Cover image for Berlin : portrait of a city through the centuries
Title:
Berlin : portrait of a city through the centuries
Author:
MacLean, Rory, 1954-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York, N.Y. : St. Martin's Press, 2014.
Physical Description:
viii, 421 pages : illustrations, map ; 25 cm
Summary:
"Why are we drawn to certain cities? Perhaps because of a story read in childhood. Or a chance teenage meeting. Or maybe simply because the place touches us, embodying in its tribes, towers and history an aspect of our understanding of what it means to be human. Paris is about romantic love. Lourdes equates with devotion. New York means energy. London is forever trendy. Berlin is all about volatility. 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, dreams realized, and evils executed with shocking intensity. 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 demonic and charismatic dictators who schemed to dominate Europe; 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 them are portrayed some of the countless ordinary Berliners who one has never heard of, whose lives can only be imagined: the Scottish mercenary who fought in the Thirty Years' War, 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. No other city has been so shaped and defined by individual imaginations. Berlin captures, portrays, and propagates the remarkable story of those myths and their makers"--
Language:
English
Contents:
Imagine -- Konrad von Cölln , and true love -- Colin Albany and the players -- Frederick the Great, and the making of Prussia -- Karl Friedrich Schinkel, and the dream of a capital -- Lilli Neuss, and the owl -- Walther Rathenau, and lost beauty -- Else Hirsch, and the illusion -- Margarete Böhme, and 'Diary of a lost girl' -- Fritz Haber, and the geography of evil -- Käthe Kollwitz, mother and child -- Christopher Isherwood, in a city of the imagination -- Bertolt Brecht, luck and the epic -- Marlene Dietrich, on becoming -- Leni Riefenstahl, and the fatal flaw -- Albert Speer, and Germania -- Joseph Goebbels, the man who made Hitler -- Dieter Werner, Wall builder -- Bill Harvey, and the tunnel -- John F. Kennedy, and politics as theatre -- David Bowie, and 'Heroes' -- Lieu Van Ha, and the gun -- People, let's dance -- Ilse Philips, in another Berlin -- Imagine Berlin.
ISBN:
9781250051868
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

Why are we drawn to certain cities? Perhaps because of a story read in childhood. Or a chance teenage meeting. Or maybe simply because the place touches us, embodying in its tribes, towers and history an aspect of our understanding of what it means to be human. Paris is about romantic love. Lourdes equates with devotion. New York means energy. London is forever trendy.
Berlin is all about volatility.

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, dreams realized, and evils executed with shocking intensity. 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 demonic and charismatic dictators who schemed to dominate Europe; 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 them are portrayed some of the countless ordinary Berliners who one has never heard of, whose lives can only be imagined: the Scottish mercenary who fought in the Thirty Years' War, 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. No other city has been so shaped and defined by individual imaginations. Berlin captures, portrays, and propagates the remarkable story of those myths and their makers.
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Author Notes

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.


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* How might one portray in one book both the history of a city and its presence upon one's imagination? Can the dynamic spirit of a city in this context, the German word, Geist, seems appropriate ever be captured with mere words? For Berlin, the scarred nucleus of twentieth-century Europe, the challenge may seem nearly impossible to meet yet somehow irresistible. For MacLean, the solution is to draw upon both the historian's and the novelist's faculties and describe this city of fragments and ghosts with imaginative glimpses into the lives of twenty-three Berliners from five centuries of history. Some are household names Frederick the Great, Käthe Kollwitz, Christopher Isherwood, Marlene Dietrich, Joseph Goebbels, and David Bowie (with whom MacLean collaborated on films in the 1970s). Others, like the forgotten poet violently silenced by a despot called Irontooth in the fifteenth century, are more obscure but, MacLean suggests, no less instrumental in shaping the city's character. As their stories weave into one, patterns and commonalities emerge, and the reader, too, is invited to inhabit Berlin with them, taking part as the city reinvents itself, reconciling a mythic idea of itself with its bitter, bloody, buoyant past. The result is sprawling, experimental, and in certain moments, ungainly but also deeply enthralling, much like the city itself.--Driscoll, Brendan Copyright 2014 Booklist


Publisher's Weekly Review

Starred Review. The admiration and love travel writer and filmmaker MacLean ( Stalin's Nose ) has for Berlin is evident throughout this history of the city, which begins in the 17th century. His careful arrangement of detail and far-reaching scope make for a perfect description of e one of Europe's most enigmatic and controversial cities. When Berlin was just a small town, isolated from the busier marketplaces in what is now Germany, it was a city incapable of tenderness, one that only ran fiery hot or bitter cold. As he moves through the years, depicting the horrors of the Thirty Years' War and the establishment of the Prussian state, the narrative's tempo picks up. MacLean visits new eras in each successive chapter (assigning all of them with a theme and representative figure), engulfing readers in the atmosphere of the city and the lives of Berliners both ordinary and noteworthy. It's when he explores the minds of Berlin's modern masters--particularly Marlene Dietrich and David Bowie, with whom the author made films --that MacLean reveals his prowess as a storyteller, flawlessly weaving together history, facts, and folklore. Moreover, MacLean's treatment of Berlin under The Third Reich and during the Cold War perfectly reflects the tension of the city's own attempts at remembrance. MacLean brings this city of fragments and ghosts, with its fractured and volatile past, to life. Photos. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Library Journal Review

MacLean tells the story of Berlin through a collection of essays about its people, past and present. He captures the city's fortunes and spirit by including the stories of artists, activists, authors, scientists, soldiers, and political leaders. The author's love for Berlin and its multifaceted history is demonstrated by his expressive and entertaining storytelling. In the afterward, MacLean explains his approach to his book thusly, "Berlin is a city of the imagination" and uses creative nonfiction throughout to expand upon both truths and misconceptions that have haunted the city throughout the years. The bibliography allows readers to "unpick the parts which have been combined to create the whole" but does not clearly distinguish which sections are fact and which are more akin to historical fiction. VERDICT The mix of historical fiction, nonfiction, and personal narrative will frustrate the serious historian seeking scholarly material on this enigmatic German metropolis, but it will engage readers who welcome MacLean's use of different writing forms to propel the account.-Beth Dalton, Littleton, CO (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Table of Contents

Prologue: Imaginep. 1
1 Konrad von Cölln, and True Lovep. 9
2 Colin Albany, and the Playersp. 25
3 Frederick the Great, and the Making of Prussiap. 39
4 Karl Friedrich Schinkel, and the Dream of a Capitalp. 53
5 Lilli Neuss, and the Owlp. 69
6 Walther Rathenau, and Lost Beautyp. 83
7 Else Hirsch, and the Illusionp. 99
8 Margarete Böhme, and Diary of a Lost Girlp. 115
9 Fritz Haber, and the Geography of Evilp. 133
10 Käthe Kollwitz, Mother and Childp. 151
11 Christopher Isherwood, in a City of the Imaginationp. 169
12 Bertolt Brecht, Luck and the Epicp. 187
13 Marlene Dietrich, on Becomingp. 197
14 Leni Riefenstahl, and the Fatal Flawp. 217
15 Albert Speer, and Germaniap. 237
16 Joseph Goebbels, the Man Who Made Hitlerp. 251
17 Dieter Werner, Wall Builderp. 275
18 Bill Harvey, and the Tunnelp. 295
19 John F. Kennedy, and Politics as Theatrep. 317
20 David Bowie, and 'Heroes'p. 329
21 Lieu Van Ha, and the Gunp. 349
22 People, Let's Dancep. 363
23 Ilse Philips, in Another Berlinp. 379
Epilogue: Imagine Berlinp. 389
Afterword and Bibliographyp. 395
Acknowledgementsp. 403
Indexp. 405