Crime Stories

Crime Stories: Criminalistic Fantasy and the Culture of Crisis in Weimar Germany

Todd Herzog
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 182
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qcpfs
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  • Book Info
    Crime Stories
    Book Description:

    The Weimar Republic (1918-1933) was a crucial moment not only in German history but also in the history of both crime fiction and criminal science. This study approaches the period from a unique perspective - investigating the most notorious criminals of the time and the public's reaction to their crimes. The author argues that the development of a new type of crime fiction during this period - which turned literary tradition on its head by focusing on the criminal and abandoning faith in the powers of the rational detective - is intricately related to new ways of understanding criminality among professionals in the fields of law, criminology, and police science. Considering Weimar Germany not only as a culture in crisis (the standard view in both popular and scholarly studies), but also as a culture of crisis, the author explores the ways in which crime and crisis became the foundation of the Republic's self-definition. An interdisciplinary cultural studies project, this book insightfully combines history, sociology, literary studies, and film studies to investigate a topic that cuts across all of these disciplines.

    eISBN: 978-1-84545-905-5
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    Stefan Zweig’s description of Berlin in the years following the end of the First World War presents a vivid and familiar image of Weimar Germany as a period of decadence and crisis. Countless other observers of the period echoed Zweig’s view of Weimar culture. In hisSittengeschichte der Inflation(Social History of the Inflation), Hans Ostwald refers to Germany in the 1920s as a “hellish carnival” replete with “plundering and rioting, demonstrations and clashes, graft and smuggling ... a madness for gambling, an addiction to speculation, an epidemic of divorce ... police raids and trials, jazz bands, drugs.”² Iwan Goll...

  6. Chapter 1 Crime, Detection, and German Modernism
    (pp. 13-33)

    In September 1933, Bertolt Brecht and Walter Benjamin, two of the most prominent and politically-engaged intellectuals of the Weimar Republic, met in Paris to begin work on a collaborative project. Adolf Hitler had come to power in Germany eight months earlier, driving both Brecht and Benjamin into exile. The two writers devoted almost an entire week from the end of September to the beginning of October to this project. What was the urgent project that occupied them at this important historical moment? It was not, as one might expect, a political manifesto or a critical analysis of recent developments in...

  7. Chapter 2 Writing Criminals: Outsiders of Society and the Modernist Case History
    (pp. 34-56)

    Sherlock Holmes (and, of course, his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) recognized quite clearly the relationship between solving crimes and telling stories: to solve a crime is to write its narrative. Crime disrupts the social order. The detective is called in to solve the mystery of the crime, catch the criminal, and set the world back in order. But it is not sufficient simply to put the criminal behind bars, for there are always many more criminals to take his or her place on the streets, continuing to disrupt order. To avoid living in a continuous state of crisis, we...

  8. Chapter 3 Understanding Criminals: The Cases of Ella Klein and Franz Biberkopf
    (pp. 57-86)

    Alfred Döblin’s study of Ella Klein and Margarete Nebbe, two young married women who fall in love and conspire to murder Klein’s husband by contaminating his food with arsenic, was the first volume published in theOutsiders of Societyseries. It is in many ways representative of the general trajectory of the other volumes in the series, but is remarkable in its scope and ambitions. In this chapter, I will take a close look at this text in light of the actual case on which it is based, in order to understand how Döblin frames contemporary debates about crime and...

  9. Chapter 4 Seeing Criminals: Mass Murder, Mass Culture, Mass Public
    (pp. 87-109)

    In 1997, the American satirical newsmagazineThe Onionpublished the following article under the title “Neighbors Remember Serial Killer as Serial Killer”:

    DUNEDIN, FL—In the wake of his capture Monday, serial killer Eddie Lee Curtis is being recalled by neighbors as a serial killer. “He was kind of a murderous, insane, serialkiller type of fellow,” said Will Rowell, 57, who lived next door to the man arrested for the murder of 14 nurses in Florida and Georgia. “He sort of kept to himself, killing nurses, having sex with their corpses, and then burying the bodies in his backyard.” Neighbor...

  10. Chapter 5 Tracking Criminals: The Cases of Peter Kürten, Franz Beckert, and Emil Tischbein
    (pp. 110-141)

    As the discussion of criminological texts in the previous chapter illustrated, two important developments coincided during the Weimar Republic that radically transformed the process of criminal investigation: the belief in the ability to identify criminals through the use of visual evidence went into crisis, and the belief that criminality was ubiquitous and constantly threatening to all citizens prompted even some law enforcement authorities to recruit the general public to be ever vigilant against dangerous elements in society. This chapter will examine in detail one of the most remarkable examples of this shift in the process of tracking criminals, the case...

  11. Conclusion: Criminalistic Fantasy after Weimar
    (pp. 142-153)

    The end of this story was, of course, never much of a mystery: we know what followed the collapse of the Weimar Republic. But, as I have argued throughout this book, the route by which Germany arrived at the criminal politics of the Third Reich is surprising. It was not primarily the continuity of nineteenth-century separatist models, which had close connections to racial science and which sought to employ words and images in order to draw a clear distinction between the criminal and the noncriminal, but rather the breakdown of those models and the ensuing paranoid turn that can be...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 154-163)
  13. Index
    (pp. 164-170)