Recommended books/movies for Eastern Europe

Hi all. I'm planning a trip to several places in Eastern Europe in 2014 and would like to read some books and watch some movies about the places I am going before I make my final itinerary. I'm not interested in guide books, I have those and will do research online and ask some questions here on the helpline when I get a little further along in my planning. I've done a search on here but it's hard to weed out book and movie recommendations from so many helpline posts and I'm getting frustrated. The places I'm interested in are: Berlin, Prague, Krakow, Budapest (5 days each) and some locations in Ukraine (Lviv,Kyiv,Odessa,Sebastopol). Will be exploring some surrounding areas on day trips as well. I like reading historical novels based on real people/events but I also like non-fiction especially first-person accounts. I usually prefer more ancient and medieval history but this area pretty much needs to include more recent history to get a good overview. Any and all suggestions much appreciated. Thanks in advance for sharing your recommendations.

Posted by George
Canada
823 posts

Here's a couple of good ones for Berlin - Leading up to the fall of the Wall - The Year that Changed the World: The Untold Story Behind the Fall of the Berlin Wall - Michael Meyer Leading up to re-unification after the fall of the Wall - 1989: The Struggle to Create Post-Cold War Europe - Mary Elise Sarotte Both easy and engaging reads. And some others, depending how involved you want to be - Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 - William L. Shirer Stasiland: True Stories From Behind The Berlin Wall - Anna Funder Wall: The Inside Story Of Divided Berlin - Peter Wyden Red Orchestra: The Story of the Berlin Underground and the Circle of Friends Who Resisted Hitler - Anne Nelson Berlin at War: Life and Death in Hitler's Capital 1939-45 - Roger Moorhouse In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin - Erik Larson Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-1956 - Anne Applebaum

Posted by George
Canada
823 posts

Some historical fiction - What Now, Little Man? - Hans Fallada By Night Under The Stone Bridge - Leo Perutz The Wall Jumper: A Berlin Story - Peter Schneider Every Man Dies Alone - Hans Fallada The Moment - Douglas Kennedy Under Budapest - Ailsa Kay Siege 13: Stories - Tamas Dobozy

Posted by George
Canada
823 posts

Some movies - Downfall Sophie Scholl: The Final Days The Lives Of Others The Counterfeiters Good Bye, Lenin!

Posted by James
Frisco
1799 posts

Books 1. Bridge at Andau by James A. Michener – Cold War Historical Account 2. Budapest 1900: A Historical Portrait of a City and Its Culture by John Lukacs – Golden Age Historical Account 3. The Great Escape: Nine Jews Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World by Kati Marton – WWII Historical Account 4. Enemies of the People: My Family's Journey to America by Kati Marton – Cold War Historical Account 5. A History of Hungary by Laszlo Kontler – General History 6. When Angels Fooled the World by Charles Fenyvesi – WWII Historical Account 7. Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire by Victor Sebestyen (Hungarian) – Cold War Historical Account 8. Central Europe: Enemies, Neighbors by Lonnie Johnson – Cold War Historical Account 9. The Sword and the Crucible. Count Boldizsar Batthyany and Natural Philosophy in Sixteenth-century Hungary by Dora Bobory - History 10. Budapest: A Critical Guide by Andras Torok, Andras Egyedi and Andras Felvideki – General History 11. The Paul (Pal) Street Boys, Ferenc Molnar – Golden Age Historical Novel 12. The Invisible Bridge, Julie Orringer – WWII Historical Novel 13. Under the Frog by Tibor Fischer – Cold War Historical Novel 14. A Taste of the Past: The Daily Life and Cooking of a Nineteenth-Century Hungarian-Jewish Homemaker by András Koerner – Golden Age Historical Account 15. Nobody Knows The Truffles I've Seen by George Lang – WWII / Cold War Historical Account 16. The Smell of Humans: A Memoir of the Holocaust in Hungary by Ernö Szép – WWII Historical Account 17. The Budapest Protocol by Adam LeBor – WWII Historical Novel 18. The Forbidden Sky; Inside the Hungarian Revolution by Endre Marton

Posted by James
Frisco
1799 posts

FINALLY!!!! A person actually going to Eastern Europe! Huh? The US definition of "Eastern" Europe differs from their own definition of Eastern Europe. The Ukraine is in Eastern Europe, the remainder of your trip is in Central Europe (except on old US Cold War maps).

Posted by James
Frisco
1799 posts

Film 1. Gloomy Sunday – WWII / Cold War 2. Kontroll – Social Commentary 3. Freedom's Fury – Cold War Documentary 4. Budapest Retro – Cold War Documentary; really interesting video of what Budapest was like. 5. The Journey – Cold War Historical Story (1959, Yul Brynner, Deborah Kerr) 6. Budapest to Gettysburg – Very well done documentary on freedom
7. Miss Arizona – Story of rescue and resistance based on a true story and the Arizona Night Club (building still there).

Posted by steven
white plains, ny, usa
649 posts

Nancy ,while this is on the light side , it's worthwhile , nonetheless . " The Shop Around the Corner " ,a 1940 film directed by Ernst Lubitsch stars James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan as two shop clerks who detest each other at sight but are falling in love via letters to a lonely hearts club . Based on the 1937 play " Parfumerie " by the Hungarian writer Miklos Laszlo , and set in Budapest , this was ultimately made into two more films , " In the Good Old Summertime " ,and , most recently , " You've got Mail " . The most important incarnation of the story however , is the 1963 Broadway Musical " She Loves Me " . This is pure romantic goodness and worth seeking out . Find the original cast album which is still available , and on Youtube , an abridged , but still wonderful , 1978 BBC TV version starring Robin Ellis and Gemma Craven . Watch it !! it will melt your heart !!

Posted by stan
Kansas City, Missouri
219 posts

Nancy for novel of 17th century set in Poland /Ukraine borderlands, the 3 volume trilogy by Henry Sienkiewicz: "The Deluge", "With Fire and Sword" and "Fire on the Steppe". They're full of knights and damsels, and set during real historic events. Gives a good background on 19-20th century conflicts in the area.

Posted by James
Frisco
1799 posts

"The Journey" 1959: With Deborah Kerr, Yul Brynner, Jason Robards, Robert Morley. ... other international people who are trying to get out of Hungary through the Austrian border. Not bad.

Posted by Agnes
Alexandria, VA, USA
616 posts

You have to see The Pianist by Roman Polanski - Adrien Brody is excellent as the lead. It's superb depiction of the Holocaust - it was filmed throughout Poland and Germany. If you are visiting Auchwitz (Oswiecim) outside of Krakow, this will set the stage. Luckily Krakow was spared destruction from the war, although sadly its Jewish population was almost completely wiped out. Do visit the Jewish (Kazimierz) quarter of Krakow.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
2696 posts

Hi, Some very good recommendations have been suggested above, such as those works by H. Fallada. Numerous books and films can be recommended on Central and East Central Europe. On Berlin..."The Captain from Köpenick" (Der Hauptmann von Köpenick) with Heinz Rühmann. There is subtitled version but very difficult to find. Shows a man looking for identity papers and what drastic measures he takes, shows the pejorative aspects of Prussian militarism in a comical way. It's a sad picture, really. Books on Berlin...I'll only recommend two. G. Masur, "Imperial Berlin"...excellent. Alexandra Riche, "Faust's Metropolis"...also excellent, where the author displays her expertise, research, insight, and analysis on the city within the framework of Prussian-German history in over a thousand pages, very readable and captivating. On Budapest...one film..."The Music Box" with Jessica Lange. The plot centers on her Hungarian father's role in WW II and war crimes and his trial. Good survey on Hungarian history...CA MacCartney, "Hungary, a Short History" For Prague...the novel "The Good Soldier Schweik"

Posted by Ilja
Seattle
1466 posts

Suggestion for few books. You can googgle them for more information: Madeleine Albright (yes, our former secretary of state): Prague Winter, Benjamin Kuras: Czechs and Balances, Callum MacDonald: The Killing of SS Obergruppenfuehrer Reinhard Heydrich, Victor Sebestyen: Twelve Days - the Story of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. Milan Kundera: Unbearable Lightness of Being. Milan Kundera: Joke
And movies: Kolya, Divided we fall.

Posted by Dick
Olympia, WA, USA
671 posts

Any of Alan Furst's "historical spy novels" set before and during World War II, especially The Polish Officer, The Spies of Warsaw (recently made into a so-so movie), Night Soldiers. He does a lot with Paris but also with central Europe. Also Philip Kerr's novels about Bernie Gunther, a discreetly anti-Nazi German detective who survives the war by staying out of trouble and minimizing his complicity. Settings include Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Katyn Forest. Check Amazon or your bookstore for the specific titles. They get a little old after you've read several but they are good plots and somehow manage to inject wit and humor into appalling events.

Posted by CL
Salem, Oregon, USA
914 posts

"Rape of Europa" (the book and PBS series) is a great WWII piece about art and the Nazis. You'll be able to see several of the recovered stolen pieces in person in Krakow (Lady with an Ermine by daVinci and the alter at St. Marys). Anything by Kafka, just because he's so odd and you'll see plenty of his influence in Prague. "Time's Magpie" by Myla Goldberg - a different take on a walk in Prague. Though I wasn't a huge fan of the movie, "Sunshine" (movie featuring Ralph Finnes) has a lot of Budapest scenery. "Boy in the Striped Pajamas" (movie version) and "Schindler's List" are both heart wrenching but on point for your travels.

Posted by Penny
Tulsa, OK
276 posts

Both the book Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, and the film of the same name written and directed by Liev Schreiber, are a brilliant mix of comedy and tragedy. Set in Ukraine, it's the story of a young man, Jonathan, in search of the woman who saved his grandfather from the Holocaust. He hires a young local man and the young man's grandfather as translator and guide/driver. The translator is obsessed with American culture and has an unconventional command of English; the grandfather, the driver, is convinced he's blind and has a seeing eye dog called Sammy Davis Jr. Jr. who menaces Jonathan in the back seat of the car. It could be a formulaic road movie, but the Ukrainian setting, interplay of eccentric characters, and the subtle revelations of past ghosts, keep it fresh. There are laugh out loud moments, but the story, especially the film version which differs somewhat at the ending, is ultimately heartbreaking.

Posted by colleen
dallas, TX, USA
149 posts

Speaking of the Rape of Europa = Dallas' own Robert Edsel's book The Monuments Men will be released in movie form this coming November. Starring George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Jean Dujardin and Bill Murray to name a few!

Posted by Katrina
Phoenix, Arizonz
1 posts

For Poland - it's not a book but I just saw 'The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler'. DVD Incredible story I think everyone should know about. This woman saved 2500 Jewish children from the Warsaw ghetto - hundreds more through a network of others, and was nominated for the Nobel Prize in 2008 - lost to Al Gore. The movie was made as a Hallmark Hall of Fame - so school age and up can watch it. Stars Anna Paquin and Marcia Gay Harding. Can't say enough good things. Check out story at www.irenasendler.org. High school students from Kansas were instrumental in bringing her story to light.
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1010278/

Posted by Grier
Carmel, IN
1056 posts

Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi - Germany Hiding in the Spotlight by Greg Dawson - Ukraine
The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht - set in an unnamed country which is Serbia. I know you're not going there but it's the first book I thought of when I saw the title of your thread and a wonderful novel.

Posted by Michael
Griffith, IN, USA
440 posts

If you spent time in the military or were born and raised in the Cold War period it will always be Eastern Europe get use to it.

Posted by James
Frisco
1799 posts

Nancy, are you going to use the services of a guide in Ukraine? If yes and you are still looking I might have one worth looking into.

Posted by Nancy
Corvallis OR
969 posts

Thanks everyone for all the good suggestions - many many hours of readng and watching in my future. As of right now this trip is maybe yes/maybe no. Eventually I will make this trip (barring unforseen circumstances) but it may not happen next year as planned. My daughter who is living in Dnipropetrovsk is now thinking she'd rather do a trip to the UK in 2014 and save the central/eastern Europe trip for 2015. Either way I'll still be reading some of these books and watching some movies in preparation. Thanks again.

Posted by James
Frisco
1799 posts

Don't put it off. Now is the time to see Central Europe and Eastern Europe before it gets too much like the rest of the world. Bulgaria already has McDonald's and Budapest now has Starbucks. Don't delay.

Posted by Nancy
Corvallis OR
969 posts

I agree with you James, however it's not just me. The best time next year for my daughter to take a couple of weeks off will be in August. So that presents a couple of issues: 1. weather will be a bit cooler in UK than in central Europe in August. 2. She will only have time and budget for 2 weeks next year so will be able to see more in that short time in a smaller area like UK.
If we do the UK trip next year, then I will do the central/eastern Europe trip in 2015. I sure hope that 1 year won't totally ruin the area.

Posted by James
Frisco
1799 posts

Nancy, naaaa, it will still be good.
And when you decide to come; alone, with daughter, girl friend, husband or significant other; let me know and I will help you with the stops in Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Romania.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
2696 posts

Hi, You'll be surprised at how quickly Starbucks starts to swamp an area. In the summer of 2001 I was in Berlin in the area of Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse on Friedrichstrasse itself coming from Unter den Linden. No Starbucks. Two years later I went back to the same neighborhood, exactly where I wss in 2001. Now two Starbucks were there, literally 3 mins from each other, one on Friedrichstrasse and the other on Unter den Linden. Such overkill. They'll do without my business.

Posted by James
Frisco
1799 posts

The Hungarians are showing some class by staying away in droves. At least 5 years since the first one and the count is only three in the whole of the city. We do have too many McDonald's but they have a special place in Budapest as the first US fast food outlet behind the iron curtain was in Bpest a decade before the Soviet Union collapsed.

Posted by George
Canada
823 posts

Foreign chains are inevitable - it doesn't bother me much anymore, I just see it as local employment now. Whether or not Hungarians are staying away from Starbucks is arguable - Budapest now has 4 outlets to go along with the California Coffee Company's 3 or 4 outlets, whose name seems even more intrusive on foreign turf - somebody's going and spending Forints and that's all business is concerned about. Don't forget the many BKs, KFCs, and McDs - Hungarians must be going to these, they aren't all tourists eating there! The one FF invasion in Europe, that still stumps me, is the ubiquitous Subway - I mean with all those fabulous European breads, deli meats, and sausages that one can enjoy, while travelling - how do they do it? Hey, like 'em or not, patronize 'em or not, they're there to stay.

Posted by James
Frisco
1799 posts

You are probably correct. My home city has a population similar to Bpest and we have 3 starbucks at every major intersection. Bpest has 3 (now 4?) in the entire city. Compared to the US they are staying away but yes, I would still love one of those Bpest franchises. And G-d forgive me but I did go to one in Bpest once. Half the people there were tourists.

Posted by Martin
Germany
208 posts

At least in Germany Starbucks isn't a success. They entered the market in the 90s and planned to start with ~200 stores. In 15 years they managed to open 150, and year after year they make losses. It looks like their solution is to concentrate on American tourists now, because almost all new Starbucks appear in tourist hotspots like Unter den Linden or Friedrichstraße in Berlin. It's the same with Dunkin' Donuts, which is mainly for tourists and a few teenage hipsters.

Posted by George
Canada
823 posts

Martin, I have no idea whether Starbucks is losing money or not in Germany OR Europe as a whole BUT I don't see much difference, in Germany, between Starbucks and Einstein Kaffee - a chain is a chain - other than one's US owned and the other is DE owned. But what I do know is, Europeans, like NAs, have embraced the coffee-to-go idea!

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
2696 posts

Good that Starbucks in Germany is taking a financial hit year after year. It had the reputation of setting up shop in high rent streets and districts. Look at the number of Starbucks in Berlin on Kurfürstendamm. No doubt Starbucks is encroaching into East Central and Eastern Europe. As of July 2005 there was no Starbucks at the Poznan (Posen) main train station. I went to the station cafe there since I had time before connecting to Torun (Thorn). That cafe advertised German coffee...Jacobs.

Posted by Matthew
Kihei, HI, United States
112 posts

Bulgaria has had McDs since 1994, the sky is not falling.

Posted by Michael Schneider
New Paltz, NY
6837 posts

So it's "verboten" for American chains to do business in Germany, but somehow "okay" when the reverse happens like Aldi operating 1200 outlets in the US?????

Posted by George
Canada
823 posts

Well Fred, they may not be at the station but they have outlets in Poznan, as they do in every major (some minor) city in Poland.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
2696 posts

That was in 2005 in Poznan Glowny. Presumably, eight years later now Starbucks may well have replaced that cafe and Jacobs coffee...unfortunately. No doubt they have numerous locations in the city itself.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9130 posts

I'm a little late to this conversation, so here's a few film recommendations that I haven't seen mentioned yet: Kolya: Takes place in Prague during the Velvet Revolution, but it's mostly about the fatherly relationship that develops between a very anti-Russian old Czech and a young Russian boy he more or less gets stuck with. It was known as Unser Mütter, Unser Väter (Our Mothers, Our Fathesr) in Germany, but I believe it's going to be released in the English-speaking world as Generation War. It's a pretty devestating self-portrait of ordinary Germans' involvement in WWII. Most of it takes place in Poland and Ukraine, so that should cover some of your destinations. Don't miss this one! Katyn, movie about the massacre of Polish officers during WWII at the hands of the Soviets. Probably one of the darkest non-Holocaust WWII movies I've ever seen. Das Aldon, Eine Familiensaga. Follows a family who run a prominent Berlin hotel from before WWI until the begining of the Cold War. I don't know if it's available yet in the US. Anonyma - Eine Frau in Berlin. About one woman's struggles to survive in the aftermath of WWII in Berlin. This is NOT an easy film to watch... Sunshine covers the changing fortunes of a prominent Hungarian family of German-Jewish extraction from the late Austro-Hungarian Empire until the early Communist period. Of the movies I've listed, this is the only one in English. Deckname: Luna, about a young woman who escapes from the GDR into the West, where she reunites with her father, but get blackmailed into spying on him by the Stasi. Speaking of the Stasi...

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9130 posts

Das Leben der Anderen,(The Lives of Others) shows how the Berlin Stasi systematically spied on and ruined the lives of anyone they suspected of disloyalty to the state. Watch this one and you'll understand why the Germans were particularly outraged over the NSA cybersyping program. And rounding out the Stasi-related choices, Der Tunnel, about a group of East Berliners trying to escape to the west by digging a tunnel.

Posted by James
Frisco
1799 posts

Good titles and I bet I can get copies of a couple with English subtitles but I bet they will all be PAL format so I'm going to order them and have them delivered to Budapest where I can get a good cup of Starbucks coffee, sit back and watch them. Is there really a Germany coffee chain called Einstein? That's just wrong on all counts.

Posted by Betsy
Sugar Land, TX, United States
7 posts

Reiterating previous recommendations: The Lives of Others and Der Tunnel. Goodbye Lenin is a fun break if the others leave you weary. I'm taking the Prague/Budapest RS tour in October, so I'm enjoying the recommendations for this intriguing part of the world that's on my near horizon. Thanks, all.

Posted by Martin
Germany
208 posts

"Is there really a Germany coffee chain called Einstein? That's just wrong on all counts." Yes. At first there was only Cafe Einstein on Kurfürstenstraße, a coffeehouse from the late 19th century. After reunification a second coffeehouse was opened at Unter den Linden, which is not related to the first one. Because Einstein became a synonym for good coffee in the Berlin of the 90s a coffee chain called Einstein was founded around 2000. This coffee chain is unrelated to the two coffeehouses.