Dispatch: German Book Covers
Unexpected finds at a former Jewish orphanage in Berlin
As I mentioned Wednesday, I’m in Berlin for the first time, living here for a month. Yesterday morning, while walking around a northern suburb called Pankow, I stumbled across what turned out to be a massive Jewish orphanage built in 1912. It had since been converted into a library.
I went inside to ask about the history of the building, which, unsurprisingly, was very spartan and sterile. As it goes, I couldn’t really communicate with the one person who seemed to know any of the history and the point seeming lost, I decided to continue on my way. However, just as I leaving a downpour that had been looming for most of the morning finally let out. I decide to wait it out and wander through the stacks. Eventually I came across (or perhaps sought out) a shelf of Philip Roth books.
As I went through them I was surprised by a few things. The first of which was that the covers were racier than the ones I’ve typically seen in libraries and bookstores in the States. Usually, you count on Roth books to come in a series where the covers look the same, that chunky block print, the single or double color backgrounds. Even the first editions seem to be slight riffs on the others. In the library, “The Breast” (Die Brust) had an illustration featured in a Playboy from the 80s on the cover.
“The Dying Animal” (Das sterbende Tier) had a Modigliani painting of a nude woman.
But what struck me most was “The Plot Against America,” whose cover was similar to the American version, except where the swastika provocatively was, there was instead an “X”. Given that the other covers had been so evocative or even coquettish (I’m sure some readers would argue that a book cover can be coquettish), the juxtaposition surprised me.
I’ve been here less than a week, but so far I’ve felt somewhat displaced from the history, the sort of inner knotting I expected after avoiding this particular country for so long. I didn’t feel it at many of the sites I’ve already visited and, if anything, the intensity of the security presence at places like the Neue Synagogue, the Leo Baeck House, and Adass Jisroel, evoked a kind of sensory deprivation from the latent nerves. The first moment where I really felt the resonance of the history here was during a rainstorm in a century-old Jewish orphanage when I found at an item that I expected to have a specific symbol, a symbol to which I’d been desensitized, and I saw an “X” instead.
Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180
WAIT, WHY DO I HAVE TO PAY TO COMMENT?
Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.
I NEED TO BE HEARD! BUT I DONT WANT TO PAY.
Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at email@example.com. Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.
We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.