Goodbye to Berlin

by Charlotte Reads Classics

Goodbye to Berlin, Christopher Isherwood

Loved this! Goodbye to Berlin is split into six stories that make up a diverse picture of Berlin.

A Berlin Diary (Autumn 1930): Christopher Ishwerwood replaces William Bradshaw as narrator of the book. It is hard to read Goodbye to Berlin as anything other than autobiographical. The book begins with a diary that reads like an autobiography, featuring many of the characters that lived in the same building as Mr Norris in Mr Norris Changes Trains. It is a witty portrait of Berlin’s eccentric and bohemian types.

Sally Bowles: Famously based on Jean Ross, her fictional alter ego is an english socialite who singes in cabaret clubs. She charms Isherwood with her catty and shocking conversation and liberal attitude. She gets accidentally pregnant, has an illegal abortion, falls in love with con-men and permanently expects her big break to be just around the corner. She is oblivious to politics and language to the point of being hilarious; it is surprising how little the political climate affects the foreign community in Berlin.

On Reugen Island: This story contains the first signs that Isherwood is aware of the burgeoning problems of Naziism. The holiday resort has children singing nazi anthems and swastika flags on beach huts. However the main focus is the relationship between two men Isherwood is staying with: Peter and Otto. The reference to the relationship emphasises the men’s status as outsiders.

The Nowaks: As money becomes a problem Isherwood moves in with the Nowak family. This story shows the poverty that contrasts to the cabaret clubs and champagne socialism.

The Landauers: As the Nazis are elected, the destruction of Jewish properties reminds Isherwood of a prominent Jewish family he met when he first arrived in Berlin. He first befriends the daughter Natalie, with whom he has a very sweet relationship based on novels, cinema and amusing language barriers. He eventually loses touch with her after introducing her Sally Bowles. He gets to know Bernard Landauer who has a very independent life in Germany’s countryside. As time goes by the family gets death threats, and Isherwood finds out Bernard has died. Officially, the cause is a heart attack but common gossip suspects shooting or concentration camp.

A Berlin Diary (Winter 1932-3): The bad winter lowers everyone’s spirits. People are melancholy and torn between nostalgia and their uncertain future. The growing dominance of the Nazi party – people are beaten in street, Nazis go door to door collecting (demanding) money, and newspapers are nothing but a list of crimes and punishments. The mood has changed and Isherwood decides to leave Berlin.