Monday, February 27, 2012

Mark Twain in Berlin, Revisited

One week is left for our fundraiser, and, at this point, I would like to talk a bit more about how this book was planned. The fact that Mark Twain spent half a year in Berlin is astonishingly little known. People know that he traveled Europe, mostly London, and he also spent time in Italy and in Vienna. In Germany, he visited Heidelberg and Bayreuth.

Twain was in Berlin in the winter of 1891-1892, mostly to flee from his financial problems in America. He had invested a lot of money in a new printing technique that did not really work, and he had bought the rights to a memoir of the Pope that did not sell, either. So, the basic idea was to spend some time in a cheap European place. Why he choose winter; I have no idea. Winter in Berlin is grueling, and in those times people heated with coal. That made the air pretty bad. Since Twain was sick anyway, this nearly killed him. He was in bed with pneumonia for four weeks.

The cheap thing did not work out, either, since he soon moved to a fancier place, a posh hotel Unter den Linden as opposed to an inner city apartment. But he did have fun, socializing with celebrities, and doing research. He did not get much published about Berlin in the U.S., though. When I checked his all-time worklist, I found "The Chicago of Europe". I also found notes that he did more stories on Berlin, yet to be published. Long story short, they are in the Twain archives.

I also found that quite a few Berlin papers had printed stories on Twain's stay in 2010 (due to the 100-year-anniversary). And, lo and behold, one of those authors — the best one, I must say — was a former colleague of mine, Andreas Austilat.

I commissioned him, and by now, he has dug up a tremendous amount of information, including a blueprint of Twain's apartment, his church, his speeches, how he rode the street cars or walked Unter den Linden, the schools his daughters frequented, and the research he did. I also  took some before-after pictures in Berlin (actually, the before-pictures are available in archives). What I find most exciting is that Twain witnessed (and described) an uprising of disgruntled workers. This later found its way into a novel by Heinrich Mann, the brother of Thomas Mann , "Der Untertan".

The book will also have stories on Twain published in Berlin newspapers in the 1890s  (translated). All in all, this will be a fascinating book shining a light on half a year of Twain's life that has been hidden, so far.

So again, I ask everybody to endorse this book at Kickstarter. There is a free stay in Berlin and a grand Mark-Twain-tour in it for you. And, also, you will be among the first readers to get the book.

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