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A Literary Guide to Berlin

A Literary Guide to Berlin

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One of the best ways to immerse yourself in another city, especially before you go, is by getting to know it’s stories, its history, how it ticks.

If you want to know Milan or Madrid or Berlin, then the library (Or your e-reader) is the place to start.

Here’s a look at some of the best novels and factual books about the city of Berlin.

#1. Abandoned Berlin – Factual

by Ciarán Fahey

abandoned-berlin-jan-bommes
Spreepark, Berlin. Credit: Jan Bommes, flickr.

With the fetish for abandoned spaces being what it is, and Berlin having a lot of doubled-up institutions since unification, this book was almost inevitable.

The book is a historical and photographic journey 28 separate location in the German capital, including: The 1936 Olympic Village, an SS bakery, a GDR supermarket and ‘Fighting City’ (An old British hand-to-hand combat training camp).

The author’s wit permeates the whole book and his website even provides a handy map of each location.

#2. Berlin Alexanderplatz – Novel

by Alfred Döblin

 

Alexanderplatz
Alexanderplatz. Credit: Jonas Bengtsson, flickr.

Arguably Berlin’s most famous location, not that there’s much there, it’s the setting for Alfred Döblin’s exploring and working class life during the Wiemar Republic.

Often compared, but in many way incomparable to, James Joyce’s Ulysses, it centres around the pimp Franz Biberkopf on his release from prison and his quests to go even somewhat straight and become a good man.

An absolute modern classic.

#3. Finding Your Feet in Berlin: A Guide to Making a Home in the Hauptstadt – Factual

by Giulia Pines 

An almost ultimate user’s guide to the city, written from an efficient ex-pat perspective, the book has chapters on anything from finding a place, learning German to a rundown of the 12 main districts.

It’s written in a conversation and accessible style, even making its crucial chapter on German bureaucracy quite palatable.

Pretty vital for any new Erasmus arrival.

#4. Alone in Berlin – Novel

By Hans Fallada (Rudolf Ditzen)

Set against the backdrop of a Nazi rule in wartime Berlin it is a story of tiny acts of resistance to the regime.

Otto and Anna Quange are essentially the conduit he uses to tell the real story of an actual couple that resisted in very minor ways, though postcards and tiny-scale industrial sabotage after the death of their son in France in 1940.

The real-life ‘Hampels’ were executed in 1943 and the novel, published in 1947, was one of the first to confront the very-immediate German past.

#5. Faust’s Metropolis: A History of Berlin – Factual

By Alexandra Richie

berlin-history-oh-berlin
Credit: Oh-Berlin.com

If you want a book that’s both physically and intellectually a bit heavier then Alexandra Richie’s history of the city will help to to give you the required academic basis to your trip.

Essentially the story of the city from swamp to South London Hipster paradise, at over 1,00 pages it’s the best detailed account of its history money can buy.

See Also

#6. Goodbye to Berlin – Novel

By Christopher Isherwood

goodbye-john-shepherd
Credit: John Shepherd, flickr.

A collection of connected short stories that present the reality an early 1930s city about to fall to Nazi ideology and rule.

It focuses around the groups who were the most vulnerable to Nazi persecution, namely: Jews, a gay couple and a foreign cabaret singer.

Partly it is a reflection on Isherwood’s life, as he had moved to Berlin in the 1930s for his literary career. Overall it is generally considered to be the best reflection of the period put down put to paper.

#7. Far East: the last years of the GDR – Factual

By Harald Hauswald

The book is a photographic history of the German Democratic Republic, at its fall in 1990.

It doesn’t just focus on Berlin too, but also encompasses the smaller outlying villages and town. Instead of simple greyness there is a sense of colour to everything, from parades, to punks, to just ordinary people.

There are also plenty of colour glimpses of the Berlin Wall, close to the time of its death.

#8. Book of Clouds – Novel

By Chloe Aridjis

This novel, set in modern Berlin, seems to reflect the ever-changing nature of both nature and the city itself.

Focusing on Tatiana, a Mexican girl who escapes her past to arrive in the city, a Berlin historian and meteorologist raise din the GDR, it weaves a tale of memory and the past against the backdrop of modern reinvention.

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