- In the mid-nineteenth century Heinrich Heine referred to Berlin as "that mixture of white beer, mendacity, and Brandenburg sand. Berlin was never the liveliest German city, and it was a surprise when it became the epitome of modernism in the 1920s. Even during its decades as the Kaiserreich s capital, it was characterized by many as a garrison town. The condescension ended in the 1920s. Whether one viewed the bustle of Potsdamer Platz, the flashy shops and cafes of the Kurfürstendamm, the elegant villas along Lützow Ufer, or the government district east of the Tiergarten, the image was that of Germany s, even Europe s, most exciting city. Greater Berlin was created by a law of 27 April 1920 amalgamating eight municipal districts, flfty-flve suburban districts, and twenty-three estates in an effort to eliminate the social and economic dif-ferences separating the city s poor eastern boroughs from its wealthier western municipalities. With four million people, it was the world s third-largest city and a magnet to all who wished to live "on the outer edge."Yet Berlin's glamour and intellectual vitality, and its illusion of power, were misleading on several levels. Lacking a common denominator, the city was not simply the exciting focal point of theater,* music,* film,* and art; it was a microcosm for all the tortuous problems facing the Republic. When things went wrong, as they did in the 1920s, Berlin was the scapegoat for Germany s na-tional grievances. After Philipp Scheidemann* proclaimed "the German Repub-lic, Friedrich Ebert* found it necessary to secure his regime by forming Freikorps* units to counter leftist revolts in Berlin s streets. The resulting tumult forced the pristine National Assembly* to desert the capital for Weimar. But the deadly clashes that marked the spring of 1919 (approximately 1,200 people, many of them innocent bystanders, were slain in March) simply initiated a string of crises. March 1920 witnessed the rightist Kapp* Putsch, and from war s end through the numbing inflation,* the typical Berliner lived with hunger and soup kitchens (first appearing in the "Turnip Winter" of 1916-1917). Strikes, po-litical murders (e.g., of Walther Rathenau*), corruption trials (one ended the career of greater Berlin's first Oberburgermeister, Gustav Boss*), suicides, bankruptcies, a high level of endemic crime, and, in the Republic's final years, bloody battles between Nazis and Communists all marked Berlin s landscape during the years when Germany s capital grew famous for its avant-garde the-ater, anarchist philosophers, seedy nightclubs, ingenious music, and perceptive newspapers.* Throughout, the elegance of Berlin's western sections—from the Tiergarten through Grunewald and Wannsee—was counterbalanced by the crime and poverty of Prenzlauer Berg and the Scheunenviertel ("barn quarter") of the city s northeast.Such is the balanced image of a city that, upon the Hohenzollerns collapse, lost its moorings. The erstwhile garrison town, marked by the facades and stone magnificence of its former arrogance, served as a haven to all unwelcome else-where—and during the Republic, "elsewhere included Weimar, once home to Goethe and Schiller, and reactionary Munich, once raffish and bohemian. At social gatherings a reactionary Junker* might be seen standing by a socialist member of the Reichstag.* As Istvan Deak recorded, it meant little if one were an outsider or a newcomer to Berlin. Much of its culture was unimaginable without refugees from Russia or Hungary, exiles from Austria* and Poland,* and the curious from throughout the world. The mix inspired Alfred Döblin's* Berlin Alexanderplatz, Bertolt Brecht s* Die Dreigroschenoper, Fritz Lang s* Metropolis, the revues of the Metropol Theater, the satire of Kurt Tucholsky* and Walter Mehring,* the music of Arnold Schoenberg,* and the acting of Marlene Dietrich.* Many naively presumed that Berlin represented Germany; the Nazis laid bare the error of this judgment.REFERENCES:Deak, Weimar Germany's Left-Wing Intellectuals; Otto Friedrich, Before the Deluge; Thomas Friedrich, Berlin between the Wars; Kiaulehn, Berlin; Liang, Berlin Police Force.
A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. C. Paul Vincent.
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