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Next month, Penguin Books will publish A Small Circus, Hans Fallada‘s dark but humorous account of summer in a small German town in 1929.

Virginia and Leonard Woolf visited Germany that same year. They traveled by boat and spent Jan. 17 -21 in Berlin. The impetus for the trip was Vita Sackville-West’s 10-week stay in Berlin, where her husband was Counsellor at the British Embassy. The Woolfs were joined by Vanessa and Quentin Bell and Duncan Grant who were touring galleries in Germany and Austria (D3 218).

Woolf collapsed when she got home, writing to Sackville-West on Jan. 27 that “[t]hat blessed sea sick drug of Nessa’s somehow went wrong and I had to be hauled along like a sack” out of the ship’s berth (L4 7-8). She spent three weeks in bed “& then could not write; perhaps for another three” (D3 218).

Leonard Woolf and Virginia’s physician blamed her “rackety life in Berlin” for her physical state during the weeks following the couple’s Berlin sojourn.

Woolf had mixed feelings about that city. The positive ones are connected with seeing Sackville-West, while the negative are about Berlin itself.

According to Jan Morris in Travels With Virginia Woolf, Woolf wrote in her diary that she would “never again” visit Berlin, as she thought it “the ugliest town in the world” (152). It took me a few minutes of page turning to track down Morris’s references, finally locating them in the fourth volume of Woolf’s letters.

On the positive side, Woolf writes the following in her Jan. 27 letter to Sackville-West, “I’m much better today. Berlin was quite worth it anyhow” (L4 8). And a day later she reiterates that sentiment by writing, “Well anyhow it was worth the week with you” (L4 8).

Here are more of her thoughts about Germany — and the Germans:

  • “But Lord! what a horror Berlin and diplomacy are!” (L4 9).
  • “There were two Germans in the carriage — fat, greasy, the woman with broken nails. The man peeled an orange for her. She squeezed his hand. It was repulsive” (L4 12).
  • “Berlin glamour seems only that of Woolworths and Lyons Corner House — its immeasurable mediocrity still affects me” (L4 13).
  • “Berlin was great fun in many ways — humans and pictures. Never again though” (L4 15).
  • “Berlin was very exhausting; very large; very cold; lots of music” (L4 19).
  • “I suppose Berlin, which is the ugliest of cities, did me in somehow” (L4 21).

The Woolfs also spent three days motoring through Germany in 1935, traveling with their marmoset Mitz. Coming as it did during Hitler’s reign, this trip was less pleasant. They were troubled by swastikas, anti-Semitic banners, a 10-minute delay at customs and crowds lining the street to salute a Nazi official.

In her diary, Woolf complained of their own “obsequiousness gradually turning to anger. Nerves rather frayed. A sense of stupid mass feeling masked by good temper” (D4 311).

Fallada’s book, first published in 1931, was written as the Weimar Republic was collapsing. Penguin’s version is the first English translation of that work. His 1947 novel about German resistance against the Nazis, Alone in Berlin, became a best-seller in the UK in 2010.

Note: Read Virginia Woolf’s Trip Through Nazi Germany, a post dated March 8, 2012, and Virginia Woolf and Hitler’s Black List, dated Jan. 22, 2012. Both are posted on ‘s The Virginia Woolf Blog. (Posted Jan. 31, 2013)

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I’m going to Italy with Virginia Woolf. I’m sure we will have a wonderful time.

She accompanied me to Ireland a few years ago, and we had such fun that we are traveling together again.

Woolf was a great European traveler. Of course she traveled around England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, but she also visited six other European countries. She spent time in Germany, the Netherlands, France, Spain and Greece, as well as Italy. She toured some of these countries more than once.

While in her twenties, she also made two trips to Turkey. 

I got most of those facts from a wonderful book titled Travels with Virginia Woolf written by Jan Morris and first published in 1993. And it’s because of that book that I know whenever I am traveling in Woolf’s steps.

Morris scoured Woolf’s diaries and letters in preparation for writing her Woolf travelogue. Then she went one big step further. She visited some of Virginia’s favorite spots herself. 

I expect to find Morris’s own observations most useful on my own Italian trip, for she has noted how the sights and scenes of present-day Italy do or don’t match up to what Woolf experienced during her seven trips to the country where she said she would “come to die.”

Right now, I have a photocopy of the 15-page “Italy” chapter in my carry-on bag. I plan to spend my eight-hour Alitalia flight highlighting the spots Woolf saw that I, too, will have a chance to see.  I will let you know how they compare.

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