Cover Image: Berlin: Life and Death in the City at the Center of the World

Berlin: Life and Death in the City at the Center of the World

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Member Reviews

This book is a highly detailed and meticulously researched history of the city of Berlin from the end of WWI to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

While I appreciate the detail and amount of time and energy the author put into this, the book was a very slow and meandering read. It took me 11 days to read because of the density of the information and the subject matter is quite heavy.

There is a lot of death and destruction as the author takes us through the lead up to World War II and Cold War years, which is a good portion of this book. There's also several instances of rape and sexusl assault, so be forewarned about that. I think this book is best for history teachers, history majors, or those with a deep interest in Germany in the 20th Century. I wouldn't recommend this to those with just a casual interest in history.

Thank you to St. Martin's Press, author Sinclair McKay, and NetGalley for gifting me a digital copy of this book. My opinions are my own.

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First, this book has TONS of good info. Many reviews have talked about it like a textbook. I would honestly say that it is too detailed on what it covers, and too weak on interpretation, argument, and structure. That said, those traits make it good for early grad students and for those who need an overview of 20th-century Germany. I have already recommended it to a friend for that even.

That said, it is a SLOG. Although it's not really that long, and many sections are rushed, the overall lack of structure had me searching for a point. Therefore, it just felt like one fact after another, an avalanche of trivia rather than a narrative. And it's all sad, depressing stuff. If it were a movie it would be all grey and filled with death. Spoiler tho - not everyone dies! So that's something.

The Nazis and rebuilding after are the center here. There are chapters of introduction that cover from WWI to 1933. After, two chapters that skim through the early 1950s to 1989. Like many Eastern European narratives of WWII (I'm looking at you Katyn) the Soviet years are an extension of the Nazis, and the true liberation doesn't happen until after SSR. Surviving under the Nazis and then the Soviet "liberation," defined by widespread and indiscriminate rape and starvation, form the relentless story. Like the Berliners, your sense of time and desire for familiar structures will be lost. If you want that experience, read José Saramago's Blindness. It doesn't belong in nonfiction.

If you need good info about WWII and Berlin, pick this up. But only if you really need that info. And read other books in between chapters for sanity.

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I, on the whole, love history reads. What I loved about this book is that it focused mainly on the people left behind in Berlin during the war and after. It gives a unique look of what happens to a capitol city in an aggressor state during war. Very interesting take and very poignent read.

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I think I was offered this ARC, I don’t remember requesting it. 🤔 It is meticulously researched and there is so much good information in this book. Anything and everything you ever wanted to know about the city of Berlin. I learned so much. If only it didn’t take me months to read. 🫣😵‍💫 This is the typical nonfiction book that reads like a textbook. To be completely honest, I only finished it to keep my Netgalley percentage going up. I wish it had been available in audio format because I love listening to nonfiction (even dry like this) on audio; it makes it so much more enjoyable.

So, in closing…if you love nonfiction, then pick this one up. If not, this probably isn’t the book for you. I highly recommend the publishers record an audio format because there is so much great information here!

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This is a subject that has been written about so much, and from many different perspectives, so to see this author write something that felt original was unexpected and enjoyable. I thought this was definitely worthy of a read.

I was particularly taken with Sinclair McKay's ability to project the emotions of Berlin's citizens at the time, and the transition of their thinking about what could and could not be possible in their city. I think a lot of people in the United States today can relate to the feelings of horror as they watch things they never thought possible happen around them.

The writing flowed well and was interesting, so this was a book that I didn't feel the need to put down repeatedly in search of something else. I do feel there were some areas that could have been expanded on, particularly when talking about the relationship of the people to their government, but overall this was a great book.

I would recommend this to anyone interested in this fascinating time period.

This review is based on a complimentary copy provided through NetGalley and the publisher. All opinions are my own.

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Amid rising and falling fortunes, Berlin and it’s people have been survivors. This history covers one of most tumultuous eras of Berlin from 1919 after WWI to 1989. The courage of the Berliners is seen after WWI when the devastated city rose to become a sophisticated cultural center. However, the seeds of Hitler’s rise and WWII were sown in this period. The author does a good job of giving us a view of how this horrific transformation took place. The terrible events of WWII are described including the destruction of Berlin at the end of the war and the Berlin Wall being erected during the Cold War tension between the US and the USSR. What I liked best about the book was that it focused on the people and their individual stories. This is not just one more retelling of the events in Germany leading up to WWII and the aftermath. This is a book worth reading to gain an understanding of how the people of Berlin could suffer unimaginable hardships and be ready to rebuild their city.

This was a very long book, and I sometimes got bogged down. That being said, it was a very well researched book, and the addition of personal interviews made it even better. I had heard a lot and read a lot about Berlin during my lifetime, but this book gave even more detail to what I already knew. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for granting my request to read this book.

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I've been interested in German history and took a few college classes on German History so I was interested in this book to continue reading and learning.

I think this book did a good job of the history of Berlin and the people who have lived through so much. I liked his writing style, and while it's more academic to read, I was able to easily read it.

I like social history, so looking at how the people were impacted through history was interesting to me.

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I love when history is written for a fiction fan and I feel like Berlin does that well. For those interested in WWII, Berlin is a great read, but it’s also a general history of Germany and Berlin’s subculture specifically, which isn’t commonly focused on. It took me forever to get through it. I’d recommend as a nightstand book - to pick up and put down without feeling a need to rush through - and someone wanting a slow-burn historical read.

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Please note that I received an advanced reader copy of “ Berlin: Life and Death in the. Icy at the Center of the World”from Net Galley. My thanks to the author, publisher and Net Galley .
Everyone with any interest in modern history should read this book. It is at times intensely moving, often horrifying and always instructive. Within this relative short volume the reader has a microcosm of the history of the twentieth century unfold. The book surveys Berlin from the aftermath of WW1 through the Berlin Wall’s coming down and the end of the DDR. There is not a boring page.
The devastation of the city by Allied bombing and by the attacking Russian Army , is told by the author in a straightforward manner. He carefully relates how the populace was very aware that the punishment to the city and to them was deserved for the depredations of the Nazi atrocities that they tried had to ignore. The book is clear that many. Berliners accommodated themselves to Soviet rule because they were used to state control. It also makes clear that the spirt of the Berliners could never fully be contained- there always whether governed by one kind of security state or another , their will to be free was never crushed.
Mr Sinclair book is readable , valuable and highly recommended to all readers.
Notes: I had an advance reader copy, therefore the maps at the frontispiece were not included. There were no photos, either. But there were footnotes, a bibliography and references.

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Berlin is the kind of city I hear lots about but actually know very little about - a place that is full of history and complicated stories that only come with existing for a long while. McKay's book gave me a thoughtful, human and fascinating look at this city that allowed me to see it with new eyes. I only wish I had a trip planned to Berlin soon! (Perhaps it needs to happen soon!). This book is full of history, but I found it to be engaging and well written, keeping me engaged all the way through while learning more about this amazing city.

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It is always interesting to read a book with most of the recommendations either 1 or 5 stars. This is one of those - and I understand exactly why. This history goes to great lengths to show us a picture of life in Berlin, after the Great War, through tumultuous peace, and into the second war, then on again into another peace that was anything but to the native Berliners. It is written with the distinct intention of seeing life through the eyes of those Berliners, basically demanding that we see those citizens as victims. And I would not. Could not. Until I did.

I have had family members actively serving in every conflict the United States of America has engaged in, from the Revolutionary War to Afghanistan and including Teddy's run on Cuba, the Mexican war of Independence, and the Faulklin Islands. Not every one of them was able to come home, and some, like my mother's Aunt Oma, a WAC who made it back but suffered the rest of her short life with the damages she sustained in WWII.

It took an informed, honest look at the last 30 years in our White House for me to finally understand just how those citizens can exist under the thumb of a despot, numb to their inhumane treatment of the world in general and their constituents in particular. How easy it is to overlook infringements on our rights and ignore the signs of tyranny slipping into our daily routines. Look sharp, people, at our options. Follow the money. And get out and VOTE!

I received a complimentary ARC of this special history from Netgalley, Sinclair McKay, and publisher St. Martin's Press. Thank you all for sharing your hard work with me. I have read Berlin: Life and Death in the city, of my own volition, and this review reflects my honest opinion of this work.

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Fell short for me. Though it did look at the viewpoint of the citizens, it drug on and on. I did find some parts interesting, it just didn't work for me. The interesting part to me was the Berlin Wall. It was always there when I was growing up, and I remember when it was on TV when Regan told Gorbachev to, 'Tear that wall down.' I think that will always stick with me.

Thanks to Netgalley for the Kindle Version of the book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Throughout the twentieth century, Berlin stood at the centre of a convulsing world. It alternately seduced and haunted the international imagination. The essence of the city seemed to be its sharp duality: the radiant boulevards, the cacophonous tenement blocks, the dark smoky citadels of hard industry, the bright surrounding waters and forests, the exultant pan-sexual cabarets, the stiff dignity of high opera, the colourful excesses of Dadaist artists, the grim uniformity of mass swastika processions.

Berlin is a city of many transformations, having held several very different roles on the world stage in the twentieth century and continuing to surprise in its evolution. It always makes for a compelling, if unwieldy, biographical subject.

British journalist (features writer for The Telegraph and The Mail on Sunday) and author Sinclair McKay narrows the focus of this new biography of a city to the year 1919 and after. Having already read (albeit more than a decade ago) two bulkier, more comprehensive biographies of the city (Berlin and Faust’s Metropolis), both of which are good but are also a LOT, I appreciated this choice.

I suppose out of necessity for how much happened at that time and how crucial it was in shaping Berlin’s future, the majority of the book covers the last years of the Second World War and the years immediately following. As McKay puts it: “The fall of Berlin in 1945 is one of those moments in history that stands like a lighthouse; the beam turns and sharply illuminates what came before and what came after.”

I’d just read Harald Jahner’s Aftermath: Life in the Fallout of the Third Reich, 1945-1955, but even with that fresh in mind, this was still unendingly compelling to read. McKay’s analysis of the importance of key events like the infamous Soviet blockade of West Berlin and the American airlift at the Tempelhofer Airport that saved countless lives was fascinating: I knew the outline of this story but not how dangerous and technically impressive the airlift itself had been, as well as the significance of the act to the Americans in terms of how they wanted to be viewed.

Still, this time period does take up much more of the book than I would have expected, and this is at the detriment of covering other eras, like spending more time on Berlin’s pivotal role during the Cold War, which has just as meaningful stories to tell (see Helena Merriman’s Tunnel 29, one of my favorites).

Like many histories of this era, he also draws heavily on the diary A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City, published anonymously but largely believed to have been written by journalist Marta Hillers, which details the harrowing immediate post-war days and is the best document chronicling the climate of the city at the time, as the Red Army infamously terrorized and raped the surviving women.

But into this established historical framework he also weaves a lighter element, in the form of cultural portraits that show everything from Berlin’s unique importance as an artistic center and hub for theater, cinema, and music to its welcoming of Nacktkultur (public nudity) in the arts and public spaces to its safe spaces for sexuality. He also considers the nuances, as Jahner did, of the situation the population found themselves in: villains on the world stage, they were now faced with trying to survive and hold on to the bare minimum of food or possessions they could under apocalyptic conditions, which McKay evocatively captures.

I knew I would be in for something special with this, having read The Fire and the Darkness, his tightly focused look at the city of Dresden through the lens of its infamous firebombing, but this surpassed expectations. If only all history was written like this – he has such a richly lyrical, descriptive writing style. His prose is completely captivating. You can pick it up and turn to any page and find immersive, vivid storytelling. I kept paging back through sections I’d already read just to be taken by it again.

Despite appreciating the narrower focus this takes, namely that it only covers contemporary history, I do wish it had covered more postwar ground. But he writes with so much detail and from so many different perspectives, of both well and lesser known figures, that I guess anything longer would be way too unwieldy. It also seems a bit odd that the biggest recent transformation of Berlin through its role in the Wirtschaftswunder – the “economic miracle” of Germany’s reconstruction and development into an economic powerhouse isn’t covered. That feels especially relevant today, as Berlin is now a center of the tech industry in Europe and the landscape of the city continues to change because of it — famously a cheap, grungy place to make art, it’s now pricing out such residents, and housing stock is down but costs are sky-high. Where this will end remains to be seen, but I would’ve liked some attention to Berlin’s current state.

It’s one of those rare books that I didn’t actually feel ready to quit reading when it was done. I love his illustrative prose style so much that I would’ve read a book twice as long.

I hope he covers Hamburg next. More biographies of specific historical periods in German cities from him, they are perfection!

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I have always enjoyed nonfiction, informative books. Unfortunately this one was not for me. .

This book was well researched but the writing could not hold my attention.
I went through pages that were so interesting followed by pages that felt like worlds on a page rather than information.

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A Slice of Berlin’s Turbulent History

Amid rising and falling fortunes, Berlin and it’s people have been survivors. This history covers one of most tumultuous eras of Berlin from 1919 after WWI to 1989. The courage of the Berliners is seen after WWI when the devastated city rose to become a sophisticated cultural center. However, the seeds of Hitler’s rise and WWII were sown in this period. The author does a good job of giving us a view of how this horrific transformation took place.

The terrible events of WWII are described including the destruction of Berlin at the end of the war and the Berlin Wall being erected during the Cold War tension between the US and the USSR. I thought the author did an excellent job showing how the people of Berlin were affected by a wall sometimes separating families and friends.

What I liked best about the book was that it focused on the people and their individual stories. This is not just one more retelling of the events in Germany leading up to WWII and the aftermath. This is a book worth reading to gain an understanding of how the people of Berlin could suffer unimaginable hardships and be ready to rebuild their city.

I received this book from St. Martin’s Press for this review.

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I have seen Berlin from both sides of the Berlin Wall as well as the modern city. When I was given the opportunity to read this history of the city I was fascinated to see the changes that it has gone through over seventy years. Sinclair McKay takes you from the end of the Weimar era, when it was a cultural center, to a ruin as the Russians approached. Children were given arms and expected to defend the city while the women lived in fear of the Russian occupiers. The end of the war divided the city among the Allies. When it was evident that the Allie’s intended to stay, the Soviets instituted a blockade to attempt to force their departure, resulting in the Berlin airlift to bring supplies to the western sector. 1961 brought the construction of the Berlin Wall, which stood until 1989. McKay fills his book with stories of the people who lived through these changes. The Jews who lived in fear of deportation as well as those who lived in hiding through the war, the people who were separated from other members of their families by restricted travel through districts and those who lost their lives attempting to cross over, under or through the wall are all represented.

The importance of the cinema as a propaganda tool, the Nuremberg Laws, Kristallnacht and the Potsdam Conference are some of the many things that McKay discusses. The appearance of major political figures and scientific developments are all explored as Berlin evolves into the city that we know today. This is a fascinating look at the city that is recommended to anyone with a fondness for history. I would like to thank NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing this book for my review.

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This is definitely not your quick, easy beach read… however, I think that it is a fascinating, important book for anyone. You’re taken on a tour of Berlin - from its rise to wealth and power after the first war in 1919…through the rise of Hitler and its eventual demise. Your given personal stories - stories of hope and determination. Through tragedy and destruction, the people of Berlin wanted to their city and its beauty back. It was a fascinating read - clearly lots of time, effort and emotion went into writing this. As a fan of history, this was such an interesting and important book.

Thank you netgalley for my advanced reader copy

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Berlin: Life and Death in the City in the Center the World by Sinclair McKay

Author McKay covers Berlin’s history from 1919-1989. After the Great War, Berlin was the cultural and artistic center of Europe. Music, the arts, theater, literature, scientists-it had it all.

Enter Hitler and the Reich, and life, especially for Jews, was turned on its head. McKay names those who, once held in esteem, were forced to flee or end up in work/death camps. So many.

After the demise of Nazism, enter the Stasi, or Soviets, to rule with an iron hand. The Berlin Wall was going to keep East and West Germany apart from 1961-1989. Anyone trying to flee to the west for freedom was shot.
Enter Gorbachev and the totalitarian rule was eased until 1989 when The Berlin Wall fell.

McKay did serious research for this book, and I applaud that, but I found him rather wordy, naming every person imaginable, though I’m sure they were all important. This is a perfect read for a history buff, but not the casual reader. My thanks to #StMartinsPress and NetGalley for an ARC for my review.

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My Thoughts:

I've read more books on World War II than after the war. This is what drew me to read this book. It is the main reason that held my interest.

Several reasons on what I learned or why I enjoyed this book:

The bombing raids over Berlin were filled with women and children. I have empathy for them. McKay is descriptive about the shelters, bombings; and later when the Russians are in Berlin at the close of the war, the raping of the women-women of all ages. Brief memoirs are given of people who lived in Berlin. These are not lengthy but serve a strong purpose to personalize the book rather than let it be academic in nature. Some of the memoirs are of Jews who hid during the entirety of the war. The Nazis used the poverty and sadness of the people after World War I for their agenda. Their agenda included the young people in Hitler youth groups. It is eye-opening and disturbing how people can be taken advantage of and misled to the extent of indoctrination to mass murders and war. I have empathy for the beginnings of how they must have felt after World War I. I cannot agree to decisions that were made. Several things I'd not heard of before about Berlin society and culture. For example, there was a craze to be a nudist. This happened right after World War I. I did not know that there were revolutionary demonstrations after World War I. I knew the Nazis began to rise and have demonstrations. I did not know about other political groups. There is a chapter with a focus on the history of film. There were 300 cinemas in Berlin at the time of World War II. Hitler loved film, and he chronicled his ideology and work. Berlin had been a place that was tolerant of the gay culture. There were doctors who had helped people transition. This changed during the Nazi years. I had mentioned this in number 1 above. There is a disturbing story of a young woman who worked in a grocery store during the time the Russians came into Berlin. She was raped on the counter during the time the store was open. This rape was public. It was done with the intention to dishonor and shame her in view of other people. By 1960 there were over 200,000 people who in East Berlin left to live in freedom on the other side. This is such an important chapter, to share memoirs about those who tried to escape.

I want to clarify. I do not have empathy for the Nazi machine. They were mass murderers and instigated a war that led to defeat. I have great empathy for those like the woman who was raped in a grocery store. I have empathy for any child who was abused and suffered. I am also not going to state something as equally hateful as "you got what you deserved." I am not that kind of person. However, the Nazis were despicable people. I believe many of them, civilians, were unaware of the consequences in believing Hitler was their savior.

I received a complimentary e-book copy from NetGalley. I am not required to write a positive review.

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Fascinating. Much of this was unknown to me and I found it educational as well as illuminating. Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC. A very good read.

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