- Book: Marzahn, Mon Amour
- Location: Marzahn
- Author: Jo Heinrich (Translator), Katja Oskamp
You may have been to Berlin, maybe more than once, but it is highly unlikely that you will ever have been to the prefab quarter of Marzahn. It is unprepossessing, a visual legacy of communist architecture for the masses – it begs the question: why would you want to visit a grey, depressing suburb that has nothing – seemingly – going for it. But the author disabuses the reader of preconceptions associated with this forgotten suburb and gives it a voice through her characters. It may well be defined by its concrete blocks but the people give it life.
Life and characters are observed through the perceptive lens of a chiropodist, an erstwhile writer who struggled to make a career in that field. She has now retrained and is working in a salon with a couple of other women and offers a holistic and caring service to her clients. There is a lot of inevitable detail about feet, the disfigurements and callouses, hard skin and yellowing toe nails, and, yes, it is slightly disturbing and distasteful but it is gruesomely and fascinatingly interesting.
The author has chosen a diverse cast of characters with whom she bonds. Many came to Marzahn in the days of the GDR, as it offered them affordable and reasonably comfortable housing, and then they just stayed on, continuing with their lives. The Wall came down in 1989 and many remained in situ rather than moving to the more fashionable western areas, they adjusted, found new work and continued with their own individual stories. There is love, hardship and the full gamut of human experience, all making this a very enjoyable read.
You might dismiss Marzahn (technically Marzahn-Hellersdorf). This may not be your first choice when it comes to choosing a book set in Berlin, but I think you would be missing out on several levels. Great writing, a good translation and a real feel for people and place. Ever heard of the Skywalk/ No, neither had I but on my next visit to the city, I shall look it up. Fancy some thermal baths for the day? Hop on the train from Ostbahnhof and head to Bad Saarow in Brandenburg, the destination for a work’s outing. You also discover a little of the history and that at one point, it was the dumping ground for effluent from other quarters in Berlin.
This is a surprisingly charming read and if you like Berlin and want to get to know it at the next level. then I recommend you pick up this novel. This is terrific way of seeing Marzahn and its inhabitants through the eyes of this author.