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Berlin Blues Paperback – December 28, 2004

4.1 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

More like a lovely dirge that the blues, this novel, is set in 1989, just as Berlin's East-West divide is fading, features Frank Lehmann, nearly 30, examining his slowly dissipating track. He lives in a studio apartment on the West side, works at a bohemian Kreutzberg district bar, has moderate drinking habits and various romances: he judges himself content. However, a tension between Frank's self-assessment and what we see of his actual encounters drives this gentle book forward. Episodic chapters like "The Dog," "Mother," and "A Late Snack" cover precisely what their titles name, in a manner that mirrors Frank's what-you-see-is-what-you-get nature. His inchoate affair with a beautiful chef named Katrin never quite turns into a full-blown relationship. The closest thing he has to a best friend, a sculptor named Karl, is deeply unstable. A trip to the East with an envelope of family money goes lightly awry. By the time the Wall actually falls, "Herr Lehmann" (as friends jokingly call him with mock formality) has made no decisions of any sort, despite very involved internal negotiations. In most books, Frank's Warholian flatness would come off as pretentious or thin; here it is sweet, if a little cold, and the incidentals of old West Berlin make for a nice backdrop. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The lead singer of a German rock band tries his hand at fiction with hilarious results. Herr Lehmann, as his friends have taken to calling him in deference to his approaching thirtieth birthday, has been tending bar for nine years in a hip if seedy section of Berlin. Proving that slackers are the same the world over, Lehmann uses what little energy he possesses to duck his parents, recover from his frequent hangovers, and, in general, avoid serious commitments of any kind. But over the course of a few crucial months in 1989, he falls in and out of love with a beautiful chef; engages in absurdly comic encounters with a menacing dog, bureaucratic customs officials, and a rule-bound bus driver; and comes to the aid of his best friend, who suffers a nervous breakdown. And, in the anticlimactic finale, he witnesses the fall of the Berlin Wall. Deadpan dialogue, an overwhelming sense of ennui, and spot-on descriptions of countless dreary bars give this first novel its remarkably rich atmosphere. The German counterpart to Jay McInerney's classic depiction of the 1980s, Bright Lights, Big City (1984). Joanne Wilkinson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 249 pages
  • Publisher: Random House UK (May 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099449234
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099449232
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 7.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,048,762 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I don't want to say much here, other than to challenge T. Ross's review, which might scare readers away and thus deny them from experiencing this author's clear voice and sarcastic view of the world. You don't need to know Berlin to understand this novel; you need to know (or be able to imagine) what it feels like to be a simple, regular person who feels uncomfortable with a society that doesn't share your values or seems to be chasing after some sort of higher happiness that maybe just doesn't exist. The title character has bite, and falls into the great tradition of slacker heroes dating back to Erich Kästner's "Fabian" (1931) and Goncharov's "Oblomov" (1859).
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One of my favorite books. You might get more out of it if you understand a bit about German culture.

Calling someone "Mr." and using the informal version of you is a contradiction in German. Combination of formal and informal. When Frank's friends start calling him Mr. Lehmann when he turns 30, it is a bit joke.

I highly recommend watching the movie (Herr Lehmann). One of those few examples where the movie really represents the book well. Plus, it has a great soundtrack! Herr Lehmann [ NON-USA FORMAT, PAL, Reg.2 Import - Germany ]
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I've seen the movie a couple of times and read the book (in German) and wanted to share it with friends who didn't speak German. I read through it and the translation kept bothering me, but I feel translations seldom live up to the original. An artful translation, after all, is something that only truly be appreciated by someone who doesn't need it. It would be five stars with a better translation.

The book is still great, especially for anybody who has spent any time in Berlin, but if you're giving it as a gift to a Germanophone recipient, buy the original text. The informal style and writing also make the German version suitable for people who are still learning German.
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Format: Paperback
This Kafka-esque book is a story about love, identity, and the German people. Herr Lehmann's friend Karl has been working in a bar for years, finally lines up a show for his art at a gallery, but has a break-down beforehand. He's freaked out by the possibility of failure to the point where he misses out on this chance for success. There are also numerous funny, philosophical debates.
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Format: Paperback
For starters, I'm not sure if you need to have some experience with the city itself to fully appreciate the book. My guess from some of the reviews is, it would certainly be helpful. Secondly, it was written in a language that, in some cases doesn't translate fully into English. This in and of itself makes some of the absurdity...well, less absurd (his friends call him Herr, but by his real name only in serious situations!).

There is local context, and if you are familiar with the city or its history in regards to those areas, it really helps in appreciation. A fair representation of the dating scene, artists, and the youth culture of the city. A good read in general.
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This book is not for everybody -- if you don't have a sense of humor, or if you don't like trying new things, or you're offended by profanity -- you may not like this book.

That said, this book is AWESOME. It'll have you absolutely crying with laughter. Frank Lehmann is one of the best main characters I've ever read. His honesty gives him a uniquely interesting perspective and insight.

The only problem is that the quality of the translation is not quite what it should be.
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