Berlin Portrait of a City Through the Centuries

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2015-10-13
  • Publisher: Picador
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A Washington Post Best Book of the Year

Berlin is a city of fragments and ghosts, a laboratory of ideas, the fount of both the brightest and darkest designs of history's most bloody century. The once arrogant capital of Europe was devastated by Allied bombs, divided by the Wall, then reunited and reborn as one of the creative centers of the world. Today it resonates with the echo of lives lived. No other city has repeatedly been so powerful and fallen so low; few other cities have been so shaped and defined by individual imaginations.

Berlin tells the volatile history of Europe's capital over five centuries through a series of intimate portraits of two dozen key residents: the medieval balladeer whose suffering explains the Nazis' rise to power; the genius Jewish chemist who invented poison gas for First World War battlefields and then the death camps; the iconic mythmakers like Christopher Isherwood, Leni Riefenstahl, and David Bowie, whose heated visions are now as real as the city's bricks and mortar. Alongside are portrayed some of the countless ordinary Berliners whose lives can only be imagined: the ambitious prostitute who refashioned herself as a baroness, the fearful Communist Party functionary who helped to build the Wall, and the American spy from the Midwest whose patriotism may have turned the course of the Cold War.

Berlin is a history book like no other, with an originality that reflects the nature of the city itself. In its architecture, through its literature, in its movies and songs, Berliners have conjured their hard capital into a place of fantastic human fantasy. No other city has so often surrendered itself to its own seductive myths. Berlin captures, portrays, and propagates the remarkable story of those myths and their makers.

Author Biography

Rory MacLean has known three Berlins: West Berlin, where he made movies with David Bowie and Marlene Dietrich; East Berlin, where he researched his first book, Stalin’s Nose; and the unified capital where he lives today. He is the author of nine books and has won awards from the Canada Council and Arts Council of England as well as a Winston Churchill Traveling Fellowship. He was an International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award nominee and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Table of Contents

Prologue: Imagine 1
1 Konrad von Cölln, and True Love 9
2 Colin Albany, and the Players 25
3 Frederick the Great, and the Making of Prussia 39
4 Karl Friedrich Schinkel, and the Dream of a Capital 53
5 Lilli Neuss, and the Owl 69
6 Walther Rathenau, and Lost Beauty 83
7 Else Hirsch, and the Illusion 99
8 Margarete Böhme, and Diary of a Lost Girl 115
9 Fritz Haber, and the Geography of Evil 133
10 Käthe Kollwitz, Mother and Child 151
11 Christopher Isherwood, in a City of the Imagination 169
12 Bertolt Brecht, Luck and the Epic 187
13 Marlene Dietrich, on Becoming 197
14 Leni Riefenstahl, and the Fatal Flaw 217
15 Albert Speer, and Germania 237
16 Joseph Goebbels, the Man Who Made Hitler 251
17 Dieter Werner, Wall Builder 275
18 Bill Harvey, and the Tunnel 295
19 John F. Kennedy, and Politics as Theatre 317
20 David Bowie, and 'Heroes' 329
21 Lieu Van Ha, and the Gun 349
22 People, Let's Dance 363
23 Ilse Philips, in Another Berlin 379
Epilogue: Imagine Berlin 389
Afterword and Bibliography 395
Acknowledgements 403

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