In a vivid, detailed, and powerful depiction of political and cultural life in Berlin from before WW I to 1938, Gill (The Journey Back from Hell—not reviewed, etc.) conveys the passion, diversity, energy, as well as the waste, rage and alienation that inspired the art, the politics, and ultimately the Second World War. Gill details the warring artistic ideologies of the time with an intensity equal to that with which he treats the political clashes: the nihilism and discontent of Dadaism; the architecture of Gropius and van der Rohe; the experimental art of Kandinsky and Klee; the obscurities of poets and novelists such as Rilke and Mann; the social commentary of playwrights such as Brecht and Weil; the film industry, which was reborn in a city where the air is ``like a dry white wine''; and the sense of possibility and novelty created by a remarkable concentration of talent that included publishers, entrepreneurs, and enthusiasts of all stripes. Behind the glamour of all that creativity, however, there was a level of decadence, that was reflected in a preoccupation with sex, crime, and suicide, exploited in the press, and captured so brilliantly in Isherwood's Good-bye Berlin. The cultural diversity included the rioting lower classes, the politically dispossessed trade unions, the displaced Russian emigrÇs (Stanislavsky, Eisenstein, Gorky, Pavlova), and the Jews, who were prominent in the sciences, the universities, and the entertainment industry until shortly before 1933, when Hitler initiated the campaign of anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust. Against the great cultural background and the creative individualism of the artists, the emergence of Hitler is all the more sinister. While scrupulously maintaining his documentary perspective, Gill reveals the conditions that generated those crucial concerns about art and politics with which contemporary societies—the free and the unfree—are still preoccupied.
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