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Berlin Alexanderplatz

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Biberkopf hat geschworen, er will anständig sein, und ihr habt gesehen, wie er wochenlang anständig ist, aber das war gewissermaßen nur eine Gnadenfrist. Das Leben findet das auf die Dauer zu fein und stellt ihm hinterlistig ein Bein. Die Geschichte des Transportarbeiters Franz Biberkopf, der, aus der Strafanstalt Berlin-Tegel entlassen, als ehrlicher Mann ins Leben zurückfinden möchte, ist der erste deutsche Großstadtroman von literarischem Rang. Das Berlin der Zwanziger Jahre ist der Schauplatz des Geschehens. Dabei wird die Großstadt selbst zum Gegenspieler des gutmütig-jähzornigen Franz Biberkopf, der dieser verlockenden, aber auch unerbittlichen Welt zu trotzen versucht. Mit Berlin Alexanderplatz vollzog Döblin die radikale Abkehr vom bürgerlich psychologischen Roman. Hier wurde kein Einzelschicksal analysiert. Das kollektive Geschehen, das Allgemeine einer menschlichen Situation erfuhr hier eine gültige dichterische Gestaltung. Der Roman zählt zu den großen Epen unserer Zeit.

457 pages, Paperback

First published October 1, 1929

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About the author

Alfred Döblin

181 books188 followers
Bruno Alfred Döblin (August 10, 1878 – June 26, 1957) was a German novelist, essayist, and doctor, best known for his novel Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929). A prolific writer whose œuvre spans more than half a century and a wide variety of literary movements and styles, Döblin is one of the most important figures of German literary modernism. His complete works comprise over a dozen novels ranging in genre from historical novels to science fiction to novels about the modern metropolis; several dramas, radio plays, and screenplays; a true crime story; a travel account; two book-length philosophical treatises; scores of essays on politics, religion, art, and society; and numerous letters — his complete works, republished by Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag and Fischer Verlag, span more than thirty volumes. His first published novel, Die drei Sprünge des Wang-lung (The Three Leaps of Wang Lun), appeared in 1915 and his final novel, Hamlet oder Die lange Nacht nimmt ein Ende (Tales of a Long Night) was published in 1956, one year before his death.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 749 reviews
Profile Image for Glenn Russell.
1,380 reviews12k followers
February 12, 2022

A shocking novel. A disturbing novel. A brutal novel.

And if you click into the novel's ironic/humorous/satiric vibe set in the years when Berlin was Europe's most liberal city featuring avant-garde art, radical politics and sex easily available in any and all varieties, then Berlin Alexanderplaz is, I kid you not, a thrilling, enjoyable romp at breakneck speed.

Oh, the picaresque novel with its epigraphs and episodic adventures of an insatiable scallywag usually from the lower classes. True to form, Alfred Döblin trots out his main character and hero, a World War I vet by the name of Franz Biberkopf, fresh from Tegel Penitentiary where he served four years for sending his sweetheart to an early grave by way of cracking her skull and inflicting an assortment of other nasty injuries.

Alfred Döblin's expressionist prose reads like Émile Zola's naturalism on crack and speed, as if nearly every man and woman in its five hundred pages has the jazz driven energy and élan and irreverence of a Henry Miller or a Charles Bukowski. And such qualities include the omniscient narrator who inserts jingles and songs, headlines and screamers, slogans and catchphrases as well as an array of other verbal flotsam that invade a reader's five senses as if one actually spent nights back in 1927-1928, the years Döblin wrote his masterpiece, wandering the Berlin streets and popping into many of the city's decadent, fleshpot theaters.

And, oh, those sardonic chapter openings and epigraphs such as "Franz Biberkopf is on the job market, you need to earn money, a man can't life without money," and "Here decent, well-intentioned Franz Biberkopf suffers a first reverse. He falls victim to a cheat. The shock is profound. Biberkopf has sworn to be decent, and as you've seen, he has been decent for several weeks, but that was really just temporary. In the long run, life finds that too prissy, and it cunningly trips him up."

New York Review Books deserves the highest praise for republishing this German literary classic in Michael Hofmann's stunning translation. Mr. Hofmann also furnishes an extensive Afterward wherein he expatiates on the life and times of Alfred Döblin, the history of Berlin Alexanderplatz and the challenges of translating the author's vibrant language into English.

Actually, it's Michael Hofmann's observations on language I found most helpful - and for good reason: in all the many novels I've read over the years, I have never been as keenly aware of the role of a translator as when reading Berlin Alexanderplatz. I know, I know, Berlin in the 1920s was a special time and a special place, but I had the sense all the many depictions, portrayals, sketches and most especially the words of Franz Biberkopf and others could have also been from a bustling current day international metropolis, say London, New York or Los Angeles. This to say, Döblin's novel is as alive today for readers as it was back when Berliners gobbled it up when first published.

And such crisp, colorful language. There have been frequent comparisons to James Joyce's Ulysses (a novel Döblin greatly admired) and stream of consciousness but if there is one aspect of Berlin Alexanderplatz I would like to stress it is this: I never had the need to go back and reread any passage or bit of dialogue, nor, when listening, did I replay any part of the audio book - the writing is that clear and accessible.

So, what manner of man is Franz Biberkopf now that he’s out of prison and returns to Berlin? At one point, he’s described as a slick dude (hey, Franz is as hip as any hip hop artist). Here’s a passage that comes at a reader as part of one unending gush: “This Franz Biberkopf, previously cement worker, then furniture removal man and so forth, currently newspaper seller, weighs nigh on two hundredweight. He has the strength of a cobra snake and has joined an athletics club again. Decked out in green puttees, hobnail boots and a bomber jacket. You won’t find much money on him, it only comes to him in small amounts, but even so it’s worth trying to get to know him.”

For added flair, the narrator tosses in references from ancient Greek literature, figures such as Agamemnon, Telemachus, Helen. Also, the Bible – Adam, Eve, the Serpent, Job. Not to mention, grizzly details of slaughterhouses: “The killing bays must be at the back, it’s from there you hear smacking sounds, crashing, squealing, screaming, gurgling, grunting sounds. There are big cauldrons there, which produce the steam. Men dunk the dead beasts in the boiling water, scald them, pull them out nice and white, a man scrapes off the outer skin with a knife, making the animal still whiter and every part smooth. Very mild and white, deeply contented as after a strenuous bath, a successful operation or massage, the pigs lie out on wooden trestles in rows, they don’t move in their sated calm, and in their new white tunics. They are all lying on their sides, on some you see the double row of tits, the number of breasts a sow has, they must be fertile animals. But they all of them have a straight red slash across the throat, right in the middle, which looks deeply suspicious.” Of course, this passage brings to mind Germany in the not so distant future, the death camps following Adolf Hitler proclaimed Chancellor in 1933. There are references in the novel to the National Socialist Party and swastikas but swinging, freewheeling Berlin remained liberal, artistic and as free as a randy, decadent bird in the pages of Berlin Alexanderplatz.

Not only will readers follow the fate of Franz but also many other men and women. I purposely went light on the story’s arc, curves and swerves (by my eye, many reviewers reveal too much) so as to allow readers to make their own discoveries.

Since so much of the beauty and artistry of Alfred Döblin’s masterpiece is in the language, I’ll end with Michael Hofmann’s favorite passage on the song to the outgrowths of Berlin: “Suffer them to approach. Suffer them to approach. The great, flat plains, the lonely brick houses giving out a reddish light. The towns all in a line, Frankfurt an der Oder, Guben, Sommerfield, Liegnitz, Breslau, the towns appear with their stations, the towns with their great and small streets. Suffer them to approach, the cabs, the sliding, shooting cars.”

What an intense jaunt. I encourage you to hop in one of those sliding, shooting cars and travel to Berlin by way of Alfred Döblin.

German born (in 1957) poet and translator Michael Hofmann

German author Alfred Döblin, 1878-1957

“He swore to all the world and to himself that he would remain decent. And as long as he had money, he remained decent. But then he ran out of money, which was a moment he had been waiting for, to show them all what he was made of.” ― Alfred Döblin, Berlin Alexanderplatz
Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,468 reviews3,637 followers
July 19, 2022
“I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.
And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication:
And upon her forehead was a name written, Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth.” Revelation 17:3-5
Berlin Alexanderplatz is a doomsday story of human fates in the Babel at the end of times…
The protagonist leaves the prison and returns into the alienated capital city…
Suddenly he took a run up and he was sitting in the tram, with passengers all around him. At first it felt like being at the dentist’s, when the dentist has the offending tooth gripped in his pliers and is pulling, and it feels like your head will explode with the pain.

Berlin Alexanderplatz is probably the best ever written expressionistic novel – it is grotesquely revelatory and strictly apocalyptic.
The capital is swarming with people…
They are reading newspapers of differing political stripe, keeping their balance by means of the labyrinthine passages in their ears, breathing oxygen, dozing off or looking at each other; they feel pain, feel no pain, make eye-contact, make no eye-contact, are happy, unhappy, are neither unhappy nor happy.

The city is a huge boiling cauldron in which human destinies are being cooked…
Because when worms eat soil and make more, they always eat the same stuff. The creatures can’t stop once they’ve had a healthy breakfast, they need to stuff themselves the next day as well. And it’s the same way with people, and with fire: it’s hungry if it’s burning, and when it can’t eat, it goes out, that’s the way of it.

Bright lights, big city… He, who lets a current to carry him, will be eventually caught by an undertow and will go under.
Profile Image for BlackOxford.
1,085 reviews68.4k followers
July 6, 2020
Digging Ourselves Out

It’s unlikely that any writer has been more described in terms of other writers - preceding and following - than Alfred Döblin. Joyce, Dostoevsky, Henry Miller, Bukowski, Martin Amis, Henry Fielding, Upton Sinclair, Céline, Burgess, Smollett, Isherwood, dos Passos, and Conrad among others have been mentioned frequently as influences or being influenced. It seems impossible to pin Döblin down to a definite style or technique. I find him an inspiration for William Gaddis’s JR, for example, in his ‘stream of conversation.’

Yet he is also unique in time and place. Weimar Germany is in social chaos. Work is hard to find, even before the Great Depression, especially for an ex-con. Pornography and the sex-trade in general are thriving, despite the Victorian (or more accurately the Wilheminic) era ‘blue laws.’ The historical class structures are being undermined by the same residues of the Great War that are affecting Britain. Politics has yet to work out its disastrous compromises, although the omens of the future are clear. And in a perverse way Berlin, despite its status as a conquered capital city, is the centre of a new global culture.

Perhaps this is why Döblin is so difficult to categorise or characterise. In this one book is all of not just Western literature but also Western culture, a literary Mahler’s Ninth. Franz Biberkopf is the new Everyman, even more so than Leopold Bloom. Bloom was up against tedium, boredom, and oppressive religion but at least Dublin was what it always had been. Biberkopf’s Berlin had no historical continuity. It was the far side of the moon, waiting to be discovered by the rest of mankind.

This new world is non-traditional. It demands the abandonment of habits in order to survive. Because the mores of ‘good behaviour’ have yet to be established, it feels like a prison in which a mis-step can have lethal consequences. Trial and error rather than best practice in everything from sex to career (the anticipation of Viagra is startling). So despite wanting to lead a life of stable conformity, such a thing is no longer possible:
“He swore to all the world and to himself that he would remain decent. And as long as he had money, he remained decent. But then he ran out of money, which was a moment he had been waiting for, to show them all what he was made of.”

This is the new man - the player, the scammer, the inside trader, the mobster, the exploiter of loopholes, the corporate boss. The entire foundation of social relations had been altered. Sociologists may not see that for decades, and even then not very clearly. But Döblin captured the whole event in Biberkopf as he caroms around the streets of Berlin. Almost a century later, it has become obvious to the rest of us how perceptive he was. After his release from prison Biberkopf realises that the world had changed in his absence. “I know I need to dig deeper,” he says. Indeed, don’t we all.
Profile Image for Lisa.
991 reviews3,320 followers
July 16, 2019
Main character: Berlin!

As a foil, you get to know the criminal Franz Biberkopf, who tries his best to be honest. He really does. But he does not have more talent for life than Keith in London Fields, and even less talent at darts. Also, he happens to be born into an era which could have made a better man fail. And what could you possibly expect of Biberkopf then, not being a better man? Not even good? Or passable?

And Martin Amis: I all of a sudden realise that you did not only steal the plot from lovely Muriel Spark's The Driver's Seat, you stole the main character from Berlin Alexanderplatz, and just dressed it up and made it bigger, and changed some Kneipes into English pubs!

But what else could I expect? Those are the times. And that is how it works. In stories featuring big criminals, the plots have to be stolen and dealt under the table as well. Franz Biberkopf would have done the same. As would Keith Talent! And Sparks' Lise would not have hesitated one single moment to grab hold of London or Berlin if she had needed either one of those cities to find her criminal!

I wish I had thought of Biberkopf when I read London Fields. I would have loved it straight away!

And thanks Matt for bringing Berlin Alexanderplatz to my attention again. It brought back memories that helped me like another book that kept poking at me with a dart.

Strange maze of books I am wandering through. Like a big city - full of opportunities, chance meetings and stories.
Profile Image for Meike.
1,593 reviews2,824 followers
January 15, 2021
One of the most important novels ever written in German, "Berlin Alexanderplatz" tells the story of an everyman getting chewed up in the gears of the big city - and not without his own fault. Döblin, a WW I veteran and psychiatrist, gives us an an expressionist portrayal of Berlin during the Weimar Republic and of the infamous Franz Biberkopf, an under-educated opportunist who mostly wants to live comfortably (the novel was first published in 1929, but we all know where this led, starting 1933). A cement worker and mover of furniture traumatized by the war, we meet Franz when he is released from jail where he did time for killing his girlfriend - which then doesn't keep him from raping her sister. Wandering through the city, two Jewish men help the disturbed Franz - which doesn't keep him from selling right-wing papers, because it's well-paid. He tries to find a place for himself in the city, and the more he fails, the more his physical, psychological and moral deterioration progresses.

At the beginning of the novel, the text states that Franz wants to be "good" - but don't be fooled here: What does "good" mean in this case? This is no Bildungsroman, Franz doesn't learn, he seeks no redemption. Rather, he wants to fulfill his urges without getting in trouble, that's his idea of being part of society. While Babylon Berlin is raging around him, he becomes a perpetrator and a victim. His lack of moral character and his fragile mental state offer him no protection from the world around him, and his lack of education and connections rob him of possibilities to establish himself in the shaky labor market.

What makes this text a masterpiece of literary modernity is its composition: The fragmented narrative, reminiscent of Ulysses, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge and Eisenstein's approach to montage, is interspersed with newspaper headlines, song lyrics, little vignettes, imitation of sounds, description of street scenes, religious references, parts of dialogue - the whole thing comes together as a major symphony of atmospheric writing, evoking the roaring twenties in all their gruesome glory. Franz' voice is rendered in raw, rambling Berlin dialect, which underlines his limited ability to truly dissect and analyze what he does and why, and what's happening around him.

Such complex novels can easily become exercises that mainly appeal on a theoretical level, but offer no pleasure when reading them. Döblin's text is different: This is extremely fun to read, not only for the story, but for the whole overwhelming experience. Great, great stuff.
Profile Image for Guille.
786 reviews1,754 followers
May 4, 2019
Una gran novela, un auténtico clásico del siglo pasado y a la altura de los más grandes.

Sirva mi pobre comentario para animar a su lectura y para advertir que su dificultad está muy lejos del Ulises de Joyce, obra con la que se la compara en cualquier reseña que puedan leer sobre ella. Aquí el estilo, mezcla de muy diversas formas y modos, está al servicio de la gran historia que la novela encierra y nunca la oscurece ni la entorpece.
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,219 reviews9,925 followers
October 4, 2019
A hundred years ago there was a craze for giant plotless novels that tried to slice through an entire city or even country and look down at the thousands of humans milling around like badly dressed ants and itemise them all. These huge novels (Ulysses by Jimmy Joyce, U.S.A by Johnny Dos Passos, The Waste Land by Tommy Eliot - not a novel but the same kind of thing) use newspaper clippings, adverts, random dialogue, doggerel, children’s rhymes, radio announcements, political proclamations, Greek myths [they love those] and anything and everything to collage & mash together ALL OF MODERN LIFE in a frantic attempt to mirror the stressed-out psychological dissociativeness and allround bonkers quality of how we live NOW (multivalent) as opposed to how we lived THEN (linearly). This large and enormously impressive novel Berlin Alexanderplatz is one of those.

If you’re serious about literature you have to like this one, it’s an acknowledged masterpiece so get with the program, and I am impressed that many goodreaders proclaim their love for this massive stodge of tiresome detail, dull unattributed conversation and rancid behavior (the guy we are following, Franz Biberkopf, has just done a 4 year stretch for beating his girlfriend to death – an act described as “some stupid stuff”).

But as a serial abandoner of great literature, you may be assured that I could not finish it, so it got chucked on the pile that already contains The Man who Loved Children, Sentimental Education, The Naked and the Dead, The Adventures of Augie March and of course Miss Macintosh My Darling amongst many other lesser works.

Sometimes you come across stuff and you says to yourself – that there Mona Lisa is a great painting, I know that, it’s obvious enough, but she gets on my nerves, I don’t have to like it. So I do says that Berlin Alexanderplatz is a hell of a novel, probably a great novel, but I didn’t like it.

Note on Ulysses

This is not Alfred Doblin’s fault at all, but some of his fans say that this novel is like Ulysses when it really isn’t. It’s somewhat like the stream of consciousness sections of Ulysses, but they are a small part of Ulysses. But even then, Mr Doblin doesn’t really do much stream of consciousness either, he does stream of conversation. Perhaps more accurately described as stream of inane blathering.
Profile Image for StefanP.
148 reviews80 followers
January 9, 2022

Ali djevojka kojoj je u glavi samo zabava, ta nema srca.

Ova knjiga sadrži jednu životnu avanturu čovjeka po imenu Franc Biberkopf, često ga je pisac oslovljavao sa Francika. Francika je jedan zanimljiv tip. Živi u šićardžijskom vremenu i nastoji da mu se odupre. Ali kao običan čovjek gdje ga saleću svakakve tupadžije polako počinje da poprima njihov katakter. Deblin je kroz svog lika utkao jednu mrenu koja nikako da iščezne i kad god je pokušao da postane bolji, Biberkopf je uvijek naletao na ljude koji to nisu i ne pokušavaju biti. Dobio je svoju priliku ali u većini vremena on se kockao sa njom.U jednom dijelu priče prodire se kroz pukotinu političkog života. Deblin ne štedi ni komuniste, ni socijaliste. Demokratiju ogoljava i čini da njeni mehanizmi upravljanja izgledaju kao oksimoron. U trenutku sam se zamislio kako bi ova knjiga mogla da bude vrlo zabranjena u to vrijeme, kada su Hitler i nacizam polako doživljavali svoj uspon. Naročito kada je iznjeo par stvari oko glasanja. Takođe, ne i najmanje važno, ako želite da vam se ogadi meso čitajte Berlin Aleksanderplac. Iscrpno je opisao klaonicu i taj proces kroz koji npr. svinja prolazi. Žigosanje, šurenje, klanje itd. Opis kada se malo tele udara toljagom po vratu. Ko i malo misli potaće ga sve to. Deblin je istinit i to ne može da škodi.
Profile Image for Hanneke.
338 reviews352 followers
November 8, 2019
My admiration for Alfred Doblin's Berlin Alexanderplatz is boundless. I feel that I have to let the novel sink in a bit more before I can write a review.
Profile Image for Jaidee.
607 reviews1,204 followers
September 30, 2020
2016 Book I was Most Afraid To Hate

I just don't have it in me ! I dipped into this book for two months and only got to 13 % !!

I cannot do it. I immensely dislike this book despite it being a modern classic. I am going to cut my losses and consider it my Infinite Jest of 2016.
Profile Image for Steven  Godin.
2,496 reviews2,382 followers
August 8, 2023

I don't know why, but I thought this might have read something like a German Scott Fitzgerald; coming from the jazz age and all. If anything though, it's more like a Weimar Republic Charles Bukowski with Tarantino-esque violence. Can't quite believe just how shocking certain parts of this were; taking into account just when it was written of course. They say it was the roaring 20s, and this bloody well roars alright. It roars, and rips, and bangs, and batters. The novel had a pulse rate at times like that of someone going crazy at it in the gym. Berlin is a drunken cesspit of thieves, conmen, betrayals, prostitutes, and killers. Should have read it in the gutter with a six-pack. (Just to be clear, that's six cans of beer, not a nice toned abdomen). There's nothing fit and health-conscious about this lot. And in the housebreaker/ pimp/ manslaughterer Franz Biberkopf, who tries to right his life after a stint in prison, we have one of Germany's most memorable anti-heroes. Despite this though, it isn't Biberkopf that actually steals the show here. That accolade goes to Berlin itself. The energy Döblin's city gave off was enough to light all the Christmas trees in the world. I did find that it dragged on for a bit too long if I'm being picky, but still, what a ride! That last chapter - wow.
Profile Image for P.E..
779 reviews558 followers
December 7, 2020

- The Eclipse of the Sun, George Grosz (1926)


Berlin, 1929. Franz Biberkopf served his 4-year sentence for the involuntary homicide on his spouse. Out of jail, he swears to be honest, to give up political activism and petty criminal shenanigans. And he relapses.


Since the story is about the life of a common, if crude man, subject matter and form go hand in hand here. A former worker, furniture remover, construction worker and procurer in the interwar period, Franz Biberkopf witnesses many a sight in Golden Twenties Berlin, what with Graf Zeppelin fulfilling a small world tour, the immense worksites in Alexanderplatz, also the visible impacts of the Great Depression in 1929.

Then, Berlin offers a dismal landscape of extreme disparities, rotten with squalor and organized crime, also buzzing with frantic urban reconfiguration. Assuming the form of the patchwork, Alfred Döblin opts to cling to the spirit of this era, epitomized in the city of Berlin. Doing so, the writer celebrates the heyday of cultural movements later gathered under the dismissing name 'Degenerate Art' (Entartete Kunst), endowing Berlin with cubist, futuristic oufits, shattering it in as many newspapers clips, in the style of Hannag Höch.

Characters prove remarkably mundane (except for the young prostitute Mieze perhaps) if not vile. This is deliberate. Nobody is ever innocent, and more often than not, people are in cahoots with crooks and burglars. Sharing their everyday life, you come to understand some of their hardships and the solutions they come up with, but can you approve them wholeheartedly as a lot of them involve foul situations and blatant dicks?

In the end, the novel is both challenging and absorbing. Interwoven with Biberkopf's tale are weather broadcasts, ads, posters, headlines... This book requieres you to train your eye before you can make the most of it. As though you were in Franz Biberkopf's shoes as he is set free out of prison in the beginning. Reader, you have to learn how to read anew, with fresh eyes!

As far as plot goes, the themes of revenge and redemption, increasingly present, work in my opinion, but nothing special here. The gist of the novel is in the maturation of the characters : the poor, the workers, the idle, people more or less damaged, more or less compromised with ruffians. I have devoured it to say the least, yet I don't recommend you to rush it. The meanderings on the road may be worthy of your time and curiosity.


Berlin Alexanderplatz, tells a sort of grand mediaeval legend, chanson de geste concerning Biberkopf, except all characters are inept and miserable, when they are not outspoken sharks, and their ambitions are of the same dough. It is quite reminiscent of Céline and his dyed-in-the-wool scoundrels, acting in a thoroughly depicted frame : that of modern life in the black era of indutrial capitalism : mercantile frenzy, permanent arousal and loss of ideals.

Something akin to Celine's 'little music' here, too : a miscellany of different point of views, different language levels and literary models : greek myth, biblical episode, advertisement, decree, menu, slogan, political speech, popular song.... All this progressing in a bizarre manner, sauntering, now making a u-turn, now veering elsewhere....

Also, Bardamu has served as a soldier in WW1, so did Biberkopf.
Death on Credit

The 'in the flesh' account of life in the city, the steady flow of reflexions, observations and impressions, the changing voice of the narrator, alternatively using external and internal p.o.v., in the guise of Franz Biberkopf. A lot of excerpts are joined together as a loose association of ideas, as you follow wisps of smoke floating and gliding across aeration grids in a bar to vanish in the night!

All of this evokes Ulysses

A world undergoing severe fragmentation of language and the meaning it vehicles heralds the collapse of society in as many clans and mutually exclusive parties.
All of this echoes A Clockwork Orange.

Man is seen as a cluster of needs and desires manufactured and satisfied by all manners of suppliers, middlemen, street vendors in the big picture of the ambiant commodification of everything.
This is a time when, publicly accused of murder, your first reaction is to double-check in the newspapers (p.518). This world where reality is molded by the media is also depicted in Stand on Zanzibar

... while the asides from the narrator on his unfortunate hero ring a bell : this is all looking like a picaresque novel isn't it. The Adventures of Roderick Random

Exploring the life of poor folks, the ebullition of criminal activities, (p.361) in the fashion of Crime and Punishment.

The seedy political life of a European metropolis, Socialism, Anarchism, Nihilism in the first half of the 20th century is akin to that in Conrad's 19th century London.
The Secret Agent

Finally, material life in Berlin, with its impersonal, interchangeable relationships involving tremendous masses of population, hectic economical ups and downs, unbalanced environment are all championed by sentimental, brutal, self-deceiving Franz Biberkopf.
All of these traits and the slaughterhouse chapter especially make Berlin Alexanderplatz a surprising companion to The Jungle.

Come to think of it, Man with a Movie Camera boasts scenes that are strongly evocative and reminiscent of chapters in Berlin Alexanderplatz!

Il diluvio universale Act III 'Apritemi il varco a la Morte' - Michel Angelo Falvetti (Namur Chamber Choir led by conductor Leonardo García Alarcón, 2010)




Berlin, 1929. Franz Biberkopf a tiré sa peine de 4 ans pour l'homicide de sa précédente compagne. Sorti de prison, il se jure d'être honnête, qu'on ne l'y prendra plus. Il renonce à la politique, aux petits arrangements de malfaiteurs. Il replonge.


Ici le sujet se marie bien avec la forme, puisqu'il est question de la vie d'un homme du peuple, anciennement déménageur, ouvrier du bâtiment et souteneur dans le Berlin de l'entre deux guerres, contemporain des 'Goldene Zwanziger' ('Golden Twenties' dans le monde Anglo-saxon, Années folles en France), qui voit le Graf Zeppelin accomplir un petit tour du monde, et contemporain aussi de la grande dépression économique de 1929.

Il s'agit d'une ville écartelée entre les inégalités de richesses, pourrie par la misère matérielle et le crime organisé. En adoptant une forme de collage, Alfred Döblin choisit d'épouser l'esprit de cette époque, qui s'est incarné de façon tout à fait exemplaire à Berlin. Il fraternise avec les courants culturels appelés par la suite 'Arts dégénérés' (Entartete Kunst), qui donnent une représentation cubiste, futuriste de la ville, ou bien la fragmentent dans un collage de coupures de presse, à la façon de Hannag Höch par exemple.

Les personnages sont tout ce qu'il y a d'ordinaire (à l'exception de la jeune prostituée Mieze peut-être), et souvent vils. Personne n'est tout à fait blanc, et beaucoup trouvent leur compte en collaborant avec une bande de malfrats. On partage le quotidien de quelques-uns, on comprend jusqu'à un certain point leurs difficultés et les solutions qu'ils leur trouvent, mais on ne peut pas approuver. Toi qui me lis, sois prévenu, sois prévenue, il s'y trouve quantité de situations franchement immondes et de belles pourritures bien abjectes.

Côté forme, le livre est à la fois épuisant et entraînant. Parfois tour à tour. Au récit se greffent des bulletins météo, des extraits de réclame, récoltés sur la première affiche placardée là, attrapée sur une manchette de journal,... Le livre demande qu'on s'exerce l'œil, qu'on se fasse un regard avant de pouvoir évoluer. Un peu comme Franz Biberkopf lorsqu'il sort de prison au début : lecteur, lectrice, il te faut rapprendre à lire !

Niveau intrigue, maintenant, le motif de la revanche, puis celui de la rédemption qui s'amplifie à mesure qu'on progresse me paraît fonctionner, sans plus. Ce n'est pas là que je place l'essentiel du roman. L'essentiel, c'est plutôt l'évolution dans le livre comme dans le quotidien des pauvres, des travailleurs, des oisifs, des gens plus ou moins abîmés, plus ou moins compromis. Pour mon compte, c'est peu dire que je l'ai dévalé, et pourtant je ne crois pas qu'on doive se ruer sur la fin. Les petits sautillements sur la route valent qu'on s'y arrête un peu.


Chez Berlin Alexanderplatz, c'est une sorte de grande légende médiévale qui s'écrit autour de Biberkopf (une chanson de geste ?) à ceci près que les personnages sont de besogneux gagne-petit, quand ce ne sont pas de sales requins, et leurs ambitions à peu près exclusivement mesquines et sordides. Ça m'embarque forcément du côté de Louis-Ferdinand Céline, avec ses fripouilles de bon aloi, qui évoluent dans un cadre dépeint méticuleusement, celui de la vie moderne dans l'âge noir du capitalisme industriel : au programme, fête mercantile, gaudriole et perte de valeurs.
(p.401, roulez tambours et formez bataillons)

Avec également sa 'petite musique'.
On a ce même collage, à peine moins bruitiste et décousu chez Céline, dans un grand mélange de points de vues, de registres et de modèles stylistiques : mythologie, texte biblique, texte publicitaire, décret, règlement, carte de café, slogan politique, discours, chanson poulaire....
Tout ça progresse d'un bien drôle de manière, par écho, refrains et reprises.
À noter aussi : comme Bardamu, Biberkopf revient des tranchées de la 1ère guerre mondiale... Mort à crédit

La position insaisissable du narrateur, qui oscille entre point de vue externe et reprise à son compte des pensées, des observations, des stimuli de Franz Biberkopf alors qu'il évolue dans les quartiers.
On un point de vue organique, des descriptions sensuelles et impressionnistes, des morceaux raccordés à la façon d'associations d'idées. On suit quand même les pensées de volutes de fumée qui, d'un bar, flottent et dérivent à travers la grille d'aération pour disparaître dans la nuit !

Tout ça évoque bien Ulysses

Le fractionnement du monde, de la langue et du sens qu'elle porte, la division de la société en autant de nouvelles chapelles et partis mutuellement exclusifs rappelle par certains côtés A Clockwork Orange

L'homme pris comme une somme de désirs et de besoins qu'il s'agit de satisfaire en le pourvoyant, intermédiaires, réclames, petits marchands ambulants, marchandisation, fatras empilable et laideur démocratique. Une époque où l'opinion devient labile et l'attention parcellaire, sans cesse sollicitée par la réclame. L'âge médiatique, où, accusé publiquement de meurtre, par le biais de la presse, on cherche d'abord à se renseigner, à vérifier pour voir si on ne se serait pas trompé, après tout, si c'est dans les journaux...
(p.518 : 'Faut que je descende, lire sur la colonne Morris (...)')

Ce monde où la réalité est manufacturée par la presse, c'est aussi celui de Stand on Zanzibar

Tandis que les commentaires en apparté du narrateur sur son personnage infortuné peuvent rappeler le roman picaresque. The Adventures of Roderick Random

L'exploration de la vie du petit peuple berlinois, l'affairement fiévreux de la pègre et des criminels (p.361) à la manière de Crime and Punishment

La vie politique trouble d'une métropole européenne ; socialisme, anarchisme et nihilisme au premier 20e siècle : The Secret Agent

Enfin, la vie matérielle à Berlin, vie citadine impersonnelle, interchangeable, la fièvre de l'activité économique, ces grandes masses de population, leur abrutissement et l'abrutissement du personnage principal, le mauvais sujet Franz Biberkopf, sentimental, brute épaisse avec les femmes, maître en accommodements, à qui on doit fidélité, lui à personne. La scène insoutenable de l'abattoir...

Se rapprochent tout spécialement de : The Jungle.

A bien y penser, certains chapitres de Berlin Alexanderplatz me rappellent immanquablement le film expérimental de Dziga Vertov Man with a Movie Camera

Il diluvio universale Act III 'Apritemi il varco a la Morte' - Michel Angelo Falvetti (chœur de chambre de Namur, sous la direction de Leonardo García Alarcón, 2010)

Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,566 reviews1,894 followers
April 9, 2020
I starting reading at a slow pace and then slowed down further at times wondering what was going on, then the last third I read in about two days. I was going so slow that it seemed embarrassing even to post updates as I read. In short I read as a potato sits in a cookingpot, not by my own volition but as though controlled by the invisible hand turning the gas up or down.

Berlin Alexanderplatz I felt was a curiously old fashioned modernist work, the authorial voice commenting on the fate and future of the main character Franz Biberkopf put me in mind of The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, the story, such as it is naturally suggested the Die Dreigroschenoper – not in its details but in it’s attitudes and tone, but also Hogarth prints like Marriage a la Mode or the Rake’s Progress, even that medieval piece of theatre Everyman.

So a morality tale (and perhaps this is entirely coincidental but the novel is divided into nine books just as in Dante Hell has nine circles), in a modern setting – a map story perhaps, imagine a map of the Berlin public transport system in the late 1920s, our main character, Franz Biberkopf is a simple kind of man, he sits on a tram and rides to the end of the line and never knows quite why, as the tram bumbles along we pass the hustle and bustle of a modern great city perceived as the backdrop to an ancient morality fable, man throws himself upon the great Whore of Babylon (to the end of the line remember). The City eats people, it chews them up, it you escape broken, injured and transformed you re in luck, most ride that tram directly into their own grave. Few are those like Marshal Piłsudski who manage to get off at the appropriate stop.

We don’t experience this morality tale in a direct way, so the novel starts with Franz Biberkopf’s release from prison, but it is about a hundred pages before we find out why he was in prison in the first place – it does not matter this is a book that we experience as we experience city life travelling on public transport – as we gaze through the window we see adverts, life, crowds, ambulances, and police cars, so here we shift abruptly from stream of consciousness point of view to different stream of consciousness point of view to the author addressing the reader, from share prices, to boxing matches, from the slaughter house to the story of Job, is Job’s story the universal one Franz’s and ours? Arbitrary suffering until one submits to the Will of God? We are the machines that find meaning, the author invents the novel as a device to share images so we feel the dislocation and fluidity of modern city life. Ultimately the author sought refuge in Catholicism – along with Fascism and Communism one of the three certainties of the age, that was the meaning he needed in his life. For the rest of us – buy a ticket from the conductor and ride to the end of the line and watch the jazzy spectacle of Big City life, it is much funnier than I have made it sound .

The Slaughterhouse invites comparison with The Jungle, in which the slaughterhouse seems to me to stand as a metaphor for Chicago society at the beginning of the 20th century - ruthlessly exploiting (and requiring) innocent immigrants who can be fleeced, squeezed and exploited and will put up with anything on account of their naive dreams and hopes of a better life in the USA. Döblin seems to use the Slaughterhouse to represent not a human system of exploitation, but something even more fatalistic -this is what life on Earth is like - you might be a beast being led to slaughter, or you might be one of those leading beasts to slaughter, there is no choice, you simply are in one of those two groups, the only course of action is to be like Job or Abraham and submit to the Will of God, yet at the same time we see that the main character is unconsciously admittedly without much will power - he gets on the tram and rides to the end of the line, his domestic violence seems to emerge because of a lack of self knowledge or self control rather than conscious volition, he is throughout rather bestial - good natured, but essentially reactive and dependent on others.

As I learnt from Peter Gay's book Weimar Culture: The outsider as insider, Berlin Alexanderplatz was a product of the relatively creamy, comfortable years of the Weimar republic, but I feel it is an anti-Republican novel - fatalistic, the people require a good shepherd, they are not capable of thinking and looking after themselves in a responsible or a social manner, but perhaps that is too pessimistic a response to Döblin's novel, and the novel is always an authoritatan format.
Profile Image for K.D. Absolutely.
1,820 reviews
May 29, 2012
This book is said to be one of the required readings for high school students in Germany. When it was published in 1929, it became a monstrous hit and the book's popularity has been sustained all these years.

Reason: this is the first German book that used the stream-of-consciousness style of James Joyce. This was also one of the reasons why I tried hard to first read Ulysses (serialized from 1918 to 1920) prior to cracking this one up. I found this easier to read despite the fact that I used a guide book while reading Ulysses. I think the reason was that the English translation of Eugene Jolas is just more readable. Although, just like Ulysses, also not always understandable. Honestly, I think I only understood 3/4 of what the author, Alfred Doblin (1878-1957) was trying to tell. But, still like Ulysses, I guess it does not really matter. The reason is that this modernist work, does not want to be fully understood since it is multi-layered with its internal (rather than external as in most contemporary books) conflicts. Thus, the book can be interpreted into so many ways that you don't know if what you think of it is right or wrong. Just like in some hypothetical questions, there are just no right and wrong answers.

However, the gist is something like this (and please do correct me if I got anything incorrect because as I said, I only understood 3/4 of it): Frank Biberkopf is an ex-convict (case: manslaughter). When he steps out from prison, Nazism is on the rise in Germany. Frank wants to have a decent life as he sees his release as his second life. He tries on several jobs only to experience the harsh realities because Berlin at the time is unforgiving for ex-convicts like him. He loses his arm from a foiled robbery, he becomes a pimp, he is framed for murder by his friend-turned-foe Reinhold but because he is not bad-looking he also falls in love at one time. It's just that the woman was untrue to him so in the end, Frank feels that his life inside the prison is better that what he feels outside. I felt that claustrophobic atmosphere while reading the book. The irony of that feeling when you seem to be inside a prison when in fact you are living free in an outside world is very evident.

I think this book deserves a 5-star rating. The only problem is that it is hard to understand. Maybe it is easy to understand if it is read by a German in German language. However, my advice to those who want to read this in English is to just keep on reading. Doblin just goes on and on and sometimes you don't know who, among the present characters in the scene, is talking since the spoken parts, enclosed in quotes, are without references to their owners. However, there are many beautifully arresting passages that will keep you interested. At some point, extremely interested. Reading this is like listening to conversations where the participants are pouring their thoughts out no-holds barred. It reminded me of the time when I was in still living in our hometown located in a Pacific island. I used to hear the conversations of my father and his buddies while they drank beer until they did not know what they were doing. They sang, the debated, they laughed in total abandon. They discussed a lot of different interesting topics and since they had too much to drink, they had the tendency to say their innermost thoughts - some of them very interesting, some were mundane, some were really nonsense. There were times that they even had our local priest (Catholic) with them and the priest could be an rowdy as my father and his friends. As they say, sometimes you will know the real person, once he or she gets real drunk. The fish is caught by its mouth.

This book is like that. The characters are mouthing their innermost thoughts and since it was Berlin at the time of Hitler's rise, some of what they were saying could cause their lives or reveal what they really think about their religion as told in the Bible. So, some of them contained those in their minds but Doblin let you hear them. This for me, made this book very interesting. Also, if you want to know how was it to live in Alexanderplatz (downtown Berlin) in the 1920s, this book is for you. The place is pictured here as dark and discriminatory and yet we all love European cities no matter in which century they were. Europe was the old world and the center of art, music and yes, classic literature. Since I am interested on that, I kept on reading.

I am happy I did.
Profile Image for Semjon.
660 reviews355 followers
February 13, 2021
Ich kannte bislang das Werk nur als TV-Mehrteiler von Rainer Werner Fassbinder aus dem Jahr 1980. Ich fand die Geschichte damals als Teenager in Ordnung und hatte innerlich Döblin und sein bekanntestes Buch damit für mich abgehakt. Jetzt fand ich es aber doch mal an der Zeit, diesen Klassiker auch zu lesen. Günter Lamprecht war trotzdem vor meinem inneren Auge der Franz Biberkopf, dessen Geschichte in dem Roman erzählt wird.

Ich hatte mich auf eine gradlinig erzählte Geschichte eingestellt analog anderer sozialkritischer Romane aus dieser Zeit. Aber schon nach den ersten Seiten war ich perplex. Was war denn das für ein wilde Mix an verschiedenen Erzählformen, gerade mal durch die Punktion getrennt, aber keinesfalls immer durch einen Absatz? Franz Biberkopf kommt aus dem Gefängnis, in dem er vier Jahre in Haft saß für den Mord an seiner Freundin Ida. Er kommt nicht mit dem Lärm der Stadt zu recht, die Häuser scheinen zu kippen, die Elektrische bimmelt, die Leute schreien durcheinander und er leidet, wie eine hochsensible Person unter der äußeren Eindrucken. Auf einmal wirkt alles verzerrt und scheint auf ihn zu stürzen. Sofort hat man expressionistische Bilder im Kopf, mit kubistischen, schiefen Formen, die den Irrsinn einer Großstadt darstellen sollen. Was Maler wie Otto Dix mit dem Pinsel schafften, das konnte Döblin mit Worten. Und so ist der ganze Roman ein wilder Parforceritt durch Franzens Kopf auf der Welle seines Bewusstseins, um gleich danach in einem mit Vehemenz geführten Dialog auf Berlinerisch zu münden, gefolgt von Reklamesprüchen, Lexikoneinträgen, Zeitungsberichten, Liedtexten und vielen anderen Versatzstücken. Was für eine Wucht.

Kurz nach dem Beginn des Lesens hörte ich in eine Leseprobe, gelesen von Hannes Messemer aus dem Jahr 1979. Und darauf las ich parallel zum Hören das Buch mit. Messemer konnte viel besser den Berliner Dialekt in mein Ohr bringen, als ich das beim Lesen vermochte. So wurde das Buch zusätzlich für mich veredelt.

Biberkopf findet keinen Halt in der Gesellschaft, rutscht immer wieder ins Kriminellenmilieu ab, erlebt Schicksalschläge am eigenen Körper und bei den Menschen, die ihm nahe stehen und die er immer wieder enttäuscht. Die Großstadt verschlingt den Einzelnen. Der Roman ist so einwenig wie Ulysses für Anfänger, viel einfacher zu lesen als Joyce, da Döblin viel mehr an einer Handlung festhält. Vielleicht sollte ich es jetzt doch nochmal mit Ulysses probieren, nachdem ich vor vielen Jahren daran scheiterte. Bestimmt der beste deutschsprachige Großstadtroman, den ich je gelesen habe.
Profile Image for Lee Klein .
812 reviews880 followers
February 28, 2013
Required reading in Germany I'd never heard of until I saw it on a list of recommendations by Roberto Bolano, maybe in The Last Interview. Bought a copy with too small print, too tight margins, didn't read it. Got this more friendly formatted copy and recently saw it recommended by Sesshu Foster, whose Atomik Aztex I loved. Finally started in on its 635 pages a few weeks ago and now am finally done. It's well worth it. At first I wasn't sure what I was in for. It's not really anything like Joyce, per the book's blurbs, not musical, not based on classical lit, not really seeming to take on Goethe instead of Shakespeare. More like Dostoevsky, maybe, but with lots of modernist techniques -- shifting POVs (often from sentence to sentence), shifting tenses; inclusion of statistics, weather reports, police blotters; no hard returns in long stretches of dialogue so all the quotations/voices run together in really dense oft-confusing paragraphs; no-transition interspersal of biblical stories (Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac; Job's trials) into otherwise realist scenes; excellent dialogues between angels responsible for Franz; appearance of the seven-headed Whore of Babylon and Death; a great section very much like in Atomik Aztex (which also lacked hard returns in stretches of dialogue) relating a lamb's last moments in a slaughterhouse -- all of which nicely complicates what's otherwise a straight-up realist tale about a sad sack trying to do right and live a decent life. The book starts with Franz's release from prison after seven years for manslaughtering his girl. Berlin is a major character in this, of course -- one of those Bellowy/Franzeny books about permeablility between citizen and civilization. Franz is a representative man for the mid-to-late '20s Germany, wherein things ain't so good and the seeds of things way worse are sown and sprouting little swastikas. Nearly five stars for me, but the translation seemed a little off, or more so, Doblin included mucho 1920s-era German slang, subsequently translated into 1920s-era British slang, so there's this Al Caponesque hard-boiled cockneyed thing going on in the dialogue that wasn't always so accessible for this American ninety years later. Would love a fresh translation by Michael Hofmann. The portrayal of women, also, is real ripe for a feminist critique bashing o'er the head -- the two major women are supportive whores, and one is sort of hysterical, not that this really concerned me all that much, but the extra overt masculinity of everything, the reduction of women to the oldest fashioned roles, did seem a bit over the top. Anyway, a great book about a burly well-meaning low life trying to live a decent life, bashed not by feminist theorists but life itself, by what he considers his fate which is really the consequences of his choices, his lazy perceptions. Keep your eyes open, Franz. Don't wear no armbands, don't be a joiner. "Keep awake, keep awake, for there is something happening in the world. The world is not made of sugar . . . Fate, Fate! It's no use revering it merely as Fate, we must look at it, grasp it, down it, and not hesitate. Keep awake, eyes front, attention, a thousand belong together, and he who won't watch out, is fit to flay and flout." Now I guess I gotta watch the 14-hour Fassbinder film . . .
Profile Image for Matt.
752 reviews533 followers
February 7, 2017

Franz Biberkopf is an ordinary man, a strong working man, former mover of furniture and whisker of cement; small potatoes really. In a fit of rage he killed his girlfriend and had to serve four years for manslaughter. His release from prison marks the beginning of the story. It’s the year 1928 and the place is Berlin.

Biberkopf wants to lead a decent life from now on. He’s fed up with his previous life; honest pay for honest work; that’s the plan. And it actually worked out somehow, at least for a while. He starts selling newspapers and gets a little money, enough to rent a room and maybe expand his “business” at some time. One day, however, he іs deceived by his partner. It’s only a trifle, really, but enough to knock him down. Although he recovers from the blow, he is now on a path which is hard to leave, especially for a character like him.

It’s not easy for the reader of this novel to like the main character. That was obviously the author’s intention. Biberkopf is a worker, a member of the “lower class”, a convicted felon with temper tantrums, and a drinker. And that’s supposed to be the “protagonist” of the novel? A daring proposition on part of the author. Not surprisingly there were some harsh criticism from first-time readers of the Frankfurter Zeitung (the newspaper in which the novel was serialized first between September and October 1929). In my opinion, it still works though. I was rooting for the man. And if you look closely you’ll find that he does indeed has a moral foundation. He is not a bad man as such. And he doesn’t want to be, at no time. He simply can not win the fight against his adversaries of which there are quite a few. This includes people, real bad people, who are not necessarily wiser than he, but more cunning and unscrupulous.

This also includes the city of Berlin. Biberkopf is shoved around by this “monster” and it often feels like he’s treated by it as an object. The city becomes the whore of Babylon and the eponymous Alexanderplatz (called Alex) represents the center of said whore (let’s call it the navel to evade another word), and the sound from the battering ram at the construction site there gives the beat for large parts of the book. In the conglomerate of people, streets, bars, beer, and bedlam our anti-hero never finds the time to sit back and think, to reflect. And even if he had the time he would lack the ability to do that. It’s actually a case that could be called tragic.

Early on in the novel there’s a description of the Berlin slaughterhouses, one of the strongest scenes in the whole book. Echoes of this intense scene ring out throughout the rest of the text. That’s also how Biberkopf can be seen. A dump calf that is led on a rope to the bench and left there for a while. Instead of getting the hell out of there this stupid animal is just waiting for things to come. Biberkopf doesn’t act, he is acted upon.

The style of this novel is probably not for everyone’s taste. It’s quite diverse. There is normal narration, interspersed with stream of consciousness. There’s children’s songs, fractions from poems, cantastorias, (re-written) stories from the bible, pieces from the local news, scientific facts (true ones, not alternative), weather reports, and many more. Sometimes sentences start one way and then abruptly turn into something entirely different, or just peter out. This all makes it hard sometimes to follow the actual story, but it’s a lot of fun too. Read, and then re-read those parts; I think that’s the best and only way to approach these “obstacles”. The point of view often switches back and forth between first and third person, sometime within the same sentence. And it’s not often clear who is talking to us; the narrator, or Biberkopf, or someone else. Dialog tags are mostly missing. The characters talk to each other in the Berlin accent that I learned to like quite a bit after I spent some months in Berlin. The accent seems to become thicker and thicker as the novel progresses and sometimes it overflows the dialog and floods the narrative too. I have no idea if and how this vital and lively detail has survived translation.

I’m glad I finally got around to reading this famous book. And I will surely read it again some time. This novel deserves a second run-trough.

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Profile Image for Luís.
1,949 reviews615 followers
November 10, 2022
Berlin Alexanderplatz is an echo of Hugo's novel Les Miserables. It is about redemption; the big city is always in the background, here Berlin replaces Paris, and the central character, Franz Biberkopf, is a kind of new Jean Valjean, a force of nature, a former prisoner trying to return in a row. But if Hugo sought, above all, to enlighten his reader through an apology for the divine, Alfred Döblin has fun making his hero ridiculous and pathetic. Franz is a big simpleton ready to swallow all the snakes, especially those of Reinhold, his "greatest friend". To see this poor idiot tricking at page length is a real pain for the reader.
Finally, one cannot mention Berlin Alexanderplatz without mentioning the style of Döblin. This fiery, virulent, widespread and cheeky style highlights the noises and sounds of Berlin and the bustle of its crowd.
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,784 reviews1,458 followers
January 7, 2023
German authors buddy read in the GR Never Too Late to Read Classics Group scheduled for June 2023.

Manybooks and I read this together at the start of January 2023. We have discussed it in the comments below this review!

There are two central characters in this tale. One is Franz Biberkopf. The second is the city Berlin during the Depression of the 1920s. The story plays out in 1927 and 1928. At the start, Franz has been released from prison after serving a four-year sentence for manslaughter. Now, after his release, he is determined to make something of himself, to improve his life. Times are very hard……. Given rampant unemployment, inadequate healthcare, deplorable housing accommodations, Franz is swallowed up by the underworld. No matter how hard he tries, he is punched down again and again. He is no superhuman and no angel, but is it fair to demand this of him? Will he, can he improve his lot?

What is drawn is grim, difficult reading. Despite Franz’s faults and weaknesses, I felt compassion for him. He has a violent temper, drinks in excess, is loose with women and becomes involved in criminal activities. The author shows readers the inevitability of his downfall. The conditions existing in the Weimar Republic and Berlin are scarcely conductive for either personal or national progress. Due to such circumstance one can feel pity and compassion for Franz. It is amazing the author manages to make us feel sorry for this schmuck, but Döblin does. How? Through the prose. Through the details woven into the story.

Readers are served a conglomeration of timetables, weather reports, newspaper articles, foods served and swallowed, a clear depiction of the housing, the clothing, the dreary, depressing routines of everyday lives. Peppered throughout are recurring rhymes, songs and poems. The sordidness of life is interwoven with ironic, sarcastic humor.

The question is this. Will Franz be able to make something of himself?

The book shows very clearly how and why Nazism was able to make inroads into society.

The book draws movingly the difficulties many had to deal with. You will not soon forget the scenes playing out in an abattoir and then later in an insane asylum.

The book shows that no man stands alone. We are influenced by both the people around us and the times in which we live.

If you can read the book in the original German, do that. The English translations are highly criticized. The German to Swedish translation by Ulrika Wallenstöm is in my view excellent. The many rhymes, songs and poems increase the tempo rather than slowing it down. Like a train they chug along. They convey a sense of time and events passing by.

Tore Bengtsson gives an excellent narration of the Swedish language audiobook. He speaks rather quickly, but it is never hard to follow. The more of his narrations I listen to, the more I appreciate his talent. Five stars for the audio narration. He wonderfully intones the potpourri of miscellaneous details as well as the dialogues, songs and poems.

A five star rating from me means the book is amazing. It is amazing that the author manages to make a no-good scoundrel, a ruffian into a person you have sympathy for. This is achieved through a detailed and accurate picture of a time and place. The book shows how one person’s life is molded by the people around him. Or, in other words, no man is an island.


*Berlin Alexanderplatz: The Story of Franz Biberkopf 5 stars
*Journey to Poland TBR
Profile Image for Jonfaith.
1,891 reviews1,419 followers
January 18, 2018
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.
Profile Image for Nathan "N.R." Gaddis.
1,342 reviews1,375 followers
March 25, 2018
review three today. keeping it short.

odd that some of us come to döblin via schmidt. you get the impression that döblin > joyce for schmidt. you sort of see why. döblin weren't no one=hit wonder but by the way he seems to have been treated, you'd never know. ba gets itself 5077 gr=readers and the next famous one, die ermorderung usw, 125. and what i thought was his famous one (even gifted it, unknowing, to my mother once), a people betrayed, gets 40 gr=readers (i'm among the guilty). and the trilogy that one is a part of is not even entirely english'd! no, döblin is a master. i'm tempted (only tempted yet) to have him displace the other gods of german modernism. he's definitely without question among them. good for me though he seems a little more on the shandy side than the james=proust side. but if you must know, a highlight of my reading year. it's like it was with the aeneid when i read it a few years ago. some book you've heard praised to the highest of high heavens sits on your shelf and mocks you with its intimidation and reputation and possible difficulty and you just sort of feed on this like getting pumped in the lockerroom or something and expectations get higher and higher until there's no possible fookin way they'll ever be met by a mere work of art made my mere human hands and then you pick up the aeneid or berlin alexanderplatz finally and you get sent immediately to the highest of high heavens of readerly bliss in fact a level of highest high heaven you hadn't even estimated upon existing. and all that time you were reading the mediocre. and the greatest is right there under you finger tips as you skip them across the spines of your laden shelves. so read your homer and virgil and your joyce and your döblin.
Profile Image for Dax.
252 reviews121 followers
January 22, 2019
Bildungrsroman- a novel dealing with one person's formative years or spiritual education.

That about sums this novel up perfectly. For the majority of the novel, the characters of BA, and particularly our deeply flawed Franz, believe there are forces outside of their will that are controlling their destinies. Call it fate. But by the novel's conclusion, our friends have learned that an individual makes his own luck. A tragic story with a lot of unlikeable characters, but a tragedy was needed for Franz's awakening.

As to Doblin's writing style, yes it's a little unique. Dialogue is not clearly assigned and point of view changes abruptly, but what's wrong with making the reader do a little deducing? I loved this style. Doblin was a little ahead of his time: he wrote like a postmodernist 40-50 years before postmodernism really became a thing. BA requires a little patience from the reader, but I wouldn't say its challenging to the point where its reputation should scare readers away.

Doblin also likes to interject with little vignettes that have little or no connection to Franz's story. This approach brings Berlin to life and provides the novel with a sense of hectic energy. Mythological and religious ties are particularly prevalent. Can't say I always understood why our author decided to include them where he did, but they were fun nonetheless. As the translator says in his afterward; Doblin didn't want to give us just the slice of life containing the story of Franz and his associates, he wanted to give us the whole pie. And what a damn good pie it is.
Profile Image for Manybooks.
3,213 reviews104 followers
July 24, 2023
Honestly, truly (and also not at all meant to be a criticism in any manner), Afred Döblin's 1929 urban novel Berlin Alexanderplatz is totally, is absolutely (but also by thematic necessity) often so intensely and brutally horrifying that generally and from page one on, Berlin Alexanderplatz as a story tends to read and to both externally and internally feel almost like a very much deliberate and also specifically by the author calculated massive textual assault on anything even remotely pleasurable.

For indeed and in my humble opinion, an all encompassing sense of claustrophobia, urban horror and impending doom dominates and envelopes Berlin Alexanderplatz, painfully depressing and often massively replete with violence of action and of thought for sure, but also rather textually exquisitely rendered by the presented text, with Alfred Döblin in Berlin Alexanderplatz most definitely, most certainly showing and demonstrating how unrelenting violence, pimping, prostitution, maiming and murder all await main protagonist Franz Biberkopf upon his release from prison in late Weimar Republic Berlin (and that this totally manages to destroy any hope of redemption, of Biberkopf being actually able and capable of turning his life around and to tread new and positive paths, including for example a long and visceral sequence in a slaughterhouse depicting with meticulous and pitiless detail the process by which the cows and pigs are killed and butchered, and with this of course in Berlin Alexanderplatz for me and to me mirroring both late 1920s Berlin, the growing threat posed by National Socialism and Franz Biberkopf himself and his inability to cope after being released from incarceration).

And well, if you have ever kind of wondered whether musicals such as Cabaret and popular detective novels set in 1920s Berlin are seeing and depicting the city and its culture with hugely problematic rose-coloured eyeglasses then you should definitely be able appreciate how Alfred Döblin’s Berlin Alxanderplatz totally shows what Berlin (and Weimar Republic Germany in general) were actually and truly like, basically a society totally at odds and in massive free-fall and more than ripe for Adolf Hitler et al to take over and create even more chaos and terror.

Now for me (both when I read Berlin Alexanderplatz in 1996 for my comprehensive exams and now in 2022) text-wise Alfred Döblin’s prose is both stylistically and thematically brilliant, as the unstoppable forward momentum of Berlin Alexanderplatz makes Franz Biberkopf's story both riveting and also demonstrates how Biberkopf absolutely and utterly cannot handle the urban momentum of Berlin (and equally the massive crowds of people inhabiting the city) after having been isolated in prison, not at all being able to tolerate changes and also often reacting violently and angrily when overwhelmed and being pushed too far.

But indeed, although Franz Biberkopf's criminality is something I cannot all that easily related to, him in Berlin Alexanderplatz becoming consistently overwhelmed and repeatedly lashing out is understandable for me and also definitely makes Franz Biberkopf rather a kindred spirit, as I also do tend to sometimes react in a similar manner regarding abrupt changes and that I always tend to feel lost in and massively overwhelmed by large cities with huge crowds of people. And with regard to Berlin Alexanderplatz being a novel from and about Weimar Germany, while Franz Biberkopf is of course rather an opportunist primarily concerned with making ends meet and looking out for himself, his self-centered outlook as well as his inability and his reluctance to embrace and understand changes etc., this also masks a deep rooted and also rather problematically dangerous naiveté and shows that Alfred Döblin himself had a pretty good historical and cultural radar and is certainly with Berlin Alexanderplatz rather horribly but truthfully predicting the inglorious fall of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Nazi Germany, with basically every man/woman for himself/herself and that Franz Biberkopf should certainly in many ways be seem as a collective symbol and picture of Germany, of the German people and also of course of Berlin (and with Berlin Alexanderplatz also thus showing a novel where not only Biberkopf is the main protagonist but also the metropolis of Berlin as well).

Five stars for Berlin Alexanderplatz, and while Alfred Döblin's story of Franz Biberkopf is definitely not pleasure reading or comfort reading, in my opinion, Berlin Alexanderplatz is indeed one of the best German language novels of the 20th century, is a great urban novel and also a chilling and forbidding account of 1920s Berlin and Germany in general falling apart and paving the way for the National Socialists, for Adolf Hitler gaining power.


With regard to English language translations of Berlin Alexanderplatz, the novel was first translated into English in 1931 by Eugene Jolas (who was a close personal friend of James Joyce), and indeed, with a brief but sufficiently telling overview of said rendition showing me pretty clearly why Jolas' translation of Alfred Döblin's story, of his words was not all that well received. For yes, how the everyday working-class Berlin speech (which is such a huge and essential part of Berlin Alexanderplatz) is shown by by Eugene Jolas is basically rather textually ridiculous, as it actually kind of turns Jolas' translation inadvertently parodistic at times to read how Berlin workers like dustmen and the like are shown as speaking polished and meticulously correct standard English. And most definitely, the 2018 English translation of Berlin Alexanderplatz by Michael Hofmann is certainly much much better and more authentic feeling than Eugene Jolas' 1931 attempt, since Hoffman 2018 translation of Berlin Alexanderplatz in my opinion gives a true and authentic feeling for and of Alfred Döblin, Franz Biberkopf, Berlin and also turns the Berlin working class parlance of Döblin's original German text into an interesting and appropriate Cockney dialect. However and the above having been said, that during my quick skimming through of the 2018 translation I have frustratingly located numerous annoying typos, well, this in my humble opinion is nothing but sloppy work, bad editing and also sadly leaves me a bit insulted on behalf of both myself and also Alfred Döblin and his legacy (and yes, even though the 2018 English language translation of Berlin Alexanderplatz is definitely vastly superior to the one from 1931, this certainly does not change my frustration and annoyance with the typos and the sloppiness of Michael Hoffman's translation).
Profile Image for Nikos Tsentemeidis.
413 reviews216 followers
February 24, 2016
Ανακαλύπτω σιγά, σιγά το μεγαλείο της γερμανικής λογοτεχνίας. Το «Ομαδικό πορτρέτο με μία κυρία» του Böll που πρόσφατα διάβασα με δυσκόλεψε, το συγκεκριμένο με δυσκόλεψε ακόμα περισσότερο, τουλάχιστον στο πρώτο τέταρτο, μέχρι που κατάφερα να μπω στο κλίμα. Εκ πρώτης όψεως δεν φαίνεται πουθενά αυτό το μεγαλείο, παρά μόνο με υπομονή και διαφορετική αντίληψη της έννοιας του μυθιστορήματος. Η γερμανική λογοτεχνία δε θυμίζει ούτε γαλλική, ούτε ρώσικη, ούτε αγγλική.

Περίοδος μεσοπολέμου, Βερολίνο 1928. Για κάποιον που το έχει επισκεφτεί , απολαμβάνει τις περιγραφές καθώς μεταφέρεται στους δρόμους της υπέροχης αυτής πόλης. Όπως και άλλα μυθιστορήματα Γερμανών, πριν και μετά τον Β’ Παγκόσμιο Πόλεμο, είναι έντονο το πολιτικό στίγμα. Σε αυτή την περίπτωση είναι, για διαφορετικό λόγο. Την δεκαετία του ’20 η Γερμανία ζει την περίοδο της «ανάπηρης» δημοκρατίας της Βαϊμάρης, της ρευστής δημοκρατίας. Η εμπειρία του κοινοβουλευτισμού είναι πολύ φρέσκια και όσο η χώρα οδεύει προς την παγκόσμια οικονομική κρίση του 1929 και φυσικά δυσκολεύεται να αποπληρώσει τις αποζημιώσεις του Α’ Παγκοσμίου Πολέμου, η κατάσταση είναι αρκετά άσχημη, έτοιμη να παρεκτραπεί.

Ο ήρωας του βιβλίου, ένας άνθρωπος που μόλις αποφυλακίζεται προσπαθεί να σταθεί στα πόδια του. Τα καταφέρνει για λίγο διάστημα, χάνει όμως τον έλεγχο και όλα αλλάζουν. Η φτώχεια και η ανεργία, τον οδηγούν στην παρανομία. Το δίδαγμα είναι το εξής: όταν ο άνθρωπος δέχεται τα χτυπήματα της ζωής, όσο δυνατός κι αν είναι, κάποια στιγμή καταρρέει . Μαζί μ’ αυτόν καταρρέει και η ιδεολογία του ή μάλλον η ηθική του.

Στο τέλος ο συγγραφέας σε ένα μικρό κείμενο, γράφει λίγα πράγματα για το έργο του. Αναφέρει ότι στην πορείας συγγραφής του γνώρισε τον Joyce και ότι πολλοί τον συνέκριναν μαζί του. Κάτι που κράτησα εγώ: «Ο εθνικισμός είναι η θρησκεία του σύγχρονου κράτους».
Profile Image for Navid Taghavi.
159 reviews62 followers
August 13, 2019
رمان درجه یک با ترجمه درخشان جناب حداد. بعد از خانواده تیبو از بهترین ترجمه هایی هست که به یاد دارم. برای لذت بردن از رمان دوبلین و قلم آقای حداد، سه نمونه را میاوردم. به این امید که لذت ببرید

می‌گوید : " ای آدمیزاد، می‌خواهی نرینه‌ای باشی بر این زمین، پس خوب فکر کن پیش از آن بگذاری قابله‌ی کاردان باز کند چشم‌ات را به روشنایی این زمین. زمین عزلتکده‌ای بیش نیست! باور کن سخن شاعر این ابیات را که چندی‌ست دندان خسته می‌کند بر این لقمه‌ی سفت‌و‌سخت! نقل قولی از کش رفته از فاوستِ گوته : آدمی معمولا فقط در شکم مادر راضی است از زندگی! .... اول از همه نوبت حکومت است، نوبت این پدر مهربان که صبح تا شب شیخونک بزند، امر و نهی کند، هر چه داری ببرد، تاراج کند با قانون، با مقررات. اولین فرمان : اِخ کن بیاد! دومین فرمان : فضولی موقوف! چشم‌و‌گوش بسته،کور و کر می‌گذرانی عمر، گاهی که هوس می‌کنی در میخانه گلویی تر کنی، غم از دل بشوری، با یک لیوان آبجو، شاید هم شراب، خماری می‌رسد از راه. کم‌کم سن‌و‌سال اعلام وجود می‌کند، خوره‌ها در مو می‌افتد، لق می‌زند دندان، شل‌و‌ول می‌شود دست‌و‌پا، پلاسیده می‌شود عقل و حواس. رشته‌ی عمر نازک می‌شود. خلاصه‌ی کلام : می‌بینی که پاییز آمده است، قاشق زمین می‌گذاری و می‌میری، جان به جان‌آفرین تسلیم می‌کنی. با این اوصاف ای رفیق، از تو می‌پرسم، با ترس‌و‌لرز می‌پرسم، آدمیزاد چیست؟ شیلر، شاعر بزرگ ما می‌گوید : "اعلاترین نیست این زندگی." من اما می‌گویم نردبام لانه‌ی مرغ است از بالا تا پایین.

سوسیالیستا همیشه تو راشتاگ بیش‌ترین رای رو دارن، اما نمی‌دونن باهاش چی کار کنن. ولی چرا، خوب می‌دونن. می‌دونن چطور رو مبل کلوب بنشینن، سیگاربرگ دود کنن و وزیر بشن. کارگر جماعتم به اینا رای داده، شبِ دریافت مزد، خرده‌پول‌شو از جیب‌اش در‌آورده : پنجاه یا صد نفر دیگه هم دارن به خرج کارگرا چاق‌و‌چله می‌شن. سوسیالیستها قدرت سیاسی رو فتح نمی‌کنن، قدرت سیاسی، سوسیالیستا رو فتح کرده. آدم مثل گاو پیر می‌شه و هر روز یه چیز تازه یاد می‌گیره، اما گاوایی مثل کارگرای آلمان هنوز دنیا نیومدن. کارگرای آلمان هر بار ورقه‌ی رای رو ورمی‌دارن، می‌رن حوزه‌ی رای‌گیری و رای می‌دن. فکر می‌کنن این جوری کار تمومه. می‌گن: ما می‌خواهیم صدامون تو رایشتاگ طنین بیندازه. ولی اگه یه انجمن آواز درست کنن، بهتر نتیجه می‌گیرن.

برخیزید! ما برخلاف دیگران برای از میان برداشتن همه جانبه ی قدرت سیاسی تلاش می کنیم و نه فتح آن. با نهادهای به اصطلاح قانونگذاری همکاری نکنید : این نهادها فقط از برده می خواهند بر حکم بردگی خود مهر قانونی بزند. ما بر تمام مرزهای خودسرانه کشیده شده ی سیاسی و ملی مهر بطلان می زنیم. ملی گرایی مذهب حکومت مدرن است. ما هر گونه وحدت ملی را مردود می دانیم: در پس این وحدت، فرمانروایی طبقه ی دارندگان پنهان است. برخیزید!
Profile Image for Nickolas the Kid.
314 reviews70 followers
March 28, 2020
Το βιβλίο αυτό αναφέρεται στην ζωή του Φραντς Μπίμπερκοφ. Ενός πρώην κατάδικου, ο οποίος μόλις αποφυλακίζεται αποφασίζει να αφήσει πίσω του το παρελθόν του και να ξεκινήσει μια νέα ζωή, παραμένοντας - όπως ο ίδιος υπερθεματίζει πολλές φορές - τίμιος. Όμως αυτό δεν θα είναι τόσο εύκολο. Από την μια ο αφελής και μπερδεμένος τρόπος σκέψης του ίδιου του Φραντς κι από την άλλη η παρακμάζουσα κοινωνία της Γερμανίας του μεσοπολέμου, θα αποτελέσουν τροχοπέδες στα όνειρα και τις φιλοδοξίες του κου. Μπίμπερκοπφ.
Το βιβλίο χωρίζεται σε μικρά μικρά κεφάλαια και σε βιβλία, κάτι που το κάνει να μοιάζει με Ομηρικό έπος. Δεν είναι καθόλου τυχαίο που προχωρώντας οι σελίδες ο Φραντς μοιάζει όλο και περισσότερο σε ήρωα αρχαίου δράματος. Ο Ντέμπλιν δίνει όγκο στην γραφή του με τις γνώσεις του, την συγγραφική του δεινότητα αλλά και βασισμένος στην επιστήμη του την ψυχιατρική, φτιάχνοντας ένα πραγματικό αριστούργημα που μπορεί να σταθεί επάξια δίπλα στα μεγάλα αριστουργήματα της λογοτεχνίας.
Ο συγγραφέας χρησιμοποιεί την τεχνική του εσωτερικού μονολόγου αλλά και μια τεχνική μοντάζ βάζοντας μέσα στην φαινομενικά γραμμική αφήγηση, γεγονότα και περιστατικά που μας μεταφέρουν σε στο κλίμα της εποχής και στα σοκάκια της πλατείας Αλεξάντερ στο Βερολίνο. Ένα Βερολίνο που προσπαθεί να αναγεννηθεί από τις στάχτες του, δομικά αλλά κυρίως ηθικά. Όμως η κοινωνία βυθίζεται στο σκοτάδι της αβεβαιότητας, της ηθικής κατάπτωσης και ��ους αμοραλισμού. Δυστυχώς, το έθνος θα διαπιστώσει τα λάθη του αφού αποδεχτεί απρόσκοπτα τον Χίτλερ και το ναζιστικό κόμμα σαν σωτήρες του.
Οι χαρακτήρες του βιβλίου είναι αυτοί που δίνουν την πραγματική υπόσταση στο αριστούργημα του Ντέμπλιν. Μικροαπατεώνες, εγκληματίες, παράνομοι, μισάνθρωποι και αποσυνάγωγοι συγχρωτίζονται μεταξύ τους αλλά και με τα μέλη μια άλλης κοινωνίας δίνοντας με πολύ γλαφυρό τρόπο στον αναγνώστη να κατανοήσει ότι άλλοι συγγραφείς δεν μπόρεσαν να πουν για τον άνθρωπο με χιλιάδες χιλιάδων σελίδες.
Ναι, το βιβλίο είναι ένα αριστούργημα. Και από την πρώτη έως την τελευταία σελίδα το φωνάζει δυνατά και κυρίως το αποδεικνύει, ειδικά στον αναγνώστη που θα θελήσει να περιπλανηθεί στο Βερολίνο του μεσοπολέμου αλλά και στην δαιδαλώδη γραφή του Γερμανού συγγραφέα!
ΥΓ: Όλα τα παραπάνω είναι σκέψεις που προήλθαν μετά από μια ενδιαφέρουσα +ανάγνωση!
Profile Image for Ruth.
Author 10 books478 followers
January 25, 2009
I read this because I was watching the Fassbinder film, and discovered I had been ignorant of a novel which is considered a masterpiece of modern German literature, published in 1929.

It’s not an easy read, Doblin’s style is reminiscent of James Joyce, hopping about between POV, interior monologue, sound effects, newspaper articles, songs, speeches, and other books, but it’s worth the trouble.

Apparently the original was written in colloquial German with a heavy dose of working class Berlin slang. The version I read was the only one my library has and was copyrighted in 1931 and noted as “Translated into the American by Eugene Jolas.” There is a 2005 edition, but I'm unable to determine if it's a new translation.

It must be a terribly difficult book to translate, and in the 1931 edition some of the seams showed, as the translator used American slang which is no longer current.

Still it was a riveting read. What a grand book. It tells the story of Franz Biberkopf, starting with his release from prison for killing his girlfriend in a helpless rage. He’s absolutely paralyzed with fear at the thought of being outside again on the rough streets, even the rooftops seem to be falling in on him.

But he finds a new girl and vows he will stay away from crime. Impossible,confronted with the poverty, unemployment, crime and burgeoning Nazism of 1920s Germany.

He’s a likeable guy, despite his tendencies. I think he truly wants to believe in human goodness. Not too bright, he’s always brought down by his naïve trust in other people.

Things get worse and worse, and Biberkopf’s sanity teeters until in the final chapter of the book he falls off the psychological cliff. Only after he has passed through hell, does he reappear a changed (for the better?) man.

Is it just my ignorance, or why hasn’t this book been more prominently mentioned by readers in English. I think it’s one of the greats.
Profile Image for Lee.
352 reviews8 followers
February 22, 2021
A superb novel of the city, in which the clangour and grinding tumult of modernity are mocked as trivialities over which dooming history and imminent catastrophe will prevail, a place where things are so desperately hopeless that even the weather is marshalled against the grotesque futility of human life, where madness, self-harm, depravity and obscene levels of duplicity are amongst countless other routine afflictions, and where our antihero Franz Biberkopf continually invites accelerated self-immolation, perhaps literature's ultimate masochist. Forget any ideas about this being 'difficult', other than regarding its nastiness and confrontational level-headedness. It eventually becomes a supreme and extremely readable study in mendacity, pointlessness, the fleeting nature of love, how violence and narcissism are necessary bedfellows and how cities harvest derangement, amongst about a thousand other things.

PS shout-out to David Brunelle whose concurrent readalong observations hugely aided my appreciation of the book and its themes.

'Some women and girls are walking across Alexanderstrasse and the square, each carrying a fetus in her belly, protected by law. It is hot, and the women and girls are sweating outside, but the fetus within sits quietly in his corner, the temperature is just right for him as he walks across the Alexanderplatz, but many a fetus will fare badly later on: he’d better not laugh too soon.

Others are running about trying to hook whatever they can; some have their bowels full and others are wondering how to get them filled. Hahn’s department store is entirely wrecked, all the other houses are full of shops, but they only look like shops, as a matter of fact, there are nothing but calls, just decoy calls, twittering bird-notes, crickle-crackle, a chirping without words.

So I returned and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun; and behold the tears of such as were oppressed and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter. Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead.

The dead I praised. To everything a season; a time to rend, and a time to sew, a time to keep, and a time to cast away. I praised the dead who lie sleeping beneath the trees.'
Profile Image for Caroline.
781 reviews233 followers
March 17, 2018
[I read the Michael Hofmann translation from NYRB, but in an afterword Hofmann is very respectful of Jolas’s translation, so you’re probably fine either way.]

In a Berlin tavern:

But Franz is reluctant, he says he doesn’t like these political discussions. The grizzled anarchist persists: ‘This isn’t a political discussion. We’re just having a chat. What job do you do?’

Franz sits up on his chair and reaches for his beer mug, he fixes the anarchist with a look. There is a reaper, Death yclept, I must go up on the hills and weep and wail and lament with the herds in the desert, because they are so ravaged that none wander there, both the birds of the heavens and the beasts of the field are gone.

‘I’ll tell you what I do, colleague, because I’m not your comrade. I go around, I do odd things, but I don’t work, I let other people work for me.’

What’s he on about, is he having me on. ‘Then makes you you an entrepreneur, have you got employees, and how many? What are you doing here with us, if you’re a capitalist?’ I will make Jerusalem a ruin, and a den of dragons; and I will lay the cities of Judah desolate, so that none shall dwell in them.

This is a representative excerpt from Berlin Alexanderplatz (BA): shifting pronouns, Biblical motifs woven throughout, quotes mixing seamlessly with stream-of-consciousness (usually without the paragraph breaks see here), slant dialogue, political arguments offered from all parts of the spectrum, lurking doom. On another page you would find sex, violence, manipulation, a kaleidoscope of Berlin scenes, interior chaos, psychological thickets, betrayal, the criminal underworld, and even love. So, set aside some time because I suspect, like me, you will proceed only thirty or forty pages a day. Partly because of the comprehension challenges, partly because of the emotionally draining downward spiral and doctor-psychologist-Doblin’s meticulous analysis of it.

And what is it that Franz Biberkopf is reluctant to mention to the anarchist? That he is a petty criminal, mostly idle, mostly living off his girlfriend who is a the mistress of a wealthy Berliner.

It is overwhelming to try to write a review, there are so many things to mention. I will focus on the victimhood and political aspects, although I would also emphasize the powerful sense of life in Berlin that Döblin builds from snippets of playbills, newspaper stories, transportation scenes, etc etc.

The religious images of victims are drawn from the Old Testament (Döblin was of Jewish descent) especially Abraham’s almost-sacrifice of Isaac, and Job’s persecution. But Döblin’s point, I think, is that in the Babylon that is Berlin, nobody is going to rescue you from the knife; the persecution is impersonal and without reason. No one is testing you; you are just doomed. Franz is hopeless in particular, because he never looks for ulterior motives, he operates completely on the surface. Döblin says, you fool, everyone is out to use you, you must use them first, figure out what their game is and beat them at it if you want to survive.

Then Döblin extends the Abrahamic reference early in the book with a chapter describing the operations at a gigantic Berlin slaughterhouse, in graphic detail . No one saves these creatures: they are delivered, sledgehammered, slit, singed, gutted, hung up, shoved on their way. Now we watch the butchers of Berlin go to work cold-heartedly on Franz. The process is just very slow, and even more cruel.

The political discussions seem equally cold and objective. Döblin is referred to as 'left-leaning' in commentaries, which certainly makes sense given his own situation and his portrayals of the difficulties of poverty. Early on he exposes Biberkopf briefly to the nationalists, and Franz falls in with them for a short time, to the disgust of his comrades. But Franz is essentially apolitical, so the later scenes in which he listens to beer-hall tirades from various types of anarchists and socialists leave him untouched. This despite his own inevitable failing efforts to go straight after being released from Tegel prison, and the poverty that ensues. But the scenes do give one a vivid idea of the swirling political factions active in 1920s Berlin.

The question is how much of this failure to go straight is due to Franz’s own obtuse, simmering-violent character, and how much to ‘society’. Döblin seems to think that a smarter Franz would only have ended up a successful criminal, not an honest man.

It’s not perfect. I found the digressions and multiple layers of thematic progression fascinating, but in my opinion some tightening up toward the end, say about 50 to 75 pages cut out (of Reinhold especially) would have helped quite a bit. I really felt it bogged down about 75% of the way through. But overall, a powerful immersive experience.

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