Join Sonny and his friends in 1930s Berlin
a small-time peddler who does a little of this, a little of that, in
the old Jewish quarter of Berlin, matures in the waning days of the
Weimar Republic. Alone in the world after the death of his parents, he
joins a smuggling ring that brings contraband into Germany from Belgium.
Hitler’s rise to power changes everything, and in an alarming turn of
events, the ring disbands. Yet another unlikely turn unites like-minded
men and women in a more altruistic cause. Farewell Berlin is a story of
abandonment, commitment, and hope in a crumbling world.
The following appears on the back cover:
Farewell Berlin is a story of Germany’s avant garde capital city of the 1930s, seen through the eyes of a young Jew floating through life. In the waning days of the Republic, with Europe on the verge of turning upside down, Sonny turns to smuggling, in traveling often to Aachen and over the border to Belgium, to bring contraband back to Berlin. In January 1933, Hitler’s rise to power changes his life and that of thousands of others beyond recognition. Out of the gloom Sonny and his friends hatch a scheme . . .
What they're saying . . .
Farewell Berlin shows from the street level the mythic journey of an individual man confronted with archetypal forces in Nazi Germany. Steven Muenzer’s lyrical writing is about “strange heroes” and a particular hero, Sonny, who through “a little of this, a little of that” wends his way through an emerging hell. Like Dante and Odysseus before him, Sonny tries to understand what is happening around him in the world and within him as he grows into himself. The tension of the story and its characters carries the reader to the last sentence.
—James Michel, Jungian Analyst
From the author: Why write a book?
I’ve always wanted to write a book, but I never found the time. Retirement eliminated that excuse. I have spent the last four years writing and editing
Farewell Berlin, a historical novel, a work of fiction.
More importantly, why this topic?
I was always interested in the interwar period, the deadly calm between two devastating wars. Democracy was in its infancy in Europe, and there was so much creativity—Berlin was the center of culture: music, art, literature, cinema, and the sciences. And Jews were in the forefront.
Germany was my parents’ world, but it was unfamiliar to me. My father was born in Berlin, my mother in Zwickau in Saxony. They married in Berlin but left it in 1939, on the last boat out of Rotterdam. My father was 29, my mother 26. They survived, but most of my father’s large family did not. My mother’s family emigrated to Palestine. My parents didn’t come from someplace familiar to, like the north side of Minneapolis or Chicago, places I know or could know.
I set out to understand their world, the everyday indignities, what they must have endured from 1933 to 1939. I wanted to feel what they had felt—impossible, of course, but I tried. It was at times depressing but at other times satisfying in being able to feel part of their world—the little and not so little indignities, the legal prohibitions, the insults, the shattered relationships. That history is well documented, so I rooted around, researched, read.
My parents wouldn’t talk about that time, and as a kid I didn't ask them about it. Sure, there were a few stories, and a couple of those are included in the book. But by the time I was working on it, both my parents had died. I still had endless questions, but armed with their few stories, with a slim memoir of escape—The Fugitive—by my relative Herman Mahlerman, and with my imagination, I started to write.
I created Sonny, a young man the same age as my father, born in 1909, 23 years old when Hitler came to power in January 1933. Sonny is not my father—this is not a family memoir. I imagined Berlin in the 1930s, the end of the Republic, and the rise and consolidation of the Third Reich, and I filled it with fictional people.
This is the story of Sonny’s maturation—from a guy who did a little of this, a little of that, to something much bigger. It is an adventure story, in part a love story. At times it is heartbreaking, but it is surely full of interesting characters and of action.
This work of historical fiction is my first book. Before I retired, I practiced law for thirty years. I live in St. Paul, Minnesota, with my wife, Jeanne Scott, a psychologist.
More reader response
The story, for me, contains so many exciting moments that I hardly dared to turn each page. The extreme atmosphere created in the last chapter was memorable! I do hope that Sonny finds true and real happiness in his life. He certainly deserves it.
Farewell Berlin has all the character, pathos, and excitement of an excellent film. Your knowledge of Berlin is truly remarkable, and you have created wonderful places for your characters to live in my mind.
—Peter Lord, Derby, England, UK
I just returned from Mexico last night . . . stayed up to 2 a.m. trying to finish your book. I was initially distracted . . . because I know the author and was looking for threads of your life. Soon, however, the book drew me in . . .
This book is excellent . . . exactly the type of book I enjoy—fiction intertwined with a nonfiction historical background. Your first book is excellent . . . Hell, if it were your third or fourth book, it would be excellent. I’m simply amazed at how well you wrote this novel and how much time it must have taken to research the details. There is so much I enjoyed: love, suspense, the shadow of Albert . . . You should be exceedingly proud of your accomplishment. I hope you get your next book completed soon.
—Tom Atkinson, St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
A great book - and unbelievable that it is Steve's first one! Excellent suspense in a vividly painted landscape of wartime Berlin.
—Tom Eckstein, St. Paul, Minnesota
I congratulate you on quite an accomplishment -- this book represents an enormous amount of work and formidable research. It's rare to see a first-time author go to such trouble.
—Alan Weisman, Author
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Excerpts from Farewell Berlin
“Have you ever wanted to kill someone?” His eyes were like darts. “I don’t mean killing Hitler or Goering, that’s easy—shit,” he hissed, “they should all be dead. And not just because some son of a bitch on the street did or said something you didn’t like, where you’d think, ‘What an asshole, if I had the chance I’d…'”
Frowning, he waved his hand, then shrugged wearily. “The feeling passes, you cool off. The next time you see the guy—if you ever do—you’ve already forgotten.” Straightening, he set his jaw defiantly. His eyes flashed, as if he’d suddenly become mad. “No! I’m talking blood-on-your hands killing.”
He shook his head, and his eyes wandered past his friend to a distant place. "I'm talking about murderous rage...grabs your head and tightens. All you hear, see, touch, smell, is boundless fury. Uncontrollable anger that won't, can't release until he's limp, dead at your feet."
His fists clenched so tight his knuckles turned white, his pupils contracted. Then, shoulders relaxed, he leaned forward and asked in a calm, measured voice, “Well…have you?”
From Chapter 1:
Sonny was born Sigmund Landauer in 1909, but no one called him that. He’d been Sonny since his father had dubbed him as a toddler. He took his father’s word that he had been a happy child, full of laughter. In any event, the name stuck like chewing gum to the sole of his shoe, and almost no one knew him by any other. Sonny’s skin was light, his eyes nearly sky blue, his nose straight, his lips full but not thick. His golden hair hadn’t yet darkened, and as he grew older he grew taller than others in the family. Both a German and a Jew by birth, he realized early that he stood out among the dark eastern Jews of the Mitte. His face could have invited tourism on a German poster… …now, on a summer’s day in his twelfth year, Sonny was going with his father to learn a trade. Morris Landauer sold whatever he could get at a good price from a stall inside the cavernous warehouse on Rücker Strasse. Their flat was just a short tram ride from Schönhauser Gate in Scheunenviertel, an area of small shops, street vendors, and small-time merchants—many of them poor immigrants from across Eastern Europe, thousands of them Polish Jews looking for a better life after the devastations of the Great War. They were the small vendors, petty criminals, black marketers sharing the neighborhood with orthodox Jews, secular Jews, non-Jews… …Everywhere men huddled, bantered, argued, with gusto and humor. It was as charming as it was foreign. Someone called another a gonif, a thief, then laughed as if he hadn’t meant it. His adversary responded, “Feh,” as if spitting on the pavement. Another referred to someone as a yold, a dope, but his friend refined the description to schlemiel, a simpleton. Then Sonny heard an anguished cry—“Oi gevalt!”
From Chapter 2:
In the seven months from April to October 1931—his twenty-second year—Sonny met Red Otto on Ku’damm, Polly at the little café, and Albert at the warehouse. He also accepted Franco’s proposal and began working with Emil. Change was in the air. Street-corner orators spewed Nazi and Communist rubbish from almost every corner, or so it seemed, and their antics often led to brawls. Because of that, Sonny normally avoided such harangues, but one beautiful spring night, he stopped at the edge of a small group to listen to a passionate, clean-cut, young man in uniform, leather jacket, and small-brimmed worker’s cap, a small goatee clinging to his chin. Sonny later asked Otto why all the Communists looked like Lenin, as if they came from central casting. Otto shrugged, pleading ignorance.
That day's chance encounter led to an enduring friendship despite Sonny's refusal to join the party...
From Chapter 3:
Sonny silently counted the bottles of wine they’d consumed, reaching three when his ears pricked at Franco’s voice coming through the fog. “How long have we known each other?” Franco asked in a voice dulled by wine—or perhaps it was Sonny’s dulled hearing. He had to think. “Can’t say for sure, but . . .” he replied, stifling another belch, “. . . since I was a kid.” His tongue felt heavy, words hard to form. His inner voice was muffled, as if his head were filled with cotton. Franco smiled indulgently at his young dinner companion and said, “Your father was a fine man. I enjoyed doing business with him over the years.” Repeating that sentiment, he digressed to the heady time when he’d arrived in Berlin after the Great War, after the Kaiser’s abdication and the chaos that followed. His eyes drifted, a memory emerging as he recalled the Spartacan revolt. Sonny’s eyelids were heavy. He strained to follow Franco’s words, but only a few penetrated his mind: “Crazy . . . Communists . . . Fascisti . . . ” After maybe five minutes of this, he lost track of time. Franco was talking about business—or was it the Communists? Sonny heard him say times were difficult. Then he repeated, “Your father was a fine man.”
Sonny suppressed a smile…
Franco looked around the nearly empty room, leaned forward until his eyes met Sonny’s: “Your father and I—we did business for many years and learned to trust one another…We dealt in merchandise that came into Germany through irregular channels.” He paused to mention Sonny’s father’s death, to say how sorry he was, how difficult it must have been. Working his lips in and out like a bellows, he said, “I’m looking for someone I can trust, an associate. The last man proved untrustworthy.”
Sonny was perplexed, and his face showed it. With the buzzing like mosquitos in his head, he almost missed the raison d’état for being at the Veneto. Franco’s eyes narrowed. “You do not know?”
Slowly Franco painted the picture of a black market involving Sonny’s father. All Sonny had known was that his father was a small-time merchant. Hell, he’d learned the trade from him! Goods with questionable provenance occasionally came his way, but he knew not to ask questions . . . and he had profited. So, what had his father done for Franco?
Suddenly Sonny felt stupid for not knowing, for missing the clues. But what clues? When he was young, running around the warehouse with Mischa and Sophie, missing it was easy, but what about when he was older?
Sonny knew families had secrets—how well could a son ever know his father, especially if he died young?
Franco kept talking, trying to close the deal. “Ironically, the best in my business are the honest ones. That old maxim about honor among thieves is true.” A grin spread across his face. “A little bit of this and a little bit of that. That’s life, is it not? The money is good, and it is hard to get out.” He laughed heartily, took another drink, placed the glass on the table. He stared at Sonny, his smile gone, then said, “I am offering you an opportunity too good to turn down . . . Sleep on it. You can tell me tomorrow
From Chapter 4:
Sonny thought her smile expectant, perfect for a rendezvous. She gazed at the clock. Just five minutes late, she put her hands on her hips and moved her head in an arc until her eyes met his, and she brightened. Sonny’s pulse quickened as he raised an arm.
They’d lingered on the pavement beneath the big clock, deciding which film to see, finally picking The Blue Angel, based on a story by Heinrich Mann, Thomas’s brother.
Polly declared, “We must see it,” then raised her eyebrows in self-mocking bravado, “after all, I studied literature.”
Halfway through the film, Sonny’s hand found hers, and he held on to the end. The film disappointed neither of them nor others in the audience, more than half of them standing to applaud. As they filed out, Polly hummed Lola’s song: “How will I ever get that song out my head?”
Holding hands again, they had strolled along Kurfürstendamm to the Uhlandeck Café. Once there, they grabbed a table by a window. During the day, floor-to-ceiling windows flooded the room with light. At night, hanging art deco lamps cast shadows soft as kisses. The restaurant’s high, scalloped ceiling gave Sonny the feeling of an ocean floor, leaving him a bit breathless. Polly thought it more like floating in an aquarium. To anyone walking, the scene was of two friends holding hands and sipping coffee, a man at the next table dragging on a cigarette, a group of workers sitting in the corner—all fish at play.