Goodbye to Berlin, by Christopher Isherwood

Goodbye to Berlin text superimposed over image of the Fernsehturm
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First published in 1939, Goodbye to Berlin travels into the city’s more colourful quarters, just as Hitler comes to power.

The Berlin of Isherwood’s semi-autobiographical novel is shabby but chic – crumbling, yet highly colourful. The characters and scenes Isherwood describes are so vibrant, in fact, that it’s easy to forget that World War II and the holocaust were already in sight.

This results in a rather haunting end to the book – but the way there is scandalous and sharp-tongued. Mostly this is thank to a cast of upperclass spendthrifts and well-spoken scoundrels.

Principally there’s Sally Bowles, the temptress and con-artist later immortalised in Cabaret, but also the warring lovers Peter and Otto, and then Otto’s family, the Nowaks. The other character of note is Berlin, which this book is really about. There’s no strong plot to speak of but, as with the cast of irrepressible and amoral characters, all can be forgiven.

“During the weeks that followed, Sally and I were together most of the day. Curled up on the sofa in the big dingy room, she smoked, drank Prairie Oysters, talked endlessly of the future. When the weather was fine, and I hadn’t any lessons to give, we strolled as far as the Wittenbergplatz and sat on a bench in the sunshine, discussing the people who went past. Everybody stared at Sally, in her canary yellow beret and shabby fur coat, like the skin of a mangy old dog.”


Christopher Isherwood, Goodbye to Berlin (1939).

Other books like Goodbye to Berlin
  • All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque (Germany, war)
  • Tales of the City, by Armistead Maupin (scandalous yet loveable characters)
  • Mr Norris Changes Trains (also by this author)

Picture credit: Polaroidville