A Story of Modern Germany
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 The tortured history of modern Germany is refracted in the story of a 19th-century villa and the lives of its diverse inhabitants. The literary device of the house as metaphor or microcosm has a long tradition, and Hafner (Cyberpunk, 1991) utilizes it to good effect. Through interviews, private memoirs, and public documents, she tells the story of the villa, situated at the foot of the famous Glienicke Bridge connecting Potsdam and Berlin. Built in 1845, it passed from the Prussian aristocracy to Hermann Wallich, son of a prosperous Jewish banking family. Wallich bequeathed the Italianate villa to his son Paul. A staunch assimilationist, Paul Wallich committed suicide ten days after the anti-Semitic violence of Kristallnacht in 1938. With the Nazis in power, the Wallich family was scattered to three continents. Oddly, the history of the house during the war is omitted. After the war, the GDR used the villa as a child-care facility for working parents. Karl Marx would have pointed out with satisfaction how the house passed from the aristocracy to the bourgeoisie to the children of the proletariat, symbolically confirming his theory of history. But after that theory suffered a blow with the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 (on the anniversary of Kristallnacht), new problems generated by unification became apparent. Under a law that sought to return to their pre-1933 owners properties seized in the former GDR by the Nazis and later by the Communists, the Wallich family attempted to reclaim their villa. Hafner chronicles their effort--and the almost tragic plight of the children's home as it struggled to remain open. Hafner's structure--each chapter is devoted to a person or family whose life intersected the history of the villa--is a bit repetitive, but her central conceit remains powerful. As she observes: ``The Potsdam villa came to represent less a house in Germany than Germany itself.'' In probing the history and reconstruction of a house, Hafner sheds light on the complicated and delicate reconstruction of memory and history. (8 pages photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-684-19400-7
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1994


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