Dan Sandman

24: Alone in Berlin by Hans Falada

In Books, Fiction on 13/06/2014 at 12:00 pm

Alone in Berlin by Hans FalladaFirst published in 1947 by a German writer, shortly after Hitler was found dead in his secret Berlin bunker, this brave fiction is about Nazi atrocities and the grim plights of ordinary people who resisted the Fuehrer. Men and woman like Otto Quangel and his wife Anna, the couple who drop postcards around the city with clear messages against the powers that be. One the hard working furniture factory foreman, the other the grieving mother of a war fallen son. With the cool expertise of a Dickens or a Dostoevsky, somehow Hans Fallada managed to create characters and situations that bring into question the society within which he lived.

But the basis for Alone in Berlin is factual evidence, in particular the original Gustapo files of Elise and Otto Hampel. As it states in this edition, Fallada was given the idea for the story by a poet friend, who handed him those original wartime documents. Independently, the case file, which includes the real couples’ often slogan driven postcards –  ‘Hitler’s war is the worker’s death!’ – makes for interesting reading from an historical perspective. However, the skill of the novelist is often to cleverly twist the facts into fiction, using them as a platform for original ideas. This is certainly something which Fallada was able to do whilst he was forming his fantastically thrilling story.

I think Fallada also brought his own experiences to his work. He lived in Berlin during the war, he spent much of his time suffering from various addictions – drinking, morphine, sleeping pills – and he spent several spells in prison during his lifetime, one of which the Nazis had enforced just before he wrote this book. Although I think some of the plot driven elements of this book are entirely imaginative, the central characters were probably based on real people; each plot has been purposefully orchestrated, each character has been specifically chosen. The total effect is to form an interconnected view of a city and its people during turbulent times.

It is amazing to think that – according to the notes in this edition – Fallada completed such an ambitious project in only twenty-four days. It is the sort of book that would be great to talk about with friends, perhaps over a glass of schnapps and a bratwurst. The war is always a hot topic and reading fiction is a brilliant way to find out more about it. History books can often be monotonous, sometimes all history needs is a creative spark to make it exciting. Having been introduced to wartime Berlin in such an exciting way, next time my dad is watching Nazi Hunters, broadcast by TV channel Yesterday, I am now ten times more likely to join in.

Reading brings people together in understanding.

  1. I have the worst time with novels based during the Third Reich. I still haven’t gotten the nerve to start Sophie’s Choice or even buy Schindler’s Ark/List, but this sounds intriguing. I think I’ll add it to the list! Thank you for the review 🙂

    • Yes, these sorts of books can often be a bit harrowing, but this one is surprisingly entertaining and even has some funny bits in it. Glad to know it’s been put on the list! My pleasure 🙂

  2. I’ve always enjoyed reading books about WWII. I’m not a fan of concentration camp books, however, but I do like reading heroic stories about how the allies won the war in Europe. This sounds interesting and your review seems fair and nicely put together. I may actually pick up a copy once I’m completed with my own reading goals for the year. Great writeup!

    • Thanks Jack! If you like WWII stories, this certainly is one of the best I have come across, glad you are thinking of picking it up. It was recommended to me by two friends and has a strong story. Enjoy and thanks again. 🙂

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