RECOMMEND READINGBook Corner

Mr. Norris Changes Trains – Christopher Isherwood (1935)

Mr. Norris is a mysterious, complicated, slightly ridiculous character. He starts a close friendship with the English teacher William Bradshaw, the story’s narrator, and Mr. Norris’s observer. It is a shameless, entertaining story about the day and night life in 1930s Berlin. In the author’s own words: The “‘wickedness’ of Berlin’s night-life was of the most pitiful kind; the kisses and embraces, as always, had price-tags attached to them, but here the prices were drastically reduced in the cut-throat competition of an overcrowded market.”

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Goodbye to Berlin – Christopher Isherwood (1939)

With his heart-breaking short stories, young writer Christopher describes his last days in 1930s Berlin, pre-Nazi Germany, and the people he met. It is a marvellous farewell to the vanished city, to the nightlife of Berlin, cabaret, and his friends in this city. Frl. Schroeder, the caring landlady; Sally Bowles, the cabaret singer; Natalia Landaue, the Jewish heiress; Peter and Otto, the gay couple – these are just some of the figures who make up this magnificently complex tapestry of Weimar Berlin.

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A Legacy – Sybille Bedford (1956)

German-born English writer, Sybille Bedford, reveals her polyphonic narrative voice in her first literary work, published in 1956. Set across the 19th and 20th centuries, her novel offers a vivid picture of chasms opened by the emerging social forces at the turn of the century, encroaching upon and threatening the stability of tradition.On the one hand, a monolithic, Jewish, Berlin family; on the other, a placid, Catholic family from Baden. How will they manage to cope with each other? Will they be able to find a common ground and overcome each other’s ingrained Weltanschauungen?

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The Spy Who Came in From the Cold – John Le Carré (1963)

Alec Leamas finds himself confronted with a city which becomes the embodiment of a shattered and fragmentary existence – divided Berlin, a condensed microcosm of the Cold War geopolitical plots. Through human folly, nothing is what it seems – rather its opposite. A spy story shedding a light on the internal machinations and accompanying brutality of the secret services on both sides of the Wall.

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When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit – Judith Kerr (1971)

Berlin seen, experienced and perceived through the eyes of nine-year-old Anna.  She must flee home and embark with her family on a perilous trip to escape Nazi persecution. During the journey, Berlin becomes a place of the mind rather than a real space. In this imaginary city, refugee Anna finds comfort by recalling the cosy, homely memories of her life before the Nazi rise to power.

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Bombs on Aunt Dainty – Judith Kerr (1975)

Anna is now a young teenager who has settled down – physically, if not emotionally – in London during WWII. Amidst her internal discombobulation – mirroring the external debris and devastation surrounding her – and her struggle to fit in, Berlin comes to the fore as a leitmotif in the everyday surroundings which, ultimately, offers Anna a framework through which she can navigate her new life in the English capital.

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A Small Person Far Away – Judith Kerr (1978)

The third part of Anna’s journey portrays her one-week trip back to Berlin, years after having been severed from her childhood life in the German capital. This encounter between Berlin and Anna, both profoundly altered in the post-WWII period, portrays the painful recognition that estrangement is what now characterises the place that Anna used to call home.

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Berlin Game – Len Deighton (1983)

Bernard Samson has been assigned the task of rescuing the best source the Intelligence Department has ever had. A treacherous unfolding across liminal borders, be it the London/Berlin axis, the Berlin East/West demarcation line, or the personal and public spheres. This first episode of the spy story trilogy Game, Set & Match will plunge the reader into the middle of Cold War Berlin, where past and present, historical and personal memories haunt the mind of the protagonist, thereby revealing the profound impact of geopolitical games on the lives of the individuals.

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Zoo Station: Adventures in East and West Berlin – Ian Walker (1987)

“Zoo Station” is yet another interesting book about Cold War Berlin. With his friends from both the East and the West, Walker explores Berlin, trying to understand in which kind of city life is better: communist or capitalist? Different political systems, distinctive lifestyles, new rules for everyday life. He befriends many people, but his life slowly falls apart. A mini journey between the two Berlins and their distinct realities.

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Surrogate City – Hugo Hamilton (1990)

There are numerous narrative portrayals of Berlin and its Wall, yet Hugo Hamilton’s 1990 novel offers a perspective which remains captivating through the decades. The novel tells the story of migrants living in West Berlin in the ‘70s and depicts their search for a surrogate home and for an identity in this highly contested, fragmentary space. Just like the city cannot exist as a whole until it confronts its own internal division and “otherness”, so too these characters renegotiate their identity through the encounter with alterity, thereby crossing a border – be it a tangible or a metaphysical one. So much so, that Berlin becomes the reflection of the human lives unfolding in it and vice versa.


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Bowie in Berlin: A New Career in a New Town – Thomas Jerome Seabrook (2008)

One of the most prominent musicians of the 20th century, David Bowie has been a source of inspiration for many works. This biographic book shows us Bowie’s life in West Berlin during the Cold War years. It is a great option to learn about his extravagant lifestyle, his musical career, but most importantly, about Berlin through his own eyes. This book also provides readers with some rare photos of Bowie, and demonstrates how those famous songs were written. The period covered some of the most productive years of his profession: three classic albums released – “Low”, “Heroes”, and “Lodger”, and a leading role in a movie, “Just A Gigolo”.

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Escape from Berlin – Irene N. Watts (2013)

With its three stories, Goodbye Marianne, Remember Me, and Finding Sophie, this semi-biographic book demonstrates to us how the life of a little girl changes after the Kindertransport. The main protagonist, Marianne Kohn, recounts living in Berlin in 1938 as a young Jewish girl, under the rule of the National Socialists. After coming to Britain as one of the “lucky” children of the Kindetransport, Marianne finds herself having to ensure her own survival. Throughout the years, the central question remains: where does she belong? The book reveals the realities of the Hitler regime, the Kindertransport, and life from the eyes of a seven-year-old girl.

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The Spring of Kasper Meier – Ben Fergusson (2014)

1946. Berlin. The war is over but not for the individuals who now have to fight for survival amidst rubble, shortages, occupying forces and their political intrigues. Kasper and Eva, deeply entangled in a mysterious plot, desperately attempt to reconstruct their shattered existences while surrounded by deception and chaos. Right in the middle of this desolate and fragmentary Berlin, somehow, human compassion also rises.

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Berlin: Imagine a City – Rory MacLean (2014)

A historical portrayal of Berlin, a city which becomes a dense, multi layered signifier in this half historical, half novelistic work by British-Canadian historian Rory MacLean. The book retraces the city’s 20th Century history by looking primarily at the people who lived in it. A historical narrative is thereby turned into a narration of human actions, whose traces are ingrained in this utterly controversial city.

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The Hiding Game – Naomi Wood (2019)

Famous English painter Paul Brickman describes his life beginning from 1922. He recounts his memories of Germany’s Bauhaus art school, remembers his friends, his beautiful love Charlotte, and a dangerous conflict because of this love. In the tumultuous German political environment, marked by rise to power of the National Socialists, the art school falls apart. Many years into the future, Paul decides to put an end to his silence.

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The Man Who Saw Everything – Deborah Levy (2019)

The story of the book focused on young historian Saul Adler, who, in 1988, is trying to do research in East Berlin and write an essay about the German Democratic Republic.  Throughout the novel, Saul moves back and forth between East Berlin and London. However, a car accident in Abbey Road, London, changes his life. This engaging book shows us what we see and what we fail to see, by touching on themes like beauty, love, fear, or history.

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