REVIEW by Steven Lovatt

NWR Issue 103

Athene Palace: Hitler's 'New Order' Comes to Rumania

by RG Waldeck

Someone interested in the emergence of modern Europe and the literature that shaped and recorded it should write a book about the grand hotels of the interwar period. As dynasties sickened under the political and cultural shocks now known as modernism, writers such as Thomas Mann and Joseph Roth recognised in hotels, where representatives of the old and new political orders mixed, a fertile Petri dish in which to study a civilisation undergoing collective breakdown. RG Waldeck’s Athene Palace (named after and set in the grandest hotel in Bucharest) belongs in this company, although it is a work of journalism rather than fiction. Waldeck, born a German Jew but naturalised as an American citizen and working at the hotel for Newsweek, arrived at the Athene Palace on the day in 1940 that Paris fell. The six months that she was to spend there witnessed events momentous for Romania and for the course of the war throughout Europe.

There are many reasons why this book should be read. Those interested in the war will appreciate Waldeck’s shrewdness as an observer of the political scene; her undiscriminating curiosity led her to seek audiences with important Romanian and German officials whom other western journalists were either too afraid or too disgusted to approach, and she was rewarded with knowledge supplemented by her own considerable powers of insight. Waldeck was not afraid to risk outrage by acknowledging, for example, the skill and thoroughness of the German plan to reorganise a post-war Europe, although she noted that the Germans were also ‘the only people in the world who were not a bit afraid that a planned and efficient world would be an awful bore...’

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