There’s a lot of buzz in blogland about the forthcoming Citylit Berlin by Oxygen Books. It’s one I can’t wait to get my paws on as fellow book blogger Katy Derbyshire at Love German Books has translated some of the stories therein. However, it’s not published until November and so I packed another recently published anthology when I flew to the city earlier this month.
Berlin Tales, published by Oxford University Press, contains seventeen stories that takes the reader on a journey in time, place and politics, through Berlin. The stories span the twentieth century covering the decadence and modernity of the Weimar Republic, the horrors
of the Second World War, the divisions and the Cold War that followed, the fall of the Wall and reunification. The authors represent the great and the new in German literature. Established names like Alfred Doeblin and Uwe Johnson feature along with those that are becoming known in the UK such as Julia Franck, winner of the 2007 German Book Prize with her novel The Blind Side of the Heart. The majority of stories, however, are written by contemporary authors, most of whom were entirely unknown to me. German literature, post-reunification, is experiencing a boom! All stories were translated by Lyn Marven, whose introduction to the volume pretty much reflects my own feelings.
Berlin gets under your skin. It is not a beautiful city, like Paris, nor an ancient one, but it is fascinating. Since I first went there as a student, Berlin has drawn me back time and again. The appeal of the city lies in its history, of course, but also in the speed with which Berlin reinvents itself. Every time I go back, something has changed – the city never stands still.
An anthology of short stories is the ideal medium to present snapshots of an ever-changing city and this volume fulfills its remit with elan. As the trademark symbols of Berlin, Alexanderplatz,Potsdamer Platz, the TV Tower, the Reichstag, the Kaiser-Wilhelm-GedaechtnisKirche, the Wall make their appearance, the stories are infused with personal details allowing the reader to really live in the city, to experience it from different vantage points. So for example: flee East Berlin bundled into the back of a car as a young child in Julia Franck’s Family Friend; return with Monika Maron to the city after a voluntary exile and reflect on what makes her love the city of her birth.
I was in the 46 tram going towards Friedrichstrasse, and just after the bend from Invalidenstrasse into Chausseestrasse, as I was looking through the back window of the last wagon onto the hot asphalt on this ugly war-damaged junction, a feeling of disquiet and delight in equal measure, for which the only appropriate word is love. I looked at Chausseestrasse’s filthy asphalt skin, and thought I wanted to embrace it, wanted to lie down flat on the street with my arms out wide and embrace the street, the city.
Berlin Tales also reflects contemporary multiculturalism with stories from a selection of immigrant authors now writing in the German language. Perhaps my favourite story of these is written by the Russian-born Wladimir Kaminer. In Berlin City Guide the narrator and his friend are attempting to update a Russian tourist guide.
We couldn’t think of anything for Potsdamer Platz. ‘A superb piece of the future in the heart of the old city?’ I suggested in despair. The last time I was there I was approached by security guards three times in the space of half an hour. The first time my shoelace was undone and I had knelt down to tie it. …. ‘Visit Potsdamer Platz, the Reich of the Rich. In the bars and casinos here you can get rid of all your hard-earned cash quickly and with ease.’ We left it at that. It had got late. We went out and dived into the depths of Prenzlauer Berg to get a drink.
As you would. As I did.