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...

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

By Dina Gold,

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. 

The books I picked & why

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

By Uwe Westphal,

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

Why 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. 

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

By Erik Larson,

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

Why 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.

Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent, 1934-1941

By William L. Shirer,

Book cover of Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent, 1934-1941

Why 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. 

DK Eyewitness Berlin

By DK Eyewitness,

Book cover of DK Eyewitness Berlin

Why 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.

Berlin for Jews: A Twenty-First-Century Companion

By Leonard Barkan,

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

Why 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.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Germany, Berlin, and Jewish history?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Germany, Berlin, and Jewish history.

Germany Explore 297 books about Germany
Berlin Explore 68 books about Berlin
Jewish History Explore 246 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.