When President John F. Kennedy electrified the world by declaring, "Ich bin ein Berliner," he could not have produced the same effect by claiming to belong to any other city. For more than a century, Berlin has exercised a strange fascination for the rest of the world. It has stood as a symbol for arrogant militarism, unrestrained imperialism, bloody revolution, and the terrors of totalitarian rule. In the twenties and thirties it harbored an explosion of artistic expression, from kinky cabarets to the confrontational plays of Bertolt Brecht to the architecture of the Bauhaus. After World War II, its division mirrored the divisions of the old world order. Now, its reunification exemplifies the new, with a reborn Berlin poised to assume greater importance than ever at the heart of the new Europe. In this richly enjoyable narrative, Read and Fisher relate how a dusty outpost on the remotest fringe of the Holy Roman Empire became the biggest and most powerful city in continental Europe. They tell the story of Berlin by focusing not only on political events, but also on a vast range of extraordinary personalities: politicians, soldiers, industrialists, artists, writers and performers, and the often bizarre Hohenzollern princes who ruled the city as their personal fiefdom from 1442 until 1918. But above all, Read and Fisher tell the story of the kleine Leute, the "little people" - wave after wave of immigrants who transformed, and were transformed by, the great city of Berlin. Writing with all their usual verve, humor, and eye for detail, Read and Fisher have produced the essential guide to Berlin's past, present, and future, a fitting companion to their recent epic success The Fall of Berlin.
Berlin's infamous militaristic streak evolved from its role as capital of Prussia (a small, threatened country with a large army) and later the German Empire. But not everyone marched in lockstep with the demands of their overseers: over the centuries, Berliners developed an acid wit and sarcasm to puncture militaristic pomposity. Thus, the city has a kind of dual ``personality,'' which was most evident in the culturally stimulating Weimar period. Even under the Nazis, Berliners had a reputation for being the least obedient Germans. The authors, who have written several popular histories relating to WW II and Germany, also emphasize the social and economic achievements of foreign settlers and their descendants, most notably French Huguenots, who were welcomed by Prussian rulers to the relatively underpopulated region. They also highlight the substantial contributions of Berlin's Jewish residents, most of whom perished in Nazi death camps. This is a breezy, readable history, at times a bit giddy. (In a section on John F. Kennedy's famous 1963 visit, the authors call him ``a modern white knight straight from Camelot.'') Photos. (June)
Read and Fisher, who have written on various aspects of German history (The Fall of Berlin, LJ 3/15/93; Kristallnacht, LJ 11/ 15/89), present a thorough and popular history of the city of Berlin. They chart the city's development, decline, and rebirth from the Middle Ages through German reunification. A lot of territory is covered in 24 short, cogent chapters: militarism, imperialism, revolution, hyperinflation, cultural excesses, totalitarian terror, total war, and regeneration. Anecdotes from everyday life and a generous array of photographs punctuate the smooth-flowing historical narrative. By far the most accessible history of Berlin available, this book belongs on the same shelf as ealier studies like Walter Nelson's The Berliner (LJ 7/69) and James Sutterlin's Berlin (Praeger, 1989).-Thomas Karel, Franklin & Marshall Coll. Lib., Lancaster, Pa.
Read and Fisher chronicle the city from its beginning as an outpost on the fringe of the Roman Empire through two world wars, division, and reunification, focusing not only on political events, but on Berlin's industrialists, artists, writers, performers, soldiers, the often bizarre Hohenzollern princes who ruled from 1442 to 1918, and the waves of immigrants who transformed, and were transformed by, the city. Includes b&w drawings and many photos. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)