Tag Archives: The Cold War

Berlin

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Berlin
By Andreas Schulte-Peevers
Lonely Planet – £14.99

Bismark and Marx, Einstein and Hitler, JFK and Bowie, they’ve all shaped – and been shaped by – Berlin, whose richly textured history stares you in the face at every turn. This is a city that staged a revolution, was headquartered by Nazis, bombed to bits, divided in two and finally reunited – and that was just in the 20th Century!

                                                                            ‘Welcome to Berlin’

There you go: simple, succinct and severely to the point, which, depending on how you like your literary explanation(s) delivered, is just as it should be. And if said opening gambit doesn’t entice you to either visit Berlin or continue reading, then I don’t know what will.

As is per norm with Lonely Planet Guides, Berlin really is a tour-de-force when it comes to both detailed description and colorful display. Replete with a pull-out map, each of its 320 pages bequeaths the traveller with everything they will fundamentally need to know with regards this most durable and wonderful of cities.

From The Berlin Wall (”It’s more than a tad ironic that Berlin’s most popular tourist attraction is one that no longer exists. For 28 years, the Berlin Wall, the most potent symbol of The Cold War, divided not only a city but the world”), to the Berlin Art Scene (”Art afficiendos will find their compass on perpetual spin in Berlin. Home to 440 galleries, scores of world-class collections and some 33,000 international artists, it has assumed a pole position on the artistic circuit. Adolescent energy, restlessness and experimental spirit combined and infused with an undercurrent of grit are what give this ‘eteranlly unfinsihed’ city its street cred”), this travel guide does indeed wield a mighty potent punch.

To be sure, it’s hard knowing just where to start, as one can readily dip into any section of this rather fast-paced book, and be idiosyncratically enlightened and informed nigh immediately. Whether it’s ‘High on History,’ ‘Party Paradise,’ ‘Museumsinsel & Alexanderplatz,’ ‘The Reichstag,’ ‘Laidback Lifestyle’ or ‘Cultural Trendsetter’ you’re after; Lonely Planet’s Berlin absolutely won’t disappoint. Simply because the photos are fab and everything is explained in an easy going and most convivial manner.

For instance, ‘Literature & Film’ on page 259 opens with: ”Since it’s beginnings, Berlin’s literary scene has reflected a peculiar blend of provincialism and worldliness, but the city’s pioneering role in movie history is undeniable: in 1895 Max Skladanowsky screened early films on a bioscope, in 1912 one of the world’s first film studios was established in Potsdam and since 1951 Berlin has hosted a leading international film festival.” The section then continues in more depth on such subjects as: Literature, Modernism & Modernity, New Berlin Novel, Film, Marlene Dietrich, After 1945 before finally concluding with Today.

So in all, this colourfully compact travel guide really does cater for everyone: from yer all round curious back-packer to yer everyday culture vulture.

There again, we are talking about Berlin; upon which the authoress, Andreas Schulte-Peevers also writes: ”To me, this city is nothing short of addictive. It embraces me, inspires me, accepts me and makes me feel good about myself, the world and other people. I enjoy its iconic sights, its vast swathes of green, its sky bars and chic restaurants, but I love its gritty sides more.”

Me too.

David Marx

Reckless

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Reckless
By William Nicholson
Quercus – £16.99

Reckless quintessentially takes one back to a time when, dare I say it, Great Britain was perhaps (indeed) great.

A time when people spoke differently and there was more of an under-current of blatant morality. A time when footballers weren’t generating yearly wages akin to that of a hospital week. And although human nature was still, human nature, the differing strains of humanity – not to mention the occasional twain that existed betwixt the sexes – was invariably (and thankfully) somewhat more gentle. More civil.

Naturally, one man’s civility is another man’s treachery; which, during The Cold War – upon which this book is fundamentally based – was pretty much the norm. Playing literary host to as much, writer, author and playwright, William Nicholson (whose plays include Shadowlands and Life Story, both of which won the BAFTA Best Television Drama Award of their year), clearly knows a thing or two about how to tell a story and how to keep people, or in this instant, the reader, mighty interested.

Tempestuously, if not snuggly set within the trajectory of the Second World War and the ever looming Cuban Crisis, Reckless tells the story of one Rupert Blundell, who is close advisor to Lord Mountbatten; along with the eighteen year old Pamela, who is advisor to no one other than her own middle-class and utterly misguided, high-octane, tart-induced sexuality. Throw in the Irish, religiously obsessed Mary Brennan, the kooky Nikita Khrushchev and a far too irate JFK, and what we have here is the nigh perfect ménage a trois of death, sex and God. Not particularly in that order mind, but the world according to the ever fantastic Nick Cave, does invariably leap forth.

Riddled with a menagerie of cracking one liners: ”’Oh, the royals can’t do a thing,’ said Lady Astor. ‘No one pays the slightest attention to a word they say. Of course, everyone loves them, but only in the way you love a family pet;”’ ”Examplars of the power wielded the world over by the stupid and the strong;” ”Defence strategy in an age of nuclear weapons could no longer be understood as the winning of battles. In an age of deterrence, the only victory was to not have a war;” ”Time to check her work and tell encouraging lies;” ”In the upper middle classes the stupid boys went into the City, and the stupid girls did art.”

Cynicism may reigneth throught these fifty-eight chapters and 495 pages, but what makes this book so very readable and enjoyable – apart form the characters, the language and the all round tonality – is the way in which
Nicholson never allows the interest to wane. No sooner have you turned one corner of colourful story telling (be it shagging during one’s lunchbreak or Cuba on a knife-ege), when you are immediately thrust unto a moral dilemma, wherein the answer(s) is never, ever crystal clear. Let alone palapable. Reachable: ”It’s like the final gunfight in a Western. It’s a moral stand-off. The first and most crucial battle, Rupert wrote on his pad, is the battle to make the other side shoot first.

I found this worthy book an entertaining read for a number of reasons: it’s witty’n’gritty, sassy’n’sexy, as well as acutely moral in equal measure. That it’s written with more flair than Janette Winterson on a tight-rope, only adds to its elongated validty.

David Marx