An overview of our favourite fiction and non-fiction books about Berlin.
by Simon Menner
Nearly 30,000 people worked for the Stasi, East Germany's secret service, and the vast archives they kept continue to offer historians plenty of work. Simon Menner rummaged through the public archives and dug up spectacular photographs documenting the work of monitoring. His book has large-format photos that show how Stasi officers awkwardly trained their disguise skills, martial arts, documented secret house searches and the bedrooms of subversive teenagers, and learnt how to shadow subjects. Most disturbing of all are the photos of a rather camp Stasi costume party, where pudgy, insecure-looking officials dress up as priests, hippies, artists and other subversive enemies. It makes you wonder if 'our' secret services have similar archives that will forever remain locked away.
'Top Secret' (2013, ISBN 9783775736206) by Simon Menner is for sale for around €17 at Dussmann and other major bookshops.
A Walk Along The Ku'damm: Playground and Battlefield of Weimar Berlin
by Brendan Nash
Despite all the changes in the city, the Kurfürstendamm is still Berlin's wealthiest and most glamorous boulevard, with a rich and varied history, especially during the roaring 20s. The new “A Walk Along The Ku'damm” ebook by expat Brendan Nash, the man behind the Christopher Isherwood walking tours, takes you on a walk from one end of the “Ku'damm” to the other, dishing up tales of grand buildings and their famous residents. There are stories about Marlene Dietrich getting married at the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche, now in ruins; the legendary 1000-seat Romanisches Café, Berlin’s first purpose-built cinema, and Erich Mendelsohn's striking Schaubühne theatre. Nash mentions the activities of Dada artist George Grosz, theatre-makers Rudolf Nelson, Max Reinhardt and Bertolt Brecht, musician and songwriter Walter Jurmann, nude dancer and femme fatale Anita Berber, and Josephine Baker who scandalously danced the Charleston here in 1926. The book ends with biographies of the fascinating people who made the Ku'damm truly grand. As only 43 of 235 buildings along the road survived the war, the atmospheric illustrations by Ian Stuart Campbell do much to conjure back the old Ku'damm.
“A Walk Along The Ku'damm: Playground and Battlefield of Weimar Berlin” by Brendan Nash (2015), Kindle ebook available at www.amazon.com/dp/B00SBNW7F4 for €8,99.
Finding Your Feet in Berlin - A Guide to Making a Home in the Hauptstadt
by Giulia Pines
Tens of thousands of new residents arrive in Berlin every year, many seduced by the gritty charms of the city. The 192-page 'Finding Your Feet in Berlin' by the American expat writer Giulia Pines is an excellent guide to settling in the city, telling newcomers where to register, what paperwork to take care of, how to find a flat and in which district, how to get a job, choose insurance, pay taxes, and where to learn German in order to make sense of it all. With the basics taken care of, next Pines advises what to do after work, where to shop, how to entertain the kids, what to see, where to eat and drink, and how to connect with other expats and Germans. A handy weapon against the mind-numbing bureaucracy sometimes required to get very simple things done, the book does a great job of taking away many insecurities when arriving in this strange but wonderful city.
'Finding Your Feet in Berlin - A Guide to Making a Home in the Hauptstadt' (2014, ISBN 9783957230003) by Giulia Pines is for sale for around €17 (ebook €13) at the Berlin Story bookshop or via their website www.berlinstory-verlag.de, at Dussmann or other major bookshops.
Stumbling Stones in Berlin
by Aktives Museum Faschismus und Widerstand
Over 5,000 so-called stumbling stones or 'Stolpersteine' have been laid on Berlin's streets since the mid-1990s. These small bronze plaques each commemorate one victim of the Nazis, and are laid in the public pavement in front of the last voluntary place of residence. Private individuals can research, request and pay for a stone, and regular Berliners often polish them up and lay candles. They're dedicated to all kinds of people; Jews, homosexuals, members of the resistance, euthanised handicapped and elderly Germans, and many others.
A new English-language book, edited by the Aktives Museum Faschismus und Widerstand, has 12 detailed neighbourhood walks linking dozens of Stolpersteine, highlighting the personal tragedies behind each stone, and the Nazi-era history of whole city districts. The well-illustrated texts come with clear directions, maps and historical photos.
'Stumbling Stones in Berlin' ( 2014, no ISBN) is for sale for €12 at Dussmann, Berlin Story, bookshops on Bayerischer Platz, and at the Aktives Museum (Stauffenbergstr. 13-14, www.aktives-museum.de).
Berlin im Aufbruch (Berlin's Renaissance)
by Will McBride
The young, snap-happy American student and artist Will McBride (1931) arrived in West Berlin in 1955, and set about capturing the post-war awakening of the city in black and white photos. Until the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, the sky seemed the limit for the city, and McBride crossed from West to East observing the progress of the Wiederaufbau (rebuilding), as well as the building of the Wall. Now, 120 of his photos taken between 1956 and 1963 have been collected in Berlin im Aufbruch ('Berlin's Renaissance'). What makes this book so special is that rather than documenting the city from a safe distance, McBride is 'present' in the photos, as a participant in the depicted events, getting close to workers constructing a road, women chipping mortar off bricks from bombed buildings, playing children, rock 'n roll dancers and fellow students riding a horse cart. In one photo McBride is literally present when he catches himself in the reflection of a mirror in a café, while focussing his Leica on an animated group of women. It's remarkable how timeless the themes and people are; the party in the back yard, the people at the beach and the students on the boat trip – they are us, this is now, 50 years ago.
'Berlin im Aufbruch; Fotografien 1956-1963' (Lehmstedt Verlag 2013, ISBN 9783942473675) by Will McBride is for sale at Dussmann for €29.90, and can be ordered at any other bookshop.
A Piece of Berlin
By Florian Reischauer
Anyone following the Pieces of Berlin photoblog is delighted every few days with a image of a strange corner of the city, with quirky titles such as 'a piece of wasteland' or a 'piece of fail'. Or with a portrait of a completely regular Berliner, from all walks of life; students, immigrants, late-night-shop-owners, homeless people, former policemen, actors; complete with a small interview about their relationship with Berlin. After five years of blogging, Austrian photographer Florian Reischauer has compiled his work in an intriguing family album for Berlin. Its full-spread photos of urban views, forgotten corners and industrial buildings are washed-out, smudged and dreamy; the resident portraits and texts are straightforward and honest, funny and sad. The 208-page book is bilingual and is designed – Berlin-style – with a concrete-like cardboard cover framing an original photo of a Berliner; a gem in the rough.
'Pieces of Berlin' (Recap Editions 2013, ISBN 9783000442278) by Florian Reischauer is for sale at www.piecesofberlin.com and at Doyoureadme (Auguststraße 28) for €27, or can be ordered at any bookshop.
Far East – the last years of the GDR
By Harald Hauswald
It's increasingly hard to imagine life in the GDR; the country that formally ceased to exist in 1990, as since then its society, landscapes and city streets have often changed beyond recognition. Photography books like Harald Hauswald's “Ferner Osten – Die letzten Jahre der DDR” ('Far East – the last years of the GDR') help us get an idea of what it looked like. Hauswald takes us from Berlin to neglected towns and small villages across the GDR of 1986-1990, showing beautifully composed images of children, workers, Communist parades, streets in Prenzlauer Berg, the Ostsee coast, as well as images from Berlin's alternative art and punk scene – and just a glimpse of the Berlin Wall. What makes this book special is the use of colour photography, made possible by Hausmann's semi-legal work for West German magazines, adding to the realism of the photos when most other GDR photography is monochrome.
'Ferner Osten – Die letzten Jahre der DDR' (Lehmstedt 2013, ISBN 9783942473507) by Harald Hauswald is for sale for around €30 at Dussmann, and can be ordered at any other bookshop.
Diversity Destroyed. Berlin 1933–1938–1945. A City Remembers.
by Moritz van Dülmen et al
Dozens of portrait photos adorn the main section of the bilingual book “Diversity Destroyed.” Every one of them is an important contributor to Berlin's vibrant art, science or political scene. Indeed, if Facebook had been around back then, any culturally active Berliner would certainly have liked most of these people as their friends. But the sad fact is that within just a few years in the early 1930s, Berlin's cultural life was destroyed, with tens of thousands of Berliners persecuted and driven into exile, deported or murdered. The content of Berlin's 2013 'Diversity Destroyed' theme year exhibitions are now collected in this impressive book. The photos introduce people like filmer Fritz Lang, director Max Reinhardt, singer Claire Waldorff, politician Paul Loebe and writer Erich Kaestner; each with a short biography showing how Nazi rule affected - or ended - their lives. Other texts and photos describe Berlin before and after 1933, and tell stories about several places in Berlin, including brave stories of resistance.
“Zerstörte Vielfalt. Berlin 1933–1938–1945. Eine Stadt erinnert sich” (“Diversity Destroyed. Berlin 1933–1938–1945. A City Remembers.” (ISBN 9783940231079) by Moritz van Dülmen et al is for sale for around €15 at Dussmann, the German History Museum and can be ordered at any other bookshop.
100 Favourite Places
Edited by Giulia Pines, Marian Ryan & Paul Sullivan
Is it possible to fall in love with a city? Photographer and urban blogger Paul Sullivan and his friends from the popular Slow Travel Berlin website suggest you can - as long as you take it slow. Their self-published book '100 Favourite Places' casually strolls past 100 remarkable spots in this endlessly fascinating city, each with a page of text and one photo. None of the major tourist attractions are listed, and the selection seems completely arbitrary at first sight; readers are pointed to a 1920s cinema organ, a revived market hall, a Charlottenburg deli, a struggling modernist suburb, a buzzing community garden, some 1980s metro murals, a button shop and a park where the kids can poke a guinea pig. But it's this randomness that encapsulates what is great about Berlin. The authors of this love letter to the city, and the reader soon enough too, know that these 100 beauty spots, bumps, scabs and scars are exactly what makes Berlin the enticing city it is today.
100 Favourite Places (ISBN 9780991011100) costs €13,95 and is for sale at Dussmann (Friedrichstr. 90), Do you read me (Auguststr. 28), Pro QM (Almstadtstr. 48-50), Shakespeare and Sons (Raumerstr. 36), and online at www.slowtravelberlin.com/100-favourite-places.
Hinter der Stille
Ron Jagers (photography), Andreas Apelt (text)
Dutch photographer Ron Jagers regularly visited East Berlin from the late 1970s; his collection of stunning black-and-white photography from the Prenzlauer Berg district forms the backbone of the lovely new book Hinter der Stille ('behind the silence'). In the 1980s, Prenzlauer Berg was East Berlin's least behaved area; artists, punks and other rebellious types somehow created a niche for themselves within the strict regime of the GDR. As an outsider, Jagers captured the essence of the district between 1979 and 1989, showing great scenes with the sooty and dilapidated houses of the district in the background. There are streets nearly void of cars, portraits of workers and locals, peeks into back yards, drab shopfronts and children at play. Writer Andreas Apelt moved to the district in 1977 and was part of this artist's scene; opposite each photo he unravels the human stories behind the crumbling façades in delicate prose. Texts are in German, but the photos alone make the book worth a look for its insight into one of Berlin's most fascinating districts.
Hinter der Stille (ISBN 9783898129992) is for sale for around €25 in Prenzlauer Berg at BötzowBuch (Bötzowstr. 27), Buchbox (Kastanienallee 88) and Georg Büchner (Wörther Str. 16), and across town in the Thalia bookshops, such as in the Alexanderplatz Alexa mall, or online via www.mitteldeutscherverlag.de.
Photographer Michael Hughes moved from the UK to Berlin's Kreuzberg district in 1982. During his first week he witnessed violent riots between the police and the squatter movement, fell in love and decided to stay. “Inside Kreuzberg” is a wonderful collection of evocative black and white photos documenting the down-at-heel West Berlin district in during its anarchist glory days. There are old-fashioned shop fronts, shocking urban poverty, riots with street battles and burning cars, and excited immigrant children doing the macho pose. The Berlin Wall features as well, the depressing ribbon of concrete that cornered the district, the first attempts at graffiti art on the Wall in the late 1980s, and the 1989 opening of the Wall near Moritzplatz. It's unfortunate that the English photo captions are sometimes vague and confusing, more explanation would offer readers better insight into what makes the area tick. But wandering around Kreuzberg, the random traveller comparing the photos with the streets as they are today can still easily recognise the typical mix of locals and immigrants, and the political activism that has characterised the district since the 1960s, even though it's (slightly) cleaner and much more accessible nowadays.
The book is for sale for around €20 at the Berlin Story shop at Unter den Linden 40 and other bookshops, online at www.berlinstory-verlag.de. ISBN 9783863681081.
Berlin tanzt in Clärchens Ballhaus
The Clärchens Ballhaus dance hall is 100 years old this September, and part of its attraction is the fact that so little has changed since it opened in 1913. It still attracts a wide range of ordinary Berliners and visitors that dance the nights away to foxtrot, waltz, swing, tango, or at weekends to the live band at the legendary schwoof parties. This new German-language book by regular guest Marion Kiesow is a fantastic history of the building, the area, the owners, the staff and guests and of ballroom dancing in general. Richly illustrated with photos, maps and items such as menus and receipts, the book sketches a detailed story of this unique institution that lived through Kaisers, dictators and democracy, and no less than eight changes of currency. Fascinating stories include those of the doorman who escaped across the Berlin Wall in 1961 but returned to East Berlin again and of the wardrobe attendant who started working here in the 1960s (both still work here), about the wartime bombing of the front house, and about Clara Bühler, 'Clärchen', the admirable woman who ran the Ballhaus for many years.
The book is for sale at Berlin bookshops including Dussmann and Berlin Story and at Claerchens Ballhaus.
ISBN 978-3-89479-784-3, €33, www.nikolai-verlag.de.
The Beauty of Transgression
Danielle de Picciotto
American fashion designer and artist De Picciotto, who moved to Berlin in 1987 and was part of a core group of designers, DJs, artists and dreamers that quickly discovered the possibilities of post-1989 East Berlin. She worked at many legendary bars and clubs including Tresor and E-Werk, helped organise the first Love Parade, ran an art gallery and was in bands. Her book vividly describes the incredible atmosphere, potential, artistic freedom and the surprising solidarity that characterised the fast-changing Berlin of the 1980s and 1990s. It also introduces several remarkable people from Berlin's art scene, and takes on serious questions such as confronting intolerance in villages outside Berlin, and the fear that artists living on a minimal income have of growing old. There's a fair amount of names that foreign readers won't recognise, but the book gives unique insight in a key period in the latest, most creative and perhaps happiest chapter of Berlin's turbulent history.
ISBN 978-3-89955-328-4, €22, http://shop.gestalten.com.
Berlin Design Guide
Edited by Viviane Stappmanns, Kristina Leipold
A fascinating exploration of Berlin's artsy side. Packed with reviews, it skips from cutting-edge architecture and art, via fashion to amazing objects, ending up with an overview of great places to co-work, eat and drink. The short articles at the start of each chapter describe what's unique about Berlin, touching on the latest developments, while the reviews are ordered along walking routes, enabling easy exploration.
ISBN 978-3-89955-478-6, http://shop.gestalten.com.
Berlin: The War, the Wall
This handy, pint-sized paperback covers sites related to World War II and the Cold War in mostly two-page spreads. Practical information like opening times for attractions and what public transportation serves the destination are included.
Berlin: A Portrait of Its History, Politics, Architecture, and Society
Giles Mac Donough
In our opinion, this book would be better titled, ‘Berlin: Snapshots of the random bits and pieces I researched about Berlin.’ Primary sources – letters of relatively minor characters in Berlin history – provide first-person accounts of Berlin through the ages, though often on specialist topics like cuisine, or orderliness.
Berlin: Open City
Berliner Festpiele & Architektenkammer Berlin
A practical guide to Berlin’s historic, modern, and newest architecture. Ten routes take you through a total of 600 buildings, helping you on your way with photos, maps, and plans. The index is done by both architect and place. Every now and then a building described isn’t labelled on the accompanying maps, but this is probably the best guide for architect fans, who have much to keep track of in still-growing Berlin.
The Politics of Memory: Looking for Germany in the New Germany
American Jane Kramer wrote these six remarkably detailed and animated essays while she was European correspondent for The New Yorker magazine. Four of the essays centre around Berlin and all include pithy accounts of people grappling with opportunities and setbacks in the reunited country.
Berlin 1925, 1946, 2000
Mark R. McGee
This coffee table book with black-and-white photos is organised by the type of building depicted - Grand Hotels, Railway Stations & Bridges, and Cafes & Bars, to name a few sections. Sometimes a building is depicted through three time periods, sometimes another structure has replaced it by 2000.
Berlin 1945. A Documentation
Reinhard Rürup (ed)
Translated from the German, this book heavy on primary source quotes is divided into thirds: War and the Destruction of Berlin; the Capital of the Third Reich; and Chance for a New Beginning. The many photos are accompanied by excerpts from officials’ letters, military reports, personal diaries and Hitler’s speeches, as well as graphs and charts.
Berlin. The Biography of a City
Anthony Read and David Fisher
The snappy chapter titles of this book published in 1994 include ‘Even the bird shit is made of marble’ (covering the period 1871 to 1914) and ‘Scum on Silver Bicycles’ (the 1950s). The Wall is covered in 13 pages, the Golden Twenties in 15. The black-and-white photo insert is of poor quality for a book by a relatively well-respected writing team.
The Fall of Berlin
Anthony Read and David Fisher
A small typeface adds to this thick account of the Allies approach of Berlin in World War II. The book is helpfully broken up into smaller sections, often as short as two or three pages. These episodes are good nuggets in themselves, which together form a unified whole.
Berlin Diaries 1940 – 1945
This Russian princess emigrated to Berlin and gracefully pulled up her bootstraps when times got tough for a woman more accustomed to high heels and the finer things in life. She worked at the German Foreign Ministry from 1940 to 1944 and had ties to those who sought to assassinate Hitler in July 1944. The diary doesn’t just provide insight into a remarkable woman, but on the suffering all endured in bombed-out Berlin.
Berlin Then and Now
Tony Le Tissier
Glossy pages full of more documentary-style photos than artistic ones capture more ‘then’ (World War II era) than ‘now;’ the book was published in 1992. Photo captions sometimes take up as much space as the text does. Written by a man who spent 23 years in the British army, the book is published by Battle of Britain International Limited.
This volume of three stories (March Violets, The Pale Criminal, and A German Requiem) depicts an ex-cop’s beats in 1930s Berlin and post-war Vienna. Salmon Rushdie plugs Kerr as ‘brilliantly innovative.’
The Berlin Stories
English writer Isherwood spent the years 1929 to 1933 in Berlin and attempted to capture the odd-ball assortment of characters he met then in two stories: Mr. Norris and Goodbye to Berlin. These tales were successfully joined to form the musical and film Cabaret, from whence so many people have adopted their own icons of the underworld in Weimar Berlin: undefeatable Sally Bowles, the slippery Emcee, and the licentious Kit Kat Club.
This is Berlin. Reporting from Nazi Germany 1938 – 1940
William L. Shirer
These are the previously unpublished reports and broadcasts of the American journalist well known for his book, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. ‘This is Berlin’ begins many of his pieces, which are humorous, conversational, and sarcastic.
Faust’s Metropolis: A History of Berlin
You get to cut through the swampy origins of Berlin up to the 1500s fairly quickly, and then the meaty part starts on page 40 with Berlin’s 17th-century tribulations. Twists and turns don’t let up until 1998 (page 858). The two hundred pages of notes remaining let you know what this ambitious historian spent years researching.
Jews in Berlin
Andreas Nachama (ed), Julius H. Schoeps and Hermann Simon
Berlin had one of Germany’s largest populations of Jews before World War II. The chronology at the back of the well-illustrated book begins with the year 1244 and ends with 2000 - the year the first pupils graduated from The Jewish High School. Six authors contributed to this book full of prints, photos, cartoons, ads, and even organisational charts.
The Wall - The People’s Story
Hilton interviewed everyday Berliners, politicians and military personnel to weave together this narrative that reads like the Wall’s own diary.
The Fall of Berlin 1945
British military historian Beevor covers the months of January to May, from the Soviet and German armies’ shenanigans to the plight of civilians. It’s a brutal account that will appeal to two different audiences – military history buffs and social historians – while making each swallow a few details or viewpoints that each side might not otherwise prefer to read.
The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape
New York has grappled the past several years with what to do with just one significant and destroyed building site. The question surrounding whether to rebuild, preserve, or move on has dogged Berlin urban planners and architects ever since 1945. When it comes to structures erected by Fascists and hard-line Communists, the issues of historic significance versus practical modern land use become even more loaded. With entertaining text, Ladd welcomes even neophytes to a domain normally presided over by coolly intellectual architects.
Russian Disco, Tales of Everyday Lunacy on the Streets of Berlin
Roughly 49 vignettes capture Berlin through the eyes of this hip immigrant from Moscow. Kaminer has become somewhat of scene personality, DJing Russendisko nights at Mitte’s retro Kaffee Burger.
1936. The Olympic Games and National Socialism
This engaging book, in both English and German, describes the build-up to and controversies surrounding the 1936 Summer Olympic Games in Berlin. The attractively designed book comes from an exhibition that included photos, ads, and political cartoons regarding not only the Olympics, but the Nazi regime as well.
A fascinating and chilling Cold War novel about a British technician who is sent to Berlin in the 1950s to work on a top-secret tunnel that is built under the Soviet zone to tap phone lines to Moscow. Based on the story of a real spy tunnel in Rudow.
Stasiland. True Stories From Behind the Berlin Wall
In the early 1990s, Australian Anna Funder was the only person at her Berlin TV station interested in stories former East Germans might have had to tell. She discoverd that those who fell into the web of the State Security Service (Stasi) had incredible, horrifying stories. She has a fiction writer's gift for words and has transformed her interviews with scores of East Germans an engrossing read. Nominated for the Guardian First Book Award 2003.