Friday, 14 March 2014

Goodbye to Berlin - Christopher Isherwood



One of those books I thought I ought to read.  Now I have, I'm glad I did.  The stage musical and film "Caberet" was based on parts of this book.

Isherwood lived in Berlin for four years from 1928, and was certainly in the right place to observe the changes in Germany at that time.  It's rather oddly put together as it was to be part of a grand novel about pre-Hitler Berlin which never materialised: and in Isherwood's own  words, this little book is made up of "..... short, loosely connected sequence of diaries and sketches".  If you want to know more of Berlin particularly in the years before Hitler came to power, you might find a few hours in the company of this book refreshingly different - although ultimately depressing with the gift of hindsight.  Divided into six sections, you could choose to read them as 6 short stories; I just ploughed straight through and he was right about the loosely connected sequences.  I always question how the majority of Germans fell under Hitler's spell, and this short book gave me some things to consider about that question.  At one of the lodging houses described here, his landlady has a large apartment in Berlin, but by 1930 has fallen on such hard times that she rents out every available space and sleeps on a couch behind a screen in her own living room.  He also lodges for a time with a family who just have nothing at all, and live in filth and poverty.  Of course, parts of other large cities were like this, and around the world this kind of poverty still exists ...... but if someone comes along and says follow me and I will right the wrongs of the past, might you not follow?  Because Isherwood is English, his view of Berlin is rather different, and making his meagre living as an English teacher, he observes life, and people.