An intriguing journey through Berlin by a longtime interested observer.
Ungainly, amorphous, overrun by armies, clotted by construction, inhabited by uneasy neighborhoods of ethnic niches (including Turks, Russians, Vietnamese and Israelis), and still affordable to starving artists and all-night partiers, Berlin is a wildly attractive tourist spot, not least due to its dark history. In these amusing, knowledgeable essays and dispatches, German novelist and journalist Schneider (Eduard's Homecoming, 2000, etc.), who first came to the city as a student in the early 1960s to claim exemption from serving in the Bundeswehr (German defense forces), unearths much that is fascinating and even beautiful about Berlin. He examines the conversion of various sections of the city and warehouses, industrial ruins and other structures in what was formerly East Berlin—e.g., Potsdamer Platz, the new Berlin Brandenburg Airport and newly gentrified Prenzlauer Berg. Deeply engaged with friends and colleagues both East and West, Schneider has written extensively on the ramifications of the removal of the Berlin Wall, not only in the physical revelation that Berlin’s great historic center and grand buildings were all located in the East, but also in the souls of “Ossi” and “Wessi” remnants, now cohabitating a little like oil and water. In his autobiographical essay “West Berlin” (“the name…refers to a city that no longer exists”), the author reaches back into the student movement of the late 1960s and the building of the “wall of the mind” mentality he wrote about in his novel The Wall Jumper (1984). In “The Stasi Legacy,” he writes poignantly of the poisonous effect the secret police had on even married couples informing on each other. Berlin’s “culture of remembrance,” he writes, has also been transformed—e.g., the multitude of Holocaust commemoration exhibits and memorials paying quiet tribute to a vanished community.
A seasoned journalist conveys the charms and perils of this “Cinderella of European capitals.”