palace and other buildings.

St. Vitus Cathedral is the most important landmark in Prague. This is the place where the royal family of Prague Castle was crowned and rested after their death. The cathedral towers so high that it is said to touch the toes of God. Since the outside space of the church is not very wide, people have nothing to do but look up at the church. In front of the magnificent castle, people will feel very small. The castle began to be built in the 9th century AD, and the Church of St. Vitus was built in AD 925. It has been destroyed and rebuilt several times since then. It has been renovated and expanded for ten centuries. Go out from the back door of the castle, pass the bridge over the valley, and on the other side is Queen Anna’s Summer Palace. The quiet park is separated from the castle by a wooded valley. In those days, Kafka often came here for a walk, looking at the majestic, mysterious and unattainable castle in front of him. Perhaps Kafka started his idea of ​​the spiritual castle from here.

Golden Lane is a must because Kafka lived and wrote here. The Golden Lane is an alley running parallel to the outer walls of Prague Castle. Compared with the grand and solemn palace, the seemingly random and small buildings in the alley are exquisitely carved, unique and novel. The alley is long and slender, and the two ends of the alley are longitudinally closed, and the exits are blocked by iron fences. The west end of the alley used to be the National Prison White Castle, which houses the torture exhibition hall; the east end of the alley is the famous “Dalibo Tower”, where the knight Dalibo was once imprisoned in the Middle Ages. It is said that he also learned to sing when he was hungry and desperate. and violin playing. The 17 houses in the alley are closely connected, with similar styles but different colors. The Golden Lane is not far from the foot of St. Vitus Cathedral. 22, where Kafka lived, is now a small bookstore that sells books and souvenirs related to Kafka or Prague. The Golden Alley was originally the residence of servants and craftsmen. Later, it was named after many warlocks who were alchemists for the king. The house in Golden Lane was originally rented by Kafka’s sister Otra, for the convenience of her meeting with her boyfriend. Otla made the necessary decorations to the cottage. On November 26, 1916, Kafka borrowed this hut for writing, and by the end of April 1917, Kafka completed a series of short stories published in the “Country Doctor” collection here, which made Kafka’s writing work. “Prolific Winter”. However, Kafka didn’t live here for long, and he always came home to eat, he didn’t live alone here, he just came to write at night, and he went home to sleep after midnight. Now it is said to be the former residence of Kafka, which is really a bit of a misnomer.

After visiting the Golden Lane, go to a Thai restaurant on the Vltava River for dinner. Through the floor-to-ceiling windows of the restaurant, you can have a panoramic view of the bridge on the river and the boats passing through the river. From the book “Kafka and Prague”, it is known that the location by the river of the restaurant was the Prague City Swimming Pool, which is located between the Chekhov Bridge and the Manes Bridge. Kafka used to swim here with his father in his early years. After the meal, I checked with the restaurant waiter. Sure enough, this is where the swimming pool was located, but today there is no trace left.

According to a friend, it would be somewhat regrettable not to watch the “Black Light Drama” performance here in Prague. So, we decided to go to the black light show. The Black Light Theater is not far from the Old Town Square, about ten minutes’ walk away. The theater is located on the first basement floor, down the stairs to a small hall with a small bar that sells a variety of drinks and snacks. The theater is not big, roughly equivalent to a medium-sized theater. Black Light is Prague’s most famous theatrical performance. The entire stage background is black, and the actors hide in the stage in black clothes. They hold props and use body language to interpret a story. As the young man falls asleep and the lover of his dreams appears, the story performance begins. The quilt covering him flew into the air for a while, and a beautiful woman came to him, but as soon as he went up to hug him, he disappeared immediately. During the performance, objects appear to float in the air, and the stage is full of fantastic colors. Two young actors and actresses interspersed with stage stories, and their pantomime performances were excellent. Without the help of language, they explain the plot with skilled body language. They have witty expressions, exaggerated movements, bizarre costumes, and lighting and music to create a fantasy world. The performers’ clothes are painted with fluorescent light, which is particularly bright during the performance. This black-light show is easily reminiscent of pantomime, dance, musicals, surreal theatre, clowning, and magic. The audience seemed to be mostly tourists, basically Europeans, mostly middle-aged and elderly, and the small theater was basically full. During the performance, there are also special arrangements for the interaction between the actors and the audience. This black-light drama reminds me of the Eastern European Jewish troupe that Kafka often refers to, and the young actor is actually very similar to Kafka’s actor friend Lévi.

Walking out of the small theater, I came to the Old Town Square again. In the dim night, I finally found the building where Kafka was born, which is now the Kafka Square. Kafka was born here on July 3, 1883. The original building no longer exists, but the two columns and marble lintel of the original building are preserved. There is a chest-length sculpture of Kafka on the outer wall. Because the night was getting darker, the street lights were dim, and the bust could not be seen clearly. The house number on one side is clearly visible. Afterwards, I took a closer look at the head portrait through the pictures. It is a dark, life-size bronze head carved out of Kafka’s melancholy face. Kafka in the sculpture has prominent cheekbones and a thin face. In my opinion, this statue is more like Kafka in spirit than in shape. The ground floor here is now a Kafka coffee shop, and there are many pictures of Kafka, from his childhood until his death, arranged in various arrangements on three walls. There are also some Kafka’s books on the top of the chest wall for decoration. There are some tables and chairs neatly placed on the square outside the bar door, forming a circle in all directions. Customers can choose to dine outside or come in to entertain. The night was dark and the lights flickered. Because it just rained, although it was summer, it was quite cool outside Prague at night, so we chose to have a drink indoors. I ordered a glass of beer and drank it quietly, looking at the photos of Kafka illuminated by various lights in front of me, and occasionally flashing in front of the hall in white uniform, as if from a lifetime. None of this seems to have anything to do with Kafka. I’m not asking about Kafka here, which seems out of place in this environment. It’s a little surprising to find that there is an additional 15% service charge at checkout, and it appears directly on the bill instead of tipping according to the consumer’s wishes.

At about 11 am on July 11, we took a bus from Prague back to Munich, ending this unforgettable trip to Prague. The bus was driving at a constant speed on the highway. I recalled the scenes in Prague in the bus: Kafka’s birthplace has become a coffee shop, the place where he lived and worked has become a bookstore or a memorial hall, Kafka once Many places that have been wandered have left no trace. Kafka’s home no longer exists, and the descendants of the Kafka family do not know where they are now? Perhaps the only one left now that belongs to the Kafka family is the silent cemetery in the New Jewish Cemetery. How much does this sunny, beautiful, charming, crowded and bustling Prague have anything to do with Kafka? What is the relationship? I don’t know. Is Kafka’s Ghost still in Prague? When you get close to Kafka’s ghost, he may be long gone; when you think you are far away from Kafka, he seems to be right in front of you. This is just like when you are far away from Prague, Kafka may be very close to you; when you are close to Prague, Kafka is actually very far away from you.

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