Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Berlin at War by Roger Moorhouse (The Bodley Head, 2010)

Roger Moorhouse’s premise for writing Berlin at War was that much has been written about the Nazi Party, leading figures, the German armed forces, various campaigns and theatres of war, and the Holocaust, but little has been written about the lives of ordinary Germans during the war. In Berlin at War he seeks to rectify this by using documentary evidence and war diaries to examine the lives of Berliners, and those living in the city such as diplomats, journalists and forced labourers, during the conflict. Rather than chart a straight chronological history, Moorhouse instead focuses on key themes such as rationing and sourcing food, architecture, bombings and taking shelter, entertainment, propaganda, evacuation, Jewish deportations, forced labour, regulations, governance and policing, resistance, public mood, and armed conflict. The result is a somewhat dry, but fascinating account of life in the German capital. Somewhat ironically, for a book that is meant to focus on the everyday lives of Berliners, the book starts by describing a Nazi parade for Hitler’s birthday in April 1939, rather than the mundanity of work or home life or leisure. The reliance on diaries and written testament, rather than interviews, is partially responsible I think for the quite detached tone, and it took me a little while to get into the book. By about a hundred pages in though I was hooked and Moorhouse does an admirable job of discussing a range of different issues to build up a reasonably comprehensive overview of everyday life. Not the most compelling book on the Second War World, and does not significantly extend accounts by William Shirer and Anthony Beevor or indeed the novels of Philip Kerr and Hans Falada, but an interesting read nonetheless.

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