Nightmare in berlin, p.1
Nightmare in Berlin, p.1Hans Fallada
NIGHTMARE IN BERLIN
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 Nightmare 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.
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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.
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9781925321197 (Australian paperback)
9781925228380 (UK hardback)
CiP records for this title are available from the British Library and the National Library of Australia
German publisher’s foreword to this edition
PART ONE: DOWNFALL
PART TWO: RECOVERY
GERMAN PUBLISHER’S FOREWORD TO THIS EDITION
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 fac
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 Tagesspiegel 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 and 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.
The 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
The author of this novel is far from satisfied with what he has written on the following pages, which is now laid before the reader in printed form. When he conceived the plan of writing this book, he imagined that alongside the reverses of everyday life — the depressions, illnesses, and general despondency — that alongside all these things which the end of this terrible war inevitably visited upon every German, there would also be more uplifting things to report, signal acts of courage, hours filled with hope. But it was not to be. The book remains essentially a medical report, telling the story of the apathy that descended upon a large part, and more especially the better part, of the German population in April 1945, an apathy that many have not managed to cast off to this day.
The fact that the author could not alter this, and could not introduce more elements of levity and gaiety into this novel, is not simply due to his own outlook on life, but has to do much more with the general situation of the German people, which today, fifteen months after the end of hostilities, remains grim.
The reasoning behind the decision to place the novel before the public despite this shortcoming is that it may perhaps be of some value as a document humain, a faithful and true account (to the best of the author’s abilities) of what ordinary Germans felt, suffered, and did between April 1945 and the summer of that year. The time may soon come when people are no longer able to understand the paralysis that has blighted this first post-war year to such disastrous effect. A medical report, then, and not a work of art — I’m sorry to say. (The author, too, is a child of his times, afflicted by that same paralysis.)
I have just called the book ‘a faithful and true account’. But nothing that is related in the following pages happened exactly as it is described here. For reasons of space alone, a book such as this cannot possibly record everything that happened; I had to be selective, to invent material, and things that were told to me could not just be set down verbatim, but had to be recast in a different form. None of this means that the book cannot — therefore — be ‘true’: everything related here could have happened in the manner described, but it is nonetheless a novel, or in other words a product of the imagination.
The same is true of the characters who appear here: none of them exists outsi
Writing this novel has not been an enjoyable experience, but to its author the book seemed important. Amidst the changing fortunes of life, the upturns and the reverses, what remained important to him throughout was what people went through after the end of the war, in mind and in body. How nearly everybody lost faith, yet in the end rediscovered a little bit of courage and hope — that is the story that these pages tell.
Berlin, August 1946
The first illusion
Always, during those nights around the time of the great collapse, Dr. Doll, when he did eventually manage to get to sleep, was plagued by the same bad dream. They slept very little those first few nights, constantly fearful of some threat to body or soul. Well into the night, after a day filled with torment, they stayed sitting by the windows, peering out onto the little meadow, towards the bushes and the narrow cement path, to see if any of the enemy were coming — until their eyes ached, and everything became a blur and they could see nothing.
Then someone would often say: ‘Why don’t we just go to bed?’
But usually nobody answered, and they just carried on sitting there, staring out, and feeling afraid, until Dr. Doll was suddenly overcome by sleep, as if ambushed by some bandit clapping his great hand over his whole face to smother him. Or else it was like some tightly woven spider’s web that went down his throat with every breath he took, overpowering his consciousness. A nightmare …
It was bad enough, falling asleep like that, but, having fallen asleep in this hideous fashion, he was immediately visited by the same bad dream — always the same one. And this was Doll’s dream:
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