Review of Assignment to Berlin by Harry W. Flannery (Part 1 of 2)

Assignment to Berlin by Harry W. Flannery. First published in June of 1942. Four stars.

When I was researching wartime Germany for my novel, I found the best books for everyday details weren’t academic histories or even popular histories but diaries kept by Germans themselves and books by American journalists. Harry Flannery replaced William Shirer as the CBS Radio News correspondent in Germany after Shirer was kicked out of the country because his broadcasts annoyed the Germans. Shirer was an author and intellectual. He witnessed many key events of the 1930s including the French surrender to Germany in June 1940. But he always had his eye on the big picture. Flannery on the other hand had a reporter’s eye for the details of everyday life in Nazi Germany. And it is this detail which makes this book such a fascinating read.

Flannery was in Germany from October of 1940 until early October of 1941. He spoke German and had the ability to talk to just about anyone. One of the most amusing parts of his book is about cigarettes. Ordinarily that wouldn’t be funny but he reports to us that his favorite German brand were “North State” which claimed on the package to have been made by Phillip Morris although the tobacco was Turkish and Bulgarian. Other brands imitated the packaging of Lucky Strike, Camel which was sold as Kamel, and Lord Chesterfield instead of Chesterfield.

A well known Italian restaurant in Berlin in those days was “the Roma.” While eating there one night, Flannery began talking with several German soldiers who showed him packs of American cigarettes they had acquired in the Netherlands. “Cocktail American Bridge Club” was the name of the brand and these cigarettes were proudly made by the United Cigarette Factories in their facilities located in the Empire State Building in New York. Flannery reports that he did not disabuse them of their notion that the cigarettes were actually American.

But what was the best brand of cigarettes available in the Third Reich? Muratti’s. One of the people who helped me the most when I was writing the final draft of An Honorable German was Juergen Meyer-Brenkhoff, Fregattenkapitan, a.D. (commander retired, German Navy) who served 34 years in the German Navy. His father, also a professional naval officer, had served in the Kriegsmarine and had talked with Juergen extensively about life in the war time navy. According to Juergen’s father, the best brand of cigarettes in Germany at that time was Muratti’s and one typically had to be a naval officer to have access to them. I worked that into the novel this way:

…Dieter produced a pack of cigarettes, Muratti’s at that, hard to come by these days and not something Dieter shared readily.

British and German Muratti’s Cigarette Posters

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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