SOCLAS PhD student Paul O’Hanrahan won a DAAD grant to conduct research in Berlin:

“It was a great privilege to be able to spend two months in Berlin recently, deepening and extending the context of my research on the representation of Berlin in English language texts through genre, space and memory.

I proceeded to embark on a busy five-point programme which included: (1) library research; (2) documenting of locations; (3) attendance at academic conferences and lectures; (4) visits to Second World War and divided Berlin museums and memorial sites; (5) attendance at readings, presentations and performances.

Soviet WWII Cemetery, Jüterbog

My visit oscillated between trendy Prenzlauer Berg, where I lived close to the centre of the city, and leafy Dahlem where, thanks to Professor Russell West-Pavlov of the Freie Universität, I was able to base myself in the spaceship postmodernity of the Norman Foster-designed library.

Unexpected highlights of my visit were a series of lectures on the historical novel, a postgraduate conference on ‘Traumatic Literatures’ at the Humboldt Universität and a day-long Tagung at Bertolt Brecht’s former house on an intriguingly local yet seemingly out-of-print Berlin author, Klaus Schlesinger. Spaces of note: the Brandenburg region around Berlin is the city’s undiscovered country and a trip to Jüterbog revealed a town which is historic and quiet, complementing its portrayal in Hugo Hamilton’s novel, Disguise.

Salvaged section of the 1955-1956 Operation Gold espionage tunnel, Allierten Museum, Zehlendorf

In the Allied Museum in Zehlendorf I was particularly enthralled to see a piece of the espionage tunnel which is integral to the plot of Ian McEwan’s The Innocent. I also recall a sombre afternoon in the Jewish cemetery at Weissensee: the biggest in Europe, filled with the ghosts of the city that was wiped out.

One museum leads to another in Berlin. History is never far away, although the gentrification of what was central East Berlin has ironed out some of the distinguishing creases. Readings and discussions, however, remain lively and, for the researcher, history lives on in the many people prepared to share their experiences of the exceptional conditions that prevailed in divided Berlin.”

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