Berlin Childhood around 1900
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Berlin Childhood around 1900

4.08 of 5 stars 4.08  ·  rating details  ·  359 ratings  ·  30 reviews
Presents the author's recollection of his childhood in an upper-middle-class Jewish home in Berlin's West End. This book focuses not on persons or events but on places and things, all seen from the perspective of a child, a collector, flaneur, and allegorist in one. It tells about the parks, streets, schoolrooms, and interiors of the metropolis.
Paperback, 160 pages
Published May 2nd 2006 by Harvard University Press (first published 1950)
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Steve Kettmann
I found this volume disappointing. Partly it was the packaging of this particular edition, which attempted to solve the problem of various differing editions published at different times having different chapter selections by - well I'm not sure. I just know that some of the material was presented twice.
I have only limited exposure to the thinking and writing of Benjamin, who was obviously a great intellect and an important figure. Parts of this book on his childhood in Berlin were indeed mast...more
Elizabeth K.
I'm certain I haven't read any Walter Benjamin since college, although I always recall "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" quite fondly. This is a series of very short descriptions of his memories of childhood. Despite being very narrow in focus -- he's a young child so many of the remembered incidents are specific to his own home and his family, they do come together to give you a very ephemeral sense of life in Berlin at this time. This fascinated me a lot -- it's as if you...more
Audrey
I read this book a while ago, and the further away from it I get, the more it seems to grip my imagination, it's so rich and evocative. I found a Sontag quote about Benjamin that explains exactly the feeling conveyed by his writing. She says each sentence "had to say everything, before the inward gaze of total concentration dissolved the subject before his eyes." Because of that concentration, it can be a challenging reading experience, challenging in a way we don't often encounter in contempora...more
Armin Hennig
Wenn man schon Proust gelesen und genossen hat, ist dieses Buch vollkommen verzichtbar. Ich erinnere mich noch gut an den Moment der Aufgabe der nicht allzu beglückenden Lektüre. Ich dachte, ich könnte das Ding während einer Probe zu Botho Strauß „Die Zeit und das Zimmer“ zu Ende bringen. Mein Mitspieler Hans-Hermann, seines Zeichens Biologe und von unbestechlicher Ehrlichkeit, warf einen Blick hinein und meinte „Warum tust du die so einen Scheiß an?“
„Die Frage, stelle ich mir schon die ganze Ze...more
Corey
Written in exile, Berlin Childhood around 1900, offers fragmentary recollections of Benjamin’s Jewish, upper-middle-class childhood. Opposed to a lot of his more theoretical work, the book, focuses on ‘urban life’ - school classrooms, street corners and parks - all seen and experienced from the memory and eyes of a child. Finished in 1932, the project reflects Benjamin’s personal need to protect himself against the city’s impending fascist future through childhood memories and nostalgia. The vi...more
Lorraine
This is absolutely beautiful. There is so much in here about magic, memory and ghosts. It's all written in the most poetic prose with the most striking images; the apple, the butterfly-hunting, the telephone, the loggias, the moon, etc. I think it is naive to claim that this doesn't have much critical content and it is sentimental. I would say it is very lyrical, but not perhaps sentimental. I do think the criticality hasn't been lost: just on a first (not very serious) read, it is evident th......more
Diane Ramirez
Beautiful at times, almost nightmarish at others, this book is an interesting visit into the mind of a child as remembered by the adult he became. Remember having a whole world of experience with pieces of furniture in your home, finding that inaminate objects or sounds carried life, promise, dread, comfort, hope, threat? I recalled -- for the first time in decades -- these things while reading this book, which proved a haunting experience more often than a sweet and innocent one. Berlin Childho...more
Yuval
This was a lovely but pretty depressing short read that is equal parts charming, poetic, and tragic. While enjoyable on their own, these brief sketches of memories take on most of its impact when understood in the context of its writing: as a look back on childhood from the '30s, told by a man exiled from the city he's describing. Without that perspective, the short portraits of a childhood told in miniature format are pleasant, but from the historical point-of-view, and knowing how Benjamin's l...more
Kassiopeia

Short snippets capturing childhood memories. Some of these sounded strangely familiar and made me feel a bit nostalgic, like when you smell something and can't figure where you know it from, but it catapults you right back to a time when being late for school was your biggest fear and christmas was actually magic (and a bit scary) and summer never seemed to come to an end.
Kristi
Benjamini mõttepildid koondavad kahte minu lemmikžanri - memuaari ja olukirjeldust. Memuaari osa annab lugudele tõetruuduse ja personaalse külje. Olukirjeldused näitavad huvitavaid detaile eelmise saajandi alguse eluolust - mitte ülikute vaatepunktist, vaid keskmise kodaniku igapäevast. Eriti huvitavad olid 1900. Berliini ja 1920ndate Moskva elupildid - võib ka olla, kuna neis olen ise käinud. Aga ma pole sattunud lugema eriti 20ndate ja 30ndate kommunistlikust elust Venemaal.
Geoff
Mar 20, 2014 Geoff marked it as to-read
I was under the impression that this is essentially the same thing as "Berlin Chronicle" from Reflections. If so I have read it. If this is not the case, would any of you kind gents or gentlewomen correct me? And provide evidence?
Chelsea
This is a book in a fancy jacket and that made me feel that I did it an injustice by reading it on the subway/train/while walking around. Then again, there is not a whole lot to it, although the part about reaching into the cupboard for a snack is great, and the part about racing down a hill on a bicycle is great. My favorite part is a footnote that explained how the Berlin Tiergarten used to be a forest and as Berlin grew up around it, it was slowly converted into a public park by adding founta...more
Lukas
Sehr dicht. Die beiden Fragmentsammlungen bilden einen sensiblen Kontrast, der einen tiefen Einblick in den Geist Benjamins, in die Zeitgeschichte sowie Kunst- und Literaturtheorie gibt.
Don
Berlin Chilhood is an uneven and fragmented book. It's a series of vignettes of Benjamin's memories of his pre-pubescent life in Berlin in the early twentieth century.
Some episodes are brilliant; some are obscure; others are mundane. It's clear that he has read Proust, but he can't produce those complex, sinuous sentence that are the hallmark of Proust's style.
Alice
TL;DR. way too much purple prose.
Francesca
I have not read the book, or even bought it yet. I went to a reading by Carl Skoggard, a self-taught scholar who recently translated the stories and who is publishing them, one at a time, through Publish Studio Berkeley. I was transfixed by it's beautiful prose and insight in to pre-war Germany. I am ordering a copy asap.
Ross Perlin
Only recently translated into English and recognized as a work in its right, this slender volume evokes the life of objects and sensations in Benjamin’s early childhood, echoing and contrasting with A la recherche. Filled with beautiful moments (identification with the otter, the mythologized panaroma of the carousel etc.)
Rebekah
Hauntingly beautiful vignettes about Benjamin's childhood memories in Berlin. Deals with the difficulty of memory, issues of linear time and the Benjaminian interactions/crashing together of past and present.
Q
It's a book for slow, careful reading. It takes you straight to Berlin circa 1900, shows it to you through the eyes of a child. It's simultaneously a confusing and an enlightening experience.
Erica
A fascinating collection of meditations on his childhood memories, dripping with aura and sentimentality. A very different view of Benjamin than the greatest hits version often presented in school.
Lysergius
There is a certain similarity with one's own childhood. Yet it is the differences, and Benjamin's prose that are most enlightening... Shades of Proust and Joyce too. Excellent
Christian Krüger
Hier werden auf einfühlsame Weise anschaulich Kindheitserinnerungen geschildert. Gleichzeitig erhält man einen interessanten Blick Benjamins auf das damalige Berlin.
Eric
Jun 02, 2008 Eric marked it as to-read
I hope this is like Mandelstam's 'The Noise of Time'--elliptical, episodic, a catalogue of significant fragments. That's the way memoirs should be written.
Ian
I know a lot of people love Benjamin, but I just found him boring. Another one of those books that seemed more over my head than anything else.
Beth
I found this difficult but rewarding. I think I would get more out of it if I read it at least one more time.
Margaret
Not what I was expecting. I will probably read it again later.
willow
Benjamin makes Berlin a fairy tale of childhood. Intoxicating
Iben
Ohhhh Benjamin...
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1860
Walter Bendix Schönflies Benjamin was a German-Jewish Marxist literary critic, essayist, translator, and philosopher. He was at times associated with the Frankfurt School of critical theory and was also greatly inspired by the Marxism of Bertolt Brecht and Jewish mysticism as presented by Gershom Scholem.

As a sociological and cultural critic, Benjamin combined ideas drawn from historical materiali...more
More about Walter Benjamin...
Illuminations: Essays and Reflections The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility, and Other Writings on Media The Arcades Project Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings One Way Street And Other Writings (The Verso Classics Series)

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“Memory is not an instrument for surveying the past but its theater. It is the medium of past experience, just as the earth is the medium in which dead cities lie buried. He who seeks to approach his own buried past must conduct himself like a man digging.” 25 likes
“Not to find one's way around a city does not mean much. But to lose one's way in a city, as one loses one's way in a forest, requires some schooling. Street names must speak to the urban wanderer like the snapping of dry twigs, and little streets in the heart of the city must reflect the times of day, for him, as clearly as a mountain valley. This art I acquired rather late in life; it fulfilled a dream, of which the first traces were labyrinths on the blotting papers in my school notebooks.” 15 likes
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