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Author of the Month: Norbert Schürer

Published: November 3, 2014


Norbert Schürer, professor, English

This cultural guide explores the juxtaposition of Berlin’s past and present in history, architecture, literature, art, politics, entertainment, geography and religion in easily readable short chapters. “I want this book to serve as a popular introduction to the city of Berlin,” Norbert Schürer elaborated about his 256-page book, published in 2014 by Signal Press in Oxford and Interlink Publishing in Massachusetts. “It’s not a travel guide, so it doesn’t tell you when a museum is open or where to find the most fashionable restaurant. It’s also not a history, so there are no 500 pages of heavily footnoted facts. Instead, Berlin is an attempt to tell interesting, exciting and informative stories about Berlin.” What he hopes readers take from his book depends partly on those readers. “I picture two audiences for Berlin,” Schürer said. “One group of potential readers are visitors to Berlin who aren’t satisfied with the 20 pages of introduction they find in a travel guide. The second potential audience are armchair travelers.” Both readers, Schürer imagines, will gain new perspectives on Berlin. “In my experience, there are lots of stereotypes and preconceptions about Germany,” he said. “After all, we all know that Germans are humorless, but exactly on time for everything. However, stereotypes like these, and periods or events like the Nazis, the Cold War and Kennedy in Berlin, are just small parts of what Berlin is really all about. I hope readers will come away with more of a well-rounded picture of how things past and present fit together in today’s Berlin.” The Berlin Wall, near which he lived for a while, is an example of how the author discovered unexpected aspects of the city. “Where the Wall used to be, there is now a double row of cobblestones in the pavement, so you can trace the Wall through the entire city,” he said. “You have to look down all the time so you have to be careful. Tracing a historical monument like this that also shapes the city today gave me the opportunity to go places I’d never been before.” In an obvious way, Berlin is a complete departure from Schürer’s previous book, British Encounters with India, 1750-1830: A Sourcebook (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), edited with history’s Tim Keirn. However, Schürer sees a connection between all of his publications in the attempt to make intelligent writing accessible: “I hope this book shows that English professors can be good writers no matter what topic, whether academic or non-academic.” All writing, he maintained, is in the service of the audience: “I’ve done my best to make this book a really good read,” he added. “This is something that will be best to make this book a really good read,” Schürer said. “This is something that will be entertaining and informative. This is the kind of book that is meant to be enjoyed at the beach, at a café, or on an airplane on your way to Berlin.” The author drew on his extensive personal knowledge of the city to write Berlin, and his research consisted of reading

Author of the Month-Norbert Schürer

scores of books about Berlin (in German). “I not only lived in Berlin for 20 years but I’ve returned every summer since, including the last one, to visit my family and friends. Every year, I try to catch up on the latest publications about Berlin,” he explained. “Next to Long Beach, Berlin is my second home. During the last 20 years, I have been amazed with how quickly the city has changed. There are parts of the city that are completely unrecognizable. That’s hard to keep up with.” As Berlin shows, the city remains one of the most innovative, fast-paced, avant-garde, rough, exciting, and even sexy places in the world in the 21st century. In October, Schürer delivered a presentation at the University Art Museum on “Novel Berlin: Literary Images of a Changing City,” offered in conjunction with the exhibition “Barbara Klemm: Light and Dark, Photographs from Germany.” Schürer began his university career at Berlin’s Hochschule der Künste, got his M.A. from the Freie Universität Berlin and earned his doctorate from Duke University. He joined CSULB in 2003.