PEACEFULLY: IN BERLIN by Patricia Wendorf


Email this review


Anatomy of a postwar Anglo-German marriage--in a plain, unsentimental, documentary-like first novel by a British grandmother. In 1979, widow Cathy Baumann is on a European train headed for Berlin, planning to visit her late husband's German sister. . . and perhaps, it seems, to end her life with suicide there. Why this grim mission? Well, in vignette-flashbacks, as Cathy reluctantly talks to a fellow-passenger (himself a German married to an Englishwoman), Wendorf economically provides the marital history that has left Cathy with ""the conviction of failure."" She meets Kurt Baumann in 1947, when he's a taciturn POW still doing English farm-work and she's a bookish, 19-year-old virgin doing service in the ""Land Army."" Kurt, 26 and experienced, teaches Cathy about sex: ""Come Englanderin. . . I show you how is richtig kissing."" She fails in love, they marry--but Kurt feels obliged to return to a devastated Germany. He goes there alone, at first hiding the fact of his marriage; Cathy eventually joins him, sharing dreadful conditions and suffering from jealousy, from his family's hostility. She heads home in 1949; Kurt, divided in both language and loyalty now, goes too. But in the years that follow, it's undemonstrative Kurt who dominates the marriage, Cathy grudgingly becoming the Hausfrau he demands. (""If they are to spend a lifetime together, one or the other will have to change. Instinct warns her that person will not be Kurt Baumann."") Their two sons seem to choose sides--one with Kurt, one with Cathy. Feeling unloved (Kurt is obsessed by his farm-managing work, by his mother's death), Cathy has migraine attacks. Only when Kurt develops serious heart trouble at 44 does he finally say ""I need you."" And now, re-examining the story and being called ""Liebe Schwester"" by Kurt's sister, Cathy decides to go on living. (""Could it be, she thought, just possible, that by deferring to the needs and wishes of those she had loved, she had somehow denied her own self?"") Despite this weak resolution, and despite some strained attempts to suggest parallels between the Baumann marriage and international postwar relations: an effectively somber, starkly detailed case-history of a problematic yet oddly courageous marriage.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1983
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton--dist. by David & Charles