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This review is taken from PN Review 194, Volume 36 Number 6, July - August 2010.

NIETZSCHE IN EAST BERLIN DURS GRÜNBEIN, The Bars of Atlantis: Selected Essays, edited by Michael Eskin (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) $35

Despite its brief history, East Germany held potent sway over the Western imagination: ‘athletes, spies and writers were three things they seemed worryingly good at producing’ as Michael Hofmann put it; one could easily add escape artists to that list. Towards the end of its 41 years, the GDR’s population had fallen by over three million; as is known, the means by which some Berliners defected to the West were the stuff of spy-thrillers. In addition to the fortifications around the Wall, streets east of the Spree were widened into colossal thoroughfares, or ‘pure marching zones for the military or the police’ as Grünbein writes in ‘Breaking the Body’, one of the first essays in The Bars of Atlantis. Naturally, what the West knew of the East came from those lucky enough to have made it out alive – but what of those who stayed? The way Durs Grünbein uses Pompeii, Dresden, Berlin and Herculaneum so interchangeably in his descriptions of life in the GDR is telling: ‘I had the idea of being one of the inhabitants of Campania, living with the mountain always within view, and I recall how as a child one day near Dresden, I saw a different mountain, around which my thoughts have revolved ever since.’ This Trümmerberg or ‘rubbish mountain’, which Grünbein goes on to describe, is only one of many gargantuan mounds of debris formed in the aftermath of the Second World War. There are 24 such piles scattered across Germany, eight of ...

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