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04 Mar 2013

Alone in Berlin – Echoes of Twitter

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Hans Fallader wrote Alone in Berlin in several months of ill-health before his death in 1947.  Living through the Second World War and being imprisoned, the novelist was heavily influenced by the climate of fear he experienced during Nazi rule.

A brilliantly uncomfortable book, it shows the effect of the Gestapo on everyday folk in Berlin, where paranoia and distrust become the norm. Hailed by critics as ‘a vivid portrait of life in wartime Berlin’ and ‘a great novel of German resistance’, it reminds me of the Edmund Burke quote ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’.

It describes the efforts of one elderly couple who realise they do have an anonymous way of speaking out against the regime.  They leave handwritten postcards with short anti-Nazi slogans discreetly in public places – urging others to see the truth.  The domesticity of their rebellion, akin to graffiti yet not quite energetic enough for that, echoes today’s Twitter urge.

At considerable and finally fatal risk to themselves, they linger in public corridors and stairwells to deposit the small but passionate postcard-stye ‘tweets’ for others to come across.

The extremity of the political climate during the second world war gives a clear case for justifying their ‘anonymity’ in public broadcast.

Media Studies courses should take note and study the book for a comparison to the ease and ubiquity of opinion provided by today’s social media. And consider the threat to privacy and democracy should these tools be accessed by governments.

Alone in Berlin, first published 1947, available as a Penguin Classic in paperback


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