Book info

Berlin Alexanderplatz (2009)

Berlin Alexanderplatz (2009)
Rating
3.82 of 5 Votes: 1
ISBN
3423002956 (ISBN13: 9783423002950)
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English
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publisher
deutscher taschenbuch verlag
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Berlin Alexanderplatz (2009)
Berlin Alexanderplatz (2009)

About book: This book is said to be one of the required readings for high school students in Germany. When it was published in 1929, it became a monstrous hit and the book's popularity has been sustained all these years.Reason: this is the first German book that used the stream-of-consciousness style of James Joyce. This was also one of the reasons why I tried hard to first read Ulysses (serialized from 1918 to 1920) prior to cracking this one up. I found this easier to read despite the fact that I used a guide book while reading Ulysses. I think the reason was that the English translation of Eugene Jolas is just more readable. Although, just like Ulysses, also not always understandable. Honestly, I think I only understood 3/4 of what the author, Alfred Doblin (1878-1957) was trying to tell. But, still like Ulysses, I guess it does not really matter. The reason is that this modernist work, does not want to be fully understood since it is multi-layered with its internal (rather than external as in most contemporary books) conflicts. Thus, the book can be interpreted into so many ways that you don't know if what you think of it is right or wrong. Just like in some hypothetical questions, there are just no right and wrong answers.However, the gist is something like this (and please do correct me if I got anything incorrect because as I said, I only understood 3/4 of it): Frank Biberkopf is an ex-convict (case: manslaughter). When he steps out from prison, Nazism is on the rise in Germany. Frank wants to have a decent life as he sees his release as his second life. He tries on several jobs only to experience the harsh realities because Berlin at the time is unforgiving for ex-convicts like him. He loses his arm from a foiled robbery, he becomes a pimp, he is framed for murder by his friend-turned-foe Reinhold but because he is not bad-looking he also falls in love at one time. It's just that the woman was untrue to him so in the end, Frank feels that his life inside the prison is better that what he feels outside. I felt that claustrophobic atmosphere while reading the book. The irony of that feeling when you seem to be inside a prison when in fact you are living free in an outside world is very evident.I think this book deserves a 5-star rating. The only problem is that it is hard to understand. Maybe it is easy to understand if it is read by a German in German language. However, my advice to those who want to read this in English is to just keep on reading. Doblin just goes on and on and sometimes you don't know who, among the present characters in the scene, is talking since the spoken parts, enclosed in quotes, are without references to their owners. However, there are many beautifully arresting passages that will keep you interested. At some point, extremely interested. Reading this is like listening to conversations where the participants are pouring their thoughts out no-holds barred. It reminded me of the time when I was in still living in our hometown located in a Pacific island. I used to hear the conversations of my father and his buddies while they drank beer until they did not know what they were doing. They sang, the debated, they laughed in total abandon. They discussed a lot of different interesting topics and since they had too much to drink, they had the tendency to say their innermost thoughts - some of them very interesting, some were mundane, some were really nonsense. There were times that they even had our local priest (Catholic) with them and the priest could be an rowdy as my father and his friends. As they say, sometimes you will know the real person, once he or she gets real drunk. The fish is caught by its mouth.This book is like that. The characters are mouthing their innermost thoughts and since it was Berlin at the time of Hitler's rise, some of what they were saying could cause their lives or reveal what they really think about their religion as told in the Bible. So, some of them contained those in their minds but Doblin let you hear them. This for me, made this book very interesting. Also, if you want to know how was it to live in Alexanderplatz (downtown Berlin) in the 1920s, this book is for you. The place is pictured here as dark and discriminatory and yet we all love European cities no matter in which century they were. Europe was the old world and the center of art, music and yes, classic literature. Since I am interested on that, I kept on reading. I am happy I did.

I rarely watch TV; whenever I succumb to temptation I usually zap around for ages before finally settling on one of those ‘reality’ series where the unemployed drunkards, pregnant teenage girls and wannabe pimps are giving vent to their sorrowful platitudes. Actually, I hardly ever watch anything but reality TV, which is a shame, really (btw, German-speaking countries boast the most vulgar and crude TV programmes you’ll find anywhere, though the UK is catching up). What reasons are there for a reasonably intelligent person to watch that crap? Utter boredom might be the obvious answer, but apart from that perhapsigood old ego tripping: you know you’re no genius, but you’re still much smarter (or at least better educated, ha!) than that rabble on TViiyou’re just a mean person: because heightening your self-esteem is not enough you need to debase and ape whatever deviates from your own way of lifeiiiemotional cravings: considering your life is dull and your sex-life non-existent you may at least covertly slobber over other people’s debaucheries, or you just want to indulge in a good cry because of all the misery, it’s real man!iv or, you just find it all utterly fascinating; usually that sort of person imagines him- or herself to be in possession of a scientific mind (it’s all analyses, therefore I am allowed to spend my time in this fruitless manner)In my case it’s mostly the latter; watching people is one of my hobbies (without the binoculars I assure you). Misanthropy inhibits me from being truly interested in any of them, but then I increasingly feel I’m losing touch with the contemporary world and fear my social knowledge is decreasing by the minute, which makes me an easy target for those who seek out the awkward ones. I thus cannot help force-feeding myself stupidity every now and then.This leaves us to this here novel, which is a mess, basically, though an entertaining one. Döblin himself:If a novel can’t be cut up into ten pieces like an earthworm, every part still moving, then it’s good for nothing.Of course he’s the sort of person that utters sentences like this after writing a book like Berlin Alexanderplatz, which actually conforms to his statement insofar as it can be opened on any page without losing the thread of the story. But since there’s not much of a story it’d be preferable to say Döblin manages not to disturb the flow. I might now admit that this book is downright cool, even though liking a book just for its coolness is not very cool (I don’t use this world a lot). Yet Döblin himself was not exactly of the raffish kind, and considering there was no reality TV in his times he might secretly have been a type iii observer of his environment. According to Thomas Mann Berlin Alexanderplatz makes amagnificently successful attempt at elevating the proletarian reality of our time into the spheres of the epic.An epic it is certainly not; what is here being called a protagonist is an illusion and as many novels that are set in the milieu of the poor and underprivileged this ends up as a study of collective behaviour rather than something truly heartfelt. Hardly a moving read, there's a sort of hazy tragedy about it that lacks a final catharsis; it's a novel about potency and potency is power (for those who lack the brains). Basically, there’s a lot of murder, rape, theft and what else not, and the moral is of course rather objectionable, but hey, life’s going down the drain anyway!All this sounds quite trashy, but be not deceived, it is a terribly tough read in German. I do actually feel my use of the language has suffered substantially after three weeks with Biberkopf and his uncouth pals. The grammar is horrible and the idioms endless and in many cases untraceable in any dictionary; this has about as many allusions and odd quotes as Joyce’s Ulysses (which I now can truly say is the more accessible read). I feel somewhat washed out (or mein Brägen braucht Schmalz as the beaver-head in his inimitable untranslatable manner would say) after this. And yet the novel is worth reading alone for its encyclopaedic knowledge of everything unimportant and vulgar (and of course also for its minute depiction of a long-forgotten Berlin), 1920s reality TV at its best, really.
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Reviews
David Ramirer
die geschichte vom franz biberkopf erzählt döblin so, als ob das individuum von der stadt, in der es lebt, nicht trennbar ist. berlin formte diesen biberkopf und somit ist biberkopf teil der stadt. es ist eine geschichte, die wohl des öfteren geschieht, ein mensch wird von mehreren remplern des schicksals hergebeutelt und steht am ende noch da, wenngleich nicht mehr ganz so frisch wie am beginn. existenzen wie die von biberkopf sieht man in den städten viele, es ist eine famose leistung döblins, solch eine geschichte zu erzählen, ohne dass es allzu pathetisch daherkommt.
Bob
I characterized this as Joycean before realizing that is the most obvious thing anyone says about it, so I am not so perspicacious. Specifically, it makes heavy use of a modernist device in which the narrative mirrors the increasingly "legible" urban landscape - words are crammed everywhere in the form of advertisements, headlines on display at newspaper kiosks and so on - the story is continuously interwoven with these fragments. The main character, a criminal out of jail, attempting to "go straight" and failing, almost reaches a sort of mystic redemption at the end. Had the story been in the hands of a Frenchman (half-remembering Gide's "Strait is the Gate"), the central character would have died amidst an extended philosophic meditation. Here the author seemingly decides that is only slightly more obvious than a happy ending and instead the story slips into oblivion, the main character not dying but dismissed. One wonders if Döblin's later conversion to Catholicism would have inspired a different ending (one could go so far as to read his later novel "Hamlet" to find out!).More in anticipation of being able to swagger about in the glow of accomplishment of heavy cultural weightlifting than from excess of free time, I am curious about Rainer Werner Fassbinder's 15 1/2 hour 1980 television serial adaptation.
Martin Malík
Ťažké čítanie. Náročná kniha na pozornosť. Ale stálo to za to. Pitoreskný obraz jedného mesta. Cesta z dna opäť na dno. Príbeh malého človeka, ktorý chce vo svojej v detskej naivite oklamať život sám. Kniha o pýche a o páde, kniha o tom, že v posledných chvíľach človek chce zmeniť rozhodnutia, ktoré urobil počas neho. Záverečná pasáž knihy bola úchvátná a nečudujem sa, že Doblinov román stihol osud v nemeckých plameňoch. Fascinujúca koláž, v ktorej si autor pomáha všetkým, čo veľkomesto ponúka. Krátke záblesky životov ľudí, ktorých každodenne stretávame, novinových titulkov, dobových piesní a zvukov, pre ktoré nemôžeme v noci spávať. Buchot mesta, tlkot srdca, splašený beh života a príbeh, ku ktorému sa isto raz vrátim. Počas čítania som v knihe našiel ozveny Plechového bubienka, Wendersovho Neba nad Berlínom, ako aj na moje prekvapenie dozvuky, akéhosi zvláštneho steampunku z čias Weimarskej republiky. Veľmi silné 4.
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