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Literature / A German Requiem

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A German Requiem is a 1991 novel by Phillip Kerr.

It is the third novel in the Bernie Gunther Historical Fiction-Detective Fiction series. A German Requiem finds Bernie Gunther back in Berlin in late 1947, having survived the war. He is trying to eke out a living as a private detective in a bombed-out, starving city. At some point since the last novel (The Pale Criminal, set in 1938) he has acquired a wife, Kirsten—but he discovers that Kirsten is giving blow jobs to an American officer in exchange for excess US Army rations.


Bernie is brought to the Russian zone of occupied Berlin to meet a Soviet officer, Col. Poroshin. Poroshin informs Gunther that one of Gunther's pre-war colleagues in the Berlin police, Emil Becker, has been arrested in Vienna. Becker has been accused of murdering an American officer, Capt. Linden. Poroshin, a friend of Becker's, thinks that he's innocent, and wants Bernie to find the real killer.

After being paid enough money to avoid starvation, and having little desire to be in the company of his adulterous wife, Bernie is off to Vienna. He finds a tangled conspiracy, one filled with dark secrets, fugitive Nazis, and some old faces from Bernie's past.

This was the third novel in the Bernie Gunther series, following March Violets (1989, set in 1936), and The Pale Criminal. The first three Bernie Gunther novels are often referred to as the "Berlin Noir" trilogy. After author Philip Kerr spent the next fifteen years writing other stories—thrillers, sci-fi, even children's books—he returned to the Bernie Gunther series and wrote eleven more novels before he died of cancer in 2018.



  • An Arm and a Leg: One of the other Berliners selling stuff in front of the Reichstag is selling his own artificial leg. (Bernie is selling the watches he stole from the dead Russian.)
  • Artistic License: Discussed Trope. In the last paragraph of the novel, Bernie sees the crew of The Third Man shooting a scene at the Mozart Cafe, only they've built a set in a different part of town rather than shoot at the real Mozart Cafe. One of the onlookers says "It's what they call poetic license."
  • Bitter Almonds: Nebe's last breath "smelled strongly of almonds" after he dies from Bernie's cyanide capsule.
  • Blowing Smoke Rings: Konig demonstrates how at ease he is while talking to Bernie by blowing smoke rings with his cigar.
  • Buxom Is Better: Throughout the "Berlin Noir" trilogy Bernie keeps noticing women with nice racks, like in this novel where he admires Lotte's "ample cleavage".
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Early in the novel Bernie muses about how the Americans captured a warehouse full of Nazi party documents in Munich, right before they were about to be destroyed. At the end Nebe reveals that this was done on purpose, to make sure the Americans got the false information indicating that he and his fellow conspiators were executed.
    • Bernie snags two cyanide pills from the SS dentist who is removing teeth to avoid dental identification. He uses one to kill Arthur Nebe.
  • *Click* Hello: When Rainis, Nebe's Latvian bodyguard, catches Bernie snooping around the place.
    "I had not gone three paces when I heard the ratchet sound of an automatic-slide and almost simultaneously felt the cold steel of a gun muzzle pressed hard against my neck."
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Emil Becker, the guy charged with murdering an American officer in Vienna, was a major character in The Pale Criminal. He worked with Bernie on the Serial Killer investigation.
    • In Vienna, Bernie runs into Neumann, the lowlife and petty criminal that he used as an informant in March Violets. He's a guard at a prison holding Nazi war criminals.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Bernie gets very drunk after catching his wife sucking off an American officer.
  • Faking the Dead: It turns out that Arthur Nebe wasn't a part of the conspiracy to kill Hitler and he wasn't hanged in Berlin on March 21, 1945. Nebe is just one of several high-ranking Nazis who had their names added to the list of executions, in order to fake their deaths. He's alive in Vienna and using a new identity.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Becker's lawyer mentions idly how a lot of German war criminals are hiding in Vienna. That turns out to be the solution behind the Linden murder.
    • Belinsky talks about how Gestapo chief Heinrich Muller disappeared from Berlin, and dental analysis of a corpse thought to be Muller indicated that the corpse was a much younger man. Sure enough, Muller is alive and hiding in Vienna.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: Bernie calls it "the old friend and foe routine", when, after Muller murders Veronika in order to make Bernie tell what he knows about the Linden murder, Nebe gives the info to Bernie so Bernie can escape being tortured.
  • Groin Attack: A kick to the groin helps Bernie win a fight to the death with a Russian soldier.
  • Hiding Behind the Language Barrier: Bernie has engineered his fake arrest by the Russians in Vienna in order to gain Lotte's trust. He and Capt. Rustaveli of the Russian police discuss this, in Russian, right in front of Lotte.
  • Historical Domain Character: Both Arthur Nebe (head of the criminal police in Germany) and Heinrich Muller (head of the Gestapo) are hiding in Berlin. (In Real Life, Nebe was executed by the Nazis in March 1945, and Muller disappeared without a trace from Hitler's bunker.)
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: After Bernie is shocked to find Arthur Nebe alive, Nebe suggests that Bernie needs a drink. Bernie agrees.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Bernie regards Muller's suggestion that Germany will eventually gain economic hegemony over Europe as "perfectly ludicrous."
  • Just Following Orders: The main excuse for Germans after the war. Poroshin throws it in Bernie's face, but as Bernie's POV reveals, he left the SS to avoid having to follow those orders. Becker didn't, and wound up murdering a lot of Jews in the Soviet Union.
  • Justice by Other Legal Means: The American who debriefs Bernie is really not that fussed by Emil Becker's execution, noting that while Becker didn't kill Capt. Linden, he did kill a whole bunch of Jews in the east, and thus he had it coming.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: Arthur Nebe says "You know, you should really—" as he bites down on the cyanide capsule that Bernie has hidden in the strudel.
  • Maybe Ever After: The very end of the novel has Bernie headed off to a reunion with his estranged wife, whom Poroshin has brought to Vienna.
  • Out with a Bang: Veronika calls Bernie in a panic after Heim the dentist has a heart attack and dies during sex with her.
  • Shout-Out:
    • At the same time Bernie is investigating in Vienna, The Third Man is being filmed. Lotte is very excited over getting a part as an extra in the film and acting with Orson Welles, and at the end Bernie sees a cafe scene being filmed. Additionally, there are more subtle shout-outs to the plot of the film. Bernie and Veronika ride the Ferris wheel in Vienna's amusement park, where a crucial scene from The Third Man is set.
    • When Bernie finally admits that he's a private investigator, Veronica mentions The Thin Man and says she can't picture herself as Myrna Loy.
    • The title of the novel is taken from a Johannes Brahms chorale called "A German Requiem".
  • Title Drop: Bernie is skeptical of the Face Death with Dignity trope, thinking that "Whether a man is ready to die or not, his requiem always sounds the same."