Nightmare in Berlin – Hans Fallada
The Last Word Review
Some years ago I read Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada and this became a book that never left me. Now at last comes the first English translation of Nightmare in Berlin written at a time of real struggle personally for Fallada whose real name is Rudolf Ditzen.
At the wars end Berlin was a city devastated not just by the round the clock bombing by the allies but also by the Russian forces that invaded the city to inflict the final defeat of the Nazis.
Fallada chose to stay in Germany at the time the Nazis came to power, he was then they pressurised him to write anti-Semitic novels. For Fallada though he was thrown into an asylum which under the Nazis was not a good thing to happen to anyone who disagreed with their policy. At the wars end he wrote Nightmare in Berlin and then Alone in Berlin but sadly he died at the age of 54 before either was published.
For Nightmare in Berlin can be and almost certainly is novel based on his own life. Here we trace the life of Doctor Doll the Russians have now just defeated the Nazis and the sheer disaster and chaos that has left Germany a country in total ruins. For Doctor Doll like the author himself he had an addiction problem, Doll was not a likeable character either in the story one that was totally opposed the Nazis but what exactly did he do to oppose them during the war. Now like many there is guilt on the shoulders as the allies now occupy their homeland. Many with links to the Nazis and the Gestapo are busy hiding uniforms even to the point of throwing them into the garden of Dr Doll and his younger wife Alma causing his immediate arrest by the Red Army to explain why there was an SS uniform in his garden.
Imagine trying to live in a devastated country were the outside world shows little pity for you and now the Red Army actually despises you as well. For Dr Doll just like the author is now the Mayor of his town and is now responsible for cracking down on those Nazis still living there who thrived while others starved. You become acutely aware that this novel is become more and more an autobiography of Fallada’s life at this time.
Life becomes incredibly difficult for Dr Doll and Alma and they soon become aware that there is very little they can do so they set off back to their home of Berlin a city totally in ruins. Now life for the two is set to get even worse. Alma’s addiction is now taking over yet despite the fact they have nowhere to live they both seek to feed their addiction and life is now overtaking them both. Despite their problems I showed real pity for Alma she is gritty and at times rather funny at the beginning she was brave.
For every German at this time life was about survival and work about making sure that you had enough to eat as the struggle to rebuild shattered cities, towns and also lives. Days were long and hard and there was no escape from the road that lay before Dr Doll and Alma and every German citizen.
A country out of control run by a group despotic leaders for Fallada it was his home a home he loved and chose to stay and in his own way try to survive to tell his stories despite his own weaknesses and mistakes. Fallada is a truly great writer one I greatly admire and for Dr Doll sitting under that tree with just the breeze making the leaves rustle peace had come at last. Peace.
I have waited a long time for this book to become translated into English and it will take pride of place alongside Alone in Berlin and also among some of the great writers.
Thank you to Sarah Braybrooke for the advanced review copy.
Nightmare in Berlin by Hans Fallada. Published by Scribe UK and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.