Tuesday, 22 March 2016

"Alone in Berlin" by Hans Fallada - March 2016

Some reactions to Hans Fallada's "Alone in Berlin":

• It was written in a straightforward, unemotional style, but evoked a very emotional response: it made me anxious and tearful.
• The characters were so similar to British working class people, as for example described in "The Road to Wigan Pier" (Orwell), that this book was the perfect answer to anyone who dismissed the whole of the German people as different, after the war.
• Despite maybe not being able to influence what's happening around you much, it might be enough that you stay decent, that you don't just meekly and blindly go along with indecency, even if it's futile and you can't affect the outcome
• The biggest thing in the novel was the constancy of fear. How everybody in Germany under the Nazis was in absolute terror at all times; it pervaded the novel as well. Even just holding a postcard became such a scary thing that people were running straight to the police with them, in order to show "I've been good"
• There are parallels to modern day terrorism, and ultra-conservative politics, like Donald Trump proposing a wall between the USA and Mexico. Reading this book is a timely reminder that evil can develop any time.
• One group member had just visited North Korea and seen for herself the oppressive power states can have over people. She travelled in the same group as Otto Warmbier who has been sentenced to 15 years in a North Korean labour camp.
• This reminded another group member of Jeremiah Denton, the American prisoner of North Vietnamese soldiers, who blinked the word "Torture" in morse code with his eyes while being forced to participate in a press conference
• It was amazing that Fallada could make such astute jokes about the character of Judge Feisler (baseed on the real judge in the real case) as early as 1947. The judge was also a good example of the ambivalence of each character in the book. Nobody was just simply portrayed as all good or all bad. The judge had great intentions, and a good heart, but he did "imprison" Frau Rosenthal, trying to save her, and doing so drove her close to insanity
• The last 100 pages of the book were a crazy rollercoaster, so much so that it made people wonder if Fallada was on drugs when he wrote them. there were so many crazy stories and characters: THe cellmate who lives as a dog, licking Otto Hampel from head to toe; the musician Reichhardt who was a brief, wonderful interlude (a moment of sanity in a sea of madness).. /
• It seemed so crazy that there was a pet shop still operating and thrivin in Berlin amid the madness of the war. It was surreal and entertaining to read, that people were buying birds and feeding their dogs while the war was going on.
• Somehow, we seemed to find a lot of humourous mometns in this book.Despite the incredible bleakness they kept popping out at us - one of the first scenes where all the different uniformed people are strutting around showing off their respecitve rank in the dancehall, the dog-impersonator of course, the trial of the couple when Anna Hampel snaps and tells the judge she's had 84 lovers, thereby temporarily shutting him up...
• It would have been nice to be able to read the book in German. (I DID read the first 2 chapters in German and I can attest that there is nothing translateable about that wonderful "Berlinerisch" dialect, it adds an immense amount of local colour and is a treat for the ear (even reading it). However, I did think that the translation was absolutely faultless.)
• This is one of those important books that it does you good every now and then to read, to be reminded of some very basic truths about the banality of greed, humanity in general, power, states, life...