Title: Berlin. The Fires of Tegel
Original Title: Berlin. I fuochi di Tegel
Publishing Date: 27th of October 2015
Authors: Fabio Geda, Marco Magnone
Publishing House: Mondadore (IT), Corint Junior (RO)
There is so much that people take for granted.Vivienne Westwood
When I first saw this book, there was something that was pulling me towards it. Not knowing the subject, nor having heard before about it, I felt the urge to browse the pages to see what it is about. I fell in love almost instantly. Although the first impression would be that a Young Adult book would be something that you have long overcome, this book is for everyone. Although the characters are entirely children and teenagers, it has so much reality in it, maybe much more than many other books I have read.
The story starts in about 1975, when a terrible virus struck Berlin, killing all the adults in the city, leaving the children and teenagers alone with nothing but memories and resentment.
The children split into five groups: Reichstag, Havel, Gropiusstadt, Tegel and Zoo, each according to the area where they live.
Each group has a leader who takes care that the rules are respected. But what do you do when there are no rules? Well that’s what is happening in the group from Tegel. They don’t have rules to obey, they do what they want and their goal is to have fun, regardless of who is hurt. Having among them a little girl who needs company, they do what they know best: go still a child. And they steal none other than the nephew of Nora, the leader of Havel. And this is where the “fun” begins.
The girls from Havel go into an almost killer mission of recovering the boy, taking as a help some of the boys from Gropius.
The group from Tegel is conducted by Chloe, a courageous girl who drove them almost to savagery. Their idea of having fun is to organize Death Feasts, where they hold dangerous games which most of the times end with at least one death.
The girls from Havel, Nora, Christa and Britta, decide to go to Tegel to take back the boy and, together with Sven, Jakob and Bern, the boys from Gropius, they start their journey. But the dangers don’t resume only to Tegel. There are other groups who stand in their way and the virus threatens to take the life of Sven at any point.
They must face their greatest fears and overcome obstacles that normally would be too difficult for some children aged twelve to seventeen. But their desire for justice is greater. They fight with all their powers and don’t give up, despite their fears and all the difficulties that come in their way.
But the most important things that keep them alive are love and memories. They cherish them more than anything and try to help each other as much as they can, in the memory of their parents that have died and who fought until the end for their happiness.
I was surprised that even from the beginning the authors have decided to bring us into that luridly environment, letting us know that we are not about to experience a happy story, with many funny moments, but one full of sorrow, fear and uncertainty.
We can see how the groups have formed according to their principles. The boys from Gropius are the ones always willing to help, the girls from Havel always try to be nice, the ones from the Zoo are the ones with no leader, Reichstag ones are a bit selfish, and the group from Tegel wants supremacy and is willing to remove anyone who stands in it’s way.
I liked the way the authors have created the groups, each with his own typology, each with loyal and unloyal people, each with good and bad people. All as if the society had divided into small chunks, sub-societies, like leaves of a tree, each growing on their own branches.
They have created a magnificent uchrony that attracts attention not only through the period when it takes place, but also through the place. Berlin is a city full of history, it is where the Holocaust took place, where one of the worst killers in the history lived.
The action occurs in West Berlin, in the times when it was separated by a wall from East Berlin. The theme of a wall seems to be appearing in many stories lately. I could find it, beside this series, in Game of Thrones and Divergent. The wall could have many meanings.
First of all, it could be a separation between good and bad, many times on the other side of the wall being dark creatures, so evil that one can’t even imagine.
It could also mean the separation of two worlds, but could also mean the segregation of people based on principles, a symbolic thing that sends towards the difference between us.
But the most important thing, it represents the fear of unknown, it means a challenge for the people to overcome their fear of change, to go beyond their limits and to face their fears.
Although in their own world the children know how to react and what to expect, there is a certain reluctance in trying to see what is beyond. And this reluctance has increased more as there were some who crossed the wall in search for someone with a cure and never came back. If in the past Checkpoint Charlie was a crosspoint for the allied troops from East to West back in 1961 when it was constructed, now it is the door between the two worlds, the known and the unknown, between the certainty and the uncertainty.
The world where the children now live is a sad one, where death is lurking at every step and where everyone passed 16 has started asking when will his turn come. Although they are happy that there are no adults to tell them what to do, they still feel the need of a leader, to establish the rules and maintain the order. They think that have escaped the rules of the adults but they created their own. Somehow they accentuate the human need for order, for someone to tell them what to do. So they lie themselves that they are free, but by choosing a leader they do nothing more and nothing less than trying to create a world as similar as it can be to the one they had lost. They try to replace the warmth of their homes and the kindness of their fathers and mothers. They are afraid to live without rules, cause they don’t know how to. They are lost without them.
The saddest part of this series I think is the fact that these children will never be able to fulfil their dreams. Christa wanted to be a musician, but you can’t be a musician when you have no stage, no public and when hunger knocks on your door. But they have the force to overcome the missing parts in their lives and enjoy their moments as they are. They have the capacity to love and fight for what they want.
The authors have created a complex world, and have addressed a sensitive subject, one that would touch everyone’s hearts. And they did it so skilfully, that you can almost feel the character’s pain and sorrow. Although it is a dystopian thriller, it contains so much psychology in it, individual psychology as well as group psychology. You can observe people in their most difficult situations, when they are the most sincere, when they reveal the easiest their weaknesses.
We will see in the next volume how the children continue their journey in this forgotten world where they are the only survivors.
©Picnic on the Shelf, May 24, 2019