Berlin: A Portrait of Its History, Politics, Architecture, and Society

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9780312244378: Berlin: A Portrait of Its History, Politics, Architecture, and Society
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Traces Berlin's evolution from a thirteenth-century village to divided city to its modern incarnation

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Review:

Giles MacDonogh intends to a fill a void in the historical documentation of the former capital city of the German empire and the eventual capital of unified Germany. Instead of presenting yet another scholarly account of the city's past, he instead explores the spirit of the city, delving into themes that convey "something of the colour of the great city and the variety of life that has been lived there in the past seven and a half centuries." His defiance of traditional historical narrative may be well intended, but it runs the risk of creating a book that does not contribute to any historical dialogue whatsoever.

The seven broadly titled chapters of Berlin ("Ich bin ein Berliner," "Berlin Itineraries," "Berlin Life," etc.) present a thematically arranged, telegraphic litany of people, places, and events in Berlin's history, interspersed frequently with personal anecdotes, that never quite develops any particular issue at length or leads to any compelling observations about Berlin's historical past or its future. "It is hard to think of a city which has suffered so much," he concludes. "Harder still to think of another which has proved so clearly that it is inextinguishable." Yet, of the city's many characteristics, suffering and survivalism are not among those which predominate MacDonogh's analysis. For such an account, one best await the English translation of Wolgang Ribbe's Berlin--Geschichte, mentioned by MacDonogh himself in his preface as a logical starting point for a more comprehensive study of the former and future German capital. --Bertina Loeffler

From Kirkus Reviews:

Another addition to the recent spate of books on the new (old) German capital. It should come as no surprise that since June 1991, when German politicians in the Bundestag voted that Berlin would again be the capital of a united Germany, scholars have turned their attention to that city. Ronald Taylor's Berlin and Its Culture (1998) focused on a rich heritage of art, architecture, music, and theater; Faust's Metropolis by Alexandra Richie (1998) borrowed the brilliant motif of Faust to explore and explain Berlins identity. No doubt this latest contribution to a growing genre will be compared with the predecessors; written by MacDonough, a British journalist for the Financial Times and the author of well- regarded historical works (A Good German: Adam von Trott zu Salz, 1992, etc.), his rendering of the city more than holds its own. Berlin, according to the author, is now reinventing itself for precisely the ninth time. No wonder recent tourists have marveled at all the physical construction (and renovation) going on. More important, though, as the author points out, Berlin is rethinking its position as the capital of a united Germany in a united Europe. MacDonough does a fine job of balancing matters of chronology with thematic issues; he gracefully synthesizes social, cultural, and political history. The author of several works on food and drink, hes roundly unapologetic about devoting an entire chapter here of nearly 50 pages to the topicone must conclude that cuisine is an excellent means through which to approach history and urban biography. What emerges from the tapestry? ``Berlin was and is a city of villages, each with a different character and political complexion. While many in Europe look on in apprehension as Berlin burgeons, MacDonough feels confident of the future of the inextinguishable city. (16 pages b&w illustrations, not seen) -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Other Popular Editions of the Same Title

9780312185374: Berlin

Featured Edition

ISBN 10:  0312185375 ISBN 13:  9780312185374
Publisher: St Martins Pr, 1998
Hardcover

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9780749319908: Berlin

Mandarin, 1998
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