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Alone in Berlin: A Culture Shock

by Aarushi Shetty 3 years ago in literature
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A new perspective on Germany during the Second World War

[ K ] Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Leipziger Strasse mit elektrischer Bahn (1914) by cea+ on flickr

I came across Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada through my University reading list. It is a fictional novel that is inspired by true events. It has very often been compared to non-fiction books due to its closeness to the reality of Germany during Hitler’s regime. As it is inspired by real life events, the case itself seems to have been re-written based on the articles Fallada found in the newspaper at the time.

The Penguin Classic edition of this novel features an Appendix with the details of the true case along with pictures of the protagonists of the story. After reading the fictional version of these characters, I felt like I knew these people. The Appendix also showed some letters and postcards written by Otto Quangle which further made the characters real for me. I spent a very long time looking at these images after reading the novel. It moved me.

Alone in Berlin has various plotlines. The book is divided into sections following the different characters. The first section follows the Quangles, who are an old married couple. After losing their son in the Second World War, they decide to revolt against the Fuhrer with a hope to persuade their fellow citizens to join them. They write provocative postcards and leave them around the city. Each expedition brings a thrill with it. I was at the edge of my seat every time Otto carried a postcard, praying that he does not get caught. The fact that the Quangles are old and alone makes them vulnerable and less likely to be suspicious. Yet they are committing the highest form of treason. In the cruel world of the narrative in Alone in Berlin I found myself empathising and even sympathising with these characters.

Fallada, who was a German himself, was against the Fuhrer at the time. Through this novel, one can realise that Germans didn’t have the power to revolt against the ruling party. Especially because anyone who questioned Hitler’s power would be sentenced to death or sent to ‘the camps’ which we now know as the Holocaust. This is what shocks me. Whilst it is easy to dismiss that Germany was the centre of ‘evil’ in the history of Second World War, one can forget that its own citizens were captives of the war.

In the second section we follow The Gestapo, who must solve the case of the mysterious postcards. He is an interesting character. There are so many things his character taught me—patience, problem solving, tactical communication and so on. His character also taught me to have self-esteem and to be humble. Though the Gestapo is crude and proud, he clearly thinks himself too important and intelligent compared to his colleagues. This leads to him having a good image in his office as well as his downfall. Although the Gestapo is the first conflict of the Quangles, I liked the character. I marvelled at his observations and brilliant logic and reasoning to solve his case.

The third section returns to the main storyline about Quangles and their whereabouts. Here, the characters have become less cautious and have almost been caught once. However, the make one mistake which leads them to pay the cost.

Section four is the final section called End where we follow their trial. Here we are introduced to the mockery of the judicial system as well as the prisons in Germany. The End is followed by the Case study on which the fictional story is based.

Apart from the obvious sections, there are other characters we follow which quintessentially makes the story seem real. The young woman who is to marry the Quangles son. Her small way of revolting against the Nazis and finding love in the process. Her journey and thoughts about married life and having a family in a world which appears to be doomed. Men who live on rich women’s income, acting like a ‘mistress’ in a role reversal. Men who hate their families and commit domestic violence. Boys who are too young to be rowdy and yet somehow find a good family that is ready to adopt them. There are just so many things that the book has to offer!

Germany during World War II has often been scrutinised in literature. Usually, they are horrifying stories from the holocaust that are presented in novels, memoirs and biographies. However, Alone in Berlin showcases the lives of Germans during the War. It describes the reality of the socio-political aspect of the country. It portrays the dilemma in the minds of people in Germany, their fears, their insecurities and most of all, the effects of dictatorship.

Fence, Holocaust, Barbwire, Crematorium, Majdanek on Visual Hunt

The narrative gives a new perspective towards the concentration camps where it hints that not all victims were Jews. Although there’s no doubt that majority of them were. The prisons of Germany were filled with criminals who had been brave enough to stand up to the Fuhrer. Hans Fallada, a German writer, gives his critical view on the scenarios that he witnessed in Germany during the War through this novel.

If you like to read novels based on World War II and are an avid fan of thrillers, this is the book you need to pick!


About the author

Aarushi Shetty

Graduate with an MA in Professional Creative Writing.

Non-fiction Sub-editor at Here Comes Everyone magazine

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