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

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ISBN 10: 0312244371 / ISBN 13: 9780312244378
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Title: Berlin: A Portrait of Its History, Politics,...

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Traces Berlin's evolution from a thirteenth-century village to divided city to its modern incarnation


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

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