The best books about Berlin 📚

Browse the best books on Berlin as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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

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

By Uwe Westphal

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…

From the list:

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

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

Berlin for Jews: A Twenty-First-Century Companion

By Leonard Barkan

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…

From the list:

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

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Book cover of Berlin Noir: March Violets; The Pale Criminal; A German Requiem

Berlin Noir: March Violets; The Pale Criminal; A German Requiem

By Philip Kerr

Why this book?

This book – well, technically, the first three books in the series – is for anyone who enjoys mysteries or detective stories, especially the hardboiled variety. The core of the book is Bernie Gunther, who is – depending on the situation – a protagonist, a hero, and/or an anti-hero. A former Berlin detective turned private investigator, he’s cynical and sardonic, not to mention a hopeless romantic who repeatedly falls for the femme fatale or damsel in distress while on a case, which pretty much always leads him into trouble. The first book is set in Berlin in 1936, the second…

From the list:

The best fiction books set during the Third Reich

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Book cover of A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories

A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories

By Lucia Berlin

Why this book?

Many of the characters in this story collection work in unappreciated, underpaid, and unseen labor: as caregivers, nurses, cleaners, switchboard operators, administrators, substitute teachers. The stories are rooted in Berlin’s own experience as a mother, worker, and alcoholic.

A lot of authors are famous for writing “working class” stories — but many of them are men. I love this collection because it centers the story on working-class women, who often happen to be mothers raising their children alone. 

Lucia Berlin didn’t receive much attention as an author in her lifetime, but she writes with a skill, shrewdness, and vulnerability that…

From the list:

The best books featuring transgressive mothers

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Book cover of The Last Jews in Berlin

The Last Jews in Berlin

By Leonard Gross

Why this book?

When the Nazis came to power in 1933 the Jewish population of Berlin was 160,000. By the start of the war, it had fallen to 80,000 due to people emigrating. By late 1943 almost the entire Jewish population of Berlin had been deported to the death camps, but around 4,000 remained in the city, living in hiding, with false identities, underground, and in constant fear. This book was first published in 1982 and is a remarkable account of how some of these people survived (though the majority of those who went underground were eventually caught and murdered).  The book reads…

From the list:

The best books to get a sense of Berlin under the Nazis

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Book cover of Berlin at War: Life and Death in Hitler's Capital, 1939-45

Berlin at War: Life and Death in Hitler's Capital, 1939-45

By Roger Moorhouse

Why this book?

This is another book that manages to paint a picture of what life was like in Berlin during the war.  Roger Moorhouse tells some fascinating stories, such as that of Paul Ogorzow, the so-called S-Bahn Murderer. The fact that a serial killer was operating around Berlin’s railway system was a dilemma for the authorities who tried and failed to lay the blame on either Jews or Poles. Ogorzow was eventually captured convicted of the murder of eight women and of attacking thirty-seven more during 1940 and 1941. The fact he was a Nazi Party member was a deep embarrassment and…

From the list:

The best books to get a sense of Berlin under the Nazis

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