This week, Simon from Maida Vale is reviewing Berlin Finale by Heinz Rein. The book is part of the genre of “rubble literature”, stories of soldiers and home-front survivors trying to pick up their lives again in the rubble of a destroyed Berlin. Over to Simon…
I recently read Berlin Finale by Heinz Rein. It covers the last two weeks of the second world war in Berlin as the red army closes in on the city. I believe that the writer, Heinz Rein was a resident of the city at the time so the book is a fictional account of the horrors he would have experienced at first hand. The focus is on the resistance movement in the city, such as it was. It starts with the character of Lassehn who enters the bar belonging to Klose.
Lassehn has deserted the army disgusted with the way the war is going and the behaviour of the Nazis. He is taken in and sheltered by the owner of the bar, Klose, who gradually introduces him to other Berliners opposed to the Nazi regime. Lassehn had been married to a young woman he had met on leave two years before, so he attempts a reconciliation with her.
The book is very evocative of the nightmare of total war and the end of the world environment of the bombed out and hostile city which is being targeted night and day by the British and American air forces. The writer gradually introduces more and more characters as the novel progresses who typify the various degrees of political thought from the anti Hitler characters who desperately want the war to end soon and the Russians to defeat the Nazis, to the most virulent hate filled Nazi fanatics who are still loyal to a doomed and despicable ideology.
The story is interspersed with some of the ridiculous articles from government endorsed newspapers and proclamations from the Nazi hierarchy like Goebbels and Robert Ley, which paint a totally absurd story of the certainty of a last minute victory by the use of mythical wonder weapons or the arrival of non-existent relief armies.
As we know the city was “liberated” by soviet troops by the beginning of May 1945. At the time the book was written there was no inkling of the division and misery the city had to endure for the next 44 years.
Having recently visited the city of Berlin it added another layer of interest in visualising the scenes described, and indeed the city still bears the scars of the events of 75 years ago.
I believe this book has been relatively unknown and may have only been published in the English translation in 2019 as it says in the publication details, but unfortunately there is no forward about the author or publication story. At 661 pages it is an epic story but one which I found easy to read and it is a real page turner. The writer is excellent in describing characters and their motivation and brief history in a relatively economic way and I think with a greater audience it will be hailed as a classic of literature and I urge you to read it.
I think it was ordered by Nada at Maida Vale Library for our collection of classic European literature. Good choice Nada!
Berlin Finale is available to borrow in our libraries. You just need your Westminster membership card, or if you are borrowing online, just your membership number. If you are not a member, it’s super easy to join over here.