On 5th November, I was lucky enough to win a copy of Berlin, a new volume in the City-Lit series of Oxygen Books via Me And My Big Mouth, otherwise known as Scott Pack.
I’d like to blame the post (mail) for my tardiness, but actually the book arrived quite quickly and it’s taken me until now to finish it. My excuse? Well, this is no novel. At no point did I feel compelled to continue reading to find out what happens next. It’s also not a book of short stories, in which the satisfaction of the conclusion of one story provides the impetus to start the next. And yet, I found plenty to interest me.
The book is a series of extracts that describe or take place in Berlin, a city with a varied and fascinating history. The extracts, chosen by editors Heather Reyes and Katy Derbyshire, are all excellently written and provide vivid insights into this city that I’ve never seen, but have certainly heard about.
My first memory was when, as a young child, I received a postcard from my brother. It showed a photo of the border and a sign that began with “WARNING” in large letters. At the time, I didn’t know about Jerusalem, where I now live and its similar border stopping Jews from visiting the Western Wall just as East Germans – East Berliners in particular – were forbidden to visit their family and friends in the West.
For me, the most interesting parts of the book tell of the times before, during and after the Second World War, as well as life in the German Democratic Republic. I read these sections with fascination and also learned some interesting facts. Heinrich Heine predicted the burning of books, of which his own books fell victim. In the GDR, there was one Stasi agent or informer for every sixty-three people.
There are typos, but not many, and none that I couldn’t fathom.
In short, this is one of (in the words of The Bookseller), “An inviting new series of travel guides which collects some of the best writing on European cities to give a real flavour of the place,” and it’s definitely worth a read.