Late April, 1945. The war is over, yet Dr Doll, a loner and “moderate pessimist”, lives in constant fear. By night, he is haunted by nightmarish images of the bombsite in which he is trappedhe, and the rest of Germany. More than anything, he wishes to vanquish the demon of collective guilt, but he is unable to right any wrongs, especially in his position as mayor of a small town in north-east Germany that has been occupied by the Red Army.
Dr Doll flees for Berlin, where he finds escape in a morphine addiction: each dose is a “small death”. He tries to make his way in the chaos of a city torn apart by war, accompanied by his young wife, who shares his addiction. Fighting to save two lives, he tentatively begins to believe in a better future.
Nightmare in Berlin captures the demoralized and desperate atmosphere of post-war Germany in a way that has never been matched or surpassed.
About the Author
Hans Fallada (1893–1947) was the pen name of German author Rudolf Ditzen, whose books were international bestsellers on a par with those of his countrymen Thomas Mann and Hermann Hesse. He opted to stay in Germany when the Nazis came to power, and eventually had a nervous breakdown when he was put under pressure to write anti-Semitic books. He was cast into a Nazi insane asylum, where he secretly wrote The Drinker. Immediately after the war he wrote his last two novels, The Nightmare and Alone in Berlin, but he died before either book could be published.
Dr Allan Blunden is a British translator who specialises in German literature. He is best known for his translation of Erhard Eppler’s The Return of the State? which won the Schlegel-Tieck Prize. He has also translated biographies of Heidegger and Stefan Zweig, and the prison diary of Hans Fallada.
Reading Group Guide
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER
- Nightmare in Berlin has been called a ‘moral thriller’. Which moral themes and conflicts did you feel were most powerful in the book?
- There is a fairytale character to passages in the book, evoking the feeling of ‘Once upon a time...’ Do you think this is deliberate?
- Fallada’s depiction of post-war Germany is very autobiographical. What was your sense of the period and the feelings of the German people at the time?
- Do you think Doll was paranoid? Discuss his character development throughout the book.
- In Chapter 1 it is said of Doll, ‘If he died there in the wet mud, too bad for himbut only for him! Not a heart in the world would grow heavier on his account.’ Do you think this is true? And how does this change by the end of the book?
- Doll feels shame, rage, helplessness, and despair. Discuss Fallada’s creation of the Doll character as a reflection of the German nation at the time the book is set.
- Is the end of the book hopeful? How does this contrast with the rest of Doll’s story?