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At the age of 18 Fallada had narrowly escaped a murder prosecution following the death of a friend in a failed suicide pact, and this led to the first of many incarcerations in psychiatric institutions. Towards the end of his life he was again prosecuted for making drunken threats with a gun against Anna Issel, from whom he had recently been divorced. In any society Fallada would have struggled, but he had the supreme misfortune to be born at a time when writers who wanted to avoid the attentions of the Gestapo could choose between compromise, silence or exile.
Fallada's choices led at one point to his arrest by the Nazi militia, and at another to close contact with Goebbels. His writing career was unstable and full of paradoxes, just as his life was lived in intimacy with humiliation and terror. The extraordinary texture of Alone in Berlin comes from the way in which everything is observed and represented as if "from below", from within this dynamic of humiliation and terror, and yet the representation is sharp, exact, ironic, devastating.
This is history seen from the backstreets, and from its viewpoint Nazi Germany at war is both intensely rigid and intensely unstable. A thousand regulations and prohibitions take the place of law, while justice is destroyed by an insistent appeal to the most sordid, cruel and mean-spirited elements in human nature.
Hans Fallada based Alone in Berlin on the true case of Elise and Otto Hampel, a working-class couple from Berlin, who began their own campaign against the Nazi regime following Elise's brother's death in action in France. For more than two years the Hampels wrote and secretly distributed postcards within Berlin, urging the German people to realise that Hitler's war was their death and that there would never be peace under the Nazis.
In September they were arrested, tried by a "People's Court" and executed. After the war, Fallada was given access to Gestapo files concerning the case, with interrogation records as well as examples of the postcards.
The files also contained photographs which appear to have influenced Fallada's physical descriptions of his fictional couple, Otto and Anna Quangel. The Hampels did indeed die alone, as they had acted alone. In the novel, Otto and Anna ponder their own isolation and wonder at the reach of their resistance. Have their postcards been picked up and read, or have they all been destroyed or handed in to the police immediately?
Have their actions had any effect at all, other than to lead to the destruction of their own lives and of lives which have touched theirs?
Fallada's handling of these questions is very subtle. The moral question is profound: if an action appears to have no effect, in that it is ignored or unnoticed by those to whom it was directed, then can it be considered to have had an effect in itself? And, if so, how is this effect felt and where is it manifested? Fallada is preoccupied by the idea of moral choice.
Otto and Anna choose to free themselves from acquiescence in the Nazi regime, and later, when both are secretly given phials of cyanide in order to forestall their executioners, they choose, for different reasons, not to use them. They always sent regards from him. Others, however, have not only lost but have willingly given up their power to make any choice which errs in the direction of humanity. Even when the prosecutor Pinscher encounters a prisoner on his way to the guillotine, he is driven, like a puppet "jigging from one foot to the other in his excitement" to demand further punishment.
The prison governor is forced to remonstrate: "What more can you want? We can't do any more than execute the man! What more can they want than the power to kill, to destroy at will, to possess the fates and futures of their citizens?
But of course they want more. The idea that a convicted criminal may be able to escape into eternity is all but unbearable to the frustrated Pinscher, who is forced to recognise that beyond death there can be no more interrogation and no more punishments. In fact, no more power. Two other characters, an elderly Jewish woman and a young German woman who has recently lost her baby, understand this and choose death as an escape from their tormentors.
Alone in Berlin , with its emphasis on the solitude in which moral choices are made, and the human loneliness of those who are persecuted, forces the reader back on very difficult questions. What, inside such a solitude and in such a society, would we do ourselves? Would we resemble the Quangels, or would we resemble those who type out their interrogation records? Fallada shows very clearly how terror, used as a matter of routine, rapidly corrupts individuals, neighbourhoods, cities and a whole nation.
Anna and Otto are very deliberately unglamorous, even unappealing figures. Otto is a tough, mean foreman who works hard and scares his fellow workers into productivity. His rectitude is as harsh as his hawklike profile. Anna is submissive to him, but it is her words that goad him into action, when she accuses him with "You and your Hitler! However, these two find the will, the means and the courage to do what few Germans did.
They know very well what will happen to them if they are caught and they cope by focusing on the technicalities of postcard production and distribution, and on the hope that what they are doing will make a difference: "Suddenly sober, he says, 'Perhaps there are already many thinking as we do. Thousands of men must have fallen. Maybe there are already writers like us.
But that doesn't matter, Anna! What do we care? It's we who must do it. These words are the core of the book. The "we" here is the Quangels, but it cannot avoid implicating everyone who reads the sentence.
The "we" to which Anna and Otto belong is the "we" to which we, reading, at least aspire to belong. Or if we don't, we belong to some other "we" which is all too vividly characterised in the novel: among the criminals who denounce for loot or plot for advantage, among the deliberately blind, the form-fillers, time-servers of the regime or dutiful fulfillers of quotas, whether these are quotas of armaments or heads in baskets.
And then, "must", when everything in the Quangels' society tells them that, on the contrary, they must not. This is not to say that they don't doubt themselves; they do, reasonably often, but their certainty, like faith, is capable of admitting doubt without collapse. Fallada gives instances of small acts, invisible to others, which may appear to be failures but which create a pattern to subvert the patterns created by nazism. The Quangels' is the chief, central act, but there are others.
Eva Kluge, a postwoman, gives up her party membership and cuts off all contact with her son Karlemann when she learns that he has showed around in the local pub a photograph of himself murdering a Jewish child. Until this moment she has been able to hide behind euphemisms. Karlemann may be in the SS and "bad rumours were flying about", but Eva knows "Karlemann wouldn't do that sort of thing.
Alone in Berlin is the work of a dying man and yet nothing could be more full of vitality. Not a single character in it represents a type or fulfils an overt purpose. Everyone is quirky, exact, singular, from the street kids who sling out insults and gang together to defeat an abusive father, to old judge Fromm, reading his Plutarch as the Jewish neighbour whose life he tries to save lies awake in terror.
There is the chaplain who has forgotten about fear because he, like the prisoners, is close to death, and the police inspector, Escherich, whose sojourn in the Gestapo "basements" teaches him that "it doesn't matter how he looks, what he does, what honours and praise he receives — he knows he is nothing.
A single punch can turn him into a wailing, gibbering, trembling wretch. But perhaps Fallada had been holding it back for a long, long time. Otto speaks freely for the first time when he is in the dock, has pleaded guilty but has to satisfy the judge's sadism by hearing torrents of abuse before he is sentenced:. Of course the attorney shudders; he has to, because he is part of the machine, just as the judge has to shriek abuse and the guard has to grab hold of Anna and squeeze her shoulder viciously.
Anna's free speech is more subtle. When the prosecutor attempts to humiliate her by asking how many men she had slept with before her marriage, this deeply conventional woman responds coolly: "Eighty-seven. Hans Fallada was correct: he had written a great book, in circumstances and a space of time which make the achievement almost miraculous.
But it's the double miracle of translation which gives us Fallada's novel in English as Alone in Berlin. Michael Hoffman is a fine poet, whose acute ear and eloquent understanding of the transition-points between the two languages make the text as powerful as it is down-to-earth.
Otto speaks freely for the first time when he is in the dock, has pleaded guilty but has to satisfy the judge's sadism by hearing torrents of abuse before he is sentenced: "I don't think it's going to go on much longer, your Thousand Year Reich," said Quangel, inclining his sharp bird's head towards the judge. The attorney shuddered. Topics Books Rereading. Reuse this content. Order by newest oldest recommendations. Show 25 25 50 All. Threads collapsed expanded unthreaded. Loading comments… Trouble loading?
Every Man Dies Alone
When a novel becomes an international bestseller 62 years after its original publication, there has to be something to it. It is the story, closely based on real events, of an ordinary German couple and their acts of resistance against the Nazis. I could keep this review very brief: The book has pages and I finished it within less than a week, reading every night until long after midnight. Yet the book is not overloaded and all these different strings are woven together perfectly. Anna and Otto Quangel live in war-time Berlin and are neither members of the Nazi party or their sub-organisations, nor are they overtly critical of the system.
Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada, review
R udolf Ditzen, who wrote under the name Hans Fallada , lived a chaotic life. Born in in Greifswald in north-east Germany, he was the son of a lawyer who was later appointed a judge. At the age of 18 he killed a schoolfriend in a duel, and spent much of his career in psychiatric hospitals and drying-out clinics or in prison for thieving and embezzlement to support his morphine habit. In between, he worked on the land, wrote a couple of novels and held down jobs for a period on newspapers. Fallada married in , and for a while straightened out. His novel, Kleiner Mann - was nun?
The path of least resistance
Entrance to the Holocaust History Museum is not permitted for children under the age of Babies in strollers or carriers will not be permitted to enter. The twelve years spanning till are the dark years of Nazi domination in Germany and vast stretches of conquered Europe. The book under review presents us with a powerful canvas of the war years in Germany and specifically in Berlin. The biographical information regarding the author, his connection with the Nazi Minister of Propaganda, Goebbels, and the circumstances surrounding the actual writing of the novel are fascinating in themselves, even before the reader opens the book. It depicts with an incisive scrutiny how difficult it was for Germans who were opposed to the Nazi regime to actively engage in any activity that opposed that regime.