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Monika Maron. Geburtsort Berlin.

Monika Maron. Geburtsort Berlin. Frankfurt am Main. S. Fischer. 2003. 126 pages, ill. 13.90 [euro]. ISBN 3-10-048818-0

AS THE TITLE Of Geburtsort Berlin indicates, Monika Maron is a native Berliner (b. 1941), and in this volume she has assembled eight vignettes of her city, half pre-half post-1989, with some reaching back into her childhood recollections.

Growing up as a good socialist child, Maron decides aristocrats should not be acknowledged by their names and hence, not being able to read yet, insists on referring to the street named after the GDR-approved Berlin author as "Tane" instead of Fontane street. On the other hand, she's proud of having gone to the last school in Berlin still called a "Gymnasium," perhaps because it was her stepfather, interior minister Karl Maron, who had this name smacking of rich "capitalist exploiters" changed to a plain high school when he learned about it from her.

As an adult, Maron spent a year in Dresden, doing her socialist tour of duty as a proper factory worker, and then several in Hamburg, having left the East in 1988. These sojourns made her realize that Berlin is her "true love," and she deplores how the GDR regime had neglected the city--much as it neglected its people--not even maintaining (much less renovating) it until its 750th anniversary was approaching in 1987. Here she reminds us that the Nazis never got a big vote from the Berliners and that the communists had to bring in Saxons to control them.

In the inevitable piece on Berliners and their dogs, Maron recalls how the GDR regime did not allow people to take their dogs into bars, unlike the West, and wonders--perhaps only slightly tongue-in-cheek--if the regime had done this in order to enhance its citizens' sense of themselves as people.

If other Germans talked about foreigners the disparaging way they do about Berliners, they would, Maron contends, be accused of discriminating against a minority (the way Berliners speak of Saxons? one might wonder). It was probably because of this image that they eventually agreed to Christo's wrapping of the Reichstag, which finally made everyone--even Berliners--smile and celebrate.

By 1995 Maron finds that the behavior of postal employees was pretty much the only reminder of how all East German officialdom had behaved toward its citizens, and concludes that, other than these folks, Berliners are basically nice--one just has to get used to their style (analogous perhaps, I'd offer, to the way the rest of Americans have to adjust to New Yorkers when in their city).

Keeping things in the family, the text is accompanied by black-and-white images by photographer Jonas Maron, which evoke, sometimes bleakly and sometimes whimsically, a city in transition. Like the essays, the vignettes capture and distill quintessential characteristics of Berlin, sometimes with an understandably bitter taste for the past, but otherwise with relish: Try it, you'll like it.

Ulf Zimmermann

Kennesaw State University
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Author:Zimmermann, Ulf
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2005
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