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Franz Göll was a thoroughly typical Berliner. He worked as a clerk, sometimes as a postal employee, night watchman, or publisher's assistant. He enjoyed the movies, ate spice cake, wore a fedora, tamed sparrows, and drank beer or schnapps. He lived his entire life in a two-room apartment in Rote Insel, Berlin's famous working-class district. What makes Franz Göll different is that he left behind one of the most comprehensive diaries available from the maelstrom of twentieth-century German life. Deftly weaving in Göll’s voice from his diary entries, Fritzsche narrates the quest of an ordinary citizen to make sense of a violent and bewildering century.
Peter Fritzsche paints a deeply affecting portrait of a self-educated man seized by an untamable impulse to record, who stayed put for nearly seventy years as history thundered around him. Determined to compose a “symphony” from the music of everyday life, Göll wrote of hungry winters during World War I, the bombing of Berlin, the rape of his neighbors by Russian soldiers in World War II, and the flexing of U.S. superpower during the Reagan years. In his early entries, Göll grappled with the intellectual shockwaves cast by Darwin, Freud, and Einstein, and later he struggled to engage with the strange lifestyles that marked Germany's transition to a fluid, dynamic, unmistakably modern society.
With expert analysis, Fritzsche shows how one man's thoughts and desires can give poignant shape to the collective experience of twentieth-century life, registering its manifold shocks and rendering them legible.
Instructive and fitfully absorbing...Readers...will be fascinated by the strange private world of an eccentric obsessive.
— Ian Brunskill
A fascinating glimpse beneath the historical wave...Göll's diary is an amazing artifact in itself: in hundreds of plain, hand-written notebooks (now stored in a Berlin archive), it stretches from the era of Kaiser Wilhelm II to the age of Ronald Reagan. Göll lives through the aftermath of World War I, attends the Nazis' "Degenerate Art" exhibit in 1938, survives the bombing of Berlin during the Second World War, reflects on the rise of the nuclear age, and tries out, well into his fifties, the sexual revolution. All the while he works on his aquarium, travels around Germany, and reads widely and ravenously...Fritzsche helpfully summarizes and explains the diaries, putting them in a broader context and isolating the major themes; he reflects, too, on the very modern project of writing a diary.
— Josh Rothman
This is a perceptive analysis of a 20th-century individual who cherished his perceived difference and who was at the same time representative of the masses, for better or worse.
— Ulrike Zitzlsperger
Fritzsche's astounding book opens our eyes, once again, to the disappointing sight of an ordinary human being. And an ordinary human being is just that: ordinary.
— Susanne Klingenstein