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Fake news in Weimar Berlin: a blistering classic satire of journalism, lies and celebrity, in English for the first time
In Berlin, 1930, the name Käsebier is on everyone's lips. A literal combination of the German words for "cheese" and "beer," it's an unglamorous name for an unglamorous man – a small-time crooner who performs nightly on a shabby stage for labourers, secretaries, and shopkeepers. Until the press shows up.
In the blink of an eye, this everyman is made a star: one who can sing songs for a troubled time. All the while, the journalists who catapulted Käsebier to fame watch the monstrous media machine churn in amazement – and are aghast at the demons they have unleashed.
Originally published in 1931, Tergit's arch satire is an amusing but bleak morality tale about cultural philistinism. The novel's central theme is inflation: as the cost of goods meteorically rises in Weimar Berlin, so does the reputation of a schmaltzy singer named K sebier. Unprepossessing and "unbelievably kitschy," K sebier nonetheless becomes a sensation with his earnest renditions of folk songs and fatuous comic numbers. Tergit documents K sebier's rise and fall into irrelevance through the lens of Berlin's journalistic, high-society, and financial circles. Covering the performer are the urbane, old-school reporters at the Berliner Rundschau newspaper. When an obnoxious, energetic disrupter buys the paper, the staff is forced to lower their elevated style (and salaries) to please the new owner. Insouciant socialites sumptuously fete K sebier, "a child of the people," while the economy teeters on the brink of collapse. Bankers and developers team up on a poorly timed, poorly planned, and poorly executed construction project offering large apartments no one can afford and a new theater for K sebier no one will attend. Portraying a society declining into fascism, the novel resounds with hollow laughter and is crisp throughout, but the journalistic sections feel most alive. These tableaus, which blend absurdism and poignancy, match the comic invention of classics like Michael Frayn's Towards the End of the Morning and Evelyn Waugh's Scoop. \n