Final installment on a novel that has taken a lot of effort to read, but I made it to the end! Did it grow on me? Let’s see ….
Thanks to Caroline for the questions.
Reinhold is possibly the biggest villain in the story. Would you agree? Do you find his punishment satisfying?
He’s definitely the most heinous human of the piece. And justice was served in the end. So yes, he got his just desserts.
However, isn’t there a bigger villain? The city of Berlin itself, epitomised by the whore of Babylon, a biblical character from Revelation associated with sin and oppression. She appears whenever disaster is impending (prior to Bieberkopf’s accident) and dances a gleeful dance whenever he is lured into the darker side of city life. It’s almost as if her role is bring her inhabitants to destruction … Notably she disappears after Franz’s final conversion at the end.
The quote that returns most frequently in the last chapters – at least as far I could see – is taken from Ecclesiastes (There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven . . . ) How did you feel about this use? Did you find it effective?
This is just one of many refrains used throughout the novel, which converge, particularly in the pages leading up to Mitzi’s violent end. There is a time for everything, even for death, as the reaper himself advances ever closer to Mitzi. References back to the infamous slaughterhouse scene are made too. Mitzi is the ultimate lamb being led to the slaughter.
As for the specific quote from Ecclesiastes, it would appear that there is a time for conversion too, which leads me to the next question ….
Were you surprised by the ending?
Thinking back on it everything about this novel has surprised me! Not necessarily plot-wise but in its artfulness. Berlin Alexanderplatz is not as chaotic as it first appears.
Plot-wise there should be no surprises. the narrator tells us what happens to Bieberkopf on the summary on the first page. But the details are somewhat unexpected and dissatisfying, And then when I think about them maybe they shouldn’t be. For example:
Why does Bieberkopf not turn Reinhold in? It’s a repetition of a pattern. He doesn’t snitch on Reinhold after he is thrown out of the car. He doesn’t snitch on him now. Is he perhaps turning the other cheek? That would depend on whether you see Berlin Alexanderplatz as a Bildungsroman leading to rebirth and a Christian conversion.
Or is his conversion simply from individualist to member of society. The narrator’s final words on him are: “Bieberkopf is a little worker.”
Either way, in a mirror of the beginning, Bieberkopf leaves a closed institution (albeit mental asylum as opposed to prison) to once more find his own feet in the city of Berlin, But now the city has stabilised. It isn’t terrorising him. Perhaps this time he will become decent after all.
Looking back, what did you like the most about the book and what did you like the least?
I was prepared for a challenge but not for so much hard work; there was no way I could read Berlin Alexanderplatz quickly or understand without recourse to literary criticism. But that is precisely what I enjoyed the most, because it opened up the novel for me.
Three articles in particular:
David Dollenmayer: Berlin Alexanderplatz in The Berlin Novels of Alfred Döblin
Kathleen Komar: Technique and Structure in Berlin Alexanderplatz
Osman Durrani: Berlin Alexanderplatz in Fictions of Germany (ISBN 074860492X)
Would you reread it and/ or are you glad you read Berlin Alexanderplatz?
The sense of achievement at having completed and understood some of the author’s intention is great. As Thomas Mann said: “Very few people are able to read Döblin’s books right through to the end.” Well, I now have Berlin Alexanderplatz under my belt, and that means I have now read 33 of Deutsche Welle’s 100 German Must-Reads.
Would I re-read? Now there’s a question! At the half-way point, there was no way I would have finished it, had it not been for the readalong. Three-quarters of the way through, I was saying once would suffice. Now I’ve finished it, I recognise that this is a masterpiece that can only improve with a or even multiple re-reads. But will I ever? I don’t know, but I am not adverse to the idea, and I am keeping my copy for future reference.
I probably wouldn’t have read this within the month, either, had it not been for the readalong. This would have been one of those books started and then left unfinished for months, I think, without it.
But now that I’m through to the end, I’m glad I stuck it out, so thank you for choosing it.
You’re right in seeing Berlin as a character – I hadn’t thought of ‘her’ as so closely linked to the whore of Babylon but that does go some way towards explaining why the slaughterhouse scene was so protracted.
I didn’t read any criticism while I was reading the book but want to do so now, so thanks for posting those you found useful.
I couldn’t have got through it without the literary criticism. The chapter in Durrani’s book is particularly comprehensive and really helpful. It answered all my questions and more!
1. Reinhold is possibly the biggest villain in the story. Would you agree? Do you find his punishment satisfying? I would agree and yes, I find his punishment satisfying
2. The quote that returns most frequently in the last chapters – at least as far I could see – is taken from Ecclesiastes (There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven . . . ) How did you feel about this use? I found it very pleasing and apt. Did you find it effective? Yes.
3. Were you surprised by the ending? I was. I thought that Franz was doomed but it ended happily for him
Now this is where I’m uncertain. What do you make of the marching crowds last paragraph? Berlin was a foment of political agitation at the time. Right wingers / left wingers. Political clashes. Döblin couldn’t have know where it was heading in 1929, but he must have been concerned. Or is it only hindsight that makes the final paragraph so chilling? After all, Franz may not be marching at this point in time, but he is now one of the crowd, so to speak. Just what lies ahead for him?
Difficult to say. It could be a metaphor comparing Franz to Reinhold. Franz being free and Reinhold incarcerated and thus out of Franz’s reach so there is no-one to pull Franz down so his future is brighter. Or it could be a comparison of the old world and the new world, which is a metaphor about Franz’s future too.
4. Looking back, what did you like the most about the book and what did you like the least? That it was something that I’d never read before, I’m always looking for new experiences and this was certainly one of them. It took me a while to get into it but once there it was very satisfying. There isn’t anything that I disliked about the book
5. Would you reread it and/ or are you glad you read Berlin Alexanderplatz? I intend to reread it and I am sure that I’ll get more out of it on rereading and yes, I am glad that I read it.
Thanks to Lizzie for running the group read and letting me take part and thanks to both Lizzie and Caroline for the weekly questions, which made me think.
Luna, thank you for your participation and comments. Glad you made it to the end. It was certainly a meaty read!
Meaty reads are my favourite
Well done! I *can* see that in a different time, and without pressures, I might well have got on better with this. Maybe one day I’ll go back to it…. ;D
Franz picked a heck of a time to rejoin society, didn’t he?
One of Döblin’s great insights is that whenever the revolution comes, whoever is leading it will have plenty of muscle. No shortage of thugs ready to break heads.