She should never have brought the two men together, she thought. Not in her presence.They didn’t belong in the same dimension . You should never mix truth and fantasy otherwise you lose your bearings. You no longer know what is real and what isn’t.***
Daniel Speck’s tale of three generations of an Italian family torn between Italy and Germany begins with the third generation, Julia a fashion designer from Munich whose mother, Tanja, is an alternative culture woman from the late seventies, with a life style diametrically opposed to fashion design, and whose Italian father, Vincenzo, has been dead since she was a young child. Julia is a talented designer who has never really broken through and just as she has her chance in a show in Milan, an elderly man, Vincent, meets her back Stage and tells her he is her grandfather.
We follow this story as Julia learns that her mother lied to her and that her father is still alive. The story takes us back through her family’s past, we learn of her grandmother, Giulietta, working in an Italian car factory which made the Isetta and of Vincent being sent to Milan by BMW to bring back an agreement to manufacture the car in what was still post war Germany:
–The Isetta sales in Italy were slow –it was a practical car, but not pretty. And whilst for the Germans, nothing can be good that’s not practical, for the Italians nothing can be good that’s not beautiful.***
Giulietta was however engaged to Enzo and when Vincenzo goes back to Munich wanting to take Giulietta with him, was she pregnant by Vincent or by Enzo? Throughout her story Giulietta keeps the two men in different worlds, inverted compared to the Isetta, Enzo practical, down to earth and Vincent for fantasy, love. In these hard times for women workers, Giulietta makes her own clothes and dreams of opening a shop.
In this story which oscillates between Munich and Italy, Daniel Speck tells us of the complicated relationship between Germany and its first post war immigrants, the Italians, the very first Gastarbeiters in Germany who came to work, to save and to return to Italy but who had next to no rights in Germany, but who would, as with the following waves of Gastarbeiters, help shape today’s Germany. For instance today’s Munich counts more than 700 pizzerias, up from 0 in the middle fifties. Speck illustrates this period through the story firstly of Giulietta’s twin brother, Giovanni one of the original Gastarbeiters and then of Giulietta who follows him to Munich and of her son, Vincenzo, Julia’s father.
Having lived in both Germany and Italy I enjoyed this well researched book, read for German lit month, which had just enough history and just enough intrigue to take me through this 640 paged door wedge of a book in German. I liked the symmetry of Julia and Giulietta both in name and character and in the choice of the names of Vincent, Enzo and Vincenzo for Giulietta’s lover, her husband and her son and that up until the end, the story still bounces back and forth between Munich and Italy.
First published in German as ‘Bella Germania’ by Fischer Verlag in 2016
*** My translation