So, we were going to collect photos of Berlin spots mentioned by Walser in Berlin Stories, but then we saw this, and figured ours wouldn’t be nearly as nicely done. Thanks Mike Dressel!
Berlin never rests, and this is glorious. Each dawning day brings with it a new, agreeably disagreeable attack on complacency, and this does the general sense of indolence good. An artist possesses, much like a child, an inborn propensity for beautiful, noble sluggardizing. Well, this slug-a-beddishness, this kingdom, is constantly being buffeted by fresh storm-winds of inspiration. The refined, silent creature is suddenly blustered full of something coarse, loud, and unrefined. There is an incessant blurring together of various things, and this is good, this is Berlin, and Berlin is outstanding. —“Berlin and the Artist.”
I’m not even quite halfway through Robert Walser’s Berlin Stories, translated by Susan Bernofsky, and it is all I can do to stop myself from blogging nearly ever single sentence. First, “noble sluggardizing”! Then, throughout the “prose pieces,” as they are designated, there are phrases like “that blue-eyed marvel, the early morning” and “magnificent restlessness” and “where poesy can be felt, poetic flights are superfluous.”
The book is one of my favorite types, the musings of a flâneur and metropolitan chronicler who observes the whirling city from its bars stools and park benches, its opera boxes and streetcars. It is the kind of book that affords the reader the eerie delight of life explicated just as it is. It is poetic and deeply felt even in its flippancy.
Even though Walser was writing about Berlin in the early 1900s, it is hard not to draw parallels to New York, for a certain type of person who has moved to the city to live a certain type of life, no matter the decade or century in which they arrive. That is, for me, both a help and a hindrance as I am trying, after a five month absence, to fall in love with this city again.
But! This post is mostly in service of encouraging you to pick up the slim volume, if you are certain type of person who is drawn to a certain metropolitan life; if you ponder, like Walser, “what plays will be put on this winter,” if you enjoy long, contemplative walks smoking hand-rolled cigarettes, and if you find the thrum of urban life to be a source of endless fascination.