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Authors: Hans Fallada

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Nightmare in Berlin

BOOK: Nightmare in Berlin
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Hans Fallada was the pen name of German author Rudolf Ditzen, whose books were international bestsellers on a par with those of his countrymen Thomas Mann and Hermann Hesse. He opted to stay in Germany when the Nazis came to power, and eventually had a nervous breakdown when he was under pressure to write anti-Semitic books. Immediately after the war he wrote
in Berlin
, which preceded his last novel,
Alone in Berlin

Dr Allan Blunden is a British translator who specialises in German literature. He is best known for his translation of Erhard Eppler's
The Return of the State?
which won a Schlegel-Tieck Prize. He has also translated biographies of Heidegger and Stefan Zweig, and the prison diary of Hans Fallada.

Scribe Publications
18–20 Edward St, Brunswick, Victoria 3056, Australia
2 John Street, London, WC1N 2ES,
United Kingdom

First published in English by Scribe 2016
First published as
Der Alpdruck
by Aufbau in 1947

Copyright © Aufbau Verlag GmbH & Co. KG, Berlin 1947 and 2014
Translation © Allan Blunden 2016

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the publishers of this book.

The moral rights of the author and translator have been protected.

9781925321197 (Australian paperback)
9781925228380 (UK hardback)
9781925307382 (e-book)

CiP records for this title are available from the British Library and the National Library of Australia


Hans Fallada's penultimate work,
Der Alpdruck
Nightmare in Berlin
], appeared under the Aufbau imprint in the autumn of 1947, but the German publisher's warm commendation and sustained international lobbying elicited only a handful of foreign-language editions — in French, Norwegian, Italian, and Serbo-Croat — despite the countless translations that had been brought out earlier by Fallada's various foreign publishers. Contemporary publishing houses reacted to this novel in much the same way as Britain's Putnam had to
Jeder stirbt für sich allein
Alone in Berlin
]: it was felt to be a weaker product from a once successful writer, the author of
Little Man – What Now?
and other global bestsellers, whose demise was widely mourned, as he might well have produced further masterpieces had he been granted a longer span of life.

In the case of
Alone in Berlin
, posterity has already come to a very different conclusion. Sixty years on, this last work, which initially met with a rather muted response, has become what is probably his biggest international success, which has moreover significantly altered the perception of Fallada and, to some extent, of Germany itself. So the question is whether the same can be claimed for
Nightmare in Berlin
, the book that Fallada was working on in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of Nazi Germany, from February to August 1946 (for some of that time as a patient in various sanatoriums and hospitals), and which by his own account he needed to ‘get out of the way' first before he could tackle the subject matter of his next book. He had already started to study the Gestapo files from which he drew the material for
Alone in Berlin
, but it was only after writing
Nightmare in Berlin
that he was able to turn these shocking and extraordinary documents into another novel.

But why, after the sensational late success of
Alone in Berlin
, in which Hans Fallada, through the story of the seemingly futile resistance of ordinary people, paints an unsparing picture of the moral ambivalence of an entire society, would one want to re-issue a book (or indeed read a book) which, in the words of reviewers at the time of its first publication, ‘is a kind of thinly disguised autobiography which it is difficult to read with any great pleasure' (
Schwäbisches Tagblatt
), and which was seen as ‘a confession of his own human weakness and a picture of life in Germany in the wake of its downfall' (
Leipziger Zeitung
), and as an ‘account that is perhaps not yet sufficiently distanced from the horrendous events of Hitler's war' (
Freie Presse

Well, Cossee for one, the distinguished Dutch publisher of Fallada's works, did not even ask itself this question prior to the recent publication of
Der Alpdruck
in a Dutch translation, along with the other important late works with which the book belongs by virtue of its subject matter and genesis:
In meinem fremden Land (Gefängnistagebuch 1944)
[published in English as
A Stranger in My Own Country: the 1944 prison diary
Der Trinker
The Drinker
], and
Jeder stirbt für sich allein
Alone in Berlin
]. Cossee's initiative is to be applauded: for with the directness of its observations from a long-suppressed phase of German history — that time between the end of the evil old order and the gradual emergence of a new one, when life was on hold, abandoned by the past and still in search of a future — this book fills a gap that far more comprehensive and ambitious works such as Kasimir Edschmid's
Das gute Recht
(published in 1946) had not been able to fill. This is true of provincial life (Mecklenburg, in this case), which was more or less marginalised anyway in the literary treatment of these times; but more especially is it true of Berlin, the setting for the last months of Fallada's life: the city punished for its historic guilt, where the local population and the author were both fighting for their survival — lost and adrift to begin with, but then increasingly with a single-minded determination born of necessity.

More especially, this child of his times, this writer caught up in a private battle for survival, for a firm stance, for a clear perspective on his own guilt, achieved something unique, which has perhaps been best summed up by his obituarist Johannes R. Becher (who appears in this book in the guise of Doll's advocate and champion, Granzow): ‘The contradiction that he embodied was not just private and personal. He embodied and represented, in his mental and spiritual crises, a general German condition.' Nowhere in Fallada's work is this more true than it is here, in
Nightmare in Berlin

When the protagonist, the writer Dr. Doll — easily recognisable as a figure based on Fallada's own experience — tells us that he is filled with a ‘feeling of utterly helpless shame', ‘the malady of the age, a mixture of bottomless despair and apathy', this private mentality shared by Hans Fallada represents that of German society at large, which found itself in a state of crisis. It is hard to imagine a more striking or immediate insight into the psyche, the dawning realisation of a German living in those times who had not been a supporter of the Nazis, but who had also not done anything to oppose them, who had come to an accommodation of sorts with them, than the following scene. Doll thinks he can welcome the occupying Russian troops joyfully as long-awaited liberators, only to be confronted with a different reality: ‘He was a German, and so belonged to the most hated and despised nation on earth. […] Doll suddenly realised that he would probably not live long enough to see the day when the German name would be washed clean in the eyes of the world, and that perhaps his own children and grandchildren would still be bearing the burden of their fathers' guilt.'

Tragic episodes like the story of the chemist and his family who had survived all kinds of horrors, but now tried to take their own lives because they were afraid of the Russians, alternate with more mundane observations, such as the fact that nobody who had not seen Berlin for a while could find their way around any more, since all the familiar landmarks had disappeared under a uniform landscape of rubble. Fallada directs a pitiless gaze at the all-encompassing misery around him, which was also his own: ‘But what Doll had not foreseen was a new loss of self-esteem. […] They would be left naked and empty, and in letting go of the lies that had been drip-fed to them all their lives as the most profound truth and wisdom, they would be stripped of their inner resources of love and hate, memory, self-esteem, and dignity.' He paints a frank picture of Doll and Alma's drug addiction, clearly drawing on his own experiences in a series of touching, sometimes pathetic, and at other times supremely comic descriptions, as when Doll and Alma, cunning and brazen by turns, are forever angling for fresh supplies of their ‘little remedies' from hospital doctors or GPs (and here Gottfried Benn puts in a guest appearance as Pernies, ‘the doctor with the papery skin').

With the unique capacity for empathy that characterises his work, Fallada also describes the ‘little people' here, such as the kindly and ever-helpful Mrs. Minus, who (‘just this once') packs up bags of groceries for him in her shop when he has no ration cards to pay for them, while elsewhere he displays a no less typical penchant for euphemism, especially when it comes to Alma. On one occasion early on in the book, for example, she goes to get her ‘medication for her bilious complaint' (in other words: the morphine addict goes in search of her next fix).

At the same time, this tendency to whitewash, which runs through virtually all of Fallada's quasi-autobiographical works, stands both the novelist and the reader in very good stead. The latter will certainly enjoy the little scene where Doll and Alma are on a tram together, and Doll is doggedly refusing to speak to his wife, who instead of trying to kick her drug habit is determined not to deny herself anything. The two of them find seats across the aisle from an old lady, who starts to get worked up because Alma is casually smoking on the tram. The old woman's remark — ‘They're all the same, these dolled-up little tramps!' — is parried by Alma with: ‘And they're all the same, these dried-up old bats!', whereupon the whole tram erupts in laughter, and one passenger is so tickled that he even drums his feet on the floor with glee. Then we read: ‘After this little interlude, everything was sweetness and light again between the married couple.' Fallada's natural talent for storytelling finds an outlet even amidst the squalor and misery of a devastated Berlin.

What he does here is to make the depressing reality more bearable — for the reader, and perhaps for himself. There's no doubt that these times were hard for Fallada, hard for Doll to endure: ‘We're probably going to die soon anyway, but you can do it more discreetly and comfortably in the big city. They have gas, for one thing!' Fallada is able to turn even this into a little tragicomedy:
How would we do it? We don't have access to poison. Water? We both swim too well. The noose? Couldn't face that! Gas? But we don't even have a kitchen with a gas stove any more
. And yet a little later, despite all this, a gleam of hope appears briefly on the horizon, a tiny shred of optimism: ‘But the world out there, this vast, sprawling, chaotic Berlin, is so weird and wonderful, so full of wondrous things!'

Qualities of this kind, unique to Fallada, the qualities of a strong book about a weak human being, earned him the respect of contemporary arts reviewers, who were starting to find their feet again. Berlin's
wrote: ‘
Nightmare in Berlin
is emblematic of what went on in Germany after the capitulation.' The
Berliner Zeitung
noted: ‘A piece of concentrated contemporary history whose value transcends the personal […]. It need hardly be said that the writing is both gripping and vivid.' The
Frankfurter Neue Presse
wrote: ‘A supremely honest book, a human testament.' And the
Norddeutsche Zeitung
: ‘
Nightmare in Berlin
is the quintessence of Fallada's realisation that the ruins are not important, that the only thing that matters is life and living.' It is best summed up by the journal
Der Zwiebelfisch
: ‘In his excellent book
Nightmare in Berlin
, Hans Fallada paints a picture of the despondency and apathy felt by Germans. The final months of wartime life are portrayed in masterly fashion, along with the end of the war, the entry of the Russian troops, the “respectable” bourgeois world as it adjusts to the new environment, and the moral decline of the population.'

Fallada himself achieved one of those wondrous things that Berlin, by his own account, was full of. In one last push he succeeded in producing the two late works,
Nightmare in Berlin
Alone in Berlin
, that have cemented his enduring literary reputation. But before these last two books could appear, the man behind the writer, Rudolf Ditzen, died of heart failure on 5 February 1947, his strength finally exhausted.

Schwäbisches Tageblatt
lamented the fact that when
Nightmare in Berlin
was first published, the moving obituary penned by Becher for his writer friend appeared at the end of the book: ‘It would have been better as a foreword.' The present brief introduction is an attempt to make good that deficit — even if the passage of time has made it easier for today's reader to judge the book's merits and its place in the canon. The personal directness of this ‘strong book, which tells us so much about the author' (to quote the then director of Aufbau Verlag, Erich Wendt), bridges the time gap as only literature of enduring relevance can do. It would be wrong to deny the reader access to such literature — even if it means that he or she may learn more about the dark side of an admired author than he or she is comfortable with. For this is the only way we can learn real answers to the basic question: how can we build a happy world again on the ruins of a world that has been defiled?

Berlin, April 2014

Nele Holdack & René Strien

BOOK: Nightmare in Berlin
9.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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