Walking in Berlin by Franz Hessel

Walking in Berlin by Franz Hessel

German Non-fiction

Original title – Spazieren in Berlin

Translator – Amanda DeMarco

Source – personal copy

I managed to just squeeze the third read in for this week’s 1929 club and it was one I saw on the list of books when the year was announced earlier this year and was reminded about it I had seen it when it came out and had intended to look at it then but it had passed me by. So to get back to it Franz Hessel he was a friend of the great Walter Benjamin who has an essay at the start of the book about the book. He calls how Hessel a flaneur should look t the city afresh. The city of his birth with fresh eyes. Hessel himself with Benjamin had translated the works of Proust into German.

In the half-light of tinted lamps hanging in a number of smaller halls and rooms in the north as well as the west, same-sex couples circulate, here the girls and there the lads. Sometimes the girls are dressed, in a more or less pleasant manner, as men, and the lads as ladies. Over time their appetites, once a bold protest against the dominant moral laws, have become a rather harmless pleasure, and visitors who like to dance with the opposite sex are also allowed into these mellow orgies. They find a particularly favourable environment here. The men learn new nuances in tenderness from the female cavaliers, their partners learn from the masculine ladies, and your own “straight”-ness becomes a peculiar stroke of luck, as it makes you seem rather exotic. Oh, and the light fixtures are positively magnificent: wooden or metal lanterns with serrated frames, reminiscent of the fretwork of our boyhood.

I was reminded of cabaret her and imagine Isherwood sitting in his Berlin

I loved the idea of this book as I had just rewatched the two films Tilda Swinton had made more than 20 years apart, in fact, they could be seen as a cousin of these the first was just at the cusp of the wall falling and the second is the unified Berlin. She covers the same route on a bike across Berlin many points on her route  Hessel visited in his book. t Hessel had walked his Berlin in the late twenties what I first got from the book is that he had a way of looking but not jading the times one passage in the book really grabbed me about girls looking like boys and boys looking like Girls those characters that had fallen out of Cabaret or an Isherwood novel of the time. He captures a city that has underneath the horror that happened in the 15 years after he walk the city. meandering the city that would a few years later be gone. The longest piece is on a tour called the tour of the churches like St Peters etc. Also the old Royal buildings of Berlin, and the National Gallery. This is a flaneur a wander of the city this metropolis his fellow citizens. Then the Zoo places like the Newspaper district a place I wonder is dead like Fleet Street its London counterpart.

Excursioners in light-colored skirts and shift dresses climb the steps leading up to the station. Those lucky things, enjoying such a nice autumn day. Some also go through the narrow entrance to the little Wannsee train station. What I’d really like to do is follow them. A sail. boat, or even just a paddleboat.1 Potsdam and the Havel. see, the secret soul of Berlin, otherworldly places here on earth! And today a weekday. But now we’re arriving at Potsdamer Platz. The first thing to say about it is that it isn’t really a plaza at all, but rather what they call a carrefour in Paris, a crossroads, an intersection; we don’t really have the right word for it in German. That Berlin once came to an end at the city gate here, with country roads branching off from it–you’d have to have a well-informed eye to recognize that from the shape of the inter-section.

Part of the longest section of the book the Tour which remind me of Bois as Homer as he walked down Potsdamer Platz

Another image that came to mind when I read this was of Homer played by Curt Bois in Wings of desire (I so want the blu ray box set of Wenders going out soon but it is out of my price range I’ll have to wait). Bois’s character is seeking what was Potsdamer Platz in the rubble of the city in the late 80s. Bois walk also has old film of Potsdamer back in the day (Hessel is by Potsdamer in the section Fashion around Fashion houses and shops in the city and also the tor section). It’s a Shame Hessel died in the early years of the war in France a follow-up to this would be great like Swinton and my own remembrance of the city I have only been for a day and wish I could go back to Berlin it is a city that has had so many changes in the nearly hundred years since this book came out. This book is a forerunner of Psychogeography a distant cousin of Benjamins Opus to Paris Arcades (I have been reading this on and off for years ). Have you read this or any other great flaneur works of people wandering cities on foot and just taking it in like it was new and fresh to the writer’s eyes.

Winston’s score – A- a gem from this week’s 1929 club reminds me of a place I’d love to go and explore more and each for his ghosts and the ghost of what happened.

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. kaggsysbookishramblings
    Oct 30, 2022 @ 19:27:23

    Lovely find Stu, and I wish I’d realised this was from 1929 as I have copy somewhere! Will have to dig it out and read it sooner rather than later!!

    Reply

  2. Lisa Hill
    Oct 31, 2022 @ 11:55:34

    I really must read Isherwood…

    Reply

  3. Janakay | YouMightAsWellRead
    Oct 31, 2022 @ 19:21:27

    I’m totally unfamiliar with Franz Hessel; your review makes me think I need to change this state of affairs! I think I’ll put this one on the TBR list.

    Reply

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