Hello to Berlin

The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape

by Brian Ladd
University of Chicago Press, 271 pp., $29.95

The Berlin of George Grosz: Drawings, Watercolours and Prints, 1912-1930

by Frank Whitford
Royal Academy of Arts/Yale University Press, 212 pp., $50.00

Adolph Menzel (1815-1905): Between Romanticism and Impressionism

edited by Claude Keisch, edited by Marie Ursula Riemann-Reyher
National Gallery of Art/Yale University Press, 480 pp., $65.00

Berlin: The City and the Court Smith.

by Jules Laforgue
Turtle Point Press, 220 pp., $13.95 (paper)

George Grosz: Berlin-New York

edited by Peter-Klaus Schuster
Nationalgalerie Berlin/Ars Nicolai, 590 pp., $120.00 (paper)

Reading Berlin 1900

by Peter Fritzsche
Harvard University Press, 308 pp., $39.95

The Writing on the Walls: Projections in Berlin’s Jewish Quarter

by Shimon Attie
Edition Braus, 78 pp., $45.00

Along Schlobstrasse in the Berlin neighborhood of Steglitz, prosperous shoppers swarm past bright show windows crammed with gleaming appliances, pastel-colored clothing, and fragrant pastries. Though the German economy has sputtered, and sometimes staggered, in recent years, no one here would suspect that. Middle-aged couples, modestly dressed, happily pay prices twice or three times as high as they would be in an American mall—one sees parents casually laying down a hundred dollars a pair for German blue jeans for their teenaged children.

Nothing—not the constant, rapid movement of the traffic, not the flat grey brutality of the modern buildings built here in the Sixties and after, not the mirror-surfaced memorial recently erected to the Jewish residents of Steglitz who died in the Holocaust—interferes with the constant movement of people and goods. This is the Germany built by the Wunderkinder of Germany’s Wirtschaftswunder—the Germany that the writers of the Sixties denounced, that the radicals tried to blow up, and that the rest of Europe and America dumbly envied.

A few blocks away, in the thickly wooded gardens around a local Gymnasium, or high school, it is quiet. In a dark log hut, invisible from the street, a young alumnus of the school takes the leather hood off the head of a falcon. Brilliant eyes burn through the twilit interior as other hunting birds step off their perches to show their fierce faces and utter their characteristic warlike sounds. Outside the hut, geese, ducks, and sheep run and squawk. In the middle of one of Europe’s largest, busiest cities—a city which now has the largest construction site in the world as its center—gentle breezes blow across a tiny farm. It is not the only one: in radical Kreuzberg, several kilometers and even more social classes removed from Steglitz, another city farm welcomes school trips. The children enjoy not only the farm’s animals, but also the totem poles at its corners, erected and consecrated by an American Indian sachem called in by the squatters who created the farm to protect it from the greedy hands of Berlin city planners. Tiny fingers of the German countryside and forest penetrate the wilderness of stone and asphalt.

Berlin yields its secrets slowly. A city of preternaturally ugly buildings, old and new, it bristles with the scars of its violent past. In the old urban center to the east, a vast open space stretches out where the palace of the Hohenzollerns, with its twelve hundred rooms, spectacular sculptured courtyard, and high dome, once dominated the cityscape. The grimy, grey façades of many nearby buildings still show the holes and chips left after the last great battle of World War II and the damage done more recently by pollution. Empty lots and lumpish dark-glass modules of East Bloc Moderne jostle with the colorful fronts and bright signs of recently opened Western businesses. Off to the east stretch the once ornate, now crumbling wedding-cake façades of the “Lockers for Workers” that …

This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:

Print Premium Subscription — $94.95

Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.

Online Subscription — $69.00

Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.

One-Week Access — $4.99

Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.

If you already have one of these subscriptions, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account. If you subscribe to the print edition, you may also need to link your web site account to your print subscription. Click here to link your account services.