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On the Trail of Kafka in Prague

When I awoke one recent morning in Prague from unsettling dreams, I found myself changed into a tourist on a mission. Changed, anyway, from the traveler I had been when I lived in Prague for three years in the 1990s.


Back then, whatever associations I had between the city and the writer Franz Kafka, a native son, were negative. I loathed the commercialization of Kafka, his face scrawled across coffee mugs and T-shirts in souvenir shops, his name emblazoned on awnings of Old Town cafes and restaurants.

那时候,我对这座城市以及出生于此的作家弗朗茨·卡夫卡(Franz Kafka)的所有印象都是消极的。我对把卡夫卡商品化的做法感到厌恶:纪念品商店里的咖啡杯和T恤衫上印着做工粗糙的卡夫卡头像,老城的咖啡厅和餐馆的雨篷上也醒目地印有他的名字。

Yet there was always something nagging at me about never having explored the Kafka trail in Prague, an integral part of the city’s cultural history. On top of that, Kafka’s novella “The Metamorphosis,” in which the protagonist, Gregor Samsa, finds himself transformed into a bug, was first published in book form this month a century ago.

不过,我仍然介怀于自己从未探索过卡夫卡的足迹。与卡夫卡有关的景点是这座城市文化历史的核心。此外,本月还是卡夫卡的中篇小说《变形记》(The Metamorphosis)首次出版100周年。这部作品讲述了主人公格里高尔·萨姆莎(Gregor Samsa)变形为昆虫的故事。

And so, I thought, what better time to finally explore the writer and the city with which he is inextricably intertwined. In doing so I’d talk to a fairly diverse group of people about how this city may have influenced one of his most famous works — and how it may have shaped the famously tortured writer himself.


Once while standing at a window at the Oppelt House at Old Town Square 5, Kafka looked out at the square and said, “This narrow circle encompasses my entire life.” He wasn’t exaggerating, as I learned on a tour booked through the Franz Kafka Society.

卡夫卡曾经站在旧城广场5号Oppelt House的窗前,看着窗外的广场说,“我的一生都关在了这个小圆圈里。”在弗朗茨·卡夫卡学会(Franz Kafka Society)协助安排的一次行程中,我才知道他这话一点不夸张。

The guide, Ondrej Skrabal, a 23-year-old law student, showed me the building where Kafka was born (or, rather, the building that replaced it), and from there we hit what seemed like a dozen other places he had resided — so much so that it became underwhelming. “That far left window on the third floor,” Mr. Skrabal said, pointing to another building on Old Town Square and pausing. “Yes, Kafka lived there, too.”

导游翁德雷·什克拉巴尔(Ondrej Skrabal)是一名23岁的法律系学生。他向我介绍了卡夫卡出生时的建筑(更确切地说,是后来的重建品),我们从那里出发,又找到了他住过的十几个地方——数量太多,都没留下什么印象。“三楼最左边的那扇窗,”什克拉巴尔指着旧城广场的另一栋建筑说,“对,卡夫卡也曾住在那里。”

We passed by a shop his father had owned and stopped to take in the intriguing Franz Kafka Monument (where Dusni and Vezenska Streets meet in Old Town), a 12-foot-high bronze statue of an upright empty suit with a smaller man — bearing the resemblance of Kafka — riding on his shoulders. It’s a popular photo op among tourists, and a 12-inch version of it is the literary award that the Franz Kafka Society gives to winners of the annual Kafka Prize.


Aside from the statue, my Kafka tour wasn’t proving to be particularly memorable. But then we got to Kamzikova 6, a building in a small hidden alley just off Old Town Square. The building housed a restaurant called U Cerveneho Pava (At the Red Peacock) and a Segway rental shop aimed at Russian tourists. “Here,” Mr. Skrabal said, pointing to the door, “was a high-class brothel and Kafka regularly came here to chat with the girls.”

除了这座雕像,我的这趟寻找卡夫卡之旅并没有特别令人难忘。不过随后,我们来到了Kamzikova大街6号,这栋建筑位于旧城广场旁边一条不易察觉的小巷里。楼里的一家餐厅名叫U Cerveneho Pava,还有一家针对俄罗斯游客的赛格威电动踏板车租赁商店。什克拉巴尔指着门口说,“这里曾经是一家高级妓院,卡夫卡经常来与女孩子们聊天。”

“You mean ‘chat,’” I said, using air quotes.


“No, really,” he said, “Kafka was interested in all types of people, and he really did come here to have philosophical discussions with the prostitutes.”


The one Kafka home Mr. Skrabal didn’t take me to was Parizska 30, where the writer lived when he wrote “The Metamorphosis” — that building was destroyed in 1945; today, an InterContinental Hotel stands in its place. “The Metamorphosis” takes place entirely in an apartment, and Kafka scholars have said the writer used his fourth-floor apartment at the time as a model for the one in the story.


I wasn’t staying at the hotel, so I took the elevator to the rooftop restaurant, Zlata Praha. From the outdoor terrace, with the Gothic and Baroque spires of Old Town at my back, I looked down at Svatopluk Cech Bridge, an Art Nouveau span that would have been only a few years old when the writer lived there.

我没有呆在酒店里,而是乘电梯来到了屋顶的餐厅Zlata Praha。在露台上,我的身后是旧城的哥特式和巴洛克式尖塔,我看到了楼下的斯瓦特普鲁克·切赫桥(Svatopluk Cech Bridge),卡夫卡在那居住时,这座新艺术风格的桥才建成没几年。

This was, more or less, Kafka’s view from 1907 to 1913. He wrote to a friend about the then-new bridge, saying that this part of the Vltava River had been popular for suicide attempts: “It will always be more pleasant to walk across the bridge up to the Belvedere than through the river to Heaven.”

我所看到的差不多就是1907到1913年间卡夫卡看到的风景。他在给一位友人的信中提到了这座当时刚刚建成的新桥,称伏尔塔瓦河(Vltava River)的这一河段颇受自杀者欢迎:“从桥上走到观景楼,总比从这条河进入天堂要愉快得多。”

Another important Kafka site that is now a hotel is the erstwhile insurance office where Kafka worked from 1908 to 1922; he complained in his diary that a company business trip was the reason the ending of “The Metamorphosis” was so unsatisfying.


Today the neo-Baroque building is the Hotel Century Old Town Prague, which has some not-so-subtle Kafka references: a bust of the writer; a restaurant named after one of his fiancées, Felice; and, just outside of Room 214, a photo of the writer and a plaque indicating it had been his office.

这座新巴洛克风格的建筑如今是一座美憬阁世纪古城布拉格酒店( Hotel Century Old Town),里面很容易发现一些与卡夫卡有关的痕迹:他的半身像;一座以他的未婚妻费利斯(Felice)命名的餐厅;就在214房间外,挂着一张卡夫卡的照片,牌匾上显示这里曾是他的办公室。

I had hoped to stay in Kafka’s former office, but it was booked. So I went with plan B: sneak up to the second floor to get a peek at the room. I got to the door and saw the plaque and photo; I considered knocking on the door, but it was 8 a.m. and I didn’t want to disturb its occupants.


I stopped into the Franz Kafka Museum, in the Mala Strana neighborhood, hoping to find a treasure trove of “Metamorphosis” artifacts and information. The self-guided tour provided an entertaining and educational hour on the writer, but there wasn’t much about his famous story.

我还参观了位于布拉格小城社区的弗朗茨卡夫卡博物馆(Kafka Museum),希望找到《变形记》的艺术品和信息。这趟走马观花的旅程很有趣,也增加了我对卡夫卡的了解,但没有找到很多有关这部名作的信息。

A couple of days later I turned to the Franz Kafka Society Center, behind the Franz Kafka Bookstore in Josefov.


“Many Czechs were unfamiliar with Kafka until recently,” Marketa Malisova, the center’s director, said, explaining that his writing was banned during the German occupation of World War II and then became unpopular after the war because of anti-German sentiment (Kafka was a Czech Jew who wrote in German).

“许多捷克人对卡夫卡知之甚少,直到不久前这一状况才得以改变,”中心主任马尔凯塔 ·马利绍娃(Marketa Malisova)说,她解释说,他的作品在德国占领时期被禁,战争结束后因为人们的反德情绪不受欢迎(卡夫卡是捷克犹太人,用德语写作)。

“And then there’s the Communist period,” she said. “Because he foretold the tyranny that was to come, the Communist regime didn’t exactly promote his writing.”


It wasn’t until after the Velvet Revolution when tourists from Western Europe and the United States began turning up wanting to see the Kafka-related sites that Czechs recognized his importance. “I met a local guy here in Prague in the early ’90s,” Ms. Malisova said, “who asked: ‘Who is this Kafka guy? Is he American? I only see American tourists with Kafka T-shirts.’ ”


Just before I said goodbye to Ms. Malisova, she pulled out a book in a plastic container. It was a first printing of “The Metamorphosis”; on its cover was the image of an open bedroom door, a man looking away and covering his face in horror.


Kafka was quite vague about what kind of insect or beast Gregor Samsa had metamorphosed into. He specifically used the phrase “ungeheuren Ungeziefer,” a “monstrous vermin,” as some of his English-language translators have interpreted it.

对于格里高尔·萨姆莎变成了哪种昆虫,卡夫卡的表述相当模糊。他特别使用了“ungeheuren Ungeziefer”,有些英文译者把它译成“巨大的害虫”。

“Not that, please, not that!” he wrote in a letter to his Leipzig-based publisher in 1915, reacting to a potential cover to the very first edition. “The insect itself cannot be drawn. It cannot even be shown at a distance.”


That hasn’t stopped readers from conjuring up images of the protagonist as a beetle or cockroach. This includes the infamous Czech artist David Cerny.

但这并没能阻止读者把主人公想象成一只甲虫或蟑螂,包括著名的捷克艺术家大卫·塞尔尼(David Cerny)。

I met him one day at the MeetFactory, an art center in the Smichov district where he has his studio. Prague is sprinkled with provocative pieces by Mr. Cerny — a sculpture of a urinating man (directly in front of the Franz Kafka Museum), a statue of the Czech patron saint King Wenceslas sitting on an upside down dead horse.


His most recent installation in Prague is a sculpture of Kafka’s head, set behind the Tesco department store in the center of town. The 36-foot-high head is made up of 42 moving chrome-plated layers, which move both in synchronicity and in opposing directions.

纽约时报中英文网 www.qqenglish.com


Mr. Cerny’s original idea was a fountain featuring three figures: a robot, referencing the Czech-language writer Karel Capek, who coined the term; a Golem, representing the Yiddish language; and Kafka’s beetle, referring to the German language. “I wanted to remind people that Prague was once a city of three languages,” Mr. Cerny said.

塞尔尼最初的想法是建一组喷泉,包含三个角色:机器人,代表捷克语作家卡雷尔·恰佩克(Karel Capek),他曾发明了“机器人”这个词;魔像,代表意第绪语;以及卡夫卡的甲虫,代表德语。“我想提醒人们,布拉格曾经是说三种语言的城市,”塞尔尼说。

Unfortunately, city water regulations prevented him from placing a fountain there, so instead he came up with the huge reflecting Kafka head, which is based on similar work of his on display in Charlotte, N.C., called “Metalmorphosis.”


“I loved the irony that this sculpture faces a city government building in Prague,” he said. “Imagine you’re angry because the clerks are doing nothing, only saying for you to go to another office and then another office and another until finally you hear, ‘This office is closed.’ And then you walk out of the building, and there’s the huge head of Kafka looking at you, reminding you of the irony.”


A similar irony is not lost on Jachym Topol, the author of five novels and a political dissident in the 1970s and ’80s. I briefly met up with him at a literary festival in Prague, and when I mentioned Kafka, he was happy to talk about what Kafka means today.

亚希姆·托波尔(Jachym Topol)身上也有这样的讽刺。他在上世纪七八十年代写了五部小说,是一位政治异见者。我在布拉格的一个文学节上与他有过一面之缘,当我提到卡夫卡时,他很乐意谈谈卡夫卡在当下的意义。

“During the Communist regime, we used to make samizdat copies of Kafka’s works such as ‘The Metamorphosis,’ ” he said. “And now, along with the Charles Bridge and the castle, Kafka has become a part of Prague kitsch. He’s everywhere and he’s for sale everywhere. It’s his last joke.”


Latent jokes seemed to come up with nearly everyone I talked to about the writer, including Jaroslav Rona, the artist who created the Franz Kafka Monument — the statue of the writer riding atop an empty suit — at Café Louvre, an attractive high-ceilinged second-floor spot where Kafka would hang out with his writer friend Max Brod.

潜在的玩笑似乎伴随着每一个我与之谈起这位作家的人,包括雅罗斯拉夫·罗纳(Jaroslav Rona),弗朗茨·卡夫卡纪念像(骑在空西服上)的创作者。他在罗浮咖啡馆创作了这个雕塑,这间咖啡馆是一处颇有吸引力的二层空间,有高高的顶棚,卡夫卡和他的作家朋友马克斯·布劳德(Max Brod)曾在这里消磨时光。

Mr. Rona’s first attempt at creating a sculpture for the competition to win the right to design the memorial was, naturally, a beetle. The final concept was inspired by a Kafka short story called “Description of a Struggle” — though it turns out that he inserted quasi-hidden references to “Metamorphosis” as well.

罗纳为了赢得纪念像设计权的所创作的第一个雕塑,自然是一只甲虫。最终的设计灵感来自卡夫卡的短篇小说《争吵》(Description of a Struggle)——不过他在作品中也加入了《变形记》的隐喻。

“All the other pieces in the competition were basically Kafka on a pedestal,” Mr. Rona said. “But what I did was, after reading ‘The Metamorphosis,’ I realized something about Kafka’s thinking: I love art where it isn’t obvious what the artist is thinking.


“And I think this was Kafka’s philosophy, too — not only in ‘The Metamorphosis,’ but in a lot of his writing. So I used that same type of thinking to create the monument to Kafka.”


I asked about possible “Metamorphosis” allusions. He smiled playfully and glanced down at his cappuccino. “I couldn’t imagine making a monument to Kafka without some kind of reference to ‘The Metamorphosis,’ ” he said. “So I planted a somewhat secret reference to it.”


After our meeting, I walked to the statue and took a closer look at its base. And there, as I stood among the photo-snapping tourists, I saw on the sidewalk around the base the outline of a beetle.




What to See


In Mala Strana, the Franz Kafka Museum (Cihelna 2b; 420-257-535-373; kafkamuseum.cz) is a good primer for those not familiar with the author and his work.

对于不熟悉这位作家及其作品的游客,可以首先参观布拉格小城的弗朗茨·卡夫卡博物馆(Cihelna 2b; 420-257-535-373;kafkamuseum.cz)。

TheFranz Kafka Society (Siroka 14, 420-224-227-452; www.franzkafka-soc.cz) is a bookstore and center dedicated to the writer. You can also arrange private Kafka-themed tours through them.

TheFranz Kafka Society (Siroka 14, 420-224-227-452; www.franzkafka-soc.cz)是一家书店,也是这位作家的研究机构。你可以在这里预定私人的卡夫卡主题的旅游专线。

JayWay Travel (jaywaytravel.com) offers tours of Kafka’s Prague, taking literary travelers from his birthplace to his grave and everywhere else in between.

JayWay Travel (jaywaytravel.com)提供“卡夫卡的布拉格”旅游线路,带领热爱文学的游客追寻卡夫卡从生到死的足迹。

Founded in 2001 by artist David Cerny, the MeetFactory (Ke Sklarne 3213/15; 420-251-551-796; meetfactory.cz/en) is a complex that puts on live concerts and art exhibitions.

MeetFactory (Ke Sklarne 3213/15; 420-251-551-796; meetfactory.cz/en)2001年由艺术家大卫·塞尔尼创立,是一个提供现场音乐会和艺术展览的综合区。

Mr. Cerny’s Kafka art installation is behind the Tesco department store at the intersection of Narodni Trida and Spalena streets.


Jaroslav Rona’s Franz Kafka Memorial statue sits in Prague’s Old Town at the intersection of Dusni and Vezenska streets.


Where to Stay


The InterContinental Prague (Parizska 30; 420-296-631-111; icprague.com) is centrally located and offers nice views of Old Town and Prague Castle.

布拉格洲际酒店(Parizska 30; 420-296-631-111; icprague.com)处在核心位置,可以欣赏老城和布拉格城堡的风景。

In the erstwhile Workers Accident Insurance Institute of the Kingdom of Bohemia, where Kafka worked, the Hotel Century Old Town (Na Porici 7; 420-221-800-800; centuryoldtown.com) is just outside of Old Town.

卡夫卡曾经工作过的波西米亚王国工伤保险机构现在是美憬阁世纪古城布拉格酒店 (Na Porici 7; 420-221-800-800; centuryoldtown.com),就在老城外面。

Where to Eat


A former Kafka hangout, Café Louvre (Narodni 22, 420-224-930-949; cafelouvre.cz) has been serving up coffee and cake for more than a century.

卡夫卡常去的 Café Louvre(Narodni 22, 420-224-930-949;cafelouvre.cz)已有百年历史,出售咖啡和蛋糕。



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