Posts Tagged With: Berlin

1989 The Berlin Wall, My Part In It’s Downfall by Peter Millar

In 1989, the world watched as the Berlin Wall – a symbol of oppression at its most blatant – was brought down.  The atmosphere was euphoric and everyone who saw those scenes knew that they were watching history being made.

Peter Millar is a British journalist, who had spent several years living in East Berlin, and who found himself literally caught in the middle of the celebrations, stuck at Checkpoint Charlie, trying to make sense of what was happening, while piecing together a story for The Sunday Times.

In this book, he describes the events that led to the wall being built, and what life was like for those on the Eastern side of it.  People suddenly found themselves separated from family members, or forcibly ejected from their homes.  Living conditions were poor, and the economy crumbled.  Unlike most journalists who reported on the Wall and the division of a country, Millar has an on-the-ground view of events, as he lived through them personally.  The book also talks about how he initially fell into journalism (almost by accident), and worked in Fleet Street in the 1970s, before he became a foreign correspondent, and found a local public house in East Berlin named Metzer Eck.  There, he made some good friends and uncovered a lot of local opinion about life under the rule of the Soviet Union.

The political blunders and deliberate misunderstandings that led up to the demolition of the Berlin Wall are well explained and interesting.  Millar discusses how life changed for people on both sides, when Berlin became one city again.  He also relates how, some years later, he went to look at his own file kept by the Stasi Police (who spied on the citizens of East Berlin), and discovered who, if any, of his friends had fed information about him to the Stasi.  This chapter was the most chilling for me.  It was commonplace for microphones to be hidden in the walls of people’s apartments, and for certain citizens to be kept under surveillance from dawn to dusk.  A day out for Millar with his wife, when they did nothing more than go to a beach for a picnic, is described in minute-by-minute detail.

Millar is an engaging narrator, with a wry wit.  However, his good natured sense of humour never lets the reader forget that this is a story of oppression and dictatorship; that the people described lived their lives under constant watch and distrust.  It is written in a chatty tone, but it is about a very serious subject.  Highly informative, well researched and extremely interesting.

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The Bullet Trick by Louise Welsh

This book has some terrific writing, but a storyline that unfortunately does not match up to it.
To be fair, when I started reading this book I was quickly hooked, and felt that it might even become one of my absolute favourites.  Unfortunately, the ending felt rushed, was pretty predictable and let down the rest of the story. 
Nonetheless, it was a worthwhile read.  The main character – and the narrator – is William Wilson, a down-on-his-luck conjuror from Glasgow.  Hoping to make his fortune, he takes a job in Berlin and ends up recruiting a mysterious American girl named Sylvie as his assistant.  The story flicks back and forth between Berlin and Glasgow, as it slowly reveals the dark events that took place in Berlin, and how they have brought William to his present state of despair.  To say much more would be to give too much of the story away.  One minor gripe is that there was a seemingly unnecessary sub-plot regarding a decades old disappearance of a lady, which Wilson ends up becoming embroiled in.  The loss of this particular storyline would have not affected the book in any way, although it was in itself not an unenjoyable diversion from the main story.
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