THE WALL JUMPER by Peter Schneider


Email this review


Brief meditations on the Berlin Wall and the societies on either side of it--as an unnamed, autobiographical narrator (a 40-ish West German writer) goes back and forth between West and East, collecting stories about ""wall jumpers."" There's the story of the narrator's landlord--who paid increasingly frequent trips to East Berlin, eventually coming ""to see the advantages of the social system in the other part of town."" There's the tale of restless Mr. Kabe, another West-to-East traveler--but one who kept choosing the unnecessary, illegal route: climbing over the wall. (Authorities on both sides were infuriated; but psychiatrists found nothing wrong with Kabe ""other than irresistible urge to overcome the Wall."") Likewise, the East-to-West traffic is represented by quirky, apolitical strivings: three teenage movie buffs who went to West Berlin--via an ""improbably aerial route""--for film-watching every Friday, ""as casually as other DDR citizens drive out to Muggelsee on a Sunday."" And other anecdotes involve former East Berliners, brought legally to the West (after ransom payments), who still burn with anger at the East, at the Wall: one man channels his fury into spying, becoming a bizarre triple-agent (""He confirmed the cartoon-like perception each state had of its opposite number""); another makes private, ultimately suicidal assaults on the Wall and its defenses. Meanwhile, the narrator considers his relationships with three East-Berlin-raised friends: sometime girlfriend Lena, with ""her sense of constant rejection by life in the West""; poet Robert, cynical and scornful of his new home in West Berlin (the two writers argue violently, ""angrily babbling our lessons, true to the states whose influence we no longer recognize""); writer Pommerer, still living in the East, a brave dissident who, nonetheless, has little use for the alternative. (""What was better for a people who elected Hitler in a landslide: imposed capitalism or imposed communism?"") And the narrator also meets his East German aunt for the first time, though his soldier-cousin--forbidden any Western contact--must hide away upstairs during the visit. ""it will take us longer to tear down the Wall in our heads than any wrecking coimpany will need for the Wall we can see."" That's the insistent theme of this bright, shapely mosaic--which, if more essay than fiction, offers an intriguing handful of sharp, wry perceptions about divided Berlin. . . as seen (primarily by the intelligentsia) from both sides.

Pub Date: Jan. 16th, 1983
Publisher: Pantheon