Infused with the spirit of 1920s Berlin, Mr. Brecher’s Fiasco is one of the great modern novels about the urban heart of Germany. It was a time of hope and hyperinflation, sexual liberation and repression, industrialization and unemployment, and constant political instability—with the shadow of fascism looming ever larger. Available here for the first time in English, Kessel's novel draws upon the major intellectual and social issues of Weimar Germany and is a satire of the Berlin workplace and the white-collar workers of the city’s mushrooming bureaucracy. His story captures a moment in which office workers—originally a small, respected, and privileged sector of the workforce—transformed into a large and amorphous common class of workers.
In the offices of a large media conglomerate responsible for all kinds of advertising, Max Brecher considers himself the intellectual among the clerks. He reflects on the personal relations in the office, his own situation as an employee and human being, and the shifts in the values and ideas of life in 1920s Berlin. His office has its share of interesting characters, such as the corrupt Dr. Geist, who becomes a hypocrite in order to advance in the office hierarchy; the lovely Mucki Schopps, a tricky young girl with whom everyone falls in love; Gudula Often, who strives for harmony among her coworkers but never achieves her goal; and the department head, Mr. Sack, who meets an unfortunate end.
Kessel’s scenes are strikingly modern. Many of the actions, complaints, and frustrations could easily come from a present-day office novel. He depicts the lives of his characters and the everyday events of the office with great style and humor. All who have worked in offices will find something of their experiences in these stories: there are couplings, accidents, even a suicide attempt. Some workers are devoted to and fulfilled by their jobs; others, like Max Brecher, are considerably less so. While his peers willingly subordinate themselves as cogs in the industrial machine, Mr. Brecher remains too independent, unable to look uncritically, unwilling to play the assigned role. And therein lie the conditions for Mr. Brecher’s fiasco.
About the Author
Martin Kessel (1901–1990) was awarded numerous literary prizes, including the 1926 Kleist Prize, the 1954 Georg Büchner Prize, the 1960 Fontane Prize, and the 1961 Literature Prize of the Bavarian Academy of the Fine Arts. His work received renewed attention upon the centenary of his birth.