Berlin mon amour

By Rob Packer

I will shortly be in Berlin, the best city I’ve ever lived. The hardest part of the packing is never the clothes: it’s the reading material: not too heavy, not too light, room for impulse buys. I go to the bookshelf, blow the dust off an unread weighty tome, feel it in my hand, flick the pages, pick another, compare them, put them both back, get a different one out, put that back and then, and then decide.

Maybe re-read Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus (my favourite novel of the 20th century alongside The Trial and 100 Years of Solitude)? Maybe Ingeborg Bachmann’s Malina? Maybe something by Thomas Bernhard? But no, none of these made the end cut.

My selections are:

  • Orlando by Virgina Woolf: I was reading it already and Orlando’s not even switched genders yet.
  • Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin: It’s reputation precedes it and it’s sometimes compared with Ulysses (i.e. not holiday reading), but I’ve wanted to read it since I lived in Berlin (nearly ten years ago, folks) and difficulty aside, there is, quite frankly, no way I’d ever get around to reading this in Brazil.

Of course, there’s a half-decent chance that Berlin Alexanderplatz will come back unread and that I’ll have been waylaid by other goodies from German bookshops.

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