What I Saw: Reports from Berlin 1920-1933
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Map of Berlin, page 2: Pharus-Plan Fahrtfinder-Ausgabe Berlin [map], 1915. Courtesy of the Map Division, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations
Copyright © 1996 by Verlag Kiepenheuer & Witsch Köln and
Verlag de Lange Amsterdam
English translation copyright © 2003 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Translator’s Introduction copyright © 2003 by Michael Hofmann
Originally published in German as
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Printed in the United States of America
First published as a Norton paperback 2004
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Roth, Joseph, 1894–1939.
[Joseph Roth in Berlin. English]
What I saw: reports from Berlin, 1920–1933 / Joseph Roth; translated with an introduction by Michael Hofmann; edited in German by Michael Bienert.
1. Berlin (Germany) — Social life and customs. 2. Berlin (Germany) — Social conditions.
3. Berlin (Germany) — Politics and government. 4. Germany — Politics and government—1918–1933. 5. Berlin (Germany) — Intellectual life. 6. Crime — Germany — Berlin — History—20th century. I. Hofmann, Michael, 1957 Aug. 25– II. Bienert, Michael, 1964–. III. Title.
ISBN 0-393-32582-2 pbk.
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BERLIN WAS BOTH a pendant and a totem for Weimar. It was the seat of government, and the place that made the government ner-vous like no other. It was where the Communist martyrs Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were murdered in 1919, and the Jewish foreign minister Walther Rathenau (see “A Visit to the Rathenau Museum”) in 1922; and yet it was never a Brown — a Nazi — town. It may have celebrated its five hundredth anniversary some time in the 1980s, but it was only really around the turn of 1900 that its combined agglomeration and expansion began to exert the pull — in federated Germany, with its clutch of older, sometimes more beautiful cities — of a center. “To go to Berlin,” writes Gay, “was the aspiration of the composer, the journalist, the actor; with its superb orchestras, its hundred and twenty newspapers, its forty theaters, Berlin was the place for the ambitious, the energetic, the talented. Wherever they started, it was in Berlin that they became, and Berlin that made them, famous.” And yet there was something ungainly and sprawling and fermenting about it. It was a capital city that, like some horrible adolescent, had yet to grow into its role. In some ways it was even worse — a sort of golem — something that had been created for the purpose of existing, like Weimar, a bubble, and a hyperventilating bubble at that. (Read Roth on the Kurfürstendamm, an arrow going nowhere, but not a place one can
“This city,” he said, “exists outside Germany, outside Europe. It is its own capital. It does not draw its supplies from the land. It obtains nothing from the earth on which it is built. It converts this earth into asphalt, bricks and walls. It shades the plain with its houses, it supplies the plain with bread from its factories, it determines the plain’s dialect, its national mores, its national costume. It is the very embodiment of a city. . It has its own animal kingdom in the Zoological Gardens and the Aquarium, the Aviary and the Monkey House, its own vegetation in the Botanic Garden, its own stretches of sand on which foundations are laid and factories erected, it even has its own harbor, its river is a sea, it is a continent. . It nourishes the natives of Düsseldorf, of Cologne, of Breslau, and draws nourishment from them. It has no culture of its own as have Breslau, Cologne, Frankfurt, Königsberg. It has no religion. It has the most hideous churches in the world. It has no society. But it has everything that society alone provides in every other city: theaters, art, a stock-exchange, trade, cinema, subways.”
THIS BOOK — THE first collection of Joseph Roth’s journalism to appear in English — is a direct translation of a German selection made in 1996 by Michael Bienert:
JOSEPH ROTH WAS a newspaperman all his life. Of the two dozen or so photographs that exist of him, a surprising number show him holding a newspaper or reading one. He was a lifelong reader, writer, thinker, and apologist for the press, of almost whatever stripe. “But these newspapers find only vendors,” he writes of enemy — nationalist — newspapers in “Election Campaign in Berlin.” “I am their only buyer.” In a sardonic note from his early days as a journalist in Berlin, he described himself as probably the only staffer who went out on the street after his shift, to hawk the paper! When he was ...