Reading reflections in the Bookinglass

An expat with a love of fiction

Reading and Being A Woman in Berlin

with 3 comments

Reading a book that is set in the same place as where you happen to live (or are visiting) is a way to unearth secrets about that the place that you wouldn’t otherwise discover.

I read this blog post about ‘Reading Great Books in Great Places’ (London in this case) and I was inspired to embark on a little literary tourism of Berlin for myself.

When it comes to Berlin and reading the diary of a woman who was here in the final days of WWII whilst I was on the S-Bahn heading to Potsdamer Platz, I couldn’t help but feel closer to this city’s recent history.

I have been to see the Wall at Mauerpark, the preserved wasteland where the SS headquarters used to be, the chilly cavernous black room in the Jewish Museum, great historic hotspots. Yet reading about the violent, frightening upheaval seen through the eyes of this intelligent, brave, unyeilding woman is startling in a very different way.

I feel that as an archaeologist I am being a bit traitorous to my discipline, as I now understand how amazing it is to see history through people’s own words rather than dusty objects or architecture. But, this is such a remarkable historic source, not only did she write as the events were happening, she is detailed and literary and she could speak some Russian so she can report on what the conquering Russian soldiers were actually saying. It must be most WWII historians’ dream bedtime reading. I still love the dusty objects and architecture.

The anonymous author gives details of the destruction of the city, the rape of the women, the gossip at the pumps, the watches that the Russian soliders collect as prestigious charms and the cleaning, petty human actions, great hunger and extreme resourcefulness. Just a little tidbit:

“A reddish-grey light shining through the window means the war is still on outside. A distant rumble and hum The front is now rolling into the centre of town. I get dressed, wash myself as best I can, and listen carefully to the morning quiet of the stairwell. Nothing but silence and emptiness.” (p.78)

Although, I admit, I haven’t yet finished the book. You see, I read it on the train, and I only have enough pages left for half a journey. So I picked up another book and this one remains on the shelf. Do you think she dies in the end? Otherwise why would she stop writing? Can a diary ever truly have a satisfactory ending?

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Written by bookinglass

January 18, 2011 at 10:35 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Awesome! Glad my idea inspired you 🙂

    Stephanie

    January 23, 2011 at 8:54 am

  2. What a lovely post. I didn’t study history in school but I’ve found a mixture of fiction, biographies and non-fiction accounts of topics like the Khmer Rouge and the Holocaust have really helped me to form a picture of the past.

    It is an interesting question you pose about diaries. I recently read Annexed which was the Anne Frank story from Peter’s point of view. I did finish that even though I knew the ending anyway. Heartbreaking yet worthwhile.

    Emm

    February 1, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    • I will update this post when I do finish the book, as it is written anonymously I reckon the narrator does live on 😀 Anne Frank’s story I am sorry to say I skipped to the end to see the dramatic ‘final hours’… I NEVER skip to the end!

      bookinglass

      February 13, 2011 at 1:37 pm


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