Berlin in Books
An overview of our favourite fiction and non-fiction books about Berlin.
The Wild 1980s
Twenty-year-old artist and photographer Christian Schulz moved from Frankfurt to West Berlin in 1981, just in time to capture the city's most legendary decade. Thousands of other artists, punks and assorted drop-outs fled stuffy West German and made their way to this heavily subsidised, walled-in beacon of freedom on the very frontier of capitalism. This was the age of house squatting, when dozens of crumbling apartment buildings across Kreuzberg were decorated with insults to the police and reasonably defended against the city's bulldozers. The 1980s was peak punk, with famed bands drifting in and out of the city, soaking up the scene. Everything was political, with world affairs taking centre stage in local events. Schulz' fascinating collection of 125 crisp black and white photos (German foreword and captions) shows how this half of the city lived, with street scenes, party pictures, ordinary Berliners, gay pride parades, riots, Turkish immigrants and of course the Wall and how it all ended.
"Die wilden Achtziger - Photos from West Berlin" by Christian Schulz, (Lehmstedt 2016, ISBN 9783957970411) is for sale for €24,90 at Dussmann and other major bookshops.
Many newcomers to Berlin may lament having missed the wild 1990s, when the city opened up, big commerce hadn't arrived yet and anything was possible. 1990s stories and images by 17 diverse Berliners come together beautifully in the fascinating German-English book "Berlin Heartbeats - Stories from the wild years".
Clubstarter Dimitri Hegemann tells about bringing house music to Berlin and setting up the legendary Tresor club in 1991; modern dance choreographer Sasha Waltz describes getting inspiration from the many spaces available in Berlin and writer Judith Hermann describes moving from West to East and how people managed to communicate and collaborate when nobody had a phone. Photos by Ben de Biel, Berghain doorman Sven Marquardt and others show what went on in the Berlin underground; the parties, riots, experimental theatre, squatted and abandoned buildings. Philipp von Recklinghausen contributes images and stories from 1992 police night shifts, encountering criminals, prostitutes and partygoers. You might regret having missed it all - but one conclusion of the book is that in essence Berlin hasn't changed, and the energy that put our split city back on the map is still there - it's up to you to make the most of it.
"Berlin Heartbeats - Stories from the wild years, 1990-present", (Suhrkamp 2017, ISBN 9783518467688) is for sale for €29,90 at Dussmann and other major bookshops.
By Karoline Rosina and Nils Kraiczy
You wouldn't know it while strolling around central Berlin, but this city is surrounded by lush forests and 3000 lakes. Fifty of the loveliest lakes around Berlin have been extensively sampled, tested, swum in, circumferenced, photographed and slipped into the beautifully-designed "Take me to the Lakes – The Berlin Edition". More than just a guide pointing out where to bathe north, east south and west of the city, this book uses attractive photography and seductive texts to truly inspire you to go explore. How about some lakeside relaxation at "The Pine Beach", "The Sandy Clearing", "The Beach In The Forest" or "The Secret Swings"? Each chapter also lists a few hidden getaways, charming lakeside places to spend a few days. To find your personal bathing spot, the book ends with maps, geodata and an index of types of beaches – select a Strandbad if you require more facilities than just a space by the water, or go for the Rope Swing listings to unleash your inner Tarzan and Jane.
'Take me to the Lakes' (2016, The Gentle Temper, ISBN 978-3-9818497-1-4) by Karoline Rosina and Nils Kraiczy is for sale for €19.90 at Dussmann, other major bookshops and via www.thegentletemper.com.
By Beata Gontarczyk-Krampe
One of Berlin's most fascinating aspects is the sheer endless number of amazing and tragic stories that illuminate the city's past and present importance. Blogs delight in uncovering the weird and wonderful tales, none better than Kreuzberged.com, whose creator has now published "Notmrsparker's Berlin Companion – or I Didn't Know That About Berlin'. Her collection of Berlin facts and trivia includes everything you need to know about the names of streets and districts, remarkable buildings, public transport (ever heard of the Magnet-Bahn?), wonderful things invented in Berlin (computers, seamless condoms and artificial limbs!), illumination (30,000 gaslights), tunnels (and the bunkers beneath Viktoriapark) and of course stories concerning East and West. Essential reading for the heaps of mindboggling trivia.
'Notmrsparker's Berlin Companion' (2016, ISBN 9783864605284) by Beata Gontarczyk-Krampe is for sale for €19 at via www.book-on-demand.de/shop/14931 and www.amazon.de.
Berlin und Breslau
Edited by Mateusz Hartwich and Uwe Rada
Four hours by train from Berlin, the Polish city of Wroclaw was known as Breslau until 1945, when the borders shifted around it and the city's entire population was swapped: Germans moved out, Poles (many expelled from further east) moved in. For centuries, Breslau had a special relationship with Berlin, as the second city in Prussia and birthplace of many famous Berliners, even as supplier of the very stones that built the houses and streets of Berlin. For those who read German, the engaging book Berlin und Breslau tells stories of 20 Berliners and Wroclawians, about the relationship between the two cities, the memories of residents from both cultures and how the relationship between Berlin and Wroclaw adapts to the new European setting.
'Berlin und Breslau' (2016, ISBN 9783814802220, in German) is for sale for around €16 at Dussmann and other major bookshops.
by Ciarán Fahey
One of the most fascinating aspects of Berlin – often missed completely by casual visitors – is the existence of dozens of ruins, abandoned buildings and other relics across the city. War, politics, de-industrialisation or simply time have made these redundant. As these are often not guarded, any determined person can go and explore – though it must be noted this is not always legal or 100% safe. Irish Berliner Ciarán Fahey has been documenting his trips to relics and ruins on his blog abandonedberlin.com, and this year published an excellent book with over 25 amazing finds, illustrated with great photos. Go hunting for swastikas in the former Olympic Village, browse through papers at the abandoned Iraqi embassy, waltz through a former ballroom, or visit the mother of all ruins, the Beelitz hospital complex. Fahey wittily describes them all with plenty of history; further practical exploration advice can be found on the blog.
'Abandoned Berlin - Ruins and relics in and around Berlin' (2015, ISBN 9783814802084) by Ciarán Fahey is for sale for around €22 at Dussmann and other major bookshops, or online at www.bebraverlag.de.
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.
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.
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.