Put on your tennis socks
In films and novels from Alfred Döblin to Tom Tykwer, Berlin – that overpowering city – devours its inhabitants. Bettina Rust, by contrast, presents the capital as a cosy living room in which she sits on a flowered armchair and spills the beans.
By Regine Hader
As a passionate Berliner by choice, Bettina Rust presents the city on the basis of its characteristic neighbourhoods. She writes her profession of love for Berlin in 60 short episodes that can be read on an underground train ride – each one portraying one of her favourite places, which provide the title. The author takes her readers to cafés and jazz clubs, urban gardening projects, unknown museums and well-known graffiti. Instead of navigating between the television tower and Museum Island, she sends her readers to places that in backpacker slang are called "the real Berlin".
Wie eine Bloggerin bricht sie mit der Leserschaft zu alltäglichen Orte auf, um den Zeitgeist des heutigen Berlins zu atmen. Diese Mikrokosmen der Stadt werden im Gegensatz zum Fernsehturm oder dem Gropius Bau vielleicht bald wieder verschwinden, nostalgisch betrauert als legendäre Konzentrate der 2020er-Jahre. unktioniert wie eine Verkleidungskiste: Das Buch bietet alle Requisiten und Regieanweisungen, um eine zufällig ausgewählte Touristin auf 232 Seiten in eine Neuberlinerin zu verwandeln. Like a blogger, she sets out with her readers to everyday places to breathe the zeitgeist of today's Berlin. In contrast to the television tower or the Gropius Bau, these microcosms of the city may soon disappear once again, nostalgically mourned as legendary epitomes of the 2020s. Berlin – Lieblingsorte (i.e. f avourite places in Berlin) works like a dress-up box: The book offers all the props and stage directions needed to turn a randomly selected tourist into a new Berliner in 232 pages.
An anecdotal strollRust's approach is also very much inspired by blogging: she writes from a first-person perspective, introducing each place with a more or less fitting anecdote, linking each piece of information with a amusing experience, an unexpected acquaintance or a childhood memory. "My first real boyfriend was a bit funny" she starts her chapter about the Botanical Garden or "My girlfriend Miranda rents out fincas on Mallorca". She writes with affection and closeness, almost as if an aunt or neighbour were giving you some tips for your holiday. Perhaps this everyday language style is owed to her profession as a radio presenter. In the long run, however, the chatty tone and forced effort to package every tip as a funny story artificially inflate her recommendations.
Rust breaks with authorial invisibility and makes her personal gaze the strength of the book. In some places, however, these openings take too long, so that a really interesting place only follows a two-page description of life as a dog owner in the city. When she introduces a café, she tells with much pathos about the courage of the founders and invokes narratives of the American Dream. Her favourite Austrian restaurant is introduced to her friend Miranda (right, the one with the fincas!) via a laborious digression. The punch line: Like the restaurant, she got a bad rating on the Internet! The treatise on rating systems on the Internet takes up just as much space as the description of the apricot dumplings that are the actual subject.
Archaeology of the zeitgeistIn between all these personal stories lurk truly original details. Bettina Rust tells us, for example, that in bygone times particularly large cactus spines from the Botanical Garden brought music to Berlin's living rooms and bars as gramophone needles. She situates historically some seemingly profane places, such as the Tempelhofer Feld, and shows why they are so important for Berliners today.
Apart from her personal memoirs, the author searches like an archaeologist for the stories and urban legends of today's scene locations in Berlin. She not only arouses the desire to visit Berlin, but also to live there. In keeping with her personal concept, she takes all the photos herself on her expeditions through the city. Visually, the book is also a little gem thanks to the lovely illustrations on the cover and between the chapters.
Although Lieblingsorte is no literary revolution, the city on the horizon suddenly no longer seems so threatening and voracious - but somehow quite familiar.
Rust, Bettina: Berlin – Lieblingsorte
Berlin: Insel, 2018. 236 S.
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