on 20 November 2009
Another in this sterling series of city-writings compilations, this one follows the pattern of short excerpts gathered into chapters, that this time vary from the arbitrarily-themed to the perfect. The simplest one is also the most gripping: it's called 'The past is another country', but don't let that put you off. Its well-chosen pieces take you through Berlin's history from the early 19th Century to today, and make for an almost perfect, and very moving, slice through history. (It's interesting to note that even in the 1920s Berlin was a place renowned for building over its history.) The book choices are as eclectic as you could wish for, taking in most of the authors listed above - including the obvious choices like Isherwood, Kerr, Le Carre and Deighton - and some stuff new to me. Top of the list of latter include Ian Walker's 'Zoo Station' and Beatrice Collin's 'The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite'. Further interest is added by co-editor Katy Derbyshire's translations of bits from works not otherwise available in English. This manages to be not just a fine and fascinating introduction to the literature, but to rise above its expected status as a dipping thing to become a mighty fine cover-to-cover read in itself.
This is ideal for a quick dip. The work that must have gone into collating these little gems, including a great variety of authors describing a great variety of Berlin foibles, characteristics, situations and history (both good and bad); oh, and that Berlin wit is sharp, it is to the point but rarely crude. It is a delight to read the odd passage, and enjoy a brief encounter with the city. Some things described are delightful, other heart reading, and the character of the typical Berliner comes across with real clarity. The cabaret, not to be missed and other things to do as a visitor, some obvious, some less so. Take it with you when you go and you will glean a lot from this lovely book of edited highlights!