EMMA’S GLÜCK, by Claudia Schreiber

You know, those stories which can’t get your eyes off the page? You know, that fabulous feeling, that keeps your hands firmly focus on the book object, without the slightest temptation of touching anything which has got a screen on it, not even a household appliance?

That’s exactly the feeling you go back when you read this fabulous book.

MON ENFANT DE BERLIN, by Anne Wiazemsky

The book of the weekend. “La ragazza di Berlino” by Anne Wiazemsky. Yet another book on Berlin, 1945. But a different one.

Claire Mauriac, the protagonist, is the mother of the author but at that time she’s above all the daughter of the writer François Mauriac. She is a nurse working for the Red Cross, she shares the misery of war yet her life is somewhat sheltered by her status.

The novel is not as dramatic as the ones written by German women. “A woman in Berlin” the diary written by Anonyma and the autobiographic novels by Helga Schneider stare into the abyss. Claire Mauriac has a safe place where to sleep, clean uniforms, cigarettes to calm the hunge, friends with whom to share the difficulties but above all a family back in Paris claiming her presence at home.

So this is above all a Bildungsroman. A demoiselle Française de la bonne bourgeoise, Claire starts to gain her independec and freedom of thought day by day, working as an ambulance driver from Béziers, to Belfort and eventually Berlin.

It is also a love story, and probably the first real one I read so far, on the background of the Berlin ruins.

I read the novel in the Italian edition but I will re-read it in French. The letters exchanged between Claire and her mother will gain a lot in the original version.

You can listen here to a beautiful excerpt reading by Thierry Hancisse, Sociétaire de la Comédie-Française and to an interesting interview with Anne Wiazemsky, the author.


Unplug your wireless connection before diving in “Conformisti – the death of authenticity” by Gillo Dorfles.

Dorfles, born in Triest in 1910, is a true modern man and deserves full attention. And is writing is so enjoyable!

He explores, in this book dated 1997, the universe of conformismo, perbenismo, buon senso, senso comune (not the same as common sense), benpensanti, come il faut, yes-men.

In order to do this he analyzes society: behavior, approach to the arts (fantastic chapter on classical music!), fashion, politics, sex of course – and yes, even death – with a pragmatic angle. Like Isherwood, he could claim “I am a camera”.

13 years after its publication, this book’s authenticity is even higher.

In this recent video, taken form RAIperunanotte, he observes how facts have become “facts-oids”, democracy morphed into “democracy-oid” (or maybe post-democracy, quoting Colin Crouch).

Dorfles repeats his mantra: keep on comparing and contrasting what is told to you with the real facts if you want to seize the developments of society while keeping your head high above the tide of conformism. And beware of the “conformizzatori”, sometimes dressed as agents provocateurs or enfants terribles, but eventually acting as powerful compacteurs of the public opinion.


Der nasse Fisch by Volcker Kütscher is an excellent detective story set in one of the most exciting historical periods, the dawn of the Weimar Republic, 1929.

Berlin is a violent town but the prussian Kripo has an excellent track record in solving cases. Just a few remain unsolved, the so called “wet fishes”.

Among Communists, Stahlhelm, SA, Ochrana agents and other assorted paramilitary nationalists, Gereon Rath investigates, not without bavures and other controversial practices. A hardboiled novel set in a hot Berlin summer, and in a hot political junction.

Gereon Rath joins Xavier March (“Vaterland” by Robert Harris) and Bernie Gunther (“March violets” and “A quiet flame” by Philip Kerr) among the legendary Berlin detectives…


I discovered Gad Beck’s autobiography in the Italian edition “Dietro il vetro sottile – memorie di un ebreo omosessuale nella Berlino nazista” (Einaudi) at Rome’s Herder German bookstore.

The excellent translation by Leonardo Boschetti conveys all the wit and freshness of Gad Beck’s berlinisch talk. His teen-age effortless coming out in the tolerant Weimar Republic atmosphere contrasts sharply with the layers and layers of anti-Jewish laws twisting and bending Berlin’s civil society in the following years.

Yet, the great take-aways of this excellent book are Gad’s incredible joie de vivre and esprit which saved his and many other lives, and his ability to never give up the pursue of happiness and love around him: family, friends and lovers. The efforts done by many Berliners, shrewd businessmen and prostitutes, church-goers and grumpy concierges, to help him ferrying people to freedom make this book unique.

Antonio Tabucchi: Il tempo invecchia in fretta.

These short stories are like water from melted snow, flowing fast in a brook.

Sometimes the quick water flows so smoothly it becomes invisible and all you see are the images reflected by its surface. But as soon as the wind blows the images disappear. And all you see is water.

The Winter books, January 2010

Back from the latest business travels of 2009, the Christmas holidays in Berlin, and the snow storm which hit Western Europe over the past few days, it’s time to list the books which I had the pleasure to read. Be it on the diwan in rainy Rome, on the sofa in white Berlin, in Heathrow’s airline lounges, on the TGV plum velvet seats between Lyon and Chambéry or on Geneva airport tarmac, while the aircraft underwent de-icing.

Sense of Place. It has been a while since I last wrote something on this subject. “The glass room” is the perfect novel for this tag.

The novel is set in 1928 Brno, Czechoslovakia. It’s the story of a couple and of a family. But also the story of a house, which still exists: Mies van der Rohe‘s modernist masterpiece, Villa Tugendhat.

The novel is a truly immersive experience: architectural adventure, hectic Zeitgeist, intertwined passions, technologically advanced Czechoslovakia, a country in between the German and the West Slavic cultures. And of top of this, Simon Mawer plays with the delights of the German and Czech languages…how Mitteleuropean.

In Berlin I read a white-Christmas perfect novel: Menschen im Hotel by Vicki Baum, aka Grand Hotel. I had re-run the Greta Garbo movie just a few days before Sellerio – the stylish Italian publisher – reprinted this novel. The tablets and slates of this world will never convey the pleasure of reading a beautiful novel from a beautifully printed and bound book. So I kept my prey untouched until my arrival in white Berlin and savored the incipit on my sofa in Schöneberg, and the finale in my bed with the flu.

The Hotel Adler monde et demi-monde is depicted with cinematographic impact, it’s a novel which gets very close to a screenplay. But once more the novel is even better than the movie because of Vicki Baum’s style, “the number one of second-tier authors” as she used to define herself. Fast cars, the newly built Avus Autobahn, planes, drugs, cosmetic routines and the first attempts of aesthetic nip and tuck, mergers and acquisitions, stock market, employee alienation in the modern corporation, modeling, modern photography…the novel conveys the modernity of those years, when Berlin was the cutting edge metropolis on the brink of a no-return phase.

While the movie insists on the grand siècle nostalgia that hotels tried to perpetuate, the novel brings out all the contradictions between this and the post-war, fast and furious years, with the powerful social and political plate tectonic pressures at work in the metropolis guts.

Between Isherwood and Irmgard Keun, make a place for Vicki Baum.

Berlin – Moskau: eine Reise zu Fuβ by Wolfgang Büscher is one of my beloved travel novels/reportages, the italian publisher of Berlino-Mosca un viaggio a piedi is Voland, which has a nice shop in the Rione Monti. If I look in my library, a big shelf is devoted to this theme. Journeys by train. By foot. On horseback. By motorbike. On an old Topolino car (Paolo Rumiz). Travel is my cup of tea.

The author leaves Berlin behind on a summer early morning and heads east. The numbness associated with fatigue, the fight against beat and dust remind other reportages like Hape Kerkeling’s Camino de Santiago account, Ich bin dann mal weg (Vado a fare due passi). The adventures in accomodation (but not the temperatures) remind of Werner Herzog’s Vom Gehen in Eis (Sentieri nel ghiaccio).

It shares with Paolo Rumiz’s E’ Oriente the investigation on what “East” means, and where the new boundaries of the Iron Curtain lie. Like Rumiz, Büscher dares to walk across remote areas of Bielorussia and West-of-Moscow Russia. Andmoores into Moscow, ie. in the West.

The Fall books, October 2009

Now reading “The Berlin Wall” by Frederick Taylor. A must read. The first chapters are smattering of German history, better skip those, which are definitely not the best. The book is well documented and entertaining, which is not an easy balance.


The Summer Books, August 2009, Berlin

RIMG0004One of the pages with most traffic on this blog is the Bookshelf in Berlin. Thanks to this page, online (and offline) friendships started, in Rome and Berlin.

So it’s time to put a bit in order that page and update it with the latest arrivals on our bookshelf. Let’s try to summarize…

I bought at Chatwin’s “U5” by Pol Sax. If you are recovering your German language skills, it can be helpful as there is more introspection than plot intricacies. Three characters (an artist which has some success, a prostitute, a former artist now in need of psychiatric professional help) show us their thoughts while they live their lives in Friedrichshain, along the U5 line precisely. RIMG0006

At Tegel airport I bought Sven Regener’s Berlin blues. It is enjoyable, to some extent I started to confuse the characters (I was still reading Pol Sax) since also in this book the quirky and borderline are very close. But it is definitely enjoyable, especially the bits in which tapes full of House music constantly risk to end up in the bin of the pub. “He says this will be the music of tomorrow!”. It was the summer 1989.RIMG0011

Get this bande dessinée, if you want to get some insight on how kids in 1989 lived the fall of the Berlin wall. It is witzig, light, ironic, and yes, you may have spotted Flix strips in a Berlin’s newspaper. I found it at the fantastic Bayerischer Platz Buchladen, my local.


At Nollendorfplatz I bought Alexanderplatz. I am already a fan of Harald Hauswald’s photos of East Berlin so this book was a safe bet. It is a photographic book, very useful for playing one of my favourite Berlin games “how was it before/how is it now?”.


At the KaDeWe bookstore – which happens to be pas mal du tout – I couldn’t resist in buying Berliner Plätze, after spending an hour or so on the bookstore’s red sofas while browsing the book.

Taking the game “Berlin yesterday/today” a century back, with this gorgeous book you can understand what kind of metropolis Berlin was in the 20s…The square pictured on the cover is Viktoria-Luise Platz, which happens to be like this also today. The grim, concrete-clad Bayerischer Platz in our neighborhood was a true beauty once. Fabulous book for architecture lovers.


This one is only for Berlin fanatics…taking the game even deeper, and digging out the history of the Schoeneberg neighborhood. I agree, it’s so specialized, but how can you resist if you find it at the Flohmarkt for Eur 2?


Wow, a book in Italian, German, French. You may recognize the cover…but it is not Imgard Keun’s “The artificial silk girl”. It’s a catalogue, bought at Remainders in Rome, about Berlin’s fashion industry in the 30s. Berlin fashion shared the same grim fate of Bayerischer Platz buildings and the Bauhaus school – annihilation –  since it had a strong contribution by the Jewish Berlin entrepreneurs. The book is fabulous for the quality of fashion photography and the architectural aesthetic: the city, the modern city, was the set.

This is an investment. The Bauhaus exhibition catalogue…solemnly acquired at the Martin-Gropius Bau . Of course I saw the exhibition…but I want the pleasure to last, and that’s why I started reading the catalogue but I will keep the most part of it for the rainy-windy-stormy-icy days in Berlin this winter. 80 years! But there had been an impressive exhibition in 1977….


…I discovered it because I found at the Rathaus Schoeneberg Flohmarkt this fabulous book, the catalogue of the exhibition. It was interesting to compare how catalogues have evolved in the past 30 years, and on very similar themes. Today’s bauhaus catalogue is more graphic and inviting, the 1977 oeuvre is definitely very academic. But extremely complete and thorough.


My friend in Moabit, who enjoyed Alessandra Montrucchio’s “Berlino”, advised me to get its French mirror image, Cecile Calla’s “Tour de Franz”. It is definitely enjoyable and is a good insight on conversational German, with a Berlinisch flavour. Sometimes there’s too much Paris in this book (the cooking, the lingerie, the aperos) and you may wonder if the book’s title “mein Rendez-vous mit den Deutschen” should rather be “my convinction that French do it better, whatever it is”. But the chapters “spiessig”, “Sex”, Tatort” and “Mann” are good fun. By the way, I bought this book at a nice local bookstore, just off Crellestrasse in Schoeneberg. Check it out, a very nice bookstore.


Another French fascinated by Germany, Michel Tournier. I bought the book at Palais Sans Souci, in Potsdam…so the title sounded quite appropriate, in the middle of the Prussian vineyards and Mediterrenean fig trees. Almost a pamphlet, it is a bijou and not to be missed.


Books about Berlin and Rome are my passion, and this week I read “Fucking Berlin” by Sonia Rossi.

I read the book in the Italian translation, but the original version was written in German by an Italian young woman who worked in the Berlin brothels for a few years while studying Maths at the Humboldt University. She starts with a webcam as a virtual sex worker and then experiences hands-on the working conditions in several brothels around Wedding, Lichterfelde, Neukoelln, Charlottenburg.

Italian reviews on the autobiographic novel use terms such as “the book of scandal”, or “the young and disinhibited Berlin”. Very frou-frou indeed. These reviews all convey an idea of something forbidden or prohibited, which is totally absent from the book. So I suppose that they did not read it. Or read it with the usual hypocritical pink pair of glasses. (How prurient! It’s forbidden…buy it!)

It’s a story about the anxiety of temporary employment and lack of money. About relationships. About wanting desperately to succeed in a project, which happens to be studying maths at a prestigious university and needing not only the cash but also the time to do it. And about prostitution. Its economics. The elasticity of the demand. Margins and cash-flows of various brothel organizational structures. Client profiles. Supply chain. Customer relationship management. And yes, anecdotes.

Another book, another advice from a friend, C. from Geneva. Its structure is interesting and it makes an interesting companion during travels for business or pleasure. But when it comes to history, I prefer books such as Maier’s “The Fall” or Weitz’s “Weimar, utopia and tragedy”. The social and economic side of history is the one I am interested in, and in vol d’oiseau books it does not get enough coverage.RIMG0010

In the same bookstore off Crellestrasse I also treated myself to a new Kaminer. But I am still in the middle of it…so I’ll let you know!

And now I’ll close with two masterpieces, quite obvious, but hey, I read them this summer…

The Cold War masterpiece, IanMcEwan’s “The Innocent”. I must confess that when I bought the book at Tegel airport I hd not realized immediately that I already had this book. Fortunately, because my copy of the Italian translation “Lettere a Berlino” was in Rome, with a bookmark stuck at 1/3 of the book. Here it goes, another “double book” I told myself…but eventually I started reading the original version and got totally captured. The beauty of the language, the differences in Glass’s American English and Marham’s stuttered English from Tottenham is quintessential to the pleasure of the intricated plot. And moreover…we had been to Altglienicke!!RIMG0005

The 30s masterpiece is “Goodbye Berlin”. I bought it by night at Dussman, during Die Lange Nacht der Museen, the Berlin version of Notte bianca. I love Christopher Isherwood! His social portraits are as sharp as Imgard Keun’s, but with a British irony which rubs off the hyperrealistic decadence of Alfred Döblin’s friend.

It was my goodbye book to Berlin…a somewhat cooler weather had arrived that night and the following day I packed my luggage, taking with me Kaminer for fighting that dash of sadness with Schonhauser Allee nonsensical humor.

Back from Moscow, June 2009, Rome

After my trip to Moscow at the beginning of June 09, it’s the right moment for tackling my russian reading list. Or tangent to things russian. A little pause in my German history journey that you can browse herebelow.

I started in Moscow by refreshing my memory on Stalin and Kruscëv with “Le roman du Kremlin” by Vladimir Fedorovski. Interesting summary on how since the pre-Czar era, secret police has always been in command in Russia.

My Kiez librarian put in my hands Orlando Figes’s “Natasha’s dance. A cultural history of Russia” (“It is not being reprinted! buy it before it disappears!!” – how could he know, that these words trigger in me an almost pavlovian urge to GET HOLD of the book?!).

When Mein Mann and I visited the Prague invasion exhibition at PdE last winter, I stacked up Sandor Marai’s “Liberation”. “The angels of Grozny” by Asne Seierstad was bought last summer, and is close to countdown to reading.

But I will start with Anna Politkovskaja’s articles. I do not know why, but living in Italy I crave to read words by COURAGEOUS JOURNALISTS…

June 2008 – June 2009: commuting monthly to Berlin

STASILAND by Anna Funder


Stasiland, an incredible book by Anna Funder. The italian translation is very good, pity only for the title “C’era una volta la DDR”, which sounds a bit silly, actually.

Funder starts in a casual way to ask people how things were during the DDR years, and she ends up conducting a very intriguing reportage.

Beyond stereotypes and beyond Ostalgie, “between Kafka and Monty Python” Funder contacts victims of the regime and former Stasi officers, Mitarbeiters and talking heads. She visits the places were citizens were detained and subject to police interrogations. She smells the stale air of these rooms, where the odour of terrified people, dossiers, senile power and outright paranoia still lingers.

OST BERLIN – LEBEN VOR DER MAUER by Harald Hauswald, Lutz Rathenow

cimg0239Where did I buy this book? Oh yes! At the GeschichtWerkstatt in Schöneberg. A poetic book about the life before the Wall came down. Black and white photos. Habits of another world. “Someone is looking for someone else, has misplaced the address, just knows the street. Writes”contact me!” to the person they’re looking for,, guesses the building number, adds the sender’s name. Days later the card returns with a note from the postman: “Looked everyhwere, can’t be found, looking for him myself. Does he owe you too?” – More books on the Wall in the Berlin Wall section….those that I still have to buy and read…

BERLINO by Alessandra Montrucchio


Apart from a leit-motiv common among italian authors writing about “abroad” (they seem unable to walk with dignity under the rain and to live without a bidet at arm’s lenght) the book is interesting and quite captivating.

The author travelled frequently to Berlin from before-Wende times to date, working in Berlin and living part-time in town. The description of the Zeitgeist in Berlin is authentic, and if you are interested in the various neighbourhoods (and the differences among SO36 and SO61) it’s an enjoyable book, now with Our Friend in Moabit.



Here it goes, the glorious Rathaus Schöneberg U-bahn-station-with-a-lake! I found also this little Kiez guide at the GeschichtWerkstatt…handy and useful, it tells you more than any Lonely Planet about Rote Insel, Marlene Dietrich and the architecture of our area…


Wladimir Kaminer is the first author who comes to mind in this very random list of books. He’s russian and that makes him even more interesting! Witzig with a surreal flavour.

Here you see RUSSENDISKO and BERLIN EXPRESS in italian version published by Guanda, whereas still going through SCHOENHAUSER ALLEE in german version…eh eh a tougher cookie!

His LA CUCINA TOTALITARIA – KUCHE TOTALITAR winks to Berlin when discussing the berliner take on russian cooking. Books bought at the Herder bookstore in Rome.

THE GOOD GERMAN by Joseph Kanon (book and movie)

Book bought in Yale on a very cold evening. The Soderbergh movie was indeed dramatic, with all that black and white (lots of black), and period film-making techniques. But the book is still the book. It is very evocative, and also from the literary point of view it is quite interesting. Definitely worth reading twice.

A SILENT FLAME by Philip Kerr

Book bought in Rome at Feltro, to be honest, I was totally captured by the cover. But the book is up to expectations: original and a real page-turner. The continuous back and forth between Berlin 1932 and Buenos Aires 1950 is captivating. Yes, it’s a nazi-hunt book, but it’s a polar or poliziesco, above all.


Purchased at Ye Old Lady’s Little Book Store in our Kiez in Rome. Set in the same months of The Good German, it’s a child’s point of view of the everyday’s life in Berlin 1945. Even though I didn’t like the writer’s style, the book is great, giving us the child’s innocent cum matter-of-fact approach to surviving among ruins. In spite of the style, I am curious to read the other books by the same author.


Book bought at Feltro while looking (and not finding) Christopher Isherwood’s production. So, another random encounter. Interesting time-span: from just-before-the-fall-of-the-wall to just after. In a nutshell, it’s a Bildungsroman. The plot is a bit slow even if the idea behind the coup de theatre is indeed good (blame it on the translation? If I ever read it in German I will come back on this).

What I found fantastic is the main character’s stream of consciouness and the twists and bends between what he would like to say and what he eventually speaks out. There is a reference to the May Kreuzberg riots, which still exist nowadays. Compare and contrast.


I looooove Bollati Boringhieri, such a chic and niche publisher. There’s another BB book on the shelf for my Fall reading…but let’s procede with order. I bought this book in Lugano at the fantastic Libreria Melisa. If you like travel books and travel literature, that’s the bookstore to get lost in.

Eight short stories like snapshots of the city and the writer’s moments of being, as old V.Woolf would say. From the literary point of view it’s my favourite (credits also go to the translator!). No clichés in this book, but an intense and personal take on the city, at different moments in history and in her life. Precious book. Very intimate, read it in your favourite reading top location..bow-window, dormeuse, shade of your favourite tree, diwan, with a glass of your favourite something.


Another random encounter…book bought at Union Square’s B&N while waiting for a friend. Ok, it’s a beautifully constructed novel in the same family of numbers 2) and 3), ie you can feel the very anglo and very marketing-oriented aftertaste. Yet, it’s a good book.

Board on a train in Central Europe, make yourself comfortable and dive in. It’s set mainly in Breslau, Warsaw, Zurich and Paris, it has very little to do with Berlin. Back in 1937. Its quintessentially Central-European railway setting makes it the perfect companion for an ICE rail journey to Berlin. It has you reaching for your maps and calculating how long it takes to go to the polish border when you get there. Very nice atmospheres, a spy-story of course, the main character is definitely fascinating.


Another Lugano purchase (but I suspect that the paperback edition available at KaDeWe would have been much cheaper…). Ok, one of those books on cheap stuff which are not cheap and make you a tad poorer and the make the authors a bit richer.

Having said that, if you definitely want to venture to Slubice for that polish quick trip from Berlin, read the instructions here. There’s a chapter on Schwarzfahren, yet I found more interesting the FirstWeTakeBerlin reportage on this matter…If you collect guides, it’s a tasty little one, an Amuse Gueule…

E’ ORIENTE by Paolo Rumiz

Bought at Feltro in Rome the day after it came out hot from the presses, so…five years ago! There is a chapter about Berlin and yes, there are more trains and even more train stations.

It was interesting to read it again now. You can feel that Berlin has changed since 2003! Gone is the grandeur a bit postiche for this city. I do believe it and I will say it again…Berlin ages beautifully, gone is the fizzyness, it’s more full-bodied now. But I will be more specific in the blog. And there’s more Rumiz on the bookshelf in Rome…

TIPICO TEDESCO – QUANTO TEDESCHI SONO I TEDESCHI? by Hermann Bausinger (Typisch deutsch. Wie deutsch sind die Deutschen?)

It’s an essay, not a funny book. As a Triestiner I am very familiar with the Gemuetlichkeit feeling, the most fascinating german word…especially when the bora blows and whistles outside and the Adriatic has the color of lead. This is a book for bad weather, indoor reading. There is also an interesting parallel between italians and germans with relation to the “outdoors/indoors” sense of well-being. Well, you have to read it, it’s not easy to explain it.

If you are in for something ironic, tune in a bit of multimedia and head for DeutscheWelle Michael Wigge’s “The truth about Germany”…it is interesting to compare the “clubs” episode with the book’s “three germans, one club” chapter.

I wonder if a specular book on italians exist. I mean, an essay, not some trito e ritrito Severgnini. What I am sure of, there’s no one like an italian Michael Wigge. That’s a pity. It would make Italy a somewhat more mature country. But then, there’s nothing like Deutsche Welle in Italy. It’s sad we italians miss totally the concept of Weltanschauung, (what’s worst, we miss totally also the very trivial notion of Tagesschau). Ok, enough for italian media? no…look at the next one.


There are better ways to spend Eur 17 and being “crazy about Berlin”.

a) at the KaDeWe 5th floor fish counter with the friendly cook with the big moustache, you can have a nice salad followed by Laksforelle and downed with a glass of Riesling on a window-shopping saturday lunchtime…

b) in late august, Pfifferlinge and Chicken special of the day (with riesling) in a fancy yet laid-back reastaurant in Schoeneberg…

c) In Prenzlauerberg it’s doner for 4, and Afrikola, and hop! on the bikes!

d) In Turmstrasse, a Syrian treat for 4 with sweet tea, after a safari exploration of Charlottenburg…

But nooo, I was a curious monkey and I had to buy this book (at Feltro), even if I knew very well who the author was…A guy from Rai international, ie the impossibly parochial and absolute ridiculous “italian international tv”.

Well, don’t buy this book. I can lend you mine, if you are a curious monkey too. Buy the essay at number 10) or download Michael Wigge. Or any combination of them. They come in cheaper, and you have more value for money. And they will remain timeless or “so 2007” without feeling stale and passe’ like this rechauffe’ “instant book”.

BERLINER NACHT TAXE by Michael Kessler

More TV. German TV. Kessler. Someone said Kesslers? Hang on, it’s not a bio by the soubrettes’ nephew, it’s a book stemming from the backstage of a rbb TV show.

I discovered and unexpectedly bought it in a nice bookstore on a nice street in Schoeneberg, Chatwin in Goltzstrasse. Boy, the shopkeepers had eine schlechte Laune! Since they were not so friendly, the ultimate revenge: credit card payment. Yet the bookstore is well stocked, they had also a book from Monika Maron that I fancied.

I found Berliner Nacht Taxe on the Berlin shelf, and between a nice, red book on Berlin by Kafka and this one…I decided it was more practical to rub away the rust from my Deutsch with this “instant book”.

I liked its concept. The taxi driver asks stories to his passengers, who in turn travel umsonst, ie for free. Very interesting for Kiez explorers of A flat in Berlin, because the book takes your across your mental Falke folding map.

I used to do something specular in Rome when I (still) used to take cabs. I would ask the cab driver to recall his weirdest rides. Now to take a taxi in Rome is both a luxurious and controversial decision, since it costs Eur 5.80 only for sitting in it. For Eur 9.90, travel with the U-bahn and buy Kessler’s book and check the differences between the accents in Hannover and in Mainz (or Meenz).

A WOMAN IN BERLIN by ANONYMOUS (Eine Frau in Berlin – Anonyma)

One of the first serious books I purchased, at 11, was Anna Frank’s Diary. I used to borrow books at the school’s library, but this one, I wanted to own it in order be able to re-read it in any moment. I remember the claustrophobic atmosphere, Miep Gies, the complex relations with the neighbours and Peter’s kiss.

Thirty years later I am reading the diary of another woman during the war. Anonyma’s “Eine Frau in Berlin”.


Nobody should read this book at 11, but every student before its Matura should read it. We do have plenty of books and films on those terrible years, yet the majority are descriptions written by men. The terrible experiences endured by civilians, in all wars, are very frequently recorded by men as well.

These are the diaries of a woman in Berlin in the spring of 1945. But they could be diaries of former Yugoslavia’s women. Or Darfur’s. Or Chinese during the japanese invasion. Or Russian before 1945. Or Armenian, or Italian, and the list is sadly far from being complete.

I did not see the movie presented at the Toronto Film Festival, on which many bloggers have written extensive comments. But I did see De Sica’s La Ciociara.


Last week on my way back from Berlin I’ve read the book in the train, in its impressive english translation by Philip Boehm.

The way Anonyma, a journalists in her 30s, describes the daily life of women during the Berlin siege tells more than many history books. The everyday fight for food, and the routines necessary for survival (during raids duvets had to be avoided – it would be impossible to remove feathers from non-fatal wounds) is conveyed with an almost photographic rendu.

But there’s more to it, compared with La Ciociara. Beyond the human tragedy, the same of Cesira and her teenage daughter (or rather, of all the real women, not characters, who inspired Moravia’s novel), Anonyma is also a journalist. She manages to somehow remove – in order to survive – what she’s going through.

Her notes scribbled every day are way to keep her alive, and to protect her dignity. She describes the tribal behaviour arising among a group of neighbours, the social microcosm of a single street. She profiles psychologically the Russian officers and their soldiers, she depicts for us the variety of their social and cultural profiles. Friendship and mutual help among women who endured the same fate emerges as the only way forward.

More recently the issue of rape during war time has been dealt with in many books, from Helga Schneider’s to Joseph Kannon’s, to Anthony Beevor’s “Berlin 1945”. I found these accounts disturbing compared with Anonyma’s diary. “They” are talking about other people’s bodies and souls. She describes what happened to her: she has the right to describe it, to remember it to us, to judge and to condemn those who did it but also those who did nothing to avoid it.

Still, she never feels like a victim, even she is one. She fights back, and her book keeps fighting now.


the book is published in Italy by Einaudi


The best Berlin guide for those who really love discovering cities, doing urban trekking, understanding how the city developed. More details on this book on our other blog, at this page.

books to be enjoyed on the sofa in Rome…(or when on the bus for a while!)

IL ROGO DI BERLINO by Helga Schneider


Helga Schneider digs in her childhood’s memories for this account of the 1945 events in Berlin. The perspective of a child, even if in retrospective, makes you imagine what it means to be a civilian – and a child – during a war.

Gaza, Darfur, Afghanistan, Iraq, Zimbabwe, Congo: we don’t need to go back in time to 1945 to imagine what it means.

LA RAGAZZA DI SETA ARTIFICIALE by Irmgard Keun (Das kunstseidliche Maechen)

Winter days…old movies and good novels. How many times did I repeat Holly Golightly’s words when watching at Breakfast at Tiffany? I know it by heart…both the italian and the original version!

At the Herder German Bookstore I discovered a gem the other day…”La ragazza di seta artificiale” by Irmgard Keun  “Die kunstseidene Maedchen” – published by FORUM 2008, from Udine and with the Universita’ degli Studi di Udine (bravi!).


Doris was there before Holly arrived…theater extra and demi-mondaine, she gets money for powdering her nose, she “gets” shoes and silk blouses…Yet, everything is different. It’s not NYC and the 60s but Berlin and the 30s. The apartments where she happens to be resident range from old Prussia to “full of dentist lamps” brand new Bauhaus.

Holly has just champagne in the fridge and eats breakfast from a brown bag on Fifth. Doris dreams about Schnitzel when men offer her cognac and 4 pfenning cigarettes. New York cannot stand the competition with Berlin on ambiguity.

But both are “ambitious”, “must have a career”, “be a star”.

Do not miss this fabulous novel. Most of all for Doris’s view on men. It’s Sex and the City  70 years earlier. Sex und die Stadt.

I CANI E I LUPI by Irene Nemirovskij (Les Chiens et les Loups)

I didn’t read Suite francaise even if I picked it up in bookstores quite often. So I start my reading of Nemirovskij’s novels from this one…maybe the gorgeous enigmatic elegant lady portrayed by Man Ray on the cover y est pour quelque chose? Sofa reading at first glance.cimg0040

The story starts in 1914’s Kiev and ends just before WWII in Paris. I have the impression that these characters could be the same described by Patrick Modiano...emigres with a complicated past, always on the brink between financial success and outright poverty.

Also, the extreme banking adventures, the bankrupt governments make this novel feel very in tune with our times.

The writing is precious, still, breath-taking. And I like the word closing the novel.


You read this book and you have a strange feeling of deja vu. Oh yes. It reminds you of the news you read on the newspaper this morning. At least, in the italian press.

Good book de chevet – definitely keeps you awake. Plus having your historical atlas at hand can be useful.

MAUS by Art Spiegelman

I read them many years ago, having discovered them at my parents’. Now reprinted as a single book instead of two, it was a good occasion to re-read MAUS and own my own copy. I did not remember old Vladek’s temper…

This is definitely a book for the bus. A statement you want to make, in a moment in which on the bus comments are unleashed, which a couple of years ago nobody would dare to do. Plain racist ones, I mean.

LA MISURA DEL MONDO – by Daniel Kehlmann (Die Vermessung der Welt)

Back and forth between the biographies “romanzate” of Humboldt and Gauss. Truly enjoyable, especially the encounter of the two peculiar men in Berlin in 1828.

Nice for the sofa, and even nicer with a bedspread for these chilly autumn late afternoons…or a lazy cat on your lap…nevertheless, we will return to our friend G. this book that we borrowed from HIS bookshelf, a gift from our common friend C. …books tell stories of friendship…that’s why they are such magic objects…

LE CITTA DIVISE i Balcani e la cittadinanza tra nazionalismo e cosmopolitismo  – by Gian Matteo Apuzzo

I had to have it! Reading it now… so, I can’t comment on it yet, but I’ll write about it soon!

BERLINO – NUOVE INCHIESTE DI JAN KARTA 1935/1937 by Roberto dal Pra’ and Rodolfo Torti

A spy-story cum detective-story set in Berlin and even more, set on trains in Central Europe!


10 Responses to “bookshelf in Berlin”

  1. November 20, 2009 at 18:06

    Un blog veramente interessante. Come patito delle copertine l’ho veramente apprezzato.

  2. November 20, 2009 at 18:08

    Dimenticavo, Maus è senza dubbio uno dei libri più importanti e coinvolgenti che abbia mai letto. Non so quanto sia conosciuto in Italia dal grande pubblico, ma dovrebbe senza dubbio venir diffuso nelle scuole.

  3. 3 stripedcat
    November 20, 2009 at 21:34

    ciao lesitaliens!
    grazie per i commenti, ne ricevo di simili dalle persone che si sfogliano gli originali quando stanno a http://1920inberlin.wordpress.com

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