The best books to read if you are visiting Berlin and love history

Who am I?

Dina Gold is the author of Stolen Legacy: Nazi Theft and the Quest for Justice at Krausenstrasse 17/18, Berlin. After postgraduate degrees from London and Oxford universities, Dina spent over twenty years working as an investigative journalist and television producer at the BBC in London. She now lives in Washington DC and is a senior editor and film critic at Moment magazine.

I wrote...

Book cover of Stolen Legacy: Nazi Theft and the Quest for Justice at Krausenstrasse 17/18, Berlin

What is my book about?

I grew up hearing my grandmother’s tales of the glamorous life she once enjoyed in Berlin before the Nazis came to power, and her dreams of recovering a huge building which, she claimed, belonged to the family. My grandmother died in 1977, leaving no documents or photographs to prove ownership. But I was intrigued by what she had told me. I needed to find out if any of her stories had been true. Shortly after the Wall fell in 1989 I went to Berlin and started researching! 

I made many discoveries, not least that the six-story building I had heard about all through my childhood had been stolen by the Nazis in 1937 from my family. I amassed sufficient evidence to launch a legal case for restitution. This is the story. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Fashion Metropolis Berlin 1836 - 1939: The Story of the Rise and Destruction of the Jewish Fashion Industry

Why did I love this book?

Uwe Westphal has spent many years researching and writing about the Jewish contribution to the Berlin fashion industry between 1836 - 1939.  This is a story that has never been told before. Jewish entrepreneurs invented ready-to-wear, mass-produced, fashionable clothing. By the early 1900s, Berlin was the hub of world fashion with the majority of clothing firms being Jewish-owned. In 1933 the Nazis swiftly foreclosed and “Aryanized” these businesses and their owners fled into exile or were murdered. After 1945, the now non-Jewish fashion firms, which had taken over their predecessors’ companies, enjoyed a tremendous increase in worldwide sales due to the glaring absence of their pre-war Jewish competitors. But the sophistication of the Jewish designers was gone. Today’s German fashion industry is a long way from recovering its former international status.

This book enables the reader to appreciate the immense loss of Jewish talent wrought by the Nazis. Westphal’s archival collection has enabled him to assist families to pursue restitution and compensation cases in court. He remains committed to preserving the memory of the Jewish German garment trade while valiantly exposing the German fashion industry’s abject failure to honor their Jewish forebears’ contribution. The book has 150 photos and archival documents, many of which have never been seen before. 

By Uwe Westphal,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fashion Metropolis Berlin 1836 - 1939 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Something unique emerged in the heart of Berlin in the nineteenth century: a creative centre for fashion and ready-made clothing. The hundreds of clothing companies that were established here manufactured modern clothing and developed new designs that were sold throughout Germany and the world.

This industry reached the height of its success in the 1920s. Freed from their corsets, sophisticated women of the time dressed in the "Berlin chic" sold by Valentin Manheimer, Herrmann Gerson, or the Wertheim department stores. After 1933, however, most Jewish clothing industrialists were confronted with hatred and violence. Many of their companies were…

Book cover of In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin

Why did I love this book?

Larson brilliantly captures the mood of Nazi Berlin in this compelling novel, based on real people and events, charting the years 1933 to 1937 during which William Dodd was American Ambassador to Germany. Ensconced in Berlin with his wife, son, and vivacious daughter, Martha, the family has a close-up view of the Nazis’ consolidation of power. The atmosphere of the time is evocatively captured as Martha enjoys the attentions of assorted dashing young men, true believers in the Third Reich’s enthusiasm to restore Germany to its former glories. Meanwhile, increasing persecution of Jews is enacted through new laws and although Dodd attempts to attract the attention of the State Dept, he finds little interest. A must-read best-seller covering the early years of the Nazi regime.

By Erik Larson,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked In the Garden of Beasts as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It's Berlin, 1933. William E. Dodd, a mild-mannered academic from Chicago, has to his own and everyone else's surprise, become America's first ambassador to Hitler's Germany, in a year that proves to be a turning point in history. Dodd and his family, notably his vivacious daughter, Martha, observe at first-hand the many changes - some subtle, some disturbing, and some horrifically violent - that signal Hitler's consolidation of power. Dodd has little choice but to associate with key figures in the Nazi party, his increasingly concerned cables make little impact on an indifferent U.S. State Department, while Martha is drawn…

Berlin Diary

By William L. Shirer,

Book cover of Berlin Diary

Why did I love this book?

This journalist’s eye-witness account of the rise of Hitler was published in June 1941 and became a best seller – within one year selling 600,000 copies. Shirer, a journalist based in Berlin, wrote first for William Hearst's wire service - Universal Services - and then worked as a radio correspondent for CBS. He kept a diary in which he recorded his thoughts, impressions, and analysis, expressing his moral outrage at what he witnessed of daily life in Germany as it descended into fascism. As he was present at many Nazi Party rallies and attended Hitler’s speeches he was able to offer first-hand testimony.

Although he apparently made considerable changes in the published version, nonetheless his diary has been hailed as a monumental exposé and denunciation of German leaders, their policies, and their people. 

By William L. Shirer,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Berlin Diary as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

By the acclaimed journalist and bestselling author of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, this day-by-day, eyewitness account of the momentous events leading up to World War II in Europe is now available in a new paperback edition. CBS radio broadcaster William L. Shirer was virtually unknown in 1940 when he decided there might be a book in the diary he had kept in Europe during the 1930s-specifically those sections dealing with the collapse of the European democracies and the rise of Nazi Germany. Berlin Diary first appeared in 1941, and the timing was perfect. The energy, the…

DK Eyewitness Berlin

By DK Eyewitness,

Book cover of DK Eyewitness Berlin

Why did I love this book?

How would one navigate Berlin without an invaluable guidebook? There is just so much to see and learn that you require help - and here it is! There’s advice on planning your trip before setting off and then how to get around, where to eat, sleep, shop, and what to see. Discover how to use telephones and public transport and learn where all the best concert venues, theaters, clubs, and activities for children are located. It’s easy to use – having clearly drawn street finder maps, photographs on almost every page, color-coded chapters to each district of Berlin - with information on all the major places of interest with plenty of historical context.

By DK Eyewitness,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked DK Eyewitness Berlin as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Discover Berlin - a cosmopolitan capital with a vibrant spirit.

Whether you want to get cultural on Museum Island, explore Berlin's complex history at Checkpoint Charlie, walk in the footsteps of royalty at Schloss Charlottenburg, or sample a tantalizing array of street food from around the globe, your DK Eyewitness travel guide makes it easy to experience all that Berlin has to offer.

From the Brandenburg Gate to the TV Tower, Berlin boasts an incredible array of iconic sights, as well as a world-renowned arts scene which has cemented the city's reputation as the European capital of cool. Beyond the…

Book cover of Berlin for Jews: A Twenty-First-Century Companion

Why did I love this book?

If you are Jewish and have ambivalent feelings about visiting Berlin, then this could be the book for you.  Leonard Barkan is a professor at Princeton where he teaches in the Department of Comparative Literature. A Jewish American, growing up in a secular New York family, his book is a personal reflection on traveling in the city. 

Berlin for Jews is part history and part travel guide.  Barkan shows how, in the early nineteenth century, Jews dominated the arts, sciences, and public life and the way in which, despite the horrors of the Nazi era, they left an indelible imprint on the Berlin of today.  The book, described as a “love letter” to the city, takes the reader through some of the most iconic locations of Jewish life and describes the long-lost elegant Jewish suburbs, salons, writers, artists, politicians, philanthropists, art collectors, and intellectuals. And throughout, Barkan muses on what it feels like to tour the city, especially as a Jew, knowing the terrible history of the place and all that was lost.

By Leonard Barkan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Berlin for Jews as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What is it like to travel to Berlin today, particularly as a Jew, and bring with you the baggage of history? And what happens when an American Jew, raised by a secular family, falls in love with Berlin not in spite of his being a Jew but because of it? The answer is Berlin for Jews. Part history and part travel companion, Leonard Barkan's personal love letter to the city shows how its long Jewish heritage, despite the atrocities of the Nazi era, has left an inspiring imprint on the vibrant metropolis of today. Barkan, voraciously curious and witty, offers…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Berlin, Germany, and Jewish history?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Berlin, Germany, and Jewish history.

Berlin Explore 89 books about Berlin
Germany Explore 388 books about Germany
Jewish History Explore 385 books about Jewish history

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Unbroken, The Forgotten 500, and A Gentleman in Moscow if you like this list.