Tag Archives: freedom

… The banality of good – a review of ‘Alone in Berlin’ …

 

For me, Edward Munch’s painting  –  – The Scream —  sums up the fear of the unknown, and by implication, the fear of the feminine principle – a fear that spurns men towards controlling nature.

Hans Fallada’s novel, Jeder stirbt für sich allein’ (Everyone dies alone,) first came to my attention through its publication in English, ‘Alone in Berlin,’ a translation that was delayed by 60 years. The book has been sitting on my shelf as a ‘must read’ for a long while. Burdened by regressive small-mindedness and divisions around the world, I finally tackled ‘Alone in Berlin,’ aware that it would be a grim read, having been described as a testament to the darkest years of the 20th century from the point of view and experience of ordinary people.

Resistance to the Nazi regime by individuals had no news value after the war. Yet such stories provide the most poignant insights into what it is like to oppose a state under a dictatorship. As such, this book, written raw and in haste eighteen month after the defeat of Nazism, offers a high alert to simple solutions for social problems. The author, Hans Fallada, aka Rudolf Ditzen, died before this last of his works was published in 1947.

The urgency behind the writing is palpable. The players, sketched with harsh strokes, embody the full range of human nature – the capacity for compassion, kindness, complacency, stupidity, meanness, stubbornness, false pride, envy, hate, and resentment, fear, fanaticism and vengeance tipping into the most depraved cruelty.

Very quickly the dread of being caught in the nightmarish system of a totalitarian state jumps at the reader. While the ghostly despot drifts in the background, his control is shown through the dynamic interactions of ordinary citizens – be they power-hungry officers, opportunists, cunning manipulators, cowards, reticent objectors or unsung heroes. Resistance carried the threat of death and seemed futile.

The anguish conveyed is chilling, intensified by the archetypal hue clinging to the tragic comic characters, at times suggesting caricatures. The sheer absurdness of the stupidities and sadistic cruelties depicted may dilute the shock, but it makes the scenes all the more heart-breaking.

The classic method of totalitarianism is to instil fear and divide factions of society against each other, so people spy on each other and nobody can be trusted anymore. In this chapter of history fear served as the leverage for forcing the banal idea of a perfect state that can be safeguarded through clockwork control.

Fallada’s main protagonists, Otto and Anna Quangel, were based on the records of two insignificant objectors to the regime, Otto and Elise Hampel. The elderly couple started spreading anti-Nazi missives written on postcards in buildings around Berlin. For their sadly ineffective attempts of rebellion, the Hampel’s were arrested in 1942, tried in 1943 and executed shortly after. The same fate befell their friends and relatives.

Can a few virtuous individuals, each driven by personal idiosyncrasies, redeem the moral integrity of a nation? It is up to the reader to decide whether the many deaths a totalitarian regime inflicts on soon forgotten brave people are in vain.

The book brought alive the pressure my grandparents must have lived under, as well as the uncanny anxious atmosphere that spoiled my parents’ teen years, and, the wariness I personally and many of the post-war generation developed towards overbearing authority.

Presented in the context of ordinary individual lives, the story reads like a tragic comedy that screams – let us never forget that freedom lies in people being allowed to be different, not chained to a hell of obedience and conformity.

Primo Levi’s declared ‘Alone in Berlin’ as the greatest book ever written about German resistance to the Nazis. English readers have had to wait 60 years to read the novel.

Advertisements

10 Comments

Filed under Blog

… car adventures – home on wheels …

I hugely enjoyed ‘Women talking about Cars,’ Victoria C Mitchell interviewing Dawn French on BBC 4 Hilarious memories unfurled. Pollution problems were not on the agenda when cars begun do offer unprecedented freedom of movement during the last century, especially for women. One book would not hold my stories about cars, but I like to share a few snippets, if only to inspire some of you to travel down their car timeline.

My first car, a small Triumph convertible, was given to me by a friend who returned to his home country triumph-spitfire-4after his medical studies. There it was – a white little sports car in front of my door in Schwabing (Munich’s student patch during the 1970s.) By then I was working as a freelance photographer and paid a fortune for Taxis to get me and my gear to destinations. ‘This will motivate you to get your driving licence,’ my generous friend said.

 

From day one I took the Triumph round the block in the middle of the night, every night. With a thumping heart I practiced gears, parking and turning. Some weeks on an archaeology student friend visited from Munster. That day I had a photo shoot and was ready to call a Taxi. ‘But you have a car,’ he said. I explained that I didn’t have a driving licence, yet.

‘I’ll drive you,’ he replied. And so he did. At first I felt fairly relaxed when he stalled the engine in the middle of the busy junction on Feilitzsch Platz, now Münchner Freiheit, though drivers all around us were furiously tooting their horns and swearing at us. My friend managed to start the car again and made it to a small side road. He released a massive sigh. ‘Thing is,’ he admitted, ‘I don’t have a driving licence either.’

The incident motivated me to get my license. Only three sessions were needed. Sadly, this first car soon had its demise when, trying to impress a group of peers with the engine’s speed, I misjudged a corner and bumped into a curb. The combined weight of six bodies, some sitting on the folded down roof, damaged the axle.

From there on I fell in love with the sturdy VW Bus, several, over the years. Hitting the road with a self-vw-bus-a9657d6dbc47ba01d46ace182e65619econtained little house, which was, much like Dawn French shared, equipped for blizzards, resulted in countless adventures, some of them precarious:  Gears failing on steep mountain slopes, flat tires on lone country lanes, pulling windshield wipers with a string from inside the car during heavy snowfall, border guards wanting to arrest me because I wore an army jacket and a Che Guevara cap. Once, on the island of Elba, a companion suggested a shortcut which got us stuck in a vineyard. The farmer who had to pull us out was not pleased. But heck, life was exciting.

With yet another VW Bus, driving across Europe on way to my parents with my fiancée, the engine seized. My father bailed us out so we could replace the engine. The incident was, to him, a further confirmation of my uselessness, even when it came to choosing a partner.

Having moved to Somerset with my then husband, I endured his learner-driving escapades along the narrow tracks of the Quantocks Hills. With a baby in the back seat, these shopping trips stretched my nerves, acutely so when my ex stalled the engine in a narrow bend, with oncoming drivers shaking their heads and my dear husband reacting with injured pride to my helpful suggestions … but I won’t go there. The engine of the last faithful VW Bus, the one that had transported us, our bedding and our books to England, expired via a sudden and fatal oil loss. Serendipity brought along an old Rover with injection gear. I remember the absolute joy when overtaking snail-snared drivers on the steep stretch from Taunton to our Hamlet.

Having moved to Surrey, this powerful horse developed starting hiccups during a cold spot. Someone I won’t name insisted my Rover was a greedy petrol eater and convinced me to buy his tinny Renault.

Eventually I had a lovely Rover again, for many years, until repairs didn’t make sense anymore. These days I drive a sixteen-year-old Honda, which sails through every MOT without fail. I dread the day when all cars will be fully automated.

img123030-cran-canaryBy then I’ll get a good old sturdy Jeep, the kind you can rent on rocky islands.

Many people are anxious about driving, don’t want to drive, maybe never had the chance to acquire a license, or missed the opportunity.

I simply can’t imagine my life without independent transport. It’s a luxury I hardly pause to appreciate, though I should, very much, and be grateful. Only has to consider the surreal anomaly some cultures maintain to this day …  women being persecuted for driving a car.

*     *     *

You may be curious about the publishing process for my first novel, ‘Course of Mirrors,’ now that its production is in my control. I don’t know why, but I’m hugging the recently approved beautiful cover and am hesitant to share it online … just yet.

If you’re on my Christmas card list you’ll get the cover image in the post. But quite soon, promise, I’ll reveal the cover here, on my virtual island.

19 Comments

Filed under Blog

… no fitting words …

I’ve no fitting words, as yet, for my turbulent psychological process with my father.

Presently I’m thankful for being welcomed to an empty house in Munich.

P1080155 - smallerHere I find peace and time to crawl once more out of a family pattern, the kind of constellation one is born into, gets sucked into, and tries one’s best to loosen in order to gain more freedom and clarity.

No more than the complex story of each separate life, at times heart-breaking, but also, from a wider perspective, enormously rich and rewarding.

An entry in a Buddhist diary for the day …

An der Stelle, wo es bebrochen ist, kann unser Herz stark werden.  Jack Kornfield

4 Comments

Filed under Blog