Plot-wise, The Weather in Berlin is basic: a movie director, famous for a film he made many years ago, gets a chance to repeat his success. The complications are minimal. The characters are of secondary importance. So what makes this book worthy of a four-star rating?
The answer lies in the author’s talent for seeing the world through the eyes of Dixon Greenwood, whose movie Summer 1921 is a cult classic. Based on a story Dixon heard his father tell his mother, the film is about three boys and three girls at a lake in southern Germany after World War I. During production, one of the girls mysteriously disappeared from the set and was presumed drowned, despite an aggressive search for her body. The girl’s performance in the film was so natural and unpretentious that she, too, has become a legend.
Now, at age sixty-four, Dixon returns to Germany on a fellowship for film students in Berlin. Willa Baz, a television director, takes him on a tour of what was East Germany before the reunification. He meets a variety of people who express their bitterness about life under socialism and how they despise Americans for supporting West Germany. None of them seem remorseful about the Third Reich’s crimes. “The West was trying to destroy us,” Willa says. “So naturally there were resentments. Surely you can see that.”
One of the best moments is Dixon’s encounter with a wounded boar in the forest. It seems a metaphor for the packs of young German soldiers abandoned to roam the countryside after the Wehrmacht’s defeat and, perhaps, a warning that the dark spirit that spawned Nazi Germany may not be dead.
Dixon, who cannot help seeing Germany through the eyes of a filmmaker, accepts an offer to direct an episode of Willa’s TV series. As he reads the script, we get a fascinating verbal tour of how the movie will unfold as only an artist could describe it. It is these two factors, the sense of a culture struggling to come to grips with its past, and the means by which a director brings a script to life, that make the book worth reading.
I must admit I found it difficult to get into at first. The Weather in Berlin exists more in the past than in the present, challenging the reader to adapt to Dixon’s way of looking at things. For those who enjoy exquisite narration, it is very rewarding. Unfortunately, sprinklings of offensive language throughout the book prevent me from awarding it a five-star rating.