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Book Reviews German Matters politics

Elise Reifenberg (aka Gabriele Tergit)

I am currently reading a book about a doomed society on the brink of Fascism. Where publicity takes the trivial and ephemeral and promotes it as serious journalism. Set in a city where it is important to be seen in the right places. A society where there is a strong underlying current of racism. A place where a spectacle is required every evening to entertain manual workers, secretaries and shopkeepers. A city where greed and cheap, unreliable information dominates the public space. This could be London; this could be today.

In fact this is Berlin in 1930 where a man whose name roughly translates as Cheeseburger sings sickly romantic songs and becomes the equivalent of a Tik Tok celebrity – reports about him soon dominat the front pages of the city’s many newspapers and journals. Such is Käsebier Takes Berlin, a demanding book ably translated from the German by Sophie Duvernoy. (You can improve your knowledge of Berlin Argot at https://www.fluentu.com/blog/german/berlin-slang/)

Not the least interesting aspect of this novel (early metrication??) are the cultural references to be found in the notes- from Schiller to Fontane including scenes of the famous, louche “Romanisches” cafe. If you enjoyed the recent series on KaDeWe on BBC you will enjoy this spectacle of the frantic Weimar period.

Then there is the evocative smell of newspapers hot off the press. Journalists who become frustrated by sub-editors who cut their best phrases and compositors who have a scarcely veiled contempt for content as long as it fits elegantly on the front page.

Finally Berlin itself as it was in the pre-war period is touched upon; the Biergartens beside the Spree, the absurd architecture of prosperous flats and yet the strange variations in property prices. This latter caused by insecurities in the currency together with the speculations of dodgy developers. This too gives Tergit’s Weimar novel contemporary relevance.