Books That Inspire 2003

Berlin Alexanderplatz
Alfred Doeblin

I read Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz in high school. Since then it has traveled with me through 12 different apartments in five different cities and two continents. Many books got lost but I kept this one all the time. Not because of the story: it tells the story of Franz Biberkopf, a Berlin proletarian in the ‘roaring twenties’ who tries to rehabilitate himself after his release from jail but undergoes a series of violent vicissitudes before he can finally attain a normal life. By then he has lost his left arm, his girlfriend and nearly his mind. What made this book so impressive for me was more the way the story is told: it combines colloquial language and Berlin slang, uses interior monologues and cinematic techniques with fast cuts between scenes and places to create the compelling rhythm of the metropolis Berlin around its center Alexanderplatz in the east part of the town. All attempts to revitalize this feeling after the war and the German reunification have failed, so far. With this book, Döblin also anticipated the prototype of a ‘follower’ of the upcoming Nazi regime. The expressionistic language and the associative imaginations dramatize the human condition of a simple man in a disintegrating social order who feels at the mercy of dark powers he cannot control. And so this book is a document of a city, which unfortunately does not exist like that any more, and a social order we are glad to have overcome.
Brigitte Steinheider
Assistant Professor