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Metropolis Berlin

Metropolis Berlin: 1880–1940

Iain Boyd Whyte
David Frisby
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 632
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  • Book Info
    Metropolis Berlin
    Book Description:

    Metropolis Berlin: 1880-1940reconstitutes the built environment of Berlin during the period of its classical modernity using over two hundred contemporary texts, virtually all of which are published in English translation for the first time. They are from the pens of those who created Berlin as one of the world's great cities and those who observed this process: architects, city planners, sociologists, political theorists, historians, cultural critics, novelists, essayists, and journalists. Divided into nineteen sections, each prefaced by an introductory essay, the account unfolds chronologically, with the particular structural concerns of the moment addressed in sequence-be they department stores in 1900, housing in the 1920s, or parade grounds in 1940.Metropolis Berlin: 1880-1940not only details the construction of Berlin, but explores homes and workplaces, public spaces, circulation, commerce, and leisure in the German metropolis as seen through the eyes of all social classes, from the humblest inhabitants of the city slums, to the great visionaries of the modern city, and the demented dictator resolved to remodel Berlin as Germania.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95149-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-xii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xvi)
    Iain Boyd Whyte
    (pp. 1-6)

    From imperial Rome to Renaissance Florence and nineteenth-century Paris and London, the great cities defined the social and political realities of the moment and gave them built form and pattern. The twenty-first century will see half the world’s population living in urban areas, with older global cities such as London, New York, and Tokyo joined by new megacities emerging from the dramatic economic expansion of countries like China, India, and Brazil. such radical changes force us to call into question and investigate the nature of urbanization and the concept of the big city. Over a century ago in Europe, the...


      (pp. 9-48)

      In 1887, Jules Laforgue somewhat hesitantly announced the possible emergence of the flâneur in Berlin as a result of the expansion of the city and its growing beauty.¹ Yet flânerie was perhaps already more common than he thought. The novelist Theodor Fontane declared in 1889: “I like to engage in flânerie in the streets of Berlin, mostly without a goal or purpose as is required for real flânerie [Flanieren].” On occasion, however, that strolling takes on more of a purpose, when he declares, “I am also gripped by a desire to study and permit myself to go and inspect all...

      (pp. 49-76)

      Addressing the “Union Parliament” in Erfurt in 1850, Otto von Bismarck railed against the big cities as cauldrons of revolution. A couple of years later in the Prussian parliament he proposed an even more extreme response to the increasing political radicalization of the cities: “Should the great cities rebel once again, the Prussian people will know how to bring them to heel, even if it means wiping them off the face of the earth.” Bismarck was appointed the first chancellor of the new German state in 1871, with Berlin as its capital. This was not a propitious starting point, and...

      (pp. 77-106)

      The fourth edition ofMeyers Konversations-Lexikon,the leading German-language encyclopedia of the day, offers a wonderfully detailed account of the state of Berlin commerce and industry in 1890. Premier place was given to the textile and clothing industry, whose annual turnover in ladies’ coats alone topped 100 million marks. Major new industries were on the march, however, and Meyer reported that “mechanical engineering is also experiencing a wonderful boom, an activity in which over one hundred establishments are now working, some of which, such as Borsig and Schwarzkopf, are world famous. Hand in hand with the construction of machines in...

      (pp. 107-133)

      The steam age reached Prussia in October 1838 with the opening of the Berlin to Potsdam railway. As in every other European country, private enterprise built railways that ran into the major cities, where each company had a terminus. The first in Berlin was the Potsdamer station, built in 1838, followed in chronological sequence by the Anhalter Station (1841), the Stettiner Station (now the Ostbahnhof, 1842), and the Hamburger Station (1845). There was, however, neither a central station nor tracks that ran through the city from one side to the other. The first-generation stations rapidly became inadequate as passenger numbers...

      (pp. 134-171)

      In a celebrated book published in 1930, the city planner Werner Hegemann described Berlin as “die größte Mietskasernenstadt der Welt,” which translates literally, if inelegantly, as “the largest rental-barracks city in the world.” The barracks to which he was referring were the enormous speculative housing blocks that sprang up in Berlin after German unification in 1871 and spread out from the city center like wildfire in the following four decades of rampant housing speculation. In the absence of a centralized planning authority, the developer was king, and tenement housing was built to suit all purses. While grand apartment blocks were...

      (pp. 172-205)

      In 1871 Berlin, previously the capital city of Prussia, became the capital of the new German state. Appropriate to its new status and in response to the massive increase in its population, the city was transformed. Two great building booms, the first running from unification in 1871 to the late 1880s, and the second from 1896 to 1913, saw housing and industry pushed out of the city center in favor of government, business, education, and culture. While speculative housing marched unstoppably outward, devouring the villages, fields, and woods that surrounded Berlin, the city center was remodeled to accommodate the large-footprint...

      (pp. 206-244)

      In comparison to Britain, France, or the United states, the bourgeoisie in Germany, although comparably large in number, was a remarkably embattled class. Fritz stern has noted: “In no other state did feudal and proletarian forces confront each other so directly, for in no other country did the bourgeoisie play so insignificant a political role.”¹ Berlin—the seat of the court and the largest industrial city in Germany—was the key site of this confrontation, with the bourgeoisie caught in the crossfire. As the bourgeois constituency was in large part Jewish, the uncertainties of its position were aggravated by the...

      (pp. 245-270)

      Like all great cities, late-nineteenth-century Berlin was dirty and noisy. It was also very unsanitary. TheMietskasernen(rental barracks) that made up the overwhelming majority of the city’s housing stock made it particularly dangerous, even when compared with other major European cities of the period, and life expectancy was shorter than in London or Paris. The heightened risk of infection in theMietskasernen,with their dark courtyards and lack of cross ventilation, can be gauged from a remarkable statistic dating to 1873, which confirms that 150 out of 153 people who suffered that year from typhus in Berlin’s 61st sanitary...


      (pp. 273-290)

      The outbreak of World War I was greeted with a great upsurge of nationalist fervor in Germany. As Thomas Mann wrote to his brother in August 1914: “Shouldn’t we be grateful for the totally unexpected chance to experience such mighty things? My chief feeling is of tremendous curiosity—and, I admit it, the deepest sympathy for this execrated, indecipherable, fateful Germany, which, if she has hitherto not unqualifiedly held ‘civilization’ as the highest good, is at any rate prepared to smash the most despicable police state in the world.”¹ Nowhere was this enthusiasm for demolishing the British Empire and its...

      (pp. 291-312)

      As Georg Simmel noted at the very start of the twentieth century: “With each crossing of the street, with the tempo and multiplicity of economic, occupational, and social life, the city sets up a deep contrast with small-town and rural life with reference to the sensory foundations of psychic life.”¹ When, for reasons of war, or famine, or pestilence—or all three—the city becomes a site of fear and danger, the instinctive reaction is to flee, either intellectually or physically, into the safe environment of the land, the countryside, and the small town. This is precisely the condition that...


      (pp. 315-366)

      The Greater Berlin Competition of 1910 rewarded schemes driven by considerations of traffic and circulation rather than the desire to give Berlin the monumental cityscape appropriate to the capital city of the German Empire. Indeed, the entry that most successfully expressed monumental ambitions—by Havestadt & Contag, Otto Blum, and Bruno schmitz—was awarded only fourth prize. The idea did not disappear, however, and was taken up by the city planner Martin Mächler in a plan developed between 1917 and 1919. Rejecting contemporary calls for decentralization or for the total rejection of the industrial city, Mächler rejoiced in the city...

      (pp. 367-410)

      “‘A metropolis?’ said my friend Lisa on returning from Paris. ‘A metropolis?’ On Potsdamer Platz, my dears, you can hear the chickens clucking.”¹ Lisa was not alone in finding Berlin provincial, even during the supposedly “golden” twenties.

      One of the most damning critiques of the city was penned in 1932 by Wilhelm Hausenstein, a South German art historian and journalist who published in the Frankfurt and Munich press: “There exists the strong temptation to declare that Berlin . . . appears to be no more than a mechanism; a phenomenon of addition; a mechanically assembled volume, a bare quantum; the...

    • 13 WORK
      (pp. 411-436)

      While the industrial and commercial infrastructure of Berlin—its factories, workshops, shops, and offices—emerged in 1918 from the war unscathed, the financial landscape was quite different from that of 1914. The foreign capital investments of the large industrial firms like Siemens and AEG had been lost, and traditional sources of raw materials both in Silesia and in the French-occupied Ruhr region were no longer under German control. Following massive expansion during the war years, the mechanical-engineering sector had particular difficulties in adapting to the postwar economy. Electronics, in contrast, boomed in 1920s Berlin. New firms like Osram were established...

      (pp. 437-462)

      “Capitalism,” wrote the economist Werner Sombart in 1911, “means nothing other than the dissolution of the economic process into two constituent elements—technology and commerce—and the primacy of commerce over technology.”¹ This preeminence of commerce, which Sombart had already identified before World War I, became a dominant feature of urban life in Germany after the hyperinflation of the early 1920s had been brought under control by the introduction of theRentenmarkin November 1923. in the prewar period, private incomes and professorial salaries had nurtured a bourgeois intelligentsia that prevailed across German society as the ultimate arbiter of intellectual...

    • 15 HOUSING
      (pp. 463-507)

      Throughout Europe, the urge for social and political reform that followed World War I found powerful expression in housing. Following the dehumanization and insanity of the war, the safety, security, and privacy offered by one’s own roof and front door had boundless appeal. It is not surprising, therefore, that the defeated nations, Germany and Austria, invested considerable resources and high expectations in housing reform as the path to social well-being. In both countries the agenda was set by the capital cities, Berlin and Vienna, although Frankfurt also played a major role in the German housing debate.

      In the immediate aftermath...

      (pp. 508-550)

      The radical architects and city planners of 1920s Berlin saw the future of their professions in the repetition of standardized cells or units, which would form the basis of the mass housing blocks, which in turn would shape the new cityscape.

      Among the immediate results were the great housing estates planned and built in the late 1920s, around standard dwelling units, that defined the new Berlin. The pragmatic, nonsentimental nature of this housing, perfectly captured in the German wordSachlichkeit,reflected and reinforced work patterns, social structures, and a leisure industry that, although not unique to Berlin in the Weimar...

      (pp. 551-581)

      The British diplomat Harold Nicolson was posted to Berlin in 1928; a year later he sought to understand its attraction. “What on earth,” he wondered, “gives this city its charm!” The answer: “Movement in the first place. There is no city in the world so restless as Berlin. Everything moves. The traffic lights change restlessly from red to gold and then to green.”¹ In the immediate postwar years in Berlin, the traffic—like everything else—was constrained by the hyperinflation. Between the end of the inflation in 1923 and the global economic downturn that began in 1929, however, motor-vehicle ownership...

      (pp. 582-610)

      Had he not been preoccupied with world domination, Adolf Hitler would happily have worked as an architect and city planner. Before the First World War he sought to establish himself as a topographical painter, producing amateurish watercolors of Vienna and Munich. As he subsequently recalled, the city’s monumental architecture made an enormously powerful impression on him: “For hours and hours I could stand in wonderment before the Opera and the Parliament.

      The whole Ringstrasse had a magic effect on me, as if it were a scene from the Thousand and One Nights.”¹ Thwarted in his attempts to study architecture, Hitler...

    (pp. 611-618)
    (pp. 619-620)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 621-638)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 639-640)