Friday, April 27, 2007

Goodbye to Berlin - post II (part two)

“The trams are going up and down the Kleistrasse, just as usual, They, and the people on the pavement, and the tea-cosy dome of the Nollendorfplatz station have an air of curious familiarity, or striking resemblance to something one remembers as normal and pleasant in the past – like a very good photograph.
No. Even now I can’t altogether believe that any of this has really happened…”

Bullet points between pages 139 – 204

Again it is simpler to break the highlights down into the respective chapters

The Landauers
* Following a comment Christopher hears about the owners of the Landauer department store that is anti-Jewish he is determined to make their acquaintance and starts to visit their home and makes friends with the 18-year-old daughter

* But an odd relationship develops with the nephew of the owners of the store Bernhard who seems to sum up the vulnerability of the Jews that are being targeted by the Nazis and at one point he shows Christopher a death threat he has received

* In the end the Landauer daughter and mother seek refugee in Paris and are finally followed by the father after Bernhard, a solitary man unable to relate to the political events around him, has been murdered by the authorities

* Throughout the story there is a mixture of sympathy, unbelief at the lack of interest and anger shown by Bernhard and finally great regret that they were targets of the black and brown shirted Nazi thugs

A Berlin Diary (Winter 1932-3)
* This is written very much as a diary and records the slide into Hitler’s takeover with the increasing violence of his henchmen and the unquestioned violence directed at the Jews

* One particular passage about a boxing match that is rigged is a particularly powerful observation of just how easily the Germans could be dragged along by Hitler:

“The audience took the fights dead seriously, shouting encouragement to the fighters, and even quarrelling and betting amongst themselves on the results. Yet nearly all of them had been in the tent as long as I had, and stayed on after I had left. The political moral is certainly depressing: these people could be made to believe in anybody or anything.”

* The reports of intimidation and violence are coupled with the depressing way people that Christopher has known like his former landlady start to eulogise about Hitler and start to revise everything that have believed in

* The final contacts Christopher makes in the city are involved with the communist movement, which is more fun and games than real political protest, but as the tension rises these same actors are used by the Nazi’s for their own purposes

“I am thinking of Rudi in hiss absurd Russian blouse. Rudi’s make believe, story-book game has become earnest; the Nazis will play it with him. The Nazis won’t laugh at him; they’ll take him on trust for what he pretended to be. Perhaps at this very moment Rudi is being tortured to death.”

Historians have always wondered how and why a madman could drag a civilised nation into the mire. What Isherwood shows is that it’s possible to laugh off the threat until it is too late and the moral has to be that if you want to stop history repeating itself then you have to get out there and shout down tyranny before it gets its hands on power.

A full review will follow shortly…

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