For several years now, I’ve been wanting to spend some extended time in Berlin. Berlin, for me, is the path not taken, and it’s loaded with might-have-beens and with more personal history than I can unpack in one telling. But what I want to say here, although I’m putting it under the rubric of “Berlin Notes”, is actually a reflection on reading the novels of Stieg Larsson, the guy who died just before his trilogy came out that has been making best seller lists around the world.
I happened to catch a Charlie Rose interview with Eva Gedin and Sonny Mehta the end of May, shortly before Taku and I took off for a European vacation, and was so taken with the story of Larsson and these books being touted as Harry Potter for adults, that I went out and bought the first two novels of his trilogy.
The trilogy are I - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, II - The Girl Who Played with Fire, and III - The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. Since I wanted to travel without checked baggage, and assumed I’d be too busy to do much reading, I decided to leave II home. By the second or third day in Rome, however, I had finished I and was really pissed at having left II behind. As soon as I got to Berlin I went out and snatched it off the shelves at Hugendubel’s.
The German titles, incidentally, are I – Verblendung (Delusion), II – Verdammnis (Damnation), and III – Vergebung (Forgiveness) – and I leave it to you to make what you will of the cultural implications in the choice of titles in each case. 751 pages, plus all the teasers for the other two books. That ought to hold me, I thought, for the next three weeks, particularly since I read German at a slower pace than English.
But then fate checked in and destroyed my feet. Others might suggest it was my foolish belief that at 70 I could still pound the cobblestones of Rome, Florence, Venice and Potsdam for six hours a day and come out alive. I was in agony. I mean agony. Actually contacted my doctor in Oakland, who diagnosed the problem as plantar’s fasciitis and told me to stay off my feet.
So when Taku went home on the 20th, I put my feet up and, by yesterday, those 751 pages were history and I had a lust for III that was beyond control. Trouble is, this is Germany and everything closes on Sundays. The teapartiers may want to think Obama is a socialist, but they ought to have a look at what goes on here, where the government decides it’s not right that people should work all the time and insist on closing everything down on Sundays. Here it was, Sunday a.m. and I am without the third novel and there is no apparent way to get it! I go online to bookstore after bookstore. They’re all closed. I am referred to the "Ladenschlußgesetz" - the “Store Closing Law.” Thanks, but I get the picture. I don't need 8 pages of explanation.
I remember that my friend Jürgen lent me his video card. OK, I thought. I can hang on till Monday if I can feed the Larsson obsession by watching the movies. I find the local video store in the chain the card works with, just fifteen minutes away. I run my eyes over the DVD covers and find II immediately. It’s in the original Swedish, Flickan som lekte med elden, so I don’t know if it’s I, II or III. Well, actually I can read ‘the girl who x’d with y’, so it must be II, but I figured the guy at the counter could tell me. “How the hell should I know?” he says. “I don’t read Swedish.”
Do me a personal favor, I say to the smartass. Would you see if you have Verblendung? (That’s I, in case you haven’t committed these details to memory.) Bookcase Number 28, he says, and goes back to the movie he’s watching. There are tons of copies. I pick it up, dubbed in German, and go back and get II in the original with subtitles as well, feeling I might just make it through till the opening of the bookstore on Monday morning after all.
He runs the card through the reader and says, “You haven’t used this branch before, so I’m going to have to see some ID.”
“Well, it’s not my card. It belongs to a friend, so I don’t know if my ID will do.”
“If the card belongs to a friend, then your friend will have to come in and check out the movies,” he says, not quite so rudely this time.
What am I going to do? I’ve got to have it.
Online, in checking out the movies in the theaters, I noted that I (Dragon Tattoo) is playing in some kind of open air theater in Spandau tomorrow (today), so I hop a train to see if I can find the place. Don’t have anything better to do. Can’t imagine going home and reading anything else.
So I go all the way out to Spandau, at the end of both the S-bahn and the U-bahn lines, that name made famous for the prison where Rudolf Hess was held. You know, the guy who played chess with the British Commandant who I met at a party once who put me within three degrees of separation from Adolf Hitler? And most of you reading this within four? That Spandau?
The theater is right by the station, in the Stadtbibliothek. The movie starts at 9:30 tonight, which is sundown, and runs till after midnight. Do I really want to do that? It’s nearly an hour back on the train.
I wander back downtown, get off at Friedrichstraße and, BE STILL MY HEART, what do I see but words written in gold across the sky - a Buchhandlung!!! It’s more of a 7/11 of Buchhandlungen. A kiosk, actually. But it’s open!!! Apparently the Ladenschlußgesetz doesn’t apply to kiosks. Color Modern Germany flexible. I walk in, turn my head to the right and what’s that on the shelves? Verblendung, Verdammnis and Vergebung jumping right out at me at eye level. The cashier takes my delight to be on account of the 4 to 1 victory in South Africa over England, so there’s no need for explanations.
I try to get home to get into it, but I get caught up in the soccer fever in the streets. At the stop just before mine, the bus suddenly turns down Kantstraße with no explanation. I run up to the driver (doesn't he know how badly I need to get to a quiet place to read?) and ask him, "Are you going to head back to Charlottenburg eventually?" "Ik fahr zum Zoo, Meister. Wollen'se aussteigen?" (I'm going to the Zoo (the end station), governor. You want out here?) The busses are clearly going where they can, not where they want to. I get out, walk to the Ku-damm, thinking I'll catch another bus there going back, but the entire damn Ku-damm is closed to vehicular traffic! I get into a subway going east (I want to go west), change at Kurfürstendamm to a U9 to Berlinerstraße and then to a U7 heading for Spandau to get to Adenauer Platz, clutching III (Forgiveness, Hornet’s Nest – or Luftslottet som sprängdes if you want to get sticky about it) in my hands, and dash back for my nightly Bratwurst with Röstkartoffeln before diving in. I read till four in the morning.
Still haven’t decided whether to trek back to Spandau for the movie. Probably will see if I can have my Kuchen and eat it too, wait till Jürgen gets back tomorrow and can rent the movie for me, and read till four a.m. for a second night in a row. With any luck I can get through a good chunk of the book before sleep overtakes me.
This one is 848 pages.