From the fall of the wall in 1989 to the decision to reinstate it as capital of reunified Germany; from former mayor Klaus Wowereit’s famous description of the city as ‘poor but sexy’ to the recent abortive rent-control legislation, Berlin has seen more upheaval than most European capitals over the past 30 years. Offering an account of the city as a literary topography shaped by both German and non-German representations, this lecture explores its presence in four English-language novels of the past two years. Looking at works by Hari Kunzru, Chris Power, Lauren Oyler and Bea Setton, it suggests that writing about the city in English can produce something much more than mere touristic accounts. Instead, these novels offer insights to how a polyglot urban literary imaginary might be reconfigured for a digitised age, with experience of place determined by both physical and immaterial ‘elsewheres’ – even as more established Berlin mythologies continue to exert their presence.
Dr David Anderson is Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow in the Department of Comparative Literature and Culture, Queen Mary University of London, where he is researching the representation of nostalgia in contemporary British and German popular culture. He also co-leads ‘Infrastructural Narratives’, a collaborative interdisciplinary project that aims to understand the ways in which infrastructural development both shapes and is shaped by cultural production. His monograph, Landscape and Subjectivity in the Work of Patrick Keiller, W.G. Sebald and Iain Sinclair, is published by Oxford University Press.