BERLIN by Sinclair McKay

ARRSE Rating
4.00 star(s)
Berlin is an enigmatic city which has seen and suffered so much, especially in the 20th Century. The author brings the city to life starting off as the capital city of an Empire, finishing off as the capital of Germany as part of the EU. This period, the 20th century, saw Berlin go from being a lively, hedonistic city full of the joys of life through the dictatorship of Hitler and the Nazi Party, destruction by Allied bombing and Russian assault, though occupation to becoming capital of Germany once more.

This is more than just a description of how Berlin rose, was destroyed and rebuilt itself, it is a social history of differing chapters in Berlin’s life. Staring off early in the 20th Century, Berlin did not suffer that much during WW1, although starvation and the threat of revolution was in the air by 1918. Recovering from WW1, and suddenly finding itself a Republic after the Kaiser had been forced out, Berlin worked hard at recovering its role as a major European city. In doing so it became the hedonistic centre of social life and in the 1920s it was possible to get any pleasure that you were willing to pay for. This period also saw the rise of the German movie industry.

This period did not last long as what was missing from German society was a strong, stable political situation. This led to allowing the Nazi Party, under Hitler, to come to power and to Hitler very quickly becoming Germany’s dictator. The book details how Berlin suffered under the Nazis, firstly through the oppression of anyone opposing the Nazis then the extermination of the Jewish population. War came, as we all know, and while for the first couple of years Berlin was fairly untouched, the latter part of the war saw the city raised to the ground by Allied bombing and Russian assault. The author takes a lot of time taking us through the horrors that the population of Berlin felt both during the bombing and then as the Russians approached. Many women committed suicide to avoid rape and other abuses by the advancing Russian. Most didn’t of course and their stories are harrowing to say the least.

War over, Berlin was not permitted to return to anything like normal. The city was split into occupation zones for Russian, USA, France and Britain and basically became a split city between the Russians in the east of the city and the other Allies in the west. Berlin was to remain a split city until 1989,but during this time it was two completely different cities. In the west it lost its capital status to Bonn and in the east the Russians ensured that the city could not enjoy the fruits of peace.

Lastly, the city was reunited, not without its problems, and resumed its role of capital city of Germany.

This is not a reference book, but can be used as one. It is well written, very well researched and is a social history of the city. Not just the bricks and mortar but the lives of the Berliners and how they were used and abused by both their own German government, but by the Allies who defeated Germany in both WW1 and WW2.

This is a seriously good look at the life of the Berliner during such harrowing times but the book ends on a high note with Berlin working hard to return to its previous high status – a job that it has done very well.

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