Birthday, Berlin and Books

Or ‘The Three Bs that made me very happy this weekend’.

Can heartily recommend: celebrating with your two oldest and kindest friends who have also just turned the same age and still have pictures of you giggling together from your youth, feeling loved, dancing to 99 Luftballons and Falco’s Der Kommissar (songs from our childhood), watching football with German friends unhappy about the way their team played but relieved that they won nevertheless, home-cooked party food, lots of dancing, partying with former Olympic rowers, walk along the banks of the Tegeler See at sunset, walk through the tourist-thronged streets of pretty much anywhere in Museumsinsel area and not feel like a tourist, stop at the biggest bookshop in the city with a friend who has the same literary tastes as you do, not mind the rain, discover your friend lives just opposite the house where Christopher Isherwood stayed during his year in Berlin.

To be honest, the Berliners didn’t understand much of the song lyrics either – it’s very Viennese dialect and humour.

Not so good: forgetting your mobile phone at home, so I couldn’t take any pictures [but I have the memories!] And having your flight delayed by two hours on the way home.

Wonderful book haul, though, especially for hand luggage only standards.

And great reasons for acquiring each one of them. From top to bottom:

  1. Pascal Mercier: Perlmann’s Silence – Swiss writer who was professor of philosophy at the University of Marburg where I spent a year during my Ph.D. The topic of the novel is also one that is perpetually fascinating to me: academic conference, plagiarism, professional identity and murder…
  2. Daniel Kehlmann: Measuring the World – not as well known as more recent works by Kehlmann which have been translated since, this story of German scientists Humboldt and Gauss, and their obsession with time/space displacement.
  3. Ilinca Florian: When We Learnt to Lie – Romanian film director and writer, this is her debut novel, about a Romanian family during the last few years of Communism, a society about to transform profoundly.
  4. Joachim Riedl: The Genius the Meanness – Austrian writer, who studied in Cambridge and has written a lot about Jewish life in Vienna. This book, originally published in 1992, was one of the first to question the golden shimmer of fin de siecle Vienna and show its tarnished side as well. This was a present from my Viennese friend, who shares my critical love relationship with that city.
  5. Marlen Haushofer’s The Wall – have wanted to read this one for ages, but not in translation. I don’t know why I wasn’t aware of its existence before, since it was first published in 1963 (and so has nothing to do with the Berlin Wall), well before I was born, but I only started hearing about it about 4-5 years ago. Perhaps the ultimate dystopian novel about human isolation.
  6. Julia Franck: The Midday Woman – I was impressed by Franck’s book West and when I asked my friend what else I could read by her, she said that this novel is perhaps one of her favourite novels of the past decade or more. This one has apparently also been translated into English by the much-missed Anthea Bell as The Blind Side of the Heart.
  7. Eva Menasse: Quasi-Crystals – Another author I really liked (having read some short stories by her). I was thinking of acquiring her prize-winning historical novel about a Jewish-Catholic mixed family in Vienna (entitled Vienna), but then I found this book about a woman at 13 different stages in life. Turns out my friend knows the author personally (not just because Vienna is a small town and she is of the same age as we are, but their sons went to the same school in Berlin too).




33 thoughts on “Birthday, Berlin and Books”

  1. Joyeux Anniversaire mon amie!

    You do know how to celebrate. My dearest friend and I are seperated by an ocean and both with birthdays this month. Hopefully she will be here in a few months and we will celebrate then…

    1. No matter in which country I live, some of my dearest friends are always far away – we are scattered globally. So I understand you perfectly and hope you get to celebrate together well!

      1. No fears, we do more than make up for it! Last year it was a few days in Provence… I still have posts to write up about that trip.

  2. Happy Birthday, sweet friend. It sounds as if you had a great time swinging your hips to Der Kommissar…… I remember it well.

    big kisses

  3. I’m so glad you had such a fabulous time, Marina Sofia! It sounds as though you really took the break you needed. And that’s a terrific book haul, too. Good friends, a good visit, fine books….what more is there to ask for?

    1. Just goes to show you don’t have to spend crazy money or paint the town red or do something outrageous to mark a big occasion. It was perfect just like it was.

  4. Happy birthday. Memories are always better than photos (but photos are nice too… I know). And books are the best.

  5. Happy Birthday. You had a great time. I have zero friends from school. Must be lovely.
    Enjoy your books. I read The Wall as a teenager and it stayed with me as if I’d read it yesterday. I wasn’t too keen on that Kehlmann but you might feel differently. I don’t think Eva Menasse was translated.
    Btw There’s a movie of The Wall with Martina Gedeck one of my favourite German writers.

    1. What’s so special about keeping friends from that long ago is that with an international lifestyle of moving between countries and then not being allowed to receive letters from abroad, I lost touch with some of them for several years. But when we reconnected, it was as if we’d never been apart!

  6. Wonderful! Magical memories and succour for the spirit. A birthday truly celebrated, Marina Sofia. Cheers to the next decade!

  7. Belated happy birthday. I can’t believe it’s taken me over a month to get back here and comment. I wanted to say that I see you bought a copy of Julia Franck’s Mittagsfrau while you were away. I have a spare copy of Lagerfeuer (also in German) by her and wondered if you’d like it? Happy to send it on to you, no charge. If you do, message me on Twitter or email me.

    1. Thank you for the very generous offer, but that was the first book by her that I read – and was really moved! Hence why I wanted to read more by her!

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