After one particular night of slow dancing that ultimately resulted in me exploring the contents of somebody’s nightstand the next morning, a book was lent to me. Although this incident happened well over a year ago, I just somehow never got past the cover. Last month I thought that the Christmas break would be as good a time as any to give those pages a go.
The book, The World of Yesterday: Memoirs of a European by Stefan Zweig, is a highly interesting and profoundly important work in which the author recounts his time in various places, some of which he visited at the onset of the previous century. The passage that really got my attention was Zweig’s account of Berlin when he arrived here as a young student.
The author admits he found himself in a world that could seem implausible had it been the setting of a book, depicting his time here as an ongoing spectacle run by tireless Berliners – a quite undefined crowd, made up of creatures that seem to have one thing in common: none of them would ever miss a chance to let him know about their most recent creative endeavor.
I don’t know about you, but it indeed sounded most familiar to me! And even more relatable when I read about how Zweig confessed he transferred his excitement from works of art onto actual people. I let myself be excited too. For better or for worse. I blame that excitement for making me drop my teetotalism and getting me stuck in unhealthy situations just because they could seem implausible had they been in a book. Even the sheer fact that I’m long overdue to return that memoir goes to show that this idealized city of free-spirited creatives thriving in a well-organized commune is, I think, a utopia.
Zweig acknowledges that not all of those colorful characters left quite the same positive impression on him. But still, I can’t think of any other set of influences and experiences I would exchange Berlin for. Frankly, I believe it’d be quite cool if in another hundred years this city – and indeed, its people – would still emit the same smelly charm inviting every stranger to just let down their guard.
text edited by Keith Telfeyan