(a personal view of Arthur Solmssen)
Berlin 1922: Pandemonium reigns in the capital of Germany after the Allied victory in World War I and the fall of Kaiser Wilhelm II. The proletariat have swarmed out, waving the red banners of Communism; private armies of unemployed, disaffected veterans - Freikorps- roam the streets thrashing the Communists. The Weimar Republic is established under the protection of the Freikorps. An explosion of radical music, theater, and art manifests the seething rancor and nervous energy of the people. The most insane, paralyzing inflation the world has known makes life a misery for the hungry, desperate populace (see also 1 ). Although the flower of their kind lie buried in Flanders fields, a few aristocratic families preserve their privileged, even exquisite lives: boating parties at summer palaces, chamber music in great townhouses on Sunday afternoons.
This is the rich backdrop of "A Princess in Berlin", a social novel in the grand tradition of e.g. Theodor Fontane in the Germany of the 19th century.
Into this feverish society comes Peter Ellis, a young American from Philadelphia who was an ambulance driver on the Western Front. In Paris, given a year by his Quaker family to get over his shell shock, Peter encounters a former German officer, Christoph Keith, whose life he saved at Verdun. Christoph is shepherding the young Bobby von Waldstein, scion of a family of Berlin bankers, once Jewish. At their urging, Peter agrees to come to Berlin, to study painting. There Peter is ushered into the Waldstein milieu, where he meets Max Liebermann and Walther Rathenau (see also 1, 2, ), then foreign minister of the German government. Princess Helena, a daughter of the Waldstein family, becomes a good friend, and through her and her brother, Peter realizes the sadness with which (the hated and despised Jew) Rathenau tries to moderate politics and social life in Germany.
Peter lives part of his life in Neukölln, where he studies painting with Fritz Falke, a former student of Liebermann, and with Fritz he experiences the misery in Berlin, which the Quakers, Susan Boatwright in particular, try to alleviate (see also 1, 2 ). Berthold Brecht's songs in Kneipen (pubs) and on parties reveal the dark and dangerous side of the German character, the "anger, bitterness, sullen and discontent" (J. Robert Oppenheimer about Germans in 1927).
"I've read A Princess in Berlin with entire absorption very slowly, allowing the story to unfold. I was held throughout; alight with interest, moved. I do think the novel is an extraordinary achievement, original, bold, mature .... Ambitious as well as daring .... And what a picture of that time." (Sybille Bedford)
Summary in German
Version: 9 March 2015