(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The Wall Jumper is a narrative essay or a collection of short stories assembled by the narrator according to a variation of the Scheherazade principle of The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments. In The Wall Jumper, the narrator decides to collect and narrate stories about the divided city of Berlin,and whoever he meets is invited to tell him a new and better story. The work defies classification. It is not a novel, a novella, or a diary. It is perhaps best characterized as a narrative essay divided into five parts, mixing memoir with essay, anecdote with meditation, and narrative with political observation.

As part 1 begins, the narrator describes his approach by plane to Berlin. The plane, traveling from West Germany, must cross the city and the Berlin Wall three times in order to land against the wind at Tegel Airport in West Berlin. The narrator then describes the scene of his arrival at Schonefeld Airport in East Berlin to show the confusion of foreign tourists about the divided city. An Eastern European tourist cannot understand why he cannot share a taxi with the narrator to downtown Berlin: There are no taxis from Schonefeld Airport to West Berlin. The place the narrator calls home is not even shown on East Berlin city maps. The narrative then switches to a discussion of the Wall, built in August, 1961, by the East German government, and its depiction on city maps in East and West Berlin. The narrator moved to West Berlin immediately following construction.

The reader is introduced to Robert, the narrator’s friend, whom he regularly meets for breakfast at a cafe. Robert, an emigrant from East Berlin, is an expert at the pinball machines at the cafe. When the narrator informs Robert that he is collecting stories about the divided city, he feigns a lack of interest in the topic. For Robert, the so-called German Question, the question of German reunification, which is part of the West German political agenda, does not exist, although he is deeply influenced by the effects of the partition.

The first story told is that of Gerhard Schalter, the narrator’s landlord in West Berlin, who maintains his expensive West Berlin apartment by buying staple foods in East Berlin. Initially attracted to the other side of the wall by a love affair, Schalter changes his political ideology as a matter of course, coming to see the advantages of the social system in East Berlin. He appears to have moved to the other side of the Wall, as the narrator reports that a moving van took his furniture away.

The next story is about Mr. Kabe, the wall jumper of the novel’s title, a West Berliner who has jumped the wall fifteen times simply because it is there. In East Germany, Kabe is arrested as a border violator but put under psychiatric observation when his interrogators cannot find a political or criminal intent. Finally, Kabe is turned over to the permanent delegation of the West German government in East Berlin, which returns Kabe to West Berlin. Three months later, Kabe promptly repeats his offense. The West Berlin...

(The entire section is 1257 words.)