5 Berlin books (and a mag) for the holidays

Christmas lockdown: What better time to read – and give something to read? A few Berlin suggestions. In English, naturally.

Turn off that Netflix!
Turn off that Netflix!imago images/U. J. Alexander

Berlin-So, it's going to be a lockdown Christmas. What better time to kick back with some entertaining, stimulating prose? Here's a subjectively curated list of English-language books linked in some way to Berlin – either through content or because the author resides here. Oh, and there's a new English-language print magazine that deserves a plug. 

One more thing: Although in book shops will remain open during the lockdown beginning 16 December, it may be tempting to order books via that website named after a South American river. Instead, we suggest checking out www.genialokal.de. Selecting your local bookshop before ordering means they'll get a cut - and you can opt to pick them up in person at a shop. It's all German, but you'll manage!

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Those Who Forget by Géraldine Schwarz
Just when you thought everything that could possibly have been written about Nazi Germany, the Second World War and its aftermath had been written, Berlin-based French-German writer and documentary maker Géraldine Schwarz  published Les Amnésiques. The author's 2017 investigation into what both her German and French families did during the war was a critical and commercial success and racked up the literary awards around Europe. Those Who Forget has been translated into a dozen or so languages. A fine English edition translated by writer and poet Laura Marris came out in spring 2020. Buy it online here. 
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DADDY magazine
Okay, it's not a book, but it's some great holiday reading material. DADDY was launched online in 2016 by journalists Kemi Fatoba and Joe von Hutch who wanted  to see more diversity and inclusion in Berlin media. In their own words, DADDY "examines the tough issues (like racism, sexism, homophobia and discrimination) through a humorous lens." This year, mid-pandemic, they produced a print edition: "The Together Issue". It's impeccibly designed and the writing is top-notch. For a taste of the kind of stuff they publish check out Basic Ass Questions From White Europeans: Ranked or the brilliant Excerpts From My Unpublished Dissertation “Losing Chandler: Homoerotic Torsions And Tensions In The Early 21st Century." And buy the print mag here. Order by 18 December if you want to get it in time for X-mas.
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Herr Gröttrup setzt sich hin/Herr Gröttrup Takes a Seat/Herr Gröttrup Sits Down by Sharon Dodua Otoo
British Berlin-based writer Sharon Dodua Otoo's short story "Herr Gröttrup setzt sich hin" was originally published in German back in 2016. In precise, understated prose, we observe a former Nazi rocket-scientist encounter....a boiled egg. I won't reveal more but, as Neue Zürcher Zeitung puts it, "Otoo turns an elderly couple’s breakfast table into the final battleground of their life." The story won Sharon Dodua Otoo the 2016 Ingeborg Bachmann Prize, making her the first Black writer to ever be awarded one of the most prestiguous awards for German-language literature. In summer 2020, Still Press published the story in book form – in German with translations into British and American English – making it a delight for language nerds. Get it here or at your Berlin bookshop.
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Daughters by Lucy Fricke
In German novelist Lucy Fricke's bestselling, award-winningTöchter, two women pushing 40 take a road trip across Europe, each of them dealing with difficult dads along the way. Expect dark humour, antidepressants, musings on family, femnism and aging. Sinéad Crowe's translation of Daughters is one of a handful titles published this year by new Berlin imprint V&Q Books which makes "remarkable writing from Germany" accessible to English speakers and is headed by literary translator Kate Derbyshire. Get it here or here (for shipment in Germany).
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High as the Waters Rise by Anja Kampmann
Poet and first-time novelist Anja Kampmann lives in Leipzig but the English translation by Berlin-based literary translator Anne Posten was short-listed for the National Book Award in the US. It can't not be included in this list. The story begins on an oil rig in the Atlantic: Waclaw returns to his cabin to find that his bunkmate and companion, Mátyás, has gone missing. A search of the rig confirms his fear that Mátyás has fallen into the sea. A tale of grief and searching ensues that takes us on a journey across Europe and through themes like male intimacy, fossil fuel extraction and labour in the globalised economy. Read an interview with Kampmann in English here. And buy it here.
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The Standardization of Demoralization Procedures by Jennifer Hofmann
Another book about the Stasi? Yes, and a pretty original one at that.The Standardization of Demoralization Procedures provides the hard-to-define reading pleasure of delving in the head of an ageing Stasi agent experiencing the final hours of East Germany – with a whole lot of Russian-doll style flashbacks, out of which the rather tidy but utterly weird plot is finally teased. And yes, it involves teleportation. Jennifer Hofmann is an Austrian-American writer and translator living in Berlin – this is her first novel. Read our interview with Hofmann here. Get the book here.