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This review is taken from PN Review 126, Volume 25 Number 4, March - April 1999.

HELLO TO BERLIN NORMAN PAGE, Auden and Isherwood: The Berlin Years (Macmillan) £25

An allowance from his father gave Auden the opportunity of a year's sabbatical in Berlin between going down from Oxford in 1928 and starting work as an usher at a Scottish prep. school. Isherwood, supported by erratic handouts from his homosexual Uncle Henry, was enabled to prolong his stay to three and a half years until the Nazi crackdown made it prudent for him to decamp, with his boy lover. For Isherwood there followed five wander years before he and Auden, after their journalistic stint in China, took ship for America shortly before the outbreak of World War II.

Most of the characters in this informative monograph were homosexuals, for what drew the two apprentice writers, and many other foreigners, to Berlin during the last years of the Weimar Republic was the ready availability of rent-boys, dirt cheap. Isherwood's adventures cruising the streets and boy-bars are familiar from his own writings, but Professor Page has here made ampler use than his predecessors of Auden's unpublished journal recording 'Boys had, Germany 1928-29', usually rough trade.

After an outline itinerary of their respective sojourns in Berlin a chapter describes the topography of the city (for which a street-map would have been helpful) followed by one giving potted biographies of several odd characters, all homosexuals, encountered there: the sexologist Hirschfeld; the Fronny ('Ambrose' in Isherwood's Down There on a Visit); Loony Layard whose doctrines permeate Auden's early poetry; and Gerald ('Mr Norris') Hamilton. Wilfrid Israel ('Bernhard' in Isherwood's ...


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