Berlin Alexanderplatz

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Berlin Alexanderplatz
Doeblin berlin alexanderplatz.jpg
Reproduction of the 1st edition cover
AuthorAlfred Döblin
Cover artistGeorge Salter
PublisherS. Fischer Verlag, Berlin
Publication date

Berlin Alexanderplatz (German: [bɛʁˈliːn ʔalɛkˈsandɐˌplats]) is a 1929 novel by Alfred Döblin. It is considered one of the most important and innovative works of the Weimar Republic.[1] In a 2002 poll of 100 noted writers the book was named among the top 100 books of all time.[2]


The story concerns a murderer, Franz Biberkopf, fresh from prison. When his friend murders the prostitute on whom Biberkopf has been relying as an anchor, he realizes that he will be unable to extricate himself from the underworld into which he has sunk. He must deal with misery, lack of opportunities, crime and the imminent ascendency of Nazism. During his struggle to survive against all odds, life rewards him with an unsuspected surprise but his happiness will not last as the story continues.

Focus and narrative technique[edit]

The novel is set in the working-class district near Alexanderplatz in 1920s Berlin. Although its narrative style is sometimes compared to that of James Joyce's, critics such as Walter Benjamin have drawn a distinction between Ulyssesinterior monologue and Berlin Alexanderplatz's use of montage.[3][4] Oliver Kamm, writing in the London Times, says Döblin's methods are more akin to Kafka in his use of "erlebte Rede (roughly, experienced speech — a blending of first-person and third-person narrative)".[5] The novel is told from multiple points of view, and uses sound effects, newspaper articles, songs, speeches, and other books to propel the plot.


The novel was translated into English in 1931 by Eugene Jolas, a friend of James Joyce.[6] The translation was not well received; it particularly was criticised for the way in which it rendered everyday working-class speech.[7] A 2018 English translation by Michael Hofmann, published by New York Review Books,[8] was given a starred review from Kirkus Reviews, which called it "vigorous and fresh" and a "welcome refurbishing of a masterpiece of literary modernism".[9] According to Oliver Kamm, "Dialogue is the most difficult thing to get right in translation" which Hofmann has rendered "in cockney dialect. It reads fluently, even at the risk of being possibly obscure to a non-British audience".[5]

Film adaptations[edit]

The novel has been adapted three times for film. In 1931 Berlin-Alexanderplatz was directed by Piel Jutzi. Döblin worked on the adaptation, along with Karlheinz Martin and Hans Wilhelm. The film starred Heinrich George, Maria Bard, Margarete Schlegel, Bernhard Minetti, Gerhard Bienert, Albert Florath and Paul Westermeier.

The second adaptation, Berlin Alexanderplatz, was directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Produced for and shown on German television in 1980 as a 14-part miniseries, it also has been shown theatrically. It runs for 15 hours (NTSC and film releases expand the runtime by a half hour). Upon its release in New York City, ticket holders were required to come to the theatre for three consecutive nights to see the entire film.

Both films were released in November 2007 by the Criterion Collection in the US in a multi-disc DVD. A Region 2 edition of the Fassbinder version was released in the UK by Second Sight in October that year.

Burhan Qurbani directed the most recent film adaptation, Berlin Alexanderplatz, which premiered at the 70th Berlin International Film Festival in 2020. Qurbani's version recontextualised the lead role of Franz as Francis, an Afro-German refugee from Guinea-Bissau.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jelavich 2006, p. xii; Schoeller 2011, p. 339; Sander 2001, p. 9, 180; Bernhardt 2007, p. 88–9
  2. ^ The top 100 books of all time, Guardian Unlimited, May 8, 2002
  3. ^ Benjamin, Walter (1999). Michael Jennings; Howard Eiland; Gary Smith (eds.). Selected Writings, vol. 2. Cambridge, MA: Belknap. p. 301.
  4. ^ Fore, Devin (2006). "Döblin's Epic: Sense, Document, and the Verbal World Picture". New German Critique. 33 (3): 189. doi:10.1215/0094033x-2006-015.
  5. ^ a b Kamm, Oliver (24 February 2018). "Review: Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin — love and death in old Berlin". The Times. London. Retrieved 24 February 2018. (subscription required)
  6. ^ Buruma, Ion (17 January 2008). "The Genius of Berlin". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 7 October 2017. {{cite magazine}}: Cite magazine requires |magazine= (help)
  7. ^ Köpke, Wulf (2003). The Critical Reception of Alfred Döblin's Major Novels. Camden House.
  8. ^ Adam Thirlwell (25 October 2018). "An Explosion of Pure Fact". New York Review of Books. Retrieved 11 October 2018.
  9. ^ Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin, Michael Hofmann, Kirkus Reviews


Further reading[edit]

  • Dollenmayer, David B. The Berlin Novels of Alfred Döblin: Wadzek's Battle with the Steam Turbine, Berlin Alexanderplatz, Men Without Mercy, and November 1918. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988. Print.
  • Dollenmayer, David B. (May 1980). "An Urban Montage and its Significance in Döblin's Berlin Alexanderplatz". The German Quarterly. 53 (3): 317–336. doi:10.2307/404909. JSTOR 404909.
  • Hermes, Manfred (2014). Hystericizing Germany. Fassbinder, Alexanderplatz. Berlin: Sternberg Press. ISBN 978-3-9567-9004-1.
  • Jelavich, Peter (2009). Berlin Alexanderplatz: Radio, Film, and the Death of Weimar Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-25997-3.
  • Ryan, Judith (November 1981). "From Futurism to 'Döblinism'". The German Quarterly. 54 (4): 415–426. doi:10.2307/405005. JSTOR 405005.
  • Slugan, Mario. 2017. Montage as Perceptual Experience: Berlin Alexanderplatz from Döblin to Fassbinder. Rochester: Boydell & Brewer.

External links[edit]