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Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929)

by Alfred Döblin

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,078295,314 (3.82)123
"The inspiration for Rainer Werner Fassbinder's epic film and that The Guardian named one of the "Top 100 Books of All Time," Berlin Alexanderplatz is considered one of the most important works of the Weimar Republic and twentieth century literature. Franz Biberkopf, pimp and petty thief, has just finished serving a term in prison for murdering his girlfriend. He's on his own in Weimar Berlin with its lousy economy and frontier morality, but Franz is determined to turn over new leaf, get ahead, make an honest man of himself, and so on and so forth. He hawks papers, chases girls, needs and bleeds money, gets mixed up in spite of himself in various criminal and political schemes, and when he tries to back out of them, it's at the cost of an arm. This is only the beginning of our modern everyman's multiplying misfortunes, but though Franz is more dupe than hustler, in the end, well, persistence is rewarded and things might be said to work out. Just like in a novel. Lucky Franz.Berlin, Alexanderplatz is one of great twentieth-century novels. Taking off from the work of Dos Passos and Joyce, Doblin depicts modern life in all its shocking violence, corruption, splendor, and horror. Michael Hofmann, celebrated for his translations of Joseph Roth and Franz Kafka, has prepared a new version, the first in over 75 years, in which Doblin's sublime and scurrilous masterpiece comes alive in English as never before"-- "Franz Biberkopf, pimp and petty thief, has just finished serving a term in prison for murdering his girlfriend. He's on his own in Weimar Berlin with its lousy economy and frontier morality, but Franz is determined to turn over new leaf, get ahead, make an honest man of himself, and so on and so forth. He hawks papers, chases girls, needs and bleeds money, gets mixed up in various criminal and political schemes in spite of himself, and when he tries to back out of them, it's at the cost of an arm. This is only the beginning of our modern everyman's multiplying misfortunes, but though Franz is more dupe than hustler, in the end, well, persistence is rewarded and things might be said to work out. Just like in a novel. Lucky Franz. Berlin Alexanderplatz is one of great twentieth-century novels. Taking off from the work of John Dos Passos and James Joyce, Alfred D.… (more)
  1. 20
    Ulysses by James Joyce (roby72, rrmmff2000)
    rrmmff2000: Both books of a man in a city, celebrating human life in all its variety, and revelling in language.
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    Trois mois payés by Marcel Astruc (Babou_wk)
    Babou_wk: La vie quotidienne d'un chômeur dans les années 30. Le sentiment d'être maudit et de devoir couler inexorablement.

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» See also 123 mentions

English (18)  Dutch (4)  German (2)  French (2)  All (1)  Spanish (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (29)
Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
Implacable fate deals Franz Biberkopf three Mahlerian hammer-blows, but will it do him in? This is a novel that gathers confidence and momentum as it goes on; uncertain at first, the writing by the end is pummellingly intense and original. The collage effect works wonders; the biblical passages, the slaughterhouse section, the tram trivia, all stewing into a rich and confusing brew. With its cascades of lowlife dialect and algal blooms of period colour, Berlin Alexanderplatz is as close to untranslatable as novels get. But despite the inevitable compromises in the translation (and it seems to me that Hofmann chose his compromises well), there is a spine to this story which keeps it staggering proudly along. ( )
  yarb | Feb 16, 2020 |
This novel was first published in October, 1929, two weeks before Black Friday and the Wall Street Crash. It put modern Berlin on the literary map and it remains a modernist classic favorably compared with the not too dissimilar novels like Dos Passos' USA Trilogy and Joyce's Ulysses. It tells the story of man who is as untied from any moorings as the world around him seemed to be. In fact, you might consider him the perfect anti-hero for the age.

The story opens as Franz Biberkopf is released from Tegel prison, where he served four years for killing his girlfriend in a drunken rage. Returning to Berlin, he decides to go straight. He begins to peddle bow ties on a street corner and drifts into selling other merchandise. At the same time, he starts an affair with Polish Lina and gets involved fleetingly with a bewildering series of political movements, ranging from homosexual rights to the Nazi Party. His wearing of the Nazi armband angers his worker friends, who expel him from his favorite pub. However, his real troubles begin after he enters into a partnership with Otto Lüders. After Lüders robs and assaults one of his customers, to whose apartment he gained access by using Franz’s name, Biberkopf is forced to flee to an obscure part of the city to avoid complications.

Much like a musical theme with variations, a few weeks later, Franz returns to his usual haunts taking a job as a newspaper vendor. He also begins to consort with a flashy miscreant named Reinhold who is adept at attracting women but cannot hold on to them. Each time Reinhold tires of a girlfriend, Franz throws off his current mistress and takes Reinhold’s latest castoff. When Franz becomes sincerely attached to Cissy, one of Reinhold’s rejects, he refuses to comply further. Indeed, he tells Reinhold’s girlfriend how things stand. This infuriates Reinhold, though he pretends to acquiesce in Franz’s attempt to reform him.

Yet another misadventure has Franz recruited by Fatty Pums, head of a criminal gang, which includes Reinhold. The gang is closely pursued as they drive away from a robbery, and Reinhold, given to psychotic rages and remembering Franz’s interference with his social life, pushes him from the speeding automobile. Franz is run over by the chasing car.

He awakens in a hospital, missing one arm. Bedridden, he is taken in by friends from his criminal days. Once Franz feels better further adventures ensue involving prostitutes and the usual suspect criminal element (you get the idea). At one point Franz ends up abetting his old friend Reinhold in a murder. Franz manages to continue his criminal enterprise alone, but is caught by the police. All of these events are told in a realistic and sometimes comic style.

Franz learns of Meize’s death and the hunt for him through the newspapers. Disguised with a false arm, he sets off to track down Reinhold. Eventually, tired and confused, Franz wanders into a nightclub that is in the process of being raided by the police. He is arrested. Reinhold, who got himself jailed under an assumed name, thinking prison is an ideal hiding place, is betrayed by a young man he befriended.

Above all else, the work’s narrative evokes the crowded and chaotic nature of Berlin in the Jazz age. Something of the rhythm and melodies of jazz music is conveyed through the frequent interspersing of the narrative with newspaper clippings, weather reports and political slogans, not to mention through its various diversions on topics as varied as astronomy, theology, and cooking. Döblin’s inclusion of the work’s principle setting as part of its title necessitates that the setting adopt a central role. There are a few fantastic episodes, meetings with angels and ultimately, after Frans has been confined in a mental asylum, a confrontation with Death, who recalls to Franz his misdeeds and charges him to start a new life. When he comes out of his stupor, he is changed. After he is released, he quietly becomes a gatekeeper, refuses to incriminate Reinhold at the killer’s trial, and avoids any bad associations. From then on, he is known by the new name Franz Karl Biberkopf, for he is a remade man. ( )
  jwhenderson | Aug 17, 2019 |
1997 was a rushing tide of hefty novels sweeping under to revel in their wake: most of Pynchon and the Grass Danzig troika are dated here. Doblin's feat is an episodic steamroller, the estranged reader is as tethered as anyone by the mechanized operations of the strange, new Berlin. (Brave New Bono, Beware)

I returned to the novel a few years ago after viewing the Fassbinder film. Doblin's novel remains a formidable feat. A few of my friends have recently made mediocre efforts. Looking aghast, I shook my head with the resignation of Arsene Wenger: even while Nietzsche was taking swings at folks at the asylum, he still valued a mazurka. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
I read Berlin Alexanderplatz through a number of mediators: in the new English translation by Hofmann made nearly 100 years after the fact, and as an audiobook. I also watched the 15hr movie from the 1970s which is useful for character, setting and plot details. It was basically all I read/watched/listened for over two weeks. The audiobook made it particularly challenging as the words march robotically without pause for paragraph or section break, the narrator was not kind this way. This made a demanding stream of consciousness novel even more so, though it enhanced the bewildering storm of information effect. I'm glad to be exposed to this kind of novel. The mix of documentary fact and fiction make it seem more real, but it isn't realism, something more vital than a copy of reality. This was a followup to a book I read about Nietzsche, another deep dive into European high modernism. Doblin would have been a teenager in the 1890s when Nietzsche became all the rage, and one can see the influence of Nietzsche, the quest for moral direction in an age without personal moral authority; Doblin sees the role of fate as significant. It's also a great documentary view of 1920s Berlin, a libertine zoo the country watched with fascination and horror. ( )
2 vote Stbalbach | Dec 7, 2018 |
The translation by Michael Hoffman brings refreshment to this tale of low life Weimar Berlin. I compared it to dos Passos’ U.S.A. but it deserves to be hailed in its own right as a study of the individual embattled in the war to make good one’s place in an indifferent twentieth century.
1 vote ivanfranko | Aug 7, 2018 |
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» Add other authors (47 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Döblin, AlfredAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Althen, Christinasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Aron, IreneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Šuklje, RapaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Becker, Bensecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Benjamin, WalterContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bertram-Hohensee, Utesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Carandell, Josep MariaForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dix, OttoCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dolfini, Giorgiosecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Driessen, HansTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Forte, DieterNachwortsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
George, Heinrichsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gini, EnzaContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hofmann, MichaelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jolas, EugèneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jutzi, Philsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Knigge, UlrichTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Le Lay, OlivierTraductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Linton, J. P.Narratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mac Orlan, PierrePréfacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Minetti, Bernhardsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Muschg, WalterAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pók, Lajossecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Peromies, AarnoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Piatti, CelestinoCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Reich-Ranicki, Marcelsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rost, NicoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sáenz, MiguelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schlegel, Margaretesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Seruya, Sarasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Seruya, Teresasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Spaini, AlbertoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sukowa, BarbaraSkuesp.secondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thompson, AnneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
van Paassen, WillemTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wallenström, UlrikaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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He stood in front of the Tegel Prison gate and was free now.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Berlin in the 1920s. Franz Biberkopf has just been released from prison after serving four years for violence that resulted in the death of a girlfriend. He returns to his old neighborhood -- Alexanderplatz -- vowing to live a decent life. What he finds are unemployment lines, gangsters, prostitutes, petty thieves, and neophyte Nazis. In this sordid world there are new women -- devoted Eva, vulnerable young Mieze -- and the dangerous, near-psychotic Reinhold, who befriends him. As Franz struggles to survive, fate teases him with a little luck, a little pleasure, then cruelly turns on him.
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