FAUST'S METROPOLIS by Alexandra Richie


A History of Berlin
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A monumental history accessible to a mass audience. “Crude” was how Goethe described the city of Berlin in 1778, while Stendhal wondered why anyone would construct a city in such a desolate place. When it was named the capital of the new nation in 1871, other Germans grumbled that Berlin was too Prussian, militaristic, Protestant, and new. Lacking the shine of Paris or the glory of Rome, Berlin nonetheless has been at the center of European history no less than its more glamorous cousins. Although remembered more for Bismarck and Hitler--whose ghosts still hover over the city--Berlin was also the home of the Enlightenment in Germany and a creative art scene in the 19th and early 20th centuries, until such pursuits were stamped out by National Socialism. Richie, a fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford, is a descendent of the Von Moltke family, which has been a major protagonist in the city’s history. Critical to understanding Berlin is the municipality’s conception of itself as the City of German Destiny, a conception that has perhaps done more damage to the metropolis than any foreign occupying army. Equally critical for modern Berlin has been the way German unification was achieved—through “blood and the sword” in Bismarck’s memorable phrase, rather than noble ideals. Epigraphs from Goethe’s Faust appropriately open each chapter. Richie dwells at length on the Weimar Republic and doesn—t fail to examine German Expressionism, architecture, cinema, theater. But this art history is merely part of a sweeping canvas that succinctly covers several centuries of changing politics, economics, and social conditions, from absolutism to romanticism; from nationalism to socialism and, tragically, National Socialism. Richie weaves a colorful tapestry and, in the process, adroitly separates fact from fiction, myth from history. The illustrations are plentiful and illuminating, and the writing is a pleasure. Historians should take note: This is the way to reach a mass audience.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-7867-0510-8
Page count: 984pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1998


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