Nonfiction November: The Berlin Wall

imageIt’s Week 2 of  the Nonfiction November challenge being hosted by Leslie over at Regular Rumination. The challenge is either to Be/Become/Ask The Expert. You can either choose to share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

I love reading nonfiction, but I read such a variety that I can’t claim to be an expert in any one area. So my list is more of a Become the Expert list of books on a subject that I really want to read more of for myself right now.

Last Sunday (9 November) was the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and I really enjoyed seeing Berlin celebrate as I remembered that incredible night a quarter of a century ago. Then, as now, I had to watch it on the small screen rather than in real life, but it really caught my imagination because, having studied both German and Russian and visited both Eastern European countries and the former Soviet Union, it seemed impossible that this could be happening at the time. Only three years earlier (1986), I’d crossed over into East Berlin through Checkpoint Charlie to spend a day in another world.

And so I’ve put together a (long!) list of books – a mix of memoirs, history and photographs on the general theme of : The Berlin Wall and life in the GDR.  


Born in the GDR: Living in the Shadow of the wall by Hester Vaizey

This is a book I have already read and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend. It brings together 8 very different stories of East Germans who lived through the fall of the Berlin Wall and these personal memoirs give a real insight into the range of different experiences people went through.

Red Love: The Story of an East German Family by Maxim Leo

Another autobiographical memoir I have also read but with a focus on just one family over a longer period of time.

The Collapse: The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall by Mary Elise Sarotte

This book comes highly recommended and has been described as the definitive account of the chaotic series of events and decisions that led to the sudden and unexpected opening of the wall on 9 November 1989.

1989: The Berlin Wall: My Part in its Downfall by Peter Millar

This is billed as a humorous memoir by this British journalist who found himself caught up in the events of the night of 9 November 1989.

In Times of Fading Light by Eugen Ruge

This one shouldn’t really be on a nonfiction list but this novel sounds very close to a fairly factual memoir of an East German family across four generations and it has already won so many awards.  This version is a translation of the German author’s original: In Zeiten des Abnehmenden Lichts.

Berlin: Imagine a City by Rory MacLean

An unusual history in which the author covers 500 years of the ups and downs of the great city of Berlin through biographical portraits of a very varied cast of characters.

The Firm: The Inside Story of the Stasi by Gary Bruce

This book is described as an accessible history of the Stasi and gathers evidence from both archives and oral histories to provide a thorough and accessible English-language study of East Germany’s infamous secret police.

Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder

Another journalist’s account apparently written with ‘wit and literary flair’.  It gathers together more stories of the human experience of the GDR, a country where, after the fall of the wall, its inhabitants soon learned that one in 50 East Germans had been informing on their family members, colleagues, neighbours and friends.

Within Walls: Private Life in the German Democratic Republic by Paul Betts

The previous two books have emphasised the surveillance that characterised life in the GDR, but this author seeks to take a different tack by illustrating the very many different ways in which privacy was expressed in that communist society.

Berlin: Portrait of a City by Hans-Christian Adam

This is one German photographer’s own photographic journey into Berlin’s history.  His nearly 700-page book brings together photos, aerial views and maps from 1860 to the present day.

The Wall: The People’s Story by Christopher Hilton.

This journalist has chosen to bring together another set of memoirs of the divided city.  But, while other books focus mainly on those who lived on the GDR side of the wall, he has chosen to include the individual stories of other people whose lives were affected by it, including international politicians and soldiers.

The Berlin Wall Story: Biography of a Monument by Hans-Hermann Hertle

This book combines ‘previously unknown’ photographs and true-life stories to tell the story of the construction, years of existence and eventual fall of the Berlin Wall.

I did try to keep this list down to ten books, but I just couldn’t shorten it.  Experts out there – Did I miss any essential books off the list?  Has anyone read and/or reviewed any of them?  Anyway, enough for now and Auf Wiedersehen! I’m off to make a start on my next book before another 25 years have gone by!




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