Amazon sales commissions are donated to the Mark Twain Project,
University of California, Berkeley, CA.
The following review appeared 22 August 2013 on the Mark Twain Forum.
Copyright © 2013 Mark Twain Forum
This review may not be published or redistributed in any medium without permission.
When Twainian contemplations trend toward Mark Twain and Germany the first thing that usually comes to mind is not the wonderful German city of Berlin. Instead, Twain's much written about time in Vienna comes to mind, or writings like his essay "The Awful German Language" which first appeared as an appendix in A Tramp Abroad (1880). Perhaps Twain's translation of the German folk tale Slovenly Peter would come to mind, although few would recall for certain whether it was a product of Twain's Berlin days (it was). Twain's time in Berlin has been well-documented beginning with James F. Dickie's In the Kaiser's Capital (1910) which devotes one entire chapter (17) to Mark Twain. Next follows Albert Bigelow Paine's account in his biography (II:929-44). Paine was followed much later by Arthur L. Scott's entertaining account in Mark Twain at Large (1969), pp. 169-75, and Scott was followed by Robert M. Rodney in Mark Twain Overseas (1993), pp. 139-41. Other works give even briefer treatments of Twain's Berlin days. Edgar Hemminghaus's Mark Twain in Germany (1939) devotes the first two chapters to Twain's reception in Germany from 1874-1904, but does not focus on Berlin, and although Henry W. Fisher's Abroad With Mark Twain (1922, edited by Merle Johnson) has more to say about Twain in Berlin (where Fisher met him), it suffers from Fisher's factual errors and Merle Johnson's unreliable editing. Likewise, Clara Clemens's own memoir reveals an imperfect memory; in Berlin Susy had been a shy 19 year old, but Clara had been a flirty 17 year old who upset her father. David Fears's Mark Twain Day by Day provides the chronological facts of Twain's time in Berlin. Carl Dometsch's excellent account of Twain in Vienna, Our Famous Guest, Mark Twain in Vienna (1992) never strays toward Berlin, but does include perhaps the best bibliography of works covering Twain and Germany. J. C. B. Kinch's Mark Twain's German Critical Reception, 1875-1986 (1989) is a valuable source as well. At least a dozen other books dealing with Twain's biography, travel writings, or German associations give even less attention to his Berlin period. The most recent book to draw some attention to Twain's Berlin sojourn is Peter Kaminsky's collection of Twain essays, The Chicago of Europe and Other Tales of Foreign Travel (2009), which includes Twain's essay on Berlin (pp. 191-203), which was originally published in several newspapers before being collected in book form as "The German Chicago" in The Million Pound Bank-Note (1893).
The obvious reason Twain's Berlin days are not given more attention is that he spent so little time there--barely more than four months, arriving in October 1891, and leaving the first week of March 1892. He was sick in bed for one of those months. Although he spent little time in Berlin, Mark Twain was attracted to Germany because his works had gained early and serious acceptance there. Both The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn were published in Germany (in German) the same year they appeared in America. The first German edition of Huckleberry Finn was the first to be published with color illustrations. The publisher Bernard Tauchnitz of Leipzig included Twain's works in his massive series of 5,372 English language editions for European tourists. A collected edition is a milestone in any author's career, and Twain's collected works appeared in Germany in 1892 (six volumes in seven parts) and again in 1898 (six volumes); by comparison, there had been a crude one-volume pirated collected edition of Twain published in Canada in 1882, and a stalled attempt at a uniform edition by Harper Brothers in 1896. The first American collected edition of Twain's works did not appear until 1899, one year after the second collected German edition. One sure sign of German interest in Mark Twain was the fact that when Alexandra Gripenberg toured America in 1888, she dutifully described Niagara Falls, Yosemite, and the major cities she visited, but she also devoted one chapter to Mark Twain, an honor reserved for only three other American authors--Longfellow, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Joaquin Miller. Her book appeared in Germany in 1889, but was not translated into English until 1954. The Germans appreciated Mark Twain and he admired them, and he admired the city of Berlin, even if the genders of the German language moved him to tears--the German word for bosom is masculine, which made Twain laugh until he cried (pp. 68-9).
Andreas Austilat, a twenty-six year veteran newspaperman for Berlin's largest daily paper, knows his city and is clearly a devoted Twainian, and presents his narrative in an easy readable style. Besides his account, Austilat provides the first book printings of two texts published previously only in the microfilm edition of the Mark Twain Papers, prints the full text of a piece only partly published by Paine in 1912, and translates two German interviews that were referenced by Gary Scharnhorst in Mark Twain, the Complete Interviews. Austilat makes very good use of contemporary newspaper sources, and makes careful critical use of his other sources. Only one factual error is apparent--a photograph of Twain writing in bed (p. 119) is presented as one depicting Twain in 1891-2 when in fact it was taken at 21 Fifth Avenue in 1906. One small connection involving a German from Berlin was overlooked; a young waiter named Ernst Koppe acted as translator for Livy Clemens' recently widowed sister, Susan Crane and he did indeed later visit Susan Crane in Elmira, New York, but no mention is made that he remained in Elmira as the Langdon family's handyman, gardener, and driver, retiring shortly before his death in 1956.
Mark Twain being Mark Twain, he did find fault with Berlin. He resented the income tax imposed on foreigners but admired the efficiency and persistence of the authorities to collect it fairly. Twain thought dogs should be taxed instead and said so during an interview that was interrupted by a chorus of barking dogs in the street below his window. Today, foreign visitors pay no income tax and dogs are taxed. Twain complained that he could not find fountain pens for sale, but he marveled at the output of German heaters (he later kept one on the loggia of his final home, Stormfield) and wrote an essay praising the technical efficiency and speed of the Berlin post office which since 1876 had utilized a city-wide fifteen mile network of pneumatic tubes. Today, fountain pens are readily available, German heaters are still efficient, and Twain's first address in Berlin, Kornerstrasse 7, later became a post office. Twain liked the fact that Germans did not seem preoccupied with royalty like the English and the French, but worried himself sick over an imagined social faux pas he committed when he had dinner with Kaiser Wilhelm II. Twain thought he had been too talkative in the Kaiser's presence, but later learned that the Kaiser had wished he'd talked more.
Before Twain arrived in Berlin, his wife Livy and her sister Susan Crane had scouted out a place to live but did not take careful note of the neighborhood, which included chattering "half-clad" women who carried on conversations up and down the muddy street from their windows and some warehouses nearby that drew rag-pickers into the neighborhood. It was a pleasant enough big-city neighborhood, but not the upscale enclave that Twain had envisioned. After two months they moved to the Hotel Royal on Unter den Linden for the remainder of their stay. Twain especially enjoyed the view of the Brandenberg Gate from his hotel window, and often watched the activities in the plaza, including carriage excursions and horse rides by the Kaiser himself in close proximity to his citizens.
The Brandenberg Gate survives today (although the surrounding
plaza has been rebuilt), but little else from Twain's days in Berlin can be
seen. Progress can be blamed for some of the destruction. Twain's original
address on Kornerstrasse was demolished by 1910 and two world wars have taken
care of much of the rest. The book is well illustrated with contemporary photographs
from Twain's time paired with modern photographs that show often dramatic
changes. Although the apartment building on Kornerstrasse is long gone, a
set of floor plans survives. Twain's second residence, the Hotel Royal, is
also gone, although Unter den Linden retains its spacious boulevardian grandeur.
Twain often visited his friend Ambassador William Walter Phelps at the American
Embassy, which in 1891 moved across the street from its old location. The
old location still stands, but the new location where Twain most likely visited
his friend was torn down and the new building today houses the embassy for
North Korea. The Berlin City Castle at the end of Unter den Linden is also
gone, but is being rebuilt on the ruins of its cellars. Virtually every building
associated with Twain during his residence in Berlin is lost, and the many
pairs of before and after illustrations drive this sad point home, but the
book ends on a happy note. Although the home of General Maximilian von Versen,
whom Twain befriended and visited often in his home for dinner parties, was
destroyed by war, descendants of some of Twain's friends still live in the
city, including the great-great-grandniece of General Versen, a tall leggy
blond and gallery owner whose picture appears opposite the last page of the
text that ends with the comment "So life goes on." Like this reader,
Twain would have smiled as he read those final words.