The best books about Berlin

22 authors have picked their favorite books about Berlin and why they recommend each book.

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Mephisto

By Klaus Mann,

Book cover of Mephisto

Berlin aches with absences as much as its brazen presence: the sense of lives lived, dreams realized and evils executed with an intensity so shocking that they rent the air and shook its fabric. In Mephisto, a vain and ruthless second-rate theatre actor becomes a national star by aligning himself with the Nazis. Haunting.

Mephisto

By Klaus Mann,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A searing indictment of evil in Hitler's Germany. Hendrik Hofgen is a man obsessed with becoming a famous actor. When the Nazis come to power in Germany, he willingly renounces his Communist past and deserts his wife and mistress in order to keep on performing. His diabolical performance as Mephistopheles in Faust proves to be the stepping-stone he yearned for: attracting the attention of Hermann Goering, it wins Hofgen an appointment as head of the State Theatre. The rewards - the respect of the public, a castle - like villa, a uplace in Berlin's highest circles - are beyond his…


Who am I?

Rory MacLean is one of Britain's most innovative travel writers. His books – which have been translated into a dozen languages — include UK top tens Stalin's Nose and Under the Dragon as well as Pravda Ha Ha and Berlin: Imagine a City, "the most extraordinary work of history I've ever read" according to the Washington Post which named it a Book of the Year. He has won awards from the Canada Council and the Arts Council of England and was nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary prize. He divides his time between Berlin, Toronto and the UK.


I wrote...

Berlin: Portrait of a City Through the Centuries

By Rory MacLean,

Book cover of Berlin: Portrait of a City Through the Centuries

What is my book about?

Berlin is a city of fragments and ghosts, a laboratory of ideas, the fount of both the brightest and darkest designs of history's most bloody century. The once arrogant capital of Europe was devastated by Allied bombs, divided by the Wall, then reunited and reborn as one of the creative centers of the world. Today it resonates with the echo of lives lived. No other city has repeatedly been so powerful and fallen so low; few other cities have been so shaped and defined by individual imaginations.

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

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…

Fashion Metropolis Berlin 1836 - 1939

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?

AT HAUSVOGTEIPLATZ
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…


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. 

DK Eyewitness Berlin

By DK Eyewitness,

Book cover of DK Eyewitness Berlin

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.

DK Eyewitness Berlin

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…


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. 

Book cover of A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories

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 places her among the very best. While some of the stories in this collection are sorrowful, others are funny, even uplifting. Whether from laughter or sadness, I was frequently moved to tears.

A Manual for Cleaning Women

By Lucia Berlin,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Manual for Cleaning Women as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Celebrating Fifty Years of Picador Books

The world just goes along. Nothing much matters, you know? I mean really matters. but then sometimes, just for a second, you get this grace, this belief that it does matter, a whole lot.

With an introduction from Lydia Davis

Lucia Berlin's stories in A Manual for Cleaning Women make for one of the most remarkable unsung collections in twentieth-century American fiction.

With extraordinary honesty and magnetism, Lucia Berlin invites us into her rich, itinerant life: the drink and the mess and the pain and the beauty and the moments of surprise and of…


Who am I?

While it only simmers in the background of Demi-Gods, I find myself returning to this theme in my fiction — of mothers behaving badly. The topic fascinates me because we live in a society that idealizes the Mother. So much so that we have removed sex and desire from this archetype. We even made Mary, the “universal mother,” a virgin. As someone with a womb, society expects me to have children. (I don’t yet.) Fiction has provided a space for me to disentangle my own thoughts around motherhood — on what I might claim for myself, and what I absolutely refuse to take on. 


I wrote...

Demi-Gods

By Eliza Robertson,

Book cover of Demi-Gods

What is my book about?

Demi-Gods follows the story of Willa, who is growing up on an island off the west coast of Canada in the 1950s. One summer, she becomes engrossed with her step-brother, Patrick, from California. Patrick is a golden boy, clever, yet conniving — pushing 9-year-old Willa toward illicit tasks. As Willa becomes a teenager and pays a visit to California, her relationship with Patrick grows more dizzying. 

A few themes preoccupied me while I wrote this novel. For one, desire: how desire can be inconvenient and shameful, especially when we desire those who are bad for us. Second: I was interested in how we exalt each other. How we perceive those we desire as demigods or idols.

Berlin Diary, 1934-1941

By William L. Shirer,

Book cover of Berlin Diary, 1934-1941: The Rise of the Third Reich

Berlin was at the centre of Nazi Europe and is invariably at the heart of my novels, including Agent in Berlin. I’m fascinated by Berlin and I try to get beyond the obvious aspects of the city and give a sense of what life was like on a daily basis.  I have chosen this book by William Shirer, an American journalist based in the city from 1934 and who only left after Pearl Harbor. The book combines the sharp observations of a journalist with an eye for fascinating detail, such as the nuanced wording of the death notices of soldiers and the impact of rationing on the population.

Berlin Diary, 1934-1941

By William L. Shirer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Berlin Diary, 1934-1941 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Berlin Diary, 1934-1941 : The Rise of the Third Reich: As chief of Universal News Service's Berlin office and later a broadcaster for CBS, William L. Shirer witnessed and recorded the rise to international power of Hitler and the Nazis. This is Shirer's diary of events between 1934 and 1941.


Who am I?

I worked as a journalist for the BBC for nearly thirty years: my writing of espionage novels set in Europe during the Second World War goes back to 1994 when I was covering the 50th anniversary of D-Day for the BBC. I became fascinated with the human stories behind big military events and especially the British deception operation that was so crucial to the Allies’ success. This led to my first novel, The Best of Our Spies. To ensure my novels feel as authentic as possible my research means I travel around Europe and I’ve also amassed a collection of maps and guidebooks from that period.


I wrote...

Agent in Berlin

By Alex Gerlis,

Book cover of Agent in Berlin

What is my book about?

Agent in Berlin is my ninth novel and the first book in my Wolf Pack trilogy. It features Barney Allen as a British spymaster tasked with establishing a new spy ring in Berlin. He recruits an effective but eclectic mix of agents - a habitué of Berlin’s gay underworld, an American sports journalist, the SS officer’s wife, a Japanese diplomat, and a senior Luftwaffe officer. These Wolf Pack spies unearth valuable intelligence, including details of a new Luftwaffe fighter plane and the Japanese plans to attack the US Pacific Fleet. But in Berlin, the menacing footsteps of the Gestapo are never far behind and they begin to catch up with the Wolf Pack with deadly consequences. 

Emil and the Detectives

By Erich Kastner, Walter Trier (illustrator),

Book cover of Emil and the Detectives

Although I write mostly history books and only non-fiction, I loved adventure stories as a child and these five have all stuck with me into adulthood. That must say something. The fast pace of this particular one, and its very realistic setting (1920s Berlin, peopled by some fairly tough characters), was highly unusual for children’s fiction when it was written more than 90 years ago. Because of this, I’m sure that even now most readers will have no difficulty imagining themselves filling Emil’s shoes and would want to join in with his adventures if they could. It’s properly engaging, a really great read. 

Emil and the Detectives

By Erich Kastner, Walter Trier (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Emil and the Detectives as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

If Mrs Tischbein had known the amazing adventures her son Emil would have in Berlin, she'd never have let him go.

Unfortunately, when his seven pounds goes missing on the train, Emil is determined to get it back - and when he teams up with the detectives he meets in Berlin, it's just the start of a marvellous money-retrieving adventure . . .

A classic and influential story, Emil and the Detectives remains an enthralling read.

From November 16th 2013, an exciting new adaptation of Emil and the Detectives will be playing at the National Theatre in London.


Who am I?

Although as an adult I very much prefer true-life adventures to fictional ones – it’s why I wrote Heroes and Rescue, as well as Survivors – many of the most enjoyable books I read as a child were fictional accounts of daring and danger, mostly if not entirely centred on children with whom I could identify. I found them inspiring and still do, and can’t help feeling that if after nearly 50 years I can still remember so many of the details – and, trust me, I really can - the authors of these five must really have known what they were up to. I really hope no one will be put off them because of their age because I feel they have genuinely stood the test of time.


I wrote...

Survivors: Extraordinary Tales from the Wild and Beyond

By David Long, Kerry Hyndman (illustrator),

Book cover of Survivors: Extraordinary Tales from the Wild and Beyond

What is my book about?

When it comes to extreme stories of survival few can match these inspirational tales of genuine courage, heroism, and ingenuity. Ranging from Africa to the Antarctic, from classics such as Ernest Shackleton to the crew of Apollo 13 and the man who inspired the movie 127 Hours, these incredible real-life adventures describe how ordinary men, women, and children faced down dangers and were able to achieve extraordinary things by drawing on their strength, bravery, and self-belief. We can all accomplish more than we think can, and Survivors shows how it’s done.

Goodbye to Berlin

By Christopher Isherwood,

Book cover of Goodbye to Berlin

The book, set in the early 1930s, is from a fleeting period when the liberal pleasures of the German capital made it the European place to be. An English teacher of reserved social origins, Isherwood writes of the Berlin characters who enlivened his life, against the forbidding backdrop of Hitler's rise to power. Cabaret, the film adapted from the book, led Isherwood to insist his version of events was far nearer to how things were.

Goodbye to Berlin

By Christopher Isherwood,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

First published in 1934, Goodbye to Berlin has been popularized on stage and screen by Julie Harris in I Am a Camera and Liza Minelli in Cabaret. Isherwood magnificently captures 1931 Berlin: charming, with its avenues and cafes; marvelously grotesque, with its nightlife and dreamers; dangerous, with its vice and intrigue; powerful and seedy, with its mobs and millionaires - this was the period when Hitler was beginning his move to power. Goodbye to Berlin is inhabited by a wealth of characters: the unforgettable and "divinely decadent"Sally Bowles; plump Fraulein Schroeder, who considers reducing her Buste relieve her heart palpitations;…


Who am I?

Fact is often more fascinating than fiction, and on occasions, a lot weirder too. As someone, London-based though lucky to have travelled extensively in Europe since childhood (my mother was keen to visit places where my father had been stationed in the Second World War) and more recently as a journalist (for The Financial Times, BBC, The Guardian, and others) in the Americas, Asia, and Africa, I have always been attracted to stories that strongly convey senses of time, place and the people you just happen to meet.


I wrote...

Bananas: How the United Fruit Company Shaped the World

By Peter Chapman,

Book cover of Bananas: How the United Fruit Company Shaped the World

What is my book about?

Bananas shows how a single company can dominate the affairs of whole countries, large or small. The United Fruit Company took bananas from the jungles of Costa Rica to the halls of power in Washington D.C. It employed supremely clever marketing, covert CIA operations, bloody coups, and brutalised workforces. Along the way, it turned the banana into a blueprint for a new model of unfettered capitalism: one that serves corporate power at any cost.

Berlin at War

By Roger Moorhouse,

Book cover of Berlin at War

This author offers a well-crafted history of daily life inside the Reich, a fascinating exploration of the German capital as the Nazi movement brought its citizens to their knees. Extensively researched and documented, Moorhouse vividly portrays the daily oppression and challenges faced on all societal fronts. This well-crafted study enmeshes the reader in life under totalitarian rule.

Berlin at War

By Roger Moorhouse,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Berlin at War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Berlin at War , acclaimed historian Roger Moorhouse provides a magnificent and detailed portrait of everyday life at the epicentre of the Third Reich. Berlin was the stage upon which the rise and fall of the Third Reich was most visibly played out. It was the backdrop for the most lavish Nazi ceremonies, the site of Albert Speer's grandiose plans for a new world metropolis," and the scene of the final climactic battle to defeat Nazism. Berlin was the place where Hitler's empire ultimately meet its end, but it suffered mightily through the war as well not only was…


Who am I?

While a graduate student and then an army interpreter in Germany, I listened to reminiscences from both Third Reich military veterans and former French resistance fighters. Their tales picked up where my father's stories of pre-war European life always ended, and my fascination with this history knew no bounds. On occasion I would conceal my American identity and mentally play the spy as I traversed Europe solo. A dozen years later upon the death of my father, I learned from my mother his great secret: he had concealed his wartime life as an American spy inside the Reich. His private journals telling of bravery and intrigue inspire each of my novels.


I wrote...

Corridor of Darkness: A Novel of Nazi Germany

By Patrick W. O'Bryon,

Book cover of Corridor of Darkness: A Novel of Nazi Germany

What is my book about?

1930's Berlin is unrestrained, decadent, and torn by political and social strife. Novice foreign correspondent Ryan Lemmon is making the most of every moment exploring the city's dark underbelly, when a gut-wrenching murder brings him face-to-face with the growing fascist menaceAs Hitler’s stranglehold on the German nation grows, Lemmon is drawn into the theft of a Nazi protocol threatening citizens across Europe. Only Ryan and his former lover can get that intel to Washington, but a Gestapo mastermind stands in their way. 

Kirkus Reviews writes: "The novel is rife with historical intrigue and captures the flavor of mid-century Europe...a keen eye for detail...An intriguing early WWII spy yarn set in a well researched, authentic Germany.

The Berlin Stories

By Christopher Isherwood,

Book cover of The Berlin Stories

In Berlin Stories, the book that inspired the movie Cabaret, comprising two linked novellas by Christopher Isherwood loosely based on his first-hand experience as an expat in Berlin in the Twenties, the British novelist evokes the anything-goes atmosphere that reigned in the capital of the Weimar Republic immediately prior to the Nazi take-over. That free-wheeling, raucous spirit survived the Third Reich and still thrives in Berlin today.     

The Berlin Stories

By Christopher Isherwood,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Berlin Stories as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First published in the 1930s, The Berlin Stories contains two astonishing related novels, The Last of Mr. Norris and Goodbye to Berlin, which are recognized today as classics of modern fiction. Isherwood magnificently captures 1931 Berlin: charming, with its avenues and cafes; marvelously grotesque, with its nightlife and dreamers; dangerous, with its vice and intrigue; powerful and seedy, with its mobs and millionaires-this is the period when Hitler was beginning his move to power. The Berlin Stories is inhabited by a wealth of characters: the unforgettable Sally Bowles, whose misadventures in the demimonde were popularized on the American stage and…


Who am I?

The American-born son of Jewish refugees, I would have every reason to revile the erstwhile capital of The Third Reich. But ever since my first visit, as a Fulbright Fellow in 1973, Berlin, a city painfully honest about its past, captured my imagination. A bilingual, English-German author of fiction, nonfiction, plays, poetry, travel memoir, and translations from the German, Ghost Dance in Berlin charts my take as a Holtzbrinck Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin in a villa on Wannsee, Berlin’s biggest lake, an experience marked by memorable encounters with derelicts, lawyers, a taxi driver, a hooker, et al, and with cameo appearances by Henry Kissinger and the ghost of Marlene Dietrich.


I wrote...

Ghost Dance in Berlin: A Rhapsody in Gray

By Peter Wortsman,

Book cover of Ghost Dance in Berlin: A Rhapsody in Gray

What is my book about?

Ghost Dance in Berlin, for which I won a 2014 Independent Publishers Book Award, is an unlikely declaration of love by the American-born son of German-speaking, Jewish refugees. From my perch in a villa on Berlin’s biggest lake, I imagine the parallel haunting of two sets of ghosts, those of the exiled erstwhile owners, a Jewish banker, and his family, and those of the Führer’s Minister of Finance and his entourage, who took over the title, while in another villa across the lake another gaggle of ghosts is busy planning the Final Solution. Where the Wall once stood, Berlin remains bisected by invisible borderlines and riddled with invisible minefields of memory, across which I guide the reader with an eye for telling detail and an ear for memorable conversations.

Blood Brothers

By Ernst Haffner, Michael Hofmann (translator),

Book cover of Blood Brothers

I stumbled on this novel when I was looking for something else (a common writers’ problem). It was written in 1932 and banned the next year by the Nazis and is set amongst the gangs of young men struggling to survive in a harsh and desperately impoverished Berlin. The descriptions of the hard side of the city are brilliantly drawn and the characters are so real you long for their lives to improve even when you know there is almost no hope of it. Haffner was a social worker who clearly knew Berlin’s streets well. To add to the poignancy of his writing, nothing is known about his fate beyond a summons before a Nazi tribunal in the late 1930s. After that, he disappears. I really hope his book doesn’t.

Blood Brothers

By Ernst Haffner, Michael Hofmann (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Blood Brothers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Blood Brothers is the only known novel by German social worker and journalist Ernst Haffner, of whom nearly all traces were lost during the course of the Second World War. Told in stark, unsparing detail, Haffner's story delves into the illicit underworld of Berlin on the eve of Hitler's rise to power, describing how these blood brothers move from one petty crime to the next, spending their nights in underground bars and makeshift hostels, struggling together to survive the harsh realities of gang life, and finding in one another the legitimacy denied them by society.


Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated with the history-soaked city of Berlin where my novels are set since a school exchange trip as a teenager. It was the border that did it. Machine guns, dog runs, barbed wire, watchtowers. They were daunting. More striking still was our guide’s story about her sister who lived on the other side in the East. They were barely a mile apart but hadn’t seen each other in the twenty years since the Wall went up. I’ve been back many times since and have had a passion for German history from that day, particularly for the experiences of its people who have lived through such turbulent times.


I wrote...

The Secretary

By Catherine Hokin,

Book cover of The Secretary

What is my book about?

The Tower House, a crumbling villa choked with memories. Berlin 1940Magda leads a dangerous double life working for the resistance and also as secretary to Himmler, leader of the SS. Her capture, and her death, seem inevitable.

Forty years later. Her granddaughter Nina flees the GDR carrying a forged passport and a scribbled address for the Tower House taken from a drawing she found hidden in her grandmother’s wardrobe. Separated from her family and betrayed by her country, Nina’s last hope is to trace her family’s history in the ruins of the past her grandmother ran from. But, when she finally finds the abandoned house, she opens the door to a forgotten story, and to secrets that will change everything: past, present, and future…

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