Kirsty Bell explores in a book the constructive, literary and historical channels of Berlin | Entertainment | The USA Print

Cover of the book 'Underground Currents.  A history of Berlin', by the writer and art critic Kirsty Bell, published by Errata naturae in May 2023

When writer and art critic Kirsty Bell moved with her family from east Berlin to an older, more spacious apartment facing the Landwehrkanal, the gentle flow of canalized water that runs through the German capital, stains began to appear in their new home. of moisture and leaks. One day he woke up with a large puddle on the kitchen floor. At the same time, her marriage was failing, and in that personal situation, the author, exasperated by the continuous plumbing crises, decided to embark on an investigation into the building, the pipes, the city and its depths.

that’s how it came about underground streams. a history of berlin , a very personal non-fiction book in which Bell explores first-hand the constructive, literary and historical paths that shaped his adopted city during the 20th century. Kirsty Bell, 52, a British and American national, has lived in Berlin since 2001, and now has a third passport, the German one.

“I knew that I would make a subjective reading of the capital; I didn’t want another book about Berlin with a military perspective,” says Kirsty Bell

In his book, recently published in Spain by the Errata naturae publishing house, he mixes documentary research, reading of local authors, observation at street level and personal reflections to weave together a story about marshy origins, the sandy subsoil, the urban layout and the characters marked by the convulsive history of a complicated metropolis.

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“I knew that I was going to make a very subjective reading of the capital; I didn’t want to write another book about Berlin from a military perspective or focused only on the second half of the 20th century, of which there are already many”, says Kirsty Bell. We are on the Schöneberg bridge, next to the damp apartment where she still lives with her two children by her German husband who eventually left.

To get over himself, Bell began to dig into archives about what he could see from his kitchen window: the Landwehrkanal, designed in the 19th century by landscape designer Peter Joseph Lenné, and into which in 1919 the Spartacist Rosa was thrown, dead or dying. Luxemburg for its far-right Freikorps assassins; a sewage pumping station built in 1909 and now converted into a cultural center; or the ruins of the old Anhalter Bahnhof train station, which was bustling with travelers during the Weimar Republic and which was later one of the embarkation points for Jews sent by the Nazis to deportation and death.

Cover of the book ‘Underground currents. A history of Berlin’, by the writer and art critic Kirsty Bell, published in Spain by the editorial Errata naturae in May 2023

natural errata

Although water is the theoretical guiding thread of the book, in practice the subterranean currents that Bell portrays are also the various drives or characteristics that Berlin has repressed, neglected or marginalized throughout its history. “The Third Reich and the Second World War occupy a lot of space in the understanding that one has of Berlin, and of Germany in general; That is why I wanted to read works by authors from many eras, because there you can see that the problematic physiognomy of this city was already reflected in writings from the transition from the 19th to the 20th century,” says Bell. And I also wanted to recover and understand the female experience of this very masculine city, and explore films from different periods set here”.

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In this way, the author crosses quotes and looks from Walter Benjamin, Theodor Fontane, Franz Hessel, Vicki Baum, Gabriele Tergit, Walter Ruttmann or Rainer Wender Fassbinder, among other voices.

When her marriage fell apart, Kirsty Bell began digging through files about what she could see from her kitchen window.

Kirsty Bell leads us through a network of streets, parks and characters that she chooses in her good interest, such as the former owners of her home, a family of Italian-born printers who published material extolling Hitler during the Nazi era. Her review does not forget the terrible misery of the popular classes in the twenties, nor the wound inflicted by the Wall during the cold war. In the book, translated from English by Elena Pérez San Miguel, the author includes vintage plans to guide her through the urban labyrinth.

Although his incursions into Feng Shui to address the flaws in the apartment or in certain group dynamics sessions to conjecture the fate of real characters for whom he found no documentation are risky, the vision that Bell offers of Berlin is novel and suggestive. “It is based on observation and the search for a diagnosis –claims the author–. The symptoms that appeared at home led me to ask why Berlin is a difficult place, and I wanted at the same time to honor the city in which I continue to live.

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