At this point Robert Walser and I are like an old married couple, or, to be accurate, I am his widow, as of course he is dead, though I remain faithful because in a sense he is still alive in his writing, and anyway his writing is really all I know of him, so perhaps we are still married, but over the years over familiarity has set in, and though it s not the type that breeds contempt it is the type that breeds a kind of blindness to the other s virtues and even faults as we potter about independently but in close proximity I wouldn t know a bad Walser story if I read it, just as I d be hard pressed to recognize a superior one, because, you see, I have no desire to remain a detached objective reader when it comes to him, or to engage in what G B Edwards deemed helicopter thinking , i.e viewing judging from a lofty height free from emotional involvement, because, you see, I cannot abandon my emotional history with Robert Walser when I read Robert Walser, and I have no desire to, for his works are not works of literature to me but rather are the living body of my dead husband But even so there are certain works of his that stand out in my memory particularly the later mind turning on a dime every sentence stories and especially the novel The Robber just as there are certain works that are so deeply embedded in my memory that I can no longer even recall them but that do add breadth and substance to our relationship as it were anonymously And Walser loved his anonymity He even wanted to disappear from himself which in my mind is a factor that played into his being institutionalized But let s not dwell on that sad event, for this collection is culled almost entirely from his early effervescent days of intoxication as a young writer mingling with the arts set and enjoying his first successes, when he greeted all and sundry with wide eyed excitement and cut a probably threadbare but dashing feuilletonistic flaneur figure through the streets and parks and theaters of Berlin Sprightly youthful days but as his widow I can see the storm clouds between the sunbeamy lines, and I like, even need, dark and sinister storm clouds so much so that I probably see them when they re not even there Did I add storm clouds to Walser s urban pastorals to increase my enjoyment Probably, but after twenty years of imbibing Walser s sparkly soda notes, and with the weight of middle age weighing on me and , I need to add demonic spirits to my soft drinks which is not to say that as my middle age wanes into my twilight years, and youthfulness once again invigorates my newly virgined senescent mind with its simple excitements that these early works will work their latent magic on me But until then this collection will remain anonymously embedded in the infrastructure of my Robert Walser widowhood, giving it substance but not attracting my attention overmuch. Oh, Walser I m woefully behind in reviews, and yet people need to read you at the same time, I m not sure that any words can adequately convey the experience of reading your prose.This collection of stories and critical essays compiles the work that Walser produced during his time in Berlin One can feel the allure of the city, the possibilities and dreams that Walser felt in every fiber of the city from the parks and gardens, to the people congregating on the streets, from the theatre to the literary life and yet one can also sense an underlying melancholy, a growing sense of malaise as the pieces progress chronologically, not seeing Walser fulfill his goals, forced to return to Switzerland just on the brink of a world war.In her introduction to Microscripts, Susan Bernofsky notes that we can t know for sure when Walser began writing in microscript form Many of these pieces here in Berlin Stories read like some of his microscript stories, but these are like vignettes than stories they run together to create a full portrait of Walser s Berlin, its inhabitants, its pace of life, and his own precarious position in the city as both an outsider and an artist The simplicity of Walser s writing is balanced equally by his deft approach to a humanistic view of society and our individual responsibilities to others his moral approach to life even something as simple as traipsing through a park and chancing upon a woman reading or a lone bird suggest that art is as much an every day sentimentality as it is setting thoughts to paper This collection ends with Walser examining his own critical output, looking back to his previous work and criticism with a sense of self exile but also a sense of having accomplished what he set out to do Hermann Hesse said of Walser If he had a hundred thousand readers, the world would be a better place And so it would. Logarithms and friend suggestions will never totally replace the anxious and arbitrary means by which I travel from book to book Yesterday I was sort of between books A friend of mine called and asked if I could take him to doctor s residence Sure, I quipped and ignoring my haggard state of toilette I d been tooling around in the yard I grabbed Berlin Stories from atop a stack and headed out the door There are many stacks in our hose My wife would add there are TOO many stacks I hadn t thought of this particular tome at all lately.I was prepared to dislike Berlin Stories Despite many efforts I still don t like Bruno Schulz I was ready for a similar encounter here My, was I ever mistaken Berlin Stories is a series of sketches of the metropolis, many reflect a gaping wide eyed perspective This appears apt as the most modern city in the world engulfs the reader The trams and the stand up restaurants are viewed as marvels The regal nature of the posh neighborhoods doesn t alienate the visiting stroller, it encourages The anxiety of penury is quickly muffled by these dazzling displays It is interesting to contrast these views of Berlin with Alfred Doblin s.I will likely pursue the other Walser works now. These are pleasant stories that took place a hundred years ago when Robert Walser wrote about life in Berlin 1905 13 , an invigorating and heady city compared to provincial Switzerland Yet it is to the latter that he eagerly returns to its sounds and sights When Walser first comes to the big city he is 25 or 27 years old, and his brother Karl is a successful stage set designer there The author s enthusiasm is fun to read like a re experiencing of one s own na vet Before World War 1 he returns to his familiar, neutral Swiss homeland but continues to write stories from that period of discovery The Introduction by Susan Bernofsky calls the set a four part symphony and points out Berlin at this time as a melting pot in which pass by in the urban outdoors people of every kind This universality is evident in part one The City Streets in which Walser depicts a park, market, street, public garden, and tram Part two introduces the colorful, terrifying, dream like The Theater before 1910 in which artists from ballerinas to actors, directors, and other performers have viable occupations In the part Berlin Life , Walser depicts the striving for success and greatness , the social classes, and some urban incidents such as a blazing fire Finally, the part Looking Back are stories written after he d left Germany for his Swiss homeland In those, he looks into human nature and relationships Throughout Berlin Stories , Walser may critique Berlin society but may nonetheless consider his time there as one of the best experiences of his lifetime. Even if you don t know Berlin yet , you will certainly love this book.4 Berlin Stories4 A Schoolboy s Diary and Other StoriesTR Jakob von Gunten I will leave the reviewing to readers better suited to deconstruct Walser than I am I simply like the fellow I believe he was extremely clever and interesting I enjoy reading all of his work, but especially the four novels that have survived There is something so childlike and simple about his work, but still sophisticated and never boring though he revisits his subjects constantly That is pure talent. A New York Review Books OriginalIn The Young Swiss Writer Robert Walser Arrived In Berlin To Join His Older Brother Karl, Already An Important Stage Set Designer, And Immediately Threw Himself Into The Vibrant Social And Cultural Life Of The City Berlin Stories Collects His Alternately Celebratory, Droll, And Satirical Observations On Every Aspect Of The Bustling German Capital, From Its Theaters, Cabarets, Painters Galleries, And Literary Salons, To The Metropolitan Street, Markets, The Tiergarten, Rapid Service Restaurants, And The Electric Tram Originally Appearing In Literary Magazines As Well As The Feuilleton Sections Of Newspapers, The Early Stories Are Characterized By A Joyous Urgency And The Generosity Of An Unconventional Guide Later Pieces Take The Form Of Personal Reflections On The Writing Process, Memories, And Character Studies All Are Full Of Counter Intuitive Images And Vignettes Of Startling Clarity, Showcasing A Unique Talent For Whom No Detail Was Trivial, At Grips With A City Diving Headlong Into Modernity This collection of essays begins in beguiling and exuberant fashion with wonderfully enthusiastic, wide eyed descriptions of rambles around Berlin time spent in idle observation of the inhabitants of the city as they drink in a bar, or travel on a tram, or walk around a park He notices the rich and poor, the elegant and the delicate, the raucous and the roguish Walser s spirit of wonder and delight continues through his writings on the theatre and ballet there s a ravishing piece about Anna Pavlova , but in the final third of the book the sun begins to go down, and the shadows begin to lengthen His writing becomes a little caustic, knowing and he admits to his own feelings of melancholia In a fictional story, The Little Berliner , he skewers the kind of self satisfied arrogance that seems, almost always, to accompany great wealth The narrator is the daughter of such a man, who can see no wrong in her father s behavior and by describing his many virtues, informs us of just what an odious person he is Father boxed my ears today, in a most fond and fatherly manner, of course , the story begins Of particular interest are two pieces about the women he meets when he rents an apartment, Frau Wilke and Frau Scheer The former is the owner of the house when first he lives in the decrepit room where, sometimes, overcome by depression, he stays in bed all day Not long after he takes up residence there, Frau Wilke s health deteriorates and she dies The new owner is Frau Scheer, an immensely rich woman who has devoted her life to amassing money, and avoiding both society and pleasure Despite his own state of poverty, he in no way resents this woman or her pointless wealth indeed he finds her circumstances both pitiful and fascinating befriends her and becomes her secretary an experience that must have been useful for writing his excellent novel The Assistant The collection ends with his return, in the snow, to Switzerland, leaving me curious about one thing in particular in all his time in Berlin, did he never realise that the country was positioning itself to enter war Not once is this alluded to. Read these pre GR. Reading these short sketches of people and places in Berlin in the first decade of the 20th century makes the reader realize what a vibrant city it was Nothing is too small or insignificant to escape Walser s attention He writes, An artist here has no choice but to pay attention Elsewhere he is permitted to sink into willful ignorance Here this is not allowed Berlin never rests, and this is glorious Each day brings with it a new attack on complacency There is an incessant blurring together of various things and this is good, this is Berlin, and Berlin is outstanding W G Sebald called Walser a clairvoyant of the small Small things are what he notices and being an outsider from Switzerland he has a sharp eye for all kinds of random details that flit by and would be instantly forgotten had he not noticed and recorded them He is a walker, through city parks, through commercial areas with interesting architecture, through open air markets, taverns with their sausages and beer, the Sunday Tiergarten, the electric trams, anything and everything that his eye and imagination happen to light on He adds commentary to his descriptions For example in writing about the trams, he observes that they are places where anyone can mingle together, from the innocent schoolboy returning home, to the whore or the criminal who is hatching plans None notice the presence of others, but everyone wishes to be seemly and correct, everything can and will preserve itself The streets resemble one another just as human destinies do, and yet every street has it own character, and you can never compare one destiny to another It s this sense of human life in all of its varieties that comes across in these stories Walser is aware of the darker side of the city Not so much the poor, especially if they are in good health, as they can work hard and often succeed, but the ones who should be pitied are the sick, people in poor health They are the disenfranchised citizens of Berlin Of them he writes, At least we should learn to understand our fellow beings, for we are powerless to stop their misery, their ignominy, the suffering, their weakness, and their death Walser admits here that he is the outsider who can only bear witness to what he sees and is powerless to change any of it The last two selections of the book are longest and come closest to being fictional Both involve the narrator s friendship with old women who show him great kindness Old decrepitude, how enchanting you are he exclaims, unable even in witnessing misery, to be anything other than a writer, an artist In the first story, he takes a room in a boardinghouse, telling the landlady that he is a poet But if that s what he is, he s a frustrated and depressed one, spending entire days without getting out of bed, his thoughts jumbled and chaotic A neighbor is kind to him, but he comes to realize that she is worse off than he is, starving to death, and one day she is taken to the hospital where she dies He goes into her miserable room, looks at her pitiable clothes and meager possessions, realizing that all things past, all things vanishing away, were closer to me than ever I stood there motionless, not understanding anything any But then he becomes calm and sees once again that there is beauty in this abject scene as much as anywhere He leaves the room and goes out into the world Sympathy with another human being, unlikely as it seems, has redeemed him It s this same sympathy that is found throughout all the stories but is here exhibited in a compressed form The final story is a counterpoint to this one and to the entire book for that matter The narrator again befriends an old woman but she is a miser, intent only on her hoarded weath She had no interest in all the pleasures, splendors, and beauties of the world She is very unhappy and out of pity he helps her, even though when she dies he gains nothing of her wealth which goes to her greedy heirs Again, there is empathy and compassion for a wretched fellow human being, possessing wealth, yes, but that contributes nothing to alleviating misery There is a progression throughout the book, and I think Walser succeeds in getting the reader to emotionally enter into Berlin in the first decade of the 20th century The lives and habits of its inhabitants are long gone, but any of us would be fortunate, a hundred years later at the beginning of the 21st century, to have such a chronicler observing and commenting on our culture.