Author: Tuvia Tenenbom
Title: I sleep in Hitler’s Room. An American Jew Visits Germany.
Time: May through September 2010
Destination: Germany (and some other places)
Length: several months
Type: public transport
Borat and Fritz and the Jews
The story: TT is a Jewish American author and theater guy who gets invited by a German publishing house (Rowohlt) to travel around Germany and write about his experiences. They know he is a cynic, and they invite him anyway. He thus roams about the place, talks to people on the street and to people in important positions (for example former chancellor Schmidt), and he writes about it in his own cynical voice. Then, after TT hands in the manuscript, the German publishers don’t want to do the book anymore.
Tuvia Tenenbom’s mean book
First of all: the book is not a regular travel book. It’s rather a number of essays and interviews. And it is mean.
Yet I found it also very likable. In fact, it reminded me of the movie „Borat“: TT wanders around and talks to people, sometimes assuming different identities in order to fool them into a false sense of security, and he dissects them and some of their anti-semitic tendencies. This is in fact a major point of the book: TT is out to explore the soul of us Fritzens and our special relationship with the Jews. And he does it in a very cynical way.
There are a couple of things that I really liked about this book. For instance, TT makes a point of speaking his mind, and his statements are bold. He says:
„The hate for the Jew then, and the hate for the Jew today, as described in this book, is the same exact hate.“
Even though it comes a bit as a shock to me, yet I still appreciate the honesty.
I also enjoyed some of the insights that TT gathered about the face of modern-day German anti-semitism. Like the following thought:
„Subconsciously the Germans think that if they occupy themselves with the Palestinians of Gaza they will erase from memory the Brown Bears of Buchenwald – and will look beautiful in the eyes of the world.“
Then there are his musings about the German character, some of them pretty interesting to read:
„Oh, my Germans: Why are you so extreme?! Can’t you take a middle ground for once?“
„The Germans‘ biggest problem is that they are very romantic, totally romantic. And romanticism is very dangerous. It can be turned into its opposite.“
Probably got that about right.
But there is another side to the book.
is he really that smart?
As much as I respect TT, the guy who apparently speaks German, Hebrew and Arabic and naturally converses with intellectuals, I couldn’t help myself but think… maybe he isn’t really that untouchable?
There is at least one instance where he gets the German language totally wrong:
„…dedicates himself to spreading the message of Keine Gewalt (literally, „small power,“ or nonviolence and peaceful revolution)…“
Whereas „Kleine Gewalt“ might mean „small power“, the word „Keine Gewalt“ as above actually means „no violence“. Obviously, this error might just be due to neglect (or even just editing), but it is still a bit irritating.
But that’s not it.
What really weirded me out was TT’s taste. Okay, I admit that you can’t really argue about taste, so you can skip the following part if you want, but I’m going to talk about two instances anyway:
First, there is the abhorrent interview with Kai Diekmann, chief editor of the Bildzeitung. TT forgets about his own cynicism and totally lowers his defenses, giving the guy page after page to glorify his own tabloid paper. That was just weird.
And then there is the almost equally weird part where TT talks about Schloss Neuschwanstein, the embodiment of tacky romanticism of the late 19th century:
„All in all, this palace is a beauty no words can accurately describe. This is what the people of Germany have inherited from their rulers. It now belongs to the people. The Jews‘ inheritance is the Wailing Wall. The Germans‘, Schloss Neuschwanstein.“
Okay, you might not share my opinion that Neuschwanstein is just plain tacky. But it’s still nothing more than a luxury item for a Bavarian king of the late 19th century. It really doesn’t come close to the idea of „what the people of Germany have inherited from their rulers.“
Anyway, TT’s was a good book, and I liked the input of new ideas. Especially about modern-day anti-semitism in Germany.