In 1891, Mark Twain moved from Hartford to Berlin, Germany, for six months. He was driven away from his Farmington Avenue home by a series of financial failures — his disastrous investment in a typesetting machine, the unpopularity of a book he published, the memoirs of Pope Leo VIII — and he thought Berlin would be a less-expensive place to live.
It didn't work out that way. Life in the German capital was pricier than he imagined, and he, his wife and his daughters left Berlin after six months. Still, during that time, he had a few adventures and met interesting people, including Rudolf Lindau, who became a lifelong friend. While there, Twain wrote a bit, was sick for a while and was greeted by admiring fans at his speaking engagements.
This period in Samuel Clemens' life is the focus of "A Tramp in Berlin: New Mark Twain Stories" by Andreas Austilat (Berlinica Publishing, 174 pp., paperback, $13.95). The new book includes a story that Twain started in Berlin but never finished, a snarky essay about his Berlin apartment, and a few other never-before-published Twain writings.
Austilat is the deputy editor of the Sunday supplement of Berlin's leading daily newspaper, Der Tagesspiegel. He read Twain's books as a child and is especially fond of "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."
"In Germany, many people are thinking Mark Twain is a youth author. In the United States, he is known also for writing for grown-ups as well," Austilat said in a phone interview from Berlin. "When I got a little bit older and learned that he was in Berlin he became fascinating for me."
Austilat was inspired to write this book by his commute to work.
"Körnerstrasse is just behind the Tagesspiegel when I walk there. It still is today. Every day I was going to work I would pass Körnerstrasse," Austilat said. "That's why I started to research Mark Twain in Berlin. He lived on Körnerstrasse."
While researching the book, Austilat was most surprised and impressed by Twain's familiarity with German language and culture. Twain, however, would dispute that.
"On one occasion I emptied out a sentence of 47 words and it had only 63 grammatical errors in it," Twain once said. But Twain did recognize Berlin as a world-class city and center for arts, culture and education, and expressed awe when he met some of the most notable German intellectuals and scientists of the day.
Austilat also was impressed by Twain's business acumen.
"What I found fascinating as well is that we were talking about 1891, the end of the 19th century, and he was able to manage his business across the Atlantic," Austilat said. "At that time we don't have telephone across the Atlantic. We had a working postal service and the telegraph. It was the beginning of globalization in a way, and he was part of this network."
As engaging as Austilat's research is, the most interesting, and funny, segments in the book were written by Twain. In the previously unpublished essay "On Renting a Flat in Berlin," Twain makes light of his Körnerstrasse apartment, which nobody in the family liked. The story tells of a gullible American smooth-talked by a real estate agent, "Mr. P," into renting a place in a bad neighborhood:
Mr. P: "This is no alley. It is an esplanade; that is what it is. And it's the only one in Berlin that is named after a poet."
Twain: "What harm had he done?"
Mr. P: "Him? He didn't do any harm at all; and he wrote some of the noblest poems in his language. He died early. He died just as they were going to name this esplanade for him."
Twain: "Heard of it, I reckon."
Austilat writes about how Twain's wife, Olivia, wouldn't let him publish "On Renting a Flat in Berlin."
"I think she was afraid that in this case all their friends could read they lived in a street Mark Twain described as slumland, which would mean a social descent," the author said. "And if you compare the plan of their Berlin flat, which I found in the archive of the Berlin Building Authority, with the plan of their house in Hartford, you would easily find out it was a descent."
Another Twain story in the book focuses on a real woman, Wilhelmina, the 18th-century Margravine of Bayreuth, who was Frederick the Great's sister and a great patron of arts and culture.
"The margravine was an especially interesting, strong woman of her time," Austilat said. Twain's story about her was never finished, Austilat said, at Olivia's insistence, because Twain got sick and she wanted him to rest.
"He finished the first chapter — about her arrival in Bayreuth — as well as the notes for the second chapter," Austilat writes. "But he abandoned the manuscript, because his wife forbade him to work too much, and he never picked it up again."
Austilat seems especially fascinated by differing impressions Twain left with people who met him in Germany. "He was not funny all the time and some people were disappointed about that, even the Kaiser," Austilat said. "He wasn't a clown. He was maybe laconic, but not funny in the way that he was laughing all the time.
"He could be a good entertainer in front of an audience. You notice that about his speeches. But he needed an audience to be funny. If he was talking one-to-one, it doesn't make sense for him to be funny."
Steve Courtney, publicist and publications editor, at the Mark Twain House & Museum on Farmington Avenue in Hartford, said Austilat's book is "of deep value to Twainians.
"His European sojourns have not gotten much exposure," Courtney said, adding that "getting a chance to read unpublished Twain is always a joy."
Courtney also said the book had some real surprises: "I had no idea, for example, that a distant Missouri cousin of his had married one of the Kaiser's generals."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun