Potsdam Station

Written by David Downing
Review by John R. Vallely

Potsdam Station is the fourth of David Downing’s “Station” series, which covers the very unorthodox World War II experiences of John Russell. Russell had been in Berlin at war’s start and found himself working for Soviet intelligence. Interested primarily in saving his son, a German soldier from his failed marriage, and his love, Berliner Effi Koenen, Russell becomes a pawn for intelligence services.

After surviving the duplicity and danger of this murky world in the previous novels, Russell is parachuted into Berlin just ahead of Soviet forces. The Soviets expect Russell to assist them, but he is intent on finding and saving Effi and Paul. The descriptions of Berlin as Götterdämmerung nears are remarkably well done and vividly portray a city and a people in the last stages of a brutal catastrophe.

I actually found Paul’s and Effi’s experiences more finely crafted, and therefore interesting, than that of their savior. The secondary characters, Soviet security agents, German communists, fugitives from Nazi agents, and Berliners awaiting the end, also demonstrate the author’s artistry. That said and done, I have to admit that I found the concept of an individual locating two people in a city ravaged by bombing, preyed upon by SS murder units, populated by millions living hand to mouth, and with two armies locked in as savage a battle as any in history, hard to digest.