Guy ChazanBerlin bureau chief of Financial Times

Nonfiction

Machtverfall by Robin Alexander. A terrific account of Merkel’s last term, taking in the fall of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the Armin Laschet/Markus Söder power struggle, and the highs and lows of a pandemic that could end up shaping Merkel’s political legacy.

Fiction

Der Reisende, by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz (in English—The Passenger). A gripping novel about the fate of German Jews in the immediate aftermath of Kristallnacht. The hero is a businessman desperately trying to leave Germany with his assets intact and ending up stuck on a train to nowhere. 

Film, TV Series, Podcast, Exhibition, Recital

The Father—Anthony Hopkins brilliant as a man affected by dementia. It is an utterly disorienting and distressing film that puts you right inside the head of someone suffering from Alzheimer’s and gradually losing their grip on reality.

Mare of Easttown—beautifully calibrated drama, complex and nuanced, that features a standout performance by Kate Winslet as a small town detective trying to solve a local murder.

Guilty pleasure

TikTok. I can safely say that without the daft, infuriating, hilarious, and addictive videos of TikTok I could never have got through lockdown with my sanity intact.

Gwendolyn SasseDirector of the Centre for East European and International Studies (ZOiS)

Fiction and Nonfiction

Olga Grjasnowa’s debut novel All Russians Love Birch Trees about a headstrong young immigrant who moves from Azerbaijan to Germany to Israel and encounters her own in-betweenness. Grjasnowa’s recently published essay The Power of Multilingualism (so far only available in German), skillfully elaborates on the link between language and identity and on multilingualism as the new but undervalued normal.

Film, TV Series, Podcast, Exhibition, Recital

Unorthodox—a German-American mini-series on Netflix. Based on Deborah Feldman’s 2012 autobiography and switching between English, Yiddish, and German, the series traces the journey of a young woman from an orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn who tries to resocialize into a new life in Berlin.

When it comes to exhibitions, for anyone passing through Berlin this summer/autumn:

  • The Birkenau Cycle by Gerhard Richter, on display at the Alte Nationalgalerie, captures the process of remembering through elaborate multilayered paintings and mirrors reflecting the viewer’s engagement with the work.
  • Judge for yourselves: the much-delayed and much-criticized Humboldt-Forum finally opens its doors in July. Among the first exhibitions is one showcasing the ideas, methods, and findings of scientific enquiry, developed in cooperation with local academic institutions.

Peter KellnerVisiting Scholar at Carnegie Europe

Nonfiction

Escape from the Ghetto, by John Carr. The extraordinary of John Carr’s father, Chaim, a Polish Jew who, aged thirteen, killed a Nazi guard to escape from the Warsaw ghetto. He eventually ended up in Britain and joined the British army, having evaded capture in Poland, Germany, and France, to reach Gibraltar via Spain. Years of meticulous research enabled John to piece the story together. It is all the more thrilling for being true. I read one of the few hundred copies published earlier this year. I am not at all surprised that the book has now taken off. It is about to be republished in the UK, by Hodder (a big player in the world of books), and has also been sold to the United States and, in translation, across Europe—including, of course, Poland. An audio version is also being released, read by the great actor Simon Russell Beale.

Fiction

The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien. Half a century after buying the book, I have got round to reading it.

Film, TV Series, Podcast, Exhibition, Recital

Podcast: What Comes Next? A lively, semi-regular look at new inventions and innovations—and the people behind them—that will shape all our futures. I would choose this even if my son, Robert, was not one of the presenters.

Guilty Pleasure

Peanut butter mixed with Marmite. I thought my fetish was unusual—but clearly not: after spending years mixing the two to put on my toast, I can now buy jars of the nectar, ready-mixed.

Thomas de WaalSenior fellow at Carnegie Europe

Nonfiction

I hope I’m not the only one in the pandemic who has a lot of worthy but long books half-read on my desk and bedside table. So I’m grateful for short books.

Stephen Johnson’s How Shostakovich Changed My Mind was my favorite short book of the past year, a brilliant meditation on music, the Soviet regime, and also the story of how Shostakovich helped Johnson deal with acute depression.

If I’m allowed to nominate a member of the family, New Pandemics, Old Politics by my brother Alex de Waal, is a not-long tour de force that looks at the history of failed political responses to pandemics, from cholera, AIDS, Ebola, and now coronavirus.

Film, TV Series, Podcast, Exhibition, Recital

Radio is my favorite companion. Two podcasts recently with an element of mystery have kept me hooked.

In Finding Natasha Jake Warren hears how his mother went to Leningrad in the 1970s on a ballet scholarship at the Kirov, fell ill, was saved by a girl named Natasha—and then goes in pursuit of Natasha.

No Night So Dark from David Vaughan tells the story of how the opening of a family trunk in Oxford reveals the hidden story of a Czech Jewish family, just one of whose members made it alive into exile in England.

Guilty Pleasure

Eva Ibbotson is the perfect lockdown escape author. I’ve been sharing her wonderful funny novels, cutting between pre-war Austria and England, and everyone from my teenage daughter to my ninety-two-year-old father has loved them. So, I’m glad to report, did a friend who is a political prisoner in Turkey and who gained a few moments of respite from Ibbotson’s Magic Flutes, which I sent him to read in his jail cell.

Carl BildtCo-chair of the European Council on Foreign Relations

Non Fiction

Statesman of Europea biography of Sir Edward Grey. By T. G. Otte.

Machiavelli: His Life and Times. By Alexander Lee.

Fiction

I normally just pick a classic at random from the bookshelves. Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol comes to mind.

Film, TV Series, Podcast, Exhibition, Recital

Found a TV series on social life in Singapore as the Japanese invaded. Swedish TV.

Saime ÖzçürümezAssociate Professor in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at Bilkent University

Film, TV Series, Podcast, Exhibition, Recital

The podcast Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don't Know, 2019, by Malcolm Gladwell.

How do the ways in which and the conditions under which we familiarize ourselves with strangers impact our interactions with them and our perceptions of ourselves, and why? Gladwell’s narrative in his quest for seeking answers to such questions is mostly disconcerting and rarely reassuring. While seemingly a common occurrence in our overwhelmingly globalized everyday lives, getting to know someone is as complex as ever.