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Berlin Stories

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  599 Ratings  ·  69 Reviews
A New York Review Books Original

In 1905 the young Swiss writer Robert Walser arrived in Berlin to join his older brother Karl, already an important stage-set designer, and immediately threw himself into the vibrant social and cultural life of the city. Berlin Stories collects his alternately celebratory, droll, and satirical observations on every aspect of the bustling Ger
Paperback, 139 pages
Published 2012 by New York Review Books Classics (first published 1956)
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Eddie Watkins
Jan 25, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: swiss-fiction
At this point Robert Walser and I are like an old married couple, or, to be more accurate, I am his widow, as of course he is dead, though I remain faithful because in a sense he is still alive in his writing, and anyway his writing is really all I know of him, so perhaps we are still married, but over the years over-familiarity has set in, and though it’s not the type that breeds contempt it is the type that breeds a kind of blindness to the other’s virtues and even faults as we potter about in ...more
Aug 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
Logarithms and "friend" suggestions will never totally replace the anxious and arbitrary means by which I travel from book to book. Yesterday I was sort of between books. A friend of mine called and asked if I could take him to doctor's residence. Sure, I quipped and ignoring my haggard state of toilette - I'd been tooling around in the yard -- I grabbed Berlin Stories from atop a stack and headed out the door. There are many stacks in our hose. My wife would add there are TOO many stacks. I had ...more
Jul 19, 2011 rated it liked it
A collection of essays, newspaper columns, and short stories praising and gently mocking (and sometimes not so gently mocking) the city of Berlin in the late Imperial years.

At times, he is almost gushing about his time in the theater or the street markets, and in others he is vicious. God most be the opposite of Rodin, he says, for who else would willingly create something so ugly and strange as people? And here he shows us strange, piteous, and somewhat sad creatures.

This collection is a stra
Nov 11, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
These are pleasant stories that took place a hundred years ago when Robert Walser wrote about life in Berlin (1905-13), an invigorating and heady city compared to provincial Switzerland. Yet it is to the latter that he eagerly returns--to its sounds and sights. When Walser first comes to the big city he is 25 or 27 years old, and his brother Karl is a successful stage set designer there. The author's enthusiasm is fun to read like a re-experiencing of one's own naïveté. Before World War 1 he ret ...more
M. Sarki
Jan 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
I will leave the reviewing to readers better suited to deconstruct Walser than I am. I simply like the fellow. I believe he was extremely clever and interesting. I enjoy reading all of his work, but especially the four novels that have survived. There is something so childlike and simple about his work, but still sophisticated and never boring though he revisits his subjects constantly. That is pure talent.
Apr 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
On the surface, Berlin Stories consists of short stories about Berlin society. And perhaps this sounds boring to most people, but there is something magical about Walser's writing. He really saw people. He paid attention to everything around him, the beauty and complexity of nature, realtionships, and life. Often, reading this felt like I was waking from a pleasant dream. What has become of us as a people that we can possess the beautiful only in dreams. It may not be for everyone, but I found t ...more
Oh, Walser. I'm woefully behind in reviews, and yet more people need to read you; at the same time, I'm not sure that any words can adequately convey the experience of reading your prose.

This collection of stories and critical essays compiles the work that Walser produced during his time in Berlin. One can feel the allure of the city, the possibilities and dreams that Walser felt in every fiber of the city—from the parks and gardens, to the people congregating on the streets, from the theatre to
Jul 05, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reading these short sketches of people and places in Berlin in the first decade of the 20th century makes the reader realize what a vibrant city it was. Nothing is too small or insignificant to escape Walser’s attention. He writes, “An artist here has no choice but to pay attention. Elsewhere he is permitted to sink into willful ignorance. Here this is not allowed. Berlin never rests, and this is glorious. Each day brings with it a new attack on complacency. There is an incessant blurring togeth ...more
Feb 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nyrb
This collection of essays begins in beguiling and exuberant fashion with wonderfully enthusiastic, wide-eyed descriptions of rambles around Berlin; time spent in idle observation of the inhabitants of the city as they drink in a bar, or travel on a tram, or walk around a park. He notices the rich and poor, the elegant and the delicate, the raucous and the roguish. Walser's spirit of wonder and delight continues through his writings on the theatre and ballet (there's a "ravishing" piece about Ann ...more
Feb 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: europa, short-stories
fascinating very short stories of walser's time in berlin 1905 to um not sure, 1920 maybe? at only one-three pages most are very short, some more vignettes, some fully formed stories, but almost of have the bite of mark twain disdain, the beauty of chekov, the horror of will self. love him love these.
i think these are some of the stories that were found in his affects and were thought to just be indecipherable gibberish of a madman, but one dude stuck with it and discovered that the miniscule l
Chuck LoPresti
Feb 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
More Walser is always welcome and more is coming but NYRB has the distinction of publishing some of his greatest short pieces so far. Alongside "Selected Stories" this reaches the same heights of brilliance. There's been much written about Walser by some great critics and that's not always to the benefit of the reader. Benjamin's claim that Walser has no style has been openly debated with good reason. Sebald's claim that Walser is the clairvoyant of the small is only half true to me. Sure Walser ...more
Feb 24, 2012 rated it liked it
BERLIN STORIES. (1907-1917). Robert Walser. ***.
First off, you should know that these are not stories, per se, but prose impressions of various parts or people or activities in Berlin as witnessed by the author during his stay there. If you are truly looking for a story, you will probably agree that the author seems to be sliding in that direction in the later efforts. Walser was Swiss, and moved to Berlin in 1905. He had just published his first novel, and saw himself as riding on the wave of
Nicholas During
Feb 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
This was the first Walser book I've read and I really enjoyed it. Really a collection of feuilletons rather than short stories, what makes them so great is Walser's wonderful voice. Naive, young, optimistic, excited, adventurous, and tolerant, we see the lively Berlin of 1905 - 1912 or so in the eyes of a youthful flaneur who seems beauty in the small details of the electric trams, to the populations of the famed cabarets and theaters. And the writing is just as lively as the content. There is s ...more
Apr 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
a good deal of the stories in this selection have some sort of malignancy sequestered behind the soft cheer of living in berlin at the turn of the century... ex:
"Oh Lord, enough for now, I have to go out, have to leap down into the world, I can't stand it any longer, I have to go laugh in someone's face, I must go for a walk. Ah how lovely, how very lovely it is to be alive."

what i mean is you get this sense that if someone was depressed and taking prozac- these are the kind of stories they wou
Mar 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Excellent translations by Susan Bernofsky (and Christopher Middleton) of Walser's stories written about Berlin--most while he lived there, the last few looking back years later. And it's the latter stories--about Frau Scheer--that are some of the most moving I've read by Walser, who often has an air of cheerful pessimism about him. But "Frau Scheer" and the stories following are unaffected by Walser's guile (which *is* charming), writing straight down to the bone with a direct honesty unusual fo ...more
Douglas Florian
May 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
If a paragraph expresses a "train of thought," then Robert Walser's train can be one hundred cars long. In fact the entire first story, "Good Morning, Giantess!" is one splendid paragraph, legging along three pages effortlessly. What's especially striking in this collection of short and shorter stories is how the mood moves from joyous observation to something "thin and poor to the point of breaking."
Walser followed his older brother from Switzerland to Berlin and achieved a measure of success
Jan 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
I will read anything by Walser. The writing has a strange, almost kooky exuberance, a tone that hovers somewhere between ecstasy and insanity. But he is also never free of a carefully observed, rather sad undertow, evident especially in the story "Frau Wilke." There his voice, so effervescent when observing nature, acquires a gentle despondency in the contemplation of a woman whose solitude and evident sadness his own humane instincts are powerless to overcome.
Mar 10, 2014 rated it it was ok
Impressions, glimpses, a series of sketches of the city in brief. Perhaps these were intended as sidebar notes, for the construction of some future narrative effort. As it is, it will take a fair amount of pre-existing knowledge of the city or a longstanding fondness for it ... to bring these into any kind of focus or pattern. Nice word-pictures; but maybe best for Walser completists.
What I liked most about this book were the city-moments, the sense of time/place/atmosphere, the briskness of Berlin streets on a cold morning or the conviviality of a restaurant or a crowded tram car or the scene of a building on fire, with onlookers multiplying by the moment. Walser is great at capturing the humanity and motion and interest of the city.
Jul 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
I love Walser's voice. It somehow manages to be simultaneously joyful and dejected. I have to read him slowly because I continually drift off into reveries.
Literary Review The
Feb 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Robert Walser
Berlin Stories

Translated by Susan Bernofsky

(New York: NYRB Classics, 2012)

Until recently, readers of Robert Walser have had to be persistent or lucky—most of the time, they’ve had to be both. There are writers who announce themselves as front page news, and writers who circulate like rumors. For the vast majority of the twentieth century, Walser was a rumor. Available in small, difficult-to-find (but lovingly produced) editions, he passed from hand to hand and ear to ear, an open se
Flora Vickers
May 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
You know when you walk down a blossom infused avenue on an early summer's evening in your favourite city in the world? That was how I felt reading Berlin Stories. The whole way through.

Although it's a little slow - there's no fixed plot, which at times can be delightful as you meander through Walser's darling prose, at times a little frustrating; it seems a waste of such great writing in my eyes!! - this is a lovely book to read at intervals, as you furiously annotate and underline something on
Jul 18, 2017 rated it liked it
These appear to be the columns he wrote for the Berlin newspapers; I find them undynamic sometimes, like practice runs. Microscripts however errs and wanders in more interesting ways. But he does capture the multiplicity and simultaneity of Berlin life in some of these pieces.
Dec 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing

Vehicles keep edging past human bodies, heads and hands, and on their open decks and in their hollow interiors sit people, tightly squeezed in and subjugated, who have some reason to be sitting, squeezing, pressing, and riding either here inside or up on top. Every last silly little thing has its unspeakably swift justification, its good clever grounds. Every foolishness here is ennobled and sanctified by the obvious difficulty of life. Every motion has its meaning, every sound h
I feel like I stumbled across a journal someone’s accidentally dropped on Friedrichstrasse, and rather than leave it on the sidewalk to be tripped over and stomped on, I picked it up, thought, why not? could be amusing, and took it home.
The thing is, a journal in its natural state is a rambling, self involved, unedited, scraggly little creature that more often than not would do better to stay latent in the boxy confines of one’s top night table drawer than parade about in the open, flailing its
Feb 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: tier-0
There is one thing that struck me as I read this collection of writings: Robert Walser was a keen observer of people. Within this book one will find his observations recorded from a variety of perspectives, some more intimate than others, but all containing a unique indication that it was impossible for this man to take a walk in the Tiergarten, go to the theatre, sit in the pub or befriend a lonely, eccentric millionairess without undergoing a kind of deep immersion in the human experience. His ...more
Jun 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
Let me not forget to write down two small memories from my stay in the metropolis. One concerns a horse's head, the other an old, poor match-seller. Both these things, the horse and the woman, are surrounded by night. One night, as on so many others that had already been frittered away and poured out into oblivion, I was roaming through the streets in my elegant, though admittedly only borrowed overcoat, when at one of the busiest spots I beheld a horse harnessed to a heavy cart. The horse was s ...more
Apr 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
"What has become of us as a people that we can possess the beautiful only in dreams."

"Ears, too, are excellent props for flowers. On Cornflower Day I had stuck a cornflower behind each of my three ears and it was most becoming. Ravishing, too, are roses, and the Rose Days soon to come. Let them descend upon me, those distinctive days, and I shall embellish my home with roses, and, sure as I'm a modern man and understand my epoch, I shall stick a rose in my nose."

"'It's just not right, not right
Dec 19, 2012 rated it liked it
Most of these "stories" are actually very short newspaper columns written by Walser. Unfortunately, the book doesn't make clear where or in what form each piece was originally published. Many of the pieces here do not translate well to a modern reader; Kafka may have laughed his head off reading "Mountain Halls" but without any context it's impossible for me to see why.

There are gems hidden within this collection: "Fire," "Frau Wilke," and "Frau Scheer" are all well worth your time. Sadly, there
Ryan Haas
To be honest I only picked this one up because of the cover, a painting by Kirchner (currently my favorite). I expected a collection of short stories set in Berlin, but instead the volume consists of prose pieces which blur the line between fiction and essay. The pieces are short, most are only two to three pages. Imagine your friend who lives in New York City writing short blog posts on topics like their favorite dive bar, riding the subway, hanging out with Broadway directors, and other observ ...more
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NYRB Classics: Berlin Stories, by Robert Walser 1 6 Oct 18, 2013 03:13PM  
NYRB Classics: February 2012: Berlin Stories 73 66 Apr 19, 2012 12:02PM  
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Robert Walser, a German-Swiss prose writer and novelist, enjoyed high repute among a select group of authors and critics in Berlin early in his career, only to become nearly forgotten by the time he committed himself to the Waldau mental clinic in Bern in January 1929. Since his death in 1956, however, Walser has been recognized as German Switzerland's leading author of the first half of the twent ...more
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“Our car is constantly in motion. It is raining in the streets we glide through, and this constitutes one more added pleasantness. Some people find it frightfully agreeable to see that it is raining and at the same time be permitted to sense that they themselves are not getting wet. The image produced by a gray, wet street has something consoling and dreamy about it, and so you stand now upon the rear platform of the creaking car that is rumbling its way forward, and you gaze straight ahead. Gazing straight ahead is something done by almost all the people who sit or stand in the "electric.” 4 likes
“Naturally I am of the deeply felt conviction that it is quite nice, quite lovely to be capable of enthusiam.” 4 likes
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