Berlin Stories

In the section titled Sally Bowles, of Isherwood’s The Berlin Stories, the protagonist of the novel, Chris, relates his tumultuous relationship with an aspiring actress named Sally. The presence of money, or lack thereof, is a constant theme throughout the entire novel. Sally is interested in finding wealthy gentlement whom she can swindle with her good looks and charm. Sally and Chris confide in each other and are engaged in a platonic relationship. They jokingly referred to each other as “gold diggers” when they both befriend and financially benefit from a wealth gentleman named Clide.

Germany’s dire economic conditions are implicitly referenced throughout the text. One morning Chris’s landlord, Frl. Schroeder, woke him up in a frantic state and exclaimed “they’ve shut down the Darmstadter und National! There’ll be thousands ruined, I shouldn’t wonder! The milkman says we’ll have civil war in a fortnight! (57) Although there was a note on the bank that indicated that everyone’s deposits were guaranteed, the fear of financial meltdown was always in the back of people’s minds. The growing distrust of the German economy ultimately contributed to the system’s collapse because people lost faith in the banks. Weary individuals would withdraw their entire savings accounts, leaving the banks in a state of dissarray because there was not enough money on hand to meet demand.

Do you believe that Germany’s financial collapse and accompanying hyperinflation could have been less devastating if people would have behaved less drastically and maintained faith in the banking system?

Berlin Stories

The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood, are a collection of short stories that are based on the experiences of Isherwood when he lived in inter-war Germany. Each different chapter consists of a variety stories, that share the same characters, and settings. Isherwood’s different stories seem to focus on a specific aspect of the Weimar culture. Weather it be the story of the narrators relationship with Sally Bowles, or in a later section when his vacation is concentrated on a very harmful relationship between two people living in his house. Isherwood always seems to put an interesting spin on issues . Once aspect of the book I found very interesting were the economic problems of Frl. Schroeder.

To the reader at first glance Frl. Schroeder seems to simply be a very interactive land lady. However, we soon learn that she was a lady of individual means who  took in boarders for the entertainment. However as time went on she feel on hard times and she’s forced to take as many boarders she can handle. This economic downturn and the change in opinion of Schroeder from a well off lady to a person who struggles to make ends meet seems to be an prime example of the issues many germans faced. It also seems to be an example of germany as a whole and the hard times its fallen on. This part of the story although minor struck me as a interesting parallel.

Do you think there were germans who were not  willing to stoop to the level of Schroeder?


Berlin Stories

In The Berlin Stories, Christopher Isherwood explains the daily life of a British ex-patriot living in Germany during the early 1930s. His section called “A Berlin Diary: Autumn 1930” explores the daily life and activities of the protagonist and his friends/acquaintances. Within this chapter, the reader is introduced to daily life, seeing a glimpse of how an everyday person may have lived during that time.
One line within this chapter was especially surprising given the financial and economic difficulties of the time. The protagonist, in talking about the character of another, states, “like everyone else in Berlin, she refers continually to the political situation, but only briefly, with a conventional melancholy, as when one speaks of religion. It is quite unreal to her” (223). This reaction is surprising given how dire the situation in Germany was at the time. Did the average person tend to ignore or dwell on these problems?
This piece of the text brings up interesting questions about the time. The timeless issue of the strength of a semi-fictitious piece as a source for historical analysis. This type of interpretation forces the reader to interpret and analyze questions about population demographics and popular support. How was the population so unsupportive of attempts made to help them during such an uncertain time? How did people like Hippi talk only briefly about the problems that were present in Germany, but also in almost every other European country during the latter part of the 20th century?

Women in Nazi Germany

In The Berlin Stories, Christopher Isherwood tells the story of Sally Bowles, a beautiful young woman who aspired to become an actress. Isherwood’s relationship with Bowles was first and foremost paternal, though near the end of the story his feelings for her grow stronger. Despite his romantic feelings for her, it is clear from the start that she is concerned with finding a man who will be able to support her lavish lifestyle.  Based on Isherwood’s descriptions of women in “Sally Bowles,” the majority of them are considered to be dependent, immature and incapable of making their own decisions.  Misogyny was a mindset that was prevalent throughout Nazi Germany, as Hitler emphasized that women’s main concern should be motherhood.

In Nazi Germany, women were highly encouraged to take the traditional route, and focus on giving back to the state through childbirth and motherhood rather than working for a living. The gender roles at this time were incredibly rigid, and this is clear in The Berlin Stories through both Sally’s behavior, and the misogynist comments of men. For example, in the letter that Klaus wrote Sally, he said, “My dear little girl, you have adored me too much. If we should continue to be together, you would soon have no will and no mind of your own…You must be brave, Sally, my poor darling child” (Isherwood, 41).  In this scene, and throughout the book, Sally is perceived as a helpless child, and belittled by the majority of men that she meets. Isherwood’s short novel about Sally Bowles further emphasizes the misogyny that was prevalent in Nazi Germany.

Was Isherwood’s paternal relationship with Sally condescending? Or did she truly need his guidance to prevent her from making poor decisions?

Norris and the Role of Luxury in Communism

When readers are first introduced to the character of Arthur Norris, he is offered a cigarette by William Bradshaw, a luxury reserved more or less “for the common folk”. As we see his character develop, the amount of wealth he flaunts becomes greater and greater, bragging about having a bedroom in Paris that he customized himself and worth a small fortune. Later he goes on to show this wealth with the amount of servants and the quality of decoration his house has to Bradshaw, which in turn helps characterize him for the reader.

These characterizations are important because than Isherwood goes against the stereotypes of communism. By making this rich socialite a communist, Isherwood was not only showing the rapidly changing politics of German society, but was showing the hypocrisy that the rich intellectuals were living in the Wiemar Republic. These folks truly were disconnected with the realities of Germany at the time. Even though people such as Norris were attempting to solve reform and improve living conditions, they failed to realize that this radical reform would never occur and ultimately, their attempts at change were actually hampering the working classes cries for help. While Norris thinks he is helping workers like those oppressed in China, in reality he is part of the problem, delaying any chance of democratic reform and allowing the Nazis to eventually rise to power.

Communism, Nazism, and the Berlin Stories

In The Berlin Stories, author Christopher Isherwood characterizes the social and political climates in Germany during the rise of Nazism through a series of vignettes centered around William Bradshaw, “a young bourgeois intellectual,” and Arthur Arnold, an older Englishman with subversive Communist sympathies. (Isherwood, 64)  The first one hundred pages of the novel recount the pair’s activities and correspondence centered around the city of Berlin.  Each chapter puts forth several small fragments of interwar Germany with regard to everything from its nightlife (“‘Oh, you mean those whores on the corner there'”) to its foreign policy (“‘The workers demand assistance for the hundreds of thousands of Chinese peasants now rendered homeless'”), ultimately creating an anecdotal portrait of this dynamic period in European history. (Isherwood, 34, 47)

I found the narrative prose style in Isherwood’s work both refreshing and compelling.  It is, in my opinion, always more interesting to absorb history through stories (even those of realistic fiction) and case studies than to simply comb through facts and data.  However, this style can sometimes allow the reader to develop sympathies for particular characters and/or demographics that may not have arisen in more formal historical writing.  Do you feel that the narrative style of Isherwood and other authors like him (e.g. Silone, Solzhenitsyn) can be problematic for readers for this and/or other reasons?

Mr. Norris and Communism

Christopher Isherwood’s The Berlin Stories consists of two novellas set in Berlin right before and during the rise of the Nazi party in the 1930s, the first of which is The Last of Mr. Norris.  This stories chronicles the friendship between William Bradshaw and Arthur Norris.  Mr. Norris proves to be a mysterious and interesting character, as he is a communist during a time which it is dangerous to be so in Germany.

While Norris holds onto his communist beliefs despite the political dangers they cause him, there are some aspects of his personality that do not completely fit with the communist ideology.  Norris holds a few somewhat aristocratic tendencies as a result of his upbringing, despite his poverty at the time which the novel is set.  Bradshaw states that Norris’ “…spirits always sufficiently indicated the state of his finances,” and when he is better off financially, he is more cheerful (41-42).  He also believes that he is at his best when he is surrounded by the material objects which he desires and revels.  Even though Norris holds aristocratic values to more importance than his communist comrades, he is shown to believe steadfastly that the wealthy should use their resources to help the poor.  This characterization portrays Norris as more of a moderate who resonates with more and joins a radical group than a pure communist.

The Nowaks and the Jews

The Jews living in Berlin were some of the most assimilated Jews in all of Europe. Why, then, did the Nazis not face more resistance when they began to ship Jews off to concentration camps? The Jews were clearly different from other Berliners, but how were they viewed before the Nazis came into power? Did other German dislike the Jews and want them to be taken away?

In his short story, “The Nowaks”, Christopher Isherwood captures a few different German views toward Jews. There is a Jewish tailor in the neighborhood who sells clothing to people on credit and never pushes for his money back. He is well liked, even though everyone owes him money. “He enjoyed the status of a public character whom people curse without real malice” (p.117). When discussing the tailor with Christoph, Frau Nowak says, ‘ “when Hitler comes, he’ll show these Jews a thing or two. They won’t be so cheeky then” ’(p.117). But Frau Nowak goes on to clarify that she doesn’t want the Jews taken away, saying ‘ “You ask the people round here, Herr Christoph: they’d never turn out the Jews” ’(p.117).  This statement seems contradictory to her previous one, and in hindsight, is extremely ironic.

In contrast with his wife, Herr Nowak believes that “we’re all equal as God made us. You’re as good as me; I’m as good as you”(p.110). Herr Nowak, even though he is drunk most of the time and is a working class man, is wise, and probably a communist. He discusses how he and a French soldier met on a road during WWI and parted as “aim”(p.110). He also makes fun of both Jews and Catholics equally, imitating how each group prays (p.123).

The Nowaks don’t seem like people who would turn their Jewish neighbors over to the Nazis, but other Germans did. Frau Nowak said herself that the Jewish tailor gives credit like no Christian would and is well liked, so what does he need to be taught by Hitler? Do the people actually secretly resent him because they owe him money?  What was it really about the Jews that bothered Germans?

The Berlin Stories: Mr. Norris Changes Trains

The Berlin Stories by Christoper Isherwood are two stories set in Berlin in the 1930s. The first story, entitled Mr. Norris Changes Trains, is based on the relationship between William Bradshaw, the protagonist, and Arthur Norris, the mysterious stranger he meets on the train. The story follows their relationship and the gradual development of Norris’ character. Norris is soon revealed to be a communist and ex-convict. His past and his present tend to create financial and political troubles for Norris, especially in the changing climate of the newly Nazi state of Germany.

In one scene Norris is shown to be giving a speech at an underground communist party meeting. His speech is about British Imperialism in Asia, following the general theme of Chinese social problems at the time (53-56). This scene is fascinating as it provides an interesting insight into the communist party in Germany. Despite the increasingly hostile environment for communism under the Nazi government, the leading members are organizing conferences on international problems rather than finding domestic solutions. This provides an insight into their naivety and the relative importance they place on theoretical Marxism, rather than their ability or desire to adapt communism to the German situation. Additionally, this may also provide an example of the inability for the different sections of socialism to work within a domestic framework, forcing them to find a common ground in vague demands for World Revolution. If this is true, it may explain their inability to fully capitalize on their popular support before the Great Depression.