Academic journal article Spatial Practices

CHAPTER 12: Women with Attachments: Mermaids, Drink and Drowning

Academic journal article Spatial Practices

CHAPTER 12: Women with Attachments: Mermaids, Drink and Drowning

Article excerpt

James Carroll's Secret Father (2003) opens with a questionable cross-cultural marriage: "An American general with a German wife? It seemed impossible" (36). Even more "impossible" is that the German wife for decades hides the fact that she originally married a Nazi to protect her son, is still in love with him, despite his death, and has never loved her American husband. Having worked as a Trümmerfrau in Berlin to hide her son from revenge after her husband murdered communists' families in the war's last days, she met the American general who divorced his American wife to marry her and adopt her son. Years later, Carroll's young American protagonist marries the American lover of her German-American son, only to realize his "wife's heart had belonged all these years to this other man," and that she, too, had married him only "to keep this feeling - her one love - alive" (344).

The title of Theodore Fay's The Countess Ida: A Tale of Berlin had already set Berlin and a woman on equal terms as objects of a protagonist's desire. Ida was perhaps all the more attractive to her American-raised suitor (certainly not less) because engaged to his English half-brother. American fiction's trope of the 'already attached' Berliner may have begun with Fay, but did not end there. Pollard wrote in 1911 that even in the nineteenth century a popular joke suggested the "only maiden in Berlin" that "kein Verhaeltniss hat was the one at top of" Berlin's Siegssäule (1911b: 163). Perhaps most metropoli have been likened to prostitutes at some point in their history, but Berlin marks up its share of such metaphors in later fiction. In Martin Dibner's A Godfor Tomorrow (1961) a helpful prostitute is "like Berlin, a ruin behind a gaudy glass" (139), while in W.T. Tyler's The Man Who Lost the War (1980) a communist girl in Berlin is "as promiscuous as Berlin itself" (256). "A dazzling, garish, money-mad whore on the make - that was [postwar] Berlin," summarizes Dibner (22). "In war," Kurfürstendamm reminded Howard K. Smith "of a beautiful woman who became the mistress of a wealthy man and who, after too much loving and living has now become a jaded, gaudy female," daubing her face "with too much artificial colour in order to hide the deepening lines in it. Her jewels are the thousand and one bars and night-spots" (152).

Fictional women of Berlin's ruins frequently not only allow access to the past, but are married or attached to other men.1 Nabokov had already depicted a spectrum of men in love with married women in Berlin. In Berger's Crazy in Berlin, American protagonist Reinhart, faced with three potential love-objects, is thwarted on all three counts: Veronica, an American, is pregnant with the child of another man she is in love with; Trudchen, his attractive assistant, is seeing other men; the most mysterious and alluring of the three, Lori turns out to be married to a German husband buried, but alive, in Berlin's ruins. The narrator's girlfriend Ilsa, in The Last of the Conquerors, insists she is divorced, but when the narrator asks where her husband is, she reiterates that he is no longer her husband, only to vaguely suggest he still lives somewhere in Berlin. In Kanon's The Good German, the protagonist's love-interest is married to a German supposedly dead but turning out to be in hiding. Ian McEwan's The Innocent shows a shadowy husband lurking in the background of a love affair between a Berliner and a young British man. In Steel's The Ring, a Berliner pregnant with her late Nazi husband's child marries a Jewish American, who is shocked to find her crying crouched over photos of her dead husband, immediately filing for divorce.

Uris's Armageddon (1963) offers two examples of German-American couples in which a German woman's background poses problems to marriage. Scott, on learning Hilde had formerly worked as a prostitute, decides to marry her anyway (but dies in a plane crash during the air lift, shot down by Russians before their wedding). …

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