Ger-Manic Monday

Guten Abend, Bücherwurme!

That’s “good evening, Bookworms” in German, for those unfamiliar with the language! Welcome to another blog entry on the day anyone with a BlackBerry is bemoaning the fact their phone has not been able to do anywhere near half the stuff it can normally do (can’t you tell I’m a BB owner disgruntled at the Epic Technology Fail?!) and also the day when I have had further correspondence from Guardian Books regarding the whole Kindle saga and it now seems I am going to have to venture to the post office and see if there’s anything amongst the deliveries for me at Eccles PO. What I do now know, though, is that Guardian Books sent out the Kindle via Royal Mail, it was sent 2nd class (so there’s actually still a chance it is on its way to me as my mum has said they can be VERY slow with 2nd class post) and was sent out on 26th September. I am off to Eccles Post Office tomorrow morning, prior to going on to work, armed with the email from Joanna Lord of Guardian Books, my passport and a paid credit card bill for proof of address, and I am going to have it out with Royal Fail on the non-delivery thus far of my competition prize which I should have received last month! I sense tomorrow is going to be a book-orientated busy day – it’s my book club meeting at Waterstone’s tomorrow evening, when we’ll be discussing In Cold Blood and then choosing our next book and setting the date for that!

Anyway, the other news, which may well help explain the rather odd title for this blog entry, is that my mum and I will be going to Berlin for a short break in late February! So, if you’ve wondered about any recent German references and the fact that I wished you good evening in that language, the mystery has now been solved! Also, a large English-German dictionary, which I spotted the other day in the Oxfam Bookshop, has now been purchased. Trying to work out the year of that edition, think the most recent date mentioned was 1990 and it said it was £14.95 then, so let’s just say a dictionary of that size, now, is probably at least twenty quid and I got it for £4.99. Bargain!

Other than reference books, though, this is quite a good excuse, as a blog entry, to have a look at all things Germanic when it comes to reading matter, fiction and non-fiction alike. Perhaps we should start with German authors, although, to be frank, the only one whose works I have studied is Thomas Mann, as I took an entire module on Mann when I was at university, studying such works as Death In Venice and The Magic Mountain. Now, I don’t know if you’ve either read Death In Venice, seen the film, or if both are alien to you, but the book’s narrator is very taken, throughout, with this Polish boy called Tadeusz and to my mind, certainly when I was in my late teens and early 20s at university, I personally felt that this admiration for the boy went beyond innocent aesthetic joy at the young lad’s attractive features. Frankly, I thought the story’s narrator was a right dodgy pervert along similar lines to Humbert Humbert in Lolita! Except that Mr Humbert lusted over a girl, while the protagonist of Death In Venice was stalking a boy! Does anyone else also feel this way, or am I the only one who sees the narrator as a dirty old man?!

When it comes to other famous German authors, the only one I know of is Günter Grass, but I haven’t read any of his novels, so I’m afraid I can’t comment on him, and I have to own up here because, for years, I thought Franz Kafka was German! He wasn’t. He was Czech! However, he did write his books in German, which may have led to my confusion when I was at Eccles College all those years ago!

I recently bought a book, ostensibly a children’s book, called Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. Obviously, I have the English version, but this is a translation from the original German. Not read much of it yet, but essentially it’s a book about books – a book-loving girl with a dad who can make characters from books come to life! I also like the fact that, looking through it, I have seen each chapter start off with some book-related quotation! To link from German authors to books set in Germany, we can consider Alone In Berlin by Hans Fallada, historical fiction set in Nazi Germany as a couple lose their only son in the war and then, embittered by their son’s death, start a risky postcard campaign against Hitler. Also set in Nazi Germany, but not, as far as I know, by German authors, are The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas and one of my favourite books, The Book Thief! Both portray, as main characters, children caught up in the whole regime.

On now to the non-fiction material and we shall start with A Year In The Scheisse, a book I found out about at the end of reading One Steppe Beyond a month or so ago. Our author, Roger, has epic financial issues and his advisor has told him that, seriously, he needs to find a nice German woman to tie the knot with as German laws mean that a married couple see their tax bill halved and that should sort him out! I’m about halfway through and Roger has just had a nighmare speed-dating experience! He had every right to be sceptical of this method of dating in the first place when one of his friends had told him to try it! Personally, I also think it sounds horrendous and don’t fancy doing that AT ALL in my ongoing search for a male bookworm!

Simon Winder’s big chunky hardback Germania details German history from its earliest known start upto the Third Reich and details the author’s love of and fascination with all things German. Also fascinating me, because I’m a nosey cow and always wondered what was behind the Iron Curtain, is the Cold War Era. Yes, that includes several countries, most of Central and Eastern Europe to be exact, but one of the main focal points for East-West division and the differences between the two is in Berlin! Add in the fact that much of the Cold War was still exceptionally chilly during my childhood and then came to an epic finish in late 1989 when I was 16 and a half and thus both old enough and aware enough to realise that something monumental was happening and European maps were going to have to change big time from what they’d always been during my childhood up to that point!

1989: The Year That Changed The World by Michael Meyer is the account of one American journalist who was one of the few Americans who knew the proper story behind the crumbling of  the Eastern Bloc. He seems very critical of successive US governments of the time who a) couldn’t seem to take the hints that things really were changing in the East since Gorbachev took power in the USSR in 1985 and yet b) seemed rather quick to try and take credit for the fall of Communism. Fact is, the USA might have always wanted this to happen, may have dreamed for years about this happening, but they didn’t see it coming and they didn’t make it happen. Reagan may have made speeches calling for the Eastern Bloc to tear down the Wall, but the fact that it did eventually happen had nothing to do with the US and everything to do with both politicians and ordinary people on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain getting fed up with their way of life and also realising that the whole thing was unsustainable as it was. Things HAD to change! The first stirrings of discontent and realisation that the whole Commie experiment could not continue took place in Hungary. Fearful that the Soviets would send in their tanks, as they’d done previously, their head honcho Nemeth went to Moscow to see Gorbachev and eventually got what he wanted to hear… as far as Gorby was concerned, the same conclusion had been reached, the Communist era couldn’t last much longer and there would be no tanks rolling in to Budapest from the USSR. What the Hungarian government did next, therefore, was entirely their own decision and there would be no interference from Moscow.

As well as Hungary, things were also kicking off in Poland where the Solidarity trade union was successfully legalized and, indeed, permitted to contest elections. And, of course, there was East Germany, the DDR, one of whose officials accidentally let slip some news about its citizens being able to obtain passports. With no-one else available to deny this, the news spread, as did the momentum, until the world saw what happenened in November 1989 – emboldened by their mass numbers, thousands upon thousands of East Germans advanced towards their side of the Berlin Wall and ordered the guards to open up! The guard at Checkpoint Charlie saw the massive crowd, heard their demands, gave a shrug and opened up. Auf Wiedersehen, DDR! For life in the DDR prior to that point, check out Stasiland, a collection of interviews by Anna Funder with numerous East Germans about life under constant Stasi surveillance in the old regime.

In the meantime, I shall get this finished and published and return to my reading-up sessions so that I am equipped for when I head off to Berlin at the end of February! I have already been looking into things on the internet, particularly about Ostalgie, nostalgia for all things East German and the icons that are Ampelmännchen, the little hat-wearing pedestrian crossing men used on traffic lights in East Germany! You should check them out too  – seriously, you are in for a treat! 😀

Until next time, take care, Happy Reading and Gute Nacht!

Books mentioned in this blog entry:

  • In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
  • Death In Venice – Thomas Mann
  • The Magic Mountain – Thomas Mann
  • Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
  • Inkheart – Cornelia Funke
  • Alone In Berlin – Hans Fallada
  • The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne
  • The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
  • A Year In The Scheisse – Roger Boyes
  • One Steppe Beyond – Thom Wheeler
  • Germania – Simon Winder
  • 1989: The Year That Changed The World – Michael Meyer
  • Stasiland – Anna Funder

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