Lead Review

  • Book: Learning German (badly)
  • Location: Berlin
  • Author: Tim Luscombe

Review Author: tripfiction



The author has lived all around Europe and is now settled in Berlin with his German partner Sven. Life is good, it is Summer 2016 but back in England the news is unsettling. The polls suggest that the Brits might just choose to leave Europe and where would that leave the millions of British people who have chosen to make their home there?

He immerses himself into learning German and details the often gruelling semantics of the language at the local Volkshochschule, whilst observing his ‘Kommilitonen” (fellow students), fondly yet sometimes with an unforgiving eye. His classmates are a mix of different cultures from around the world and together they are taught by Almut. It’s hard but it is part of his game plan towards really settling in the city, especially if the referendum were to say ‘out’. Anyway, as Charlemagne said “to learn another language is to possess a second soul” so his time is well used.

His stress at the potential leave outcome is palpable and being so far removed from the everyday gurning of British politics, he struggles to really get a handle on the febrile twists and turns. He frets and plugs into the internet like a man possessed. Certainly Gove and Johnson – even at the early stage of the proceedings – stoke his ire and inflame the worry. Reading this in 2019, the outcome, despite all the uncertainty, seems now set in stone, and makes his musings over three years ago quite poignant.

Should he apply for residency and perhaps citizenship? For this he needs a sound knowledge of the language, hence the language classes. Meanwhile, back in Britain, his father is in and out of hospital so in several areas of his life, the ground is rocking. The parallels of these two life changing events serve to really undermine his equilibrium.

This is not only a memoir of uncertain times but in its own way an homage to cosmopolitan and open-minded Berlin. “Today, with its inner city leafiness and imperial monuments, Berlin feels like a cross between Vienna, Moscow and Milton Keynes. Grand palaces sit adjacent to concrete communist follies that border sublime shaded parks where memorials to atrocities and catastrophes nestle among the trees“. I read this memoir – practising what we preach and all that – whilst in the city and it really added to the experience, providing a real sense of literary wanderlust, an excellent read for TripFiction. It is written with verve and humour and celebrates being in the heart of Europe.

As 23.6.16 comes and goes and the decision is made of course in favour of ‘leave’, there is quite some readjustment to be made. He plans a period in England directing a play. But then what? There is no postscript. So, Tim, if you are reading this, I would love to know how things have turned out for you? Give us an update!

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