‘Here in Berlin’ by Cristina Garcia – A Human Portrait of a City

 

‘Here in Berlin’ by Cristina Garcia   (2017) – 204 pages

 

The story of a city is the story of all the people who lived there.

Cristina Garcia is a Cuban American, and she went to Berlin, Germany to collect stories from Berliners and retell them.  In short vignettes of three to seven pages we get spirited scenes from Berlin’s past told through many distinct voices.

It must be kept in mind that all these stories of Berlin are fiction, enhanced for our reading pleasure, but like all good fiction they have the ring of truth.

  “She’d come to Berlin for stories, and the city had been more than generous.”

In many of these short monologues our author is addressed as Dear Visitor which lends them a certain charm.

“Dear Visitor, how can I convey to you the extent of the city’s ruin.  From the delusional heights of the so-called master race, we were reduced to living like rats in the rubble.  Our once great capital had become a veritable necropolis.”    

 Certainly brutalities were committed against the Berliners and the other Germans at the end of World War II, but nobody in the rest of the world cared after all the atrocities that the Nazis committed.  Most considered it justice.  One can’t help but believe that Berliners brought this all upon themselves with their devotion to Hitler and the Nazis.

“Thousands of Germans committed suicide just after the war – survivors who’d lost loved ones in the bombings, women and girls gang-raped by Russian soldiers.  I pictured river algae draping these girls’ skulls, the sallow cheeks, the perch pecking at their lifeless eyes.”

In one of the stories a zookeeper remembers that by the end of World War II, only 91 of 3,715 animals at the Berlin Zoo had survived. In another story a man recalls the time of the Nazis:

“Let me ask you something.  Have you ever seen a man beaten to death? No? Ah, then you are lucky, very lucky indeed.” 

I found the stories in ‘Here in Berlin’ to be lively and moving, a fitting tribute to the city of Berlin which has been through so much.

When I was in college I took several classes in German, and one of my instructors had lived in Germany for a few years.  The one word he especially wanted us to learn was “Gemütlichkeit”.  “Gemütlichkeit” is a state of warmth, friendliness, and good cheer that was supposedly unique to the German culture.  However Hitler and the Nazis destroyed any sense of a good feeling toward the German people.  The stories in ‘Here in Berlin’ do convey a warmth even when they are relating the terrible events associated with World War II.  Here in the United States, German beer fests are becoming quite popular events.  There is a chance that at some future time the German people will again be associated with “Gemütlichkeit”.

“As for Hitler’s bust, we dug a pit in the garden, dropped the bronze in the bottom and used it as a latrine.”

 

Grade:   A+   

 

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2 responses to this post.

  1. A high grade from you, Tony!:) I do like Garcia and this sounds very interesting indeed.

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    Reply

    • Hi Kat,
      ‘Here in Berlin’ is one of those I always looked forward to the next time I would get to read it. Too many novels eventually become a slog to get through.

      Like

      Reply

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