The Landlady | Brendan Nash

historical fiction | berlin | world war II | lgbtq

First published 2019

The Landlady by Brendan Nash lying on grey material. Book cover is a painting by Otto Dix and depicts a Berlin street scene in red.

A week is a long time in Berlin during the Weimar Republic. Communists and Fascists are fighting in the streets, a series of failed governments are unable to fix anything, and out-of-control inflation is the icing on the cake for long-time resident of Nollendorfstrasse 17, Frau Thurau. Meta Thurau has been living very, very comfortably for more than 20 years in her second-floor, five-room apartment in Berlin's lively and colourful Schöneberg district, but things are about to change.

The First World War has been over for five years, and despite its best attempts to change things for the better, the new Weimar Republic is on its knees. In this novel, Nash gives us the back story to the character of Fräulein Schroeder from Christopher Isherwood's masterpiece, Goodbye To Berlin. Nash is a tour guide in Berlin and his walking tour, Isherwood's Neighbourhood, is an absolute must for tourists and long-time residents alike. Meta Thurau is the real-life woman on whom Isherwood based his character when he lived in her house from 1929 to 1933, during which time he wrote the books that became the film and stage play Cabaret.

Meta Thurau has invested and made good financial decisions, which have allowed her to live very comfortably compared to many other Berliners, but the ever-rising inflation wipes out her savings in one fell swoop and she is forced to take in a lodger. In the back courtyard of Nollendorfstrasse 17 lives Eva, a young girl from a small town who grew up in an orphanage and who has decided to move to Berlin to try to make a new life for herself in the big city. She is Meta's housekeeper and has a weekend job working the night shift at a hospital. She loves to dance and enjoys going to the women-only bars and clubs that are scattered throughout Schöneberg.

Pieps and his mother live on the ground floor of Nollendorfstrasse 17. They look after the house and Pieps also has a full-time job delivering coal in Berlin. Pieps and Eva are the youngest characters in the book and are both gay. Pieps meets Frank, an American visiting Berlin, and the two have some very passionate nights together. Eva meets Lotte at a club and, despite Eva's initial trepidation, they embark on something that has the potential to become something more significant in the next book in the series.

Berlin superstars such as Claire Waldorff, Anita Berber and, of course, Marlene Dietrich make cameo appearances, adding to the realism of the story and setting the stage for part two. It's clear that Brendan has a real passion and deep knowledge of the Berlin of Christopher Isherwood's time and, as in Cabaret, rising political tensions and the move to the far right are never far from the background of the hedonism of Berlin life.

My Verdict: For a debut novel, this was a real page-turner and I'm really looking forward to part two! Cabaret, and Christopher Isherwood in particular, was the reason I moved to Berlin in 2011, and doing Brendan's tour reminded me how much I love that era and the art that came out of it. Living in Berlin almost 100 years later, of course much has changed, but there are some echoes of the past that seem to be coming back to haunt us. As Brendan said on his tour, when he watches the news he hears the same inflammatory language being used today. We have to stay vigilant and make sure that history doesn't repeat itself.

Review Award | 3/5

Posted 26.05.2023

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