A New York Review Books Original. In 1905 the young Swiss writer Robert Walser arrived in Berlin to join his older brother Karl, already an important stage set designer, and immediately threw himself into the vibrant social and cultural life of the city. Berlin Stories collects his alternately celebratory, droll, and satirical observations on every aspect of the bustling German capital, from its theaters, cabarets, painters' galleries, and literary salons, to the metropolitan street, markets, the Tiergarten, rapid-service restaurants, and the electric tram. Originally appearing in literary magazines as well as the feuilleton sections of newspapers including the Berliner Tageblatt, the Vossische Zeitung, and the Frankfurter Zeitung, the early stories are characterized by a joyous urgency and the generosity of an unconventional guide. Later pieces take the form of more personal reflections on the writing process, memories, and character studies. All are full of counter-intuitive images and vignettes of startling clarity, showcasing a unique talent for whom detail was trivial, at grips with a city diving headlong into modernity.
Robert Walser (1878-1956) left school at fourteen and led a wandering, precarious existence while producing poems, essays, stories, and novels. In 1933 he abandoned writing and entered a sanatorium-where he remained for the rest of his life. I am not here to write, Walser said, but to be mad. His Selected Stories and novel Jakob von Guten, are available as NYRB Classics. SUSAN BERNOFSKY is the translator of six books by Robert Walser as well as works by Jenny Erpenbeck, Yoko Tawada, Hermann Hesse, Gregor von Rezzori, and others. The current chair of the PEN Translation Committee, she teaches at the Writing Program at Columbia University, where she is director of the Graduate Translation Program, and is at work on a biography of Walser.