This tale is a part of a brand new sequence exploring the arena via books. We’ve requested a few of our favourite writers to counsel studying that is helping you get to understand their towns and tips about literary landmarks to try. We’ll be touring the arena with them for the following couple of months, from Madrid to Mexico Town to Istanbul and past. Join the Books e-newsletter to make sure to don’t leave out any stops!

Berlin isn’t beautiful. You will have to know that previously. You don’t come right here for the pretty structure of an outdated Ecu town.

The Berlin Cathedral feels outsized. Around the boulevard, there’s the absurd Stadtschloss — a citadel that was once torn down in 1950, changed by way of a slightly Brutalist construction after which not too long ago rebuilt from scratch true to its nineteenth century facade, with a hyper-modern internal. On Potsdamer Platz, a tent-like glass roof serves as a extraordinary time pill of what other folks within the early Nineteen Nineties concept their long term would appear to be. Simply down the street stands the Brandenburg Gate, a neoclassical monument that was a logo of the brand new, reunited Germany.

The 20 th century has left deep marks in this town. No longer too way back, Berlin was once nonetheless divided by way of a wall. And historical past sooner than the wall was once darker nonetheless: Stay up for the small golden rectangles at the pavement — the Stolpersteine, or stumbling stones — each and every one sporting the title of a Jewish resident of Berlin killed by way of the Nazis, and a relentless reminder of the folk whose kids and grandchildren might be residing right here now. In Berlin, if you understand your historical past, you are going to to find ache on each nook.

But if the elements is good and also you motorbike from the Neukölln district to Kreuzberg to Friedrichshain to Prenzlauer Berg, the structure recedes and you are going to discover a sense of freedom in zooming by way of the never-ending stretches of cafes and eating places and parks filled with other folks, talking such a lot of other languages.

A lot of Berlin’s enchantment lies in what occurs indoors — in its cafes and golf equipment and inside of other folks’s residences. The town’s grim historical past has given upward thrust to a seek for pleasure, from time to time excessive. There’s a severe dance and membership tradition starting from techno song to Afrobeats, in dance colleges and at the streets. The provision of many huge areas after the autumn of the wall additionally led to many nice artists having a studio in Berlin and due to this fact in a thriving fresh artwork scene. And as for literature, many distinguished German-language writers, together with the ones from Austria and Switzerland, are actually residing in Berlin.

However the most efficient factor about Berlin could also be that its mantra of everybody being equivalent nonetheless performs out in some ways. Berlin remains to be reasonably priced (smartly, fairly talking) and also you don’t want a lot cash be cool. With taste and perspective, you are going to get into Berghain or some other unique membership over any billionaire. I don’t know when it took place, however Berlin by some means rose above its tragic previous and was an excellent spot to be.

The large vintage is Alfred Döblin’s “Berlin Alexanderplatz.” It’s probably the most nice modernist novels of the 20 th century, and getting to understand Berlin is solely one of the just right causes to learn it.

Vladimir Nabokov’s “The Reward.” It’s the closing guide he wrote in Russian — a large novel a few guy and a lady whom destiny tries to deliver in combination (for a very long time, to no avail). It’s additionally concerning the massive neighborhood of Russians who took shelter in Berlin after the revolution. For obtrusive causes, this can be a well timed subject.

Irmgard Keun’s “The Synthetic Silk Woman.” It is a extremely unique, extraordinarily fashionable novel about Berlin within the early twentieth century. The narrator is a tender girl whose irreverent and humorous voice you are going to no longer simply omit.

Hans Fallada’s Each Guy Dies On my own.” That is the only giant social novel that takes position in Berlin below Nazi rule, written by way of anyone who lived via it. It is going to provide you with nightmares, however it does provide you with an concept of what it in reality felt like, the way in which simplest nice novels can.

Thomas Brussig’s “The Quick Finish of the Sonnenallee.” Some of the sensible satirical novels about existence in East Berlin, within the shadow of the wall (somewhat actually). A translation by way of Jonathan Franzen and Jenny Watson, with an advent by way of Franzen, shall be printed in April 2023 by way of Picador Unique.

Sven Regener’s “Berlin Blues.” Some of the funniest German books ever, it explores what it was once love to reside in Berlin after the reunification with numerous booze and no cash.

And should you learn some German, check out Jens Bisky’s newly printed and due to this fact no longer but translated historical past, “Berlin.” Simply as with town itself, don’t be deterred by way of its huge dimension.

Any of the novels of Theodor Fontane, the good nineteenth century creator. They steadily happen within the slightly idyllic panorama of Brandenburg, the area surrounding Berlin.

And Voltaire’s “Memoirs of the Lifetime of Monsieur de Voltaire.” Potsdam is just one hour from Berlin, and the friendship of Frederick the Nice and the best creator of the 18th century, which resulted in a large number of extremely entertaining mutual slander, is forever attention-grabbing to discover.

At this time, for obtrusive causes, persons are speaking concerning the nice Ukrainian writers — for instance Yuri Andrukhovych and Andrey Kurkov — in addition to the Russian dissident writers who made it to Germany and don’t seem to be ready to go back to their house for political causes, reminiscent of Vladimir Sorokin, Ludmila Ulitskaya and Victor Erofeyev. Those are family names in Europe, because of this they’re, just like the names of just about all of the international’s nice writers no longer writing in English, little recognized within the U.S.

Concentrate to Bertolt Brecht’s “Threepenny Opera.” There may be even a BBC manufacturing with David Bowie. Sure, it’s formally set in London, however it’s the quintessential play about Berlin within the Twenties. Don’t attempt to make sense of the tale: Simply benefit from the songs.

Whilst being attentive to the “Threepenny Opera,” you could need to take a stroll round Berliner Ensemble, the theater the place “Threepenny Opera” premiered in 1928 and the place Brecht himself directed his performs after he returned from his Hollywood exile. There may be a statue of Brecht however the true monument is, after all, his theater.

It is a no longer a amusing advice, however cross to Hohenschönhausen jail, the place the East German secret police interrogated dissidents, a lot of them writers. Again then, you couldn’t to find it on any map: Only a few other folks even knew it existed. Now, former inmates are the excursion guides! The ex-prisoners are so younger, fairly talking, that one understands viscerally how not too long ago the dictatorship was once nonetheless in position. It will smash your day, however it is going to let you perceive extra concerning the latter part of the 20 th century than maximum books or museums.

From the Berliner Ensemble take a 10-minute stroll previous Friedrichstrasse teach station — which within the occasions of the wall was once the teach station between East and West — to the big bookshop known as Dussmann, on Friedrichstrasse. It has the whole lot, in all languages, and is so giant you could by no means to find your method out.

Or, should you’re already within the western a part of town, cross to Bücherbogen at Savignyplatz. It’s smaller than Dussmann, however it’s most likely Berlin’s most pretty impartial bookshop.

Then take all of the books you’ve purchased and, if it’s spring or summer season, cross to gritty Volkspark Friedrichshain and keep till the solar after all units. If it’s wintry weather, even though, don’t even check out. Keep away from the park.

In fact, if it’s wintry weather, don’t come to Berlin in any respect.


  • “Berlin Alexanderplatz,” Alfred Döblin

  • “The Reward,” Vladimir Nabokov

  • The Synthetic Silk Woman,” Irmgard Keun

  • Each Guy Dies On my own,” Hans Fallada

  • The Quick Finish of the Sonnenallee,” Thomas Brussig

  • “Berlin Blues,” Sven Regener

  • “Berlin,” Jens Bisky

  • Novels by way of Theodor Fontane

  • “Memoirs of the Lifetime of Monsieur de Voltaire,” Voltaire

  • “Threepenny Opera,” Bertolt Brecht


Daniel Kehlmann’s newest novel, “Tyll,” inserts humor right into a tale set in a Europe devastated by way of battle, and is being tailored into a big movement image. It’s his 8th novel, and has been, or is being, translated into greater than 20 languages.



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