Berlin. 1932. It is a time of change in Germany, with the city thriving in the final years of the Weimar Republic. It is because of the boom in the economy that Sam Wells, an aspiring young banker, has traveled to Berlin with his boss, to develop Eurpoean businesses on behalf of their clients in America.
Berlin is a revolutionary place for Sam, being unlike anything he experienced in The States. He is enraptured by the city’s sense of history and its museums. He is also enthralled by Phillip – a German man whose gaze he returns in one museum, before running into him again at a local gay bar.
The two become fast friends and stout companions, even as something stronger blooms between them. Sam revels in Phillip showing him his Berlin and the two discuss dreams of traveling across America together someday.
It was a dream that never came to be, however, as Phillip was arrested by the Nazi regime and Sam was deported. Now, some 20 years later, Sam returns to Berlin, seeking news of the lover he lost so long ago and closure regarding the happiest time of his life and a Berlin that no longer exists.
Liebestrasse is a heart-breaking novel about a point and perspective in history that is not often considered in illustrated fiction. While much has been written from the American perspective on the rise of fascism in 1930s Germany, very little of it has focused upon the gay experience. This is somewhat shocking given that Berlin was the center of an effort to promote LGBTQ rights in the 1920s and 1930s throughout Europe. There were over 100 gay and lesbian bars and cafes in Berlin at that time, with similar districts in Florence, Paris and other large cities, and while homosexuality was still technically illegal, there was a serious effort to overturn those laws before the fascists took power in Italy and Germany.
Liebestrasse does not discuss this history in detail. Instead, the focus is on the love story between Phillip and Sam and the subtle changes in the world around them and how they view the rise of fascism in the city they love so much. For Sam, the threat is half-real, as his status as an American protects him somewhat and he is still too fresh to Germany to know what is normal or not. Phillip, however, is incensed by what he sees as a manipulation by foreigners to destroy his homeland. Much is said, for instance, about the role Swiss bankers played in financing the Nazis’ rise to power, despite their own country’s official policy of neutrality.
Writer Greg Lockard does a fantastic job of spinning the story and working real-world history into the narrative without it feeling like a lecture or lesson. The artwork is well-crafted, with Tim Fish doing a fantastic job of aging-up the characters in the two time periods, making them look different yet recognizable. And the colors by Hector Barros lend the finished art an appropriate touch of ennui, with the mountains of Germany looking suitably vibrant and beautiful and the buildings of Berlin becoming darker and more foreboding as the story progresses.
While it might have benefited from showing multiple points of view instead of limiting itself to Sam’s perspective (I would like to see a follow-up novel from the viewpoint of Phillip’s sister Hilde, for instance.) Liebestrasse is a good book. If this is a taste of what Comixology’s Originals line has to offer, I can’t wait for the full-course meal. A must-read for fans of historical fiction and anything written from an LGBT perspective.
Liebestrasse is now available exclusively through Comixology and Prime Reading.