Monday, August 10, 2015

Book Review: "Berlin: A Portrait of a City Through the Centuries" by Rory Maclean

"Lourdes equates with devotion. Paris is about romantic love. New York means energy. London is forever trendy. Berlin is all about volatility".

Even if you don't have any desire to go to Germany or Berlin I'd say that this book is still worth a read. Inside this book are people's stories that if they were told in history classes people would actually LIKE their history classes.I very much enjoyed this little microhistory of this old, complicated, ever changing city.

There are 23 stories/chapters that are each about 14 pages a piece that span from 1469 up until 2011. This book would be ideal for a "I only have 20 minutes to read and I don't want to have to remember a whole huge cast of names and people" situation. Some people in the story are famous (Marlene Dietrich, Joseph Goebbels, David Bowie) but others are just everyday people who either had their lives impacted because of a Berlinian (?) event, or are kind of a representative sample of Berliners at a certain time.

Here's a couple of examples of really interesting people who I'd never heard of, and now want to know more about:

-George Blake: British spy, betrayed his country  and started feeding information to the KGB during the Cold War. Including names of other British spies that got a lot of them killed.

-Leni Riefenstahl: a German filmaker who pioneered several new movie making innovations, almost all are in use today. She really paved the way for a lot of camera angles and things we see in movies today. BUT she almost exclusively worked for Hitler making propaganda films. "Triumph of the Will"? That's her. ( I really felt the animosity that the author felt for her. He used "cowardly" a lot in that chapter!)

-Fritz Haber: the man who developed poison gas used on the battles fields . He also developed Zyklon B which was used for murder in concentration camps. "The chemical would claim the lives of some four million people, among them all of Haber's nephews and nieces". He is the distant murderous relative of the sisters in "A Reuinon of Ghosts".

I loved this book. It was full of interesting stories and people. Some were incredibly sad, but Berlin (and Germany) has a lot of sorrow in the pages of her history. A great book for reading little snatches at a time. When we think of Berlin we should think of more than just the Nazis; and this book helped me do that. 4 out of 5 stars!


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