How Author Nathan Englander Found the ‘Opposite of Dark’ in Berlin

  • Novelist remembers stay at historic site during New York gala
  • Goldman’s John Rogers, Blackstone’s Martin Brand also attend

Travel diaries are often gala conversation filler. Novelist Nathan Englander’s impressions of the American Academy in Berlin belong in a whole other category.

Nathan Englander

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

“That I wrote in the house near where the Final Solution was put into play, and pretty much anyone in that house working, thinking would have been executed by the Nazis, was so joyous to me,” Englander, who is Jewish, said Tuesday night in New York at a fundraiser for the academy. “It was the opposite of dark.”

The academy’s home was owned by German-Jewish banker Hans Arnhold -- until he and his family fled in the 1930s, and Walter Funk, president of the Reichsbank and minister of economics in the Nazi regime, moved in. Most recently, a few years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Richard Holbrooke secured the property for the academy with the support of the family that fled, now living in the U.S. For about 20 years, it has hosted writers, artists and scholars from the U.S. for several-month stints, forging relationships that create a transatlantic bridge.

Englander said the fraught but affirming sense of place he found there has deeply influenced him and his work, including his latest novel set in Israel, “Dinner at the Center of the Earth.”

A novel by Nathan Englander and other books by American Academy in Berlin fellows decorated the tables.

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

“Sitting by Lake Wannsee, a Jew, with lefties and LGBTQ people, I was so moved by how history works and what matters and sometimes that the right things succeed, survive,” Englander said in an interview during the event, held alongside the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Temple of Dendur.

He finds Donald Trump’s presidency “terrifying” but chooses to focus on there being a “right side of history.” Citing marriage equality and the Affordable Care Act as two signs of “real progress toward right,” he said, “people get scared by change. That’s how history works. I refuse to feel a loss.”

Andrew Gundlach, Cliff Brokaw and Ray Roberge

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Among those seated for the meal of Hudson Valley poussin were Henry Kissinger, John Rogers of Goldman Sachs, Martin Brand of Blackstone Group, Peter Charrington and Cliff Brokaw of Citigroup, Ray Roberge of Materia, and Andrew Gundlach of First Eagle Investment Management, whose family once owned the academy’s home.

Mathias Dopfner, CEO of Axel Springer, commented on the publishing industry during remarks. “The likelihood that journalism will survive is getting higher every month,” he said.

Mathias Dopfner and Kati Marton

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Also attending was Holbrooke’s widow, Kati Marton, who’s working on a book on German Chancellor Angela Merkel as a writer in residence at the academy. Of course she is interested in whether Merkel can put together a coalition government, even as she watches what is going on back home.

“There is no escape,” Marton said. “When I’m not following Merkel around I spend all my time trying to explain to Germans what happened here.”

(Corrects proximity in comment in second paragraph of story published Nov. 30.)
    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.