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Walking in Berlin: a flaneur in the capital

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  215 ratings  ·  39 reviews
A timeless guide to one of the world’s greatest cities.

Franz Hessel was an observer par excellence of the increasingly hectic metropolis that was Berlin in the late 1920s. In Walking in Berlin, originally published in Germany in 1929, he captures the rhythm of Weimar-era Berlin, recording evidence of the seismic shifts shaking German culture at the time.

Nearly all of the
Hardcover, 260 pages
Published December 8th 2016 by Scribe UK (first published 1929)
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Nat K
”To date, perhaps Berlin hasn’t really been loved enough…”

Oh to be a flâneur! I love the idea of spending my days absorbing a city’s idiosyncrasies and its vibe and energy, then putting pen to paper to share my bon mots.

Alas, there seem to be no vacancies for a flâneur, so I live vicariously through books such as these.

”The flâneur reads the street, and human faces, displays, window dressings, café terraces, trains, cars and trees become letters that yield the words, sentences, and pages of a bo
Jun 20, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: germany, 2021-read
English translation: Walking in Berlin: A Flaneur in the Capital
Postmodern readers are perhaps more familiar with Hessel's son Stéphane, diplomat and author of the manifesto Time for Outrage: Indignez-vous!, but Franz Hessel's book is a classic of 1920's German literature, probably only comparable to Berlin Alexanderplatz and the output of Walter Benjamin. While Döblin portrayed Berlin as a greedy machine feeding on its inhabitants, anonymous, cold, fast and relentless (much like Rilke showed Pa
Oct 31, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: places-berlin
Franz Hessel, der lange Zeit in Berlin lebte, brachte die in Paris verbreitete Perspektive des Flaneurs nach Berlin und liefert wunderbare Beschreibungen des Berliner Alltags in den 20er Jahren.
Jan 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Memoir set in BERLIN of the 1920s

A physically delightful book, the unusual pink and turquoise cover really caught my eye. A perfect book to take to Berlin to get under the granite and stones facades of this imposing and historically rich city, and gain a real sense of perspective of the legacy evident all around today.

Franz Hessel saw himself as a flâneur, someone who sauntered about the capital on foot, and sometimes by car. He would observe the buildings and the people as they went about their
Jul 29, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-bought
I was expecting something more experimental or an odd point of view with regards to Franz Hessel's "Walking in Berlin." The narration is very straight forward and reads like a travel guide to a city. The interesting aspect is that this is Berlin in the 1920s and this is first-person reportage of a very interesting city in a fascinating period of 20th-century history. Hessel gives all the senses in his writing of what I have to imagine is his favorite city. Berlin, especially in the 1920s, draws ...more
Just as Eugène Atget captured the disappearance of the old in a modernizing, late 19th-century Paris, so Franz Hessel apropos of Weimar-era Berlin, "a city that's always on the go, always in the middle of becoming something else". Reinventing the introspective meanderings of the flâneur figure, his travels detail a transient world with places and figures on the cusp of dematerializing into historical relics amidst the inexorable march of time. And yet, one yearns for a more penetrating insight i ...more
Jan 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
"Let us learn a bit of idleness and indulgence, and look at the thing that is Berlin, in its combination of chaos and luxury and meanness, solidity and spuriousness, peculiarity and respectability, until we become fond of it and find it beautiful, until it is beautiful."

This was another book that caught my eye at Daunt Books, with its lovely turquoise and pink cover. Berlin is on my list of cities to visit, so I thought, why not try this book? It is an interesting insight into what it was like i
Sep 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel
The is an essential guide for anyone interested in the city of Berlin and its history. Hessel is a great guide. His walks across the city combine a bit of everything. More to the point the fact that it was written in 1929 does not matter, since his accounts have a contemporary feel, and despite all the turmoil and upset that Berlin has endured, once cannot help but feel it is the same city described by Hessel all those years ago.
Juan Jiménez García
Franz Hessel. Guía para un mundo que desaparecerá

Hemos leído libros sobre mundos que se pierden, irremediablemente. El peatón de París, editado también por Errata Naturae, podría ser uno de ellos. Son como cajitas en las que se guardan un montón de cosas con la certeza de que no estarán en breve o dejaron de estar no hace mucho. Con una especie de necesidad de preservar la ciudad, pero también los recuerdos. La infancia o aquellos sitios que significaron algo. Sitios que significaron algo pero t
Alison P
May 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018-reads
Don't be misled by the long read time: I loved this book. It is not one to be rushed, but instead visited from time to time and savoured whenever a little Berlin magic is needed. ...more
Scribe Publications
Hessel is a feisty, clever, and witty guide to Berlin; his prose is animated and sumptuous and his perceptions glamorously lyrical. For anyone who knows the geography of Berlin, this book is an especial treat.
Gail Jones, Saturday Age

Beautiful … a classic observation of the German city in the late 1920s that illuminates many of the historic shadows and provides a wonderful map for modern-day wanderings.
Sydney Morning Herald

[A]n absolutely epic book, a walking remembrance.
Walter Benjamin

Becky Loader
Oct 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Now, this is true writing! Skilled use of the language and evocative descriptions.

What is a flaneur? Those great people who can stroll along through the neighborhood and observe. Everything.

*sigh* I hope there will be a time post-Covid-19 that such a thing can be possible again.
Jun 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: librocinio
En muchas ocasiones echo en falta libros que no basen toda la intención de su trama en la necesidad de motivar al lector a base de giros y situaciones intrincadas. Echo en falta la prosa bella sin mayor intención que narrar, que contar algo por el mero hecho de contárselo al lector. Y eso es precisamente lo que ofrece Franz Hessel en este relato. El autor se dispone a coger al lector de la mano y llevarlo de paseo por Berlín, mientras le va narrando lo que ve, lo que siente, lo que vive. Sin art ...more
Feb 23, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Putting it aside until back into the topic. Other projects call, and not just reading (big stack of NYers!). It is fun, at least, and even better after a half week walking around Berlin in his spirit. When thinking of one of those places I can now go to the section on it, for instance. It dragged down in "Rundfahrt", although there were some juicy bits, especially when he kept writing about a place after the silly guide who kept going after a cursory mention of that place. Or else spent a lot of ...more
Joseph Hirsch
Jul 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It's a tragedy that more of Hessel's work isn't available in English translation. This is lumped in with other flaneur pieces that take a worm's eye view of interwar/ Weimar Germany, but Hessel's descriptive power, his sense of humor, and his knowledge of German history are too keen for this work to be limited or categorized. It's just great literature.

The heart of the work is "The Tour," a long Feuilleton piece that describes a day trip the author took with several tourists through Berlin's gar
Aug 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: august-2018
I adore books about flaneurs; I find them absolutely fascinating. Thus, I was thrilled to come across Franz Hessel's Walking in Berlin: A Flaneur in the Capital whilst browsing in a bookshop, and purchased a copy immediately. First published in Germany in 1929, it was not until 2016 that Walking in Berlin was translated into English by Amanda DeMarco. Hessel grew up in Berlin, and DeMarco is currently based there, which I feel is a nice and considered touch.

The book promises 'a walk around 1920s
Jun 15, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ein wundervolles Buch, voller Poesie und Charme - so aktuell wie damals und heute. Heute, fast 100 Jahre später, erlebt man Berlin zwar augenscheinlich ganz anders, weil es ja so viel moderner sei, aber wenn man genau hinhört, ist die großstädtische Betriebsamkeit, Kälte und Wärme deutlich zu spüren, damals wie heute. Als zugezogener Berliner hat mir das Buch erleichtert, mich nach 8 Jahren Leben in dieser Stadt ein bisschen mehr zuhause in ihr zu fühlen... Hessel wandert auf den Routen, die man ...more
Dec 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic. Really transports you to the settings he describes if you let it. Descriptive and emotive, Hessel really can paint a picture and weave in historical context to present something that’s halfway between a field guide and a living ethnography.

The depiction of 1920s Berlin is really interesting. I felt like the tragic irony of the book is it’s unspoken context; Hessel describes a Berlin that’s transitioning from a stodgy monarchy to a libertine, experimental paradise that breaks norms and
Jun 28, 2020 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Um seiner selbst willen Neuköllen aufzusuchen, dazu kann man eigentlich niemandem raten.

Lohnt's noch, vom heutigen und gestrigen Alexanderplatz zu sprechen?

Dort, wo das Pflaster aufgerissen ist, haben die Kinder aus dem aufgeschütteten Sand Berge mit Tunnels gebaut. Aus den Häusern schauen ihnen auf ihre Fensterkissen gelehnt die Mütter zu.

›Eigentlich sollten die Schriftsteller sich selbst mit ihrer Ware in redlicher Selbstreklame an den Straßenecken aufpflanzen und ausrufen: Hier no
Sep 30, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A detailed narration of the streets of berlin during the times of Hessel. Although it portrays the change that was happening in berlin at the time of early 20th century, for which Hessel thought that a lot of modernisation was taking place, what would Hessel say if he visited Berlin today? He had already realised that Berlin was changing and standing out from other neighbouring cities as early as that century; today it continues to stand out and is a city that never sleeps.
Carl Halpin
The afterword to this book sums up the story and what to do from here nicely:

“These were a few shy attempts to go walking in Berlin... don’t reproach me for all the important and noteworthy things that I’ve overlooked; rather, go out yourselves, aimlessly, just as I have done, on hazard’s little voyages of discovery. You don’t have time? That’s false ambition speaking.”
Servabo Fidem
May 30, 2021 rated it liked it
"Let us believe ourselves capable of it, let us learn a bit of idleness and indulgence, and look at the thing that is Berlin, in its combination and chaos of luxury and meanness, solidity and spuriousness, peculiarity and respectability, until we become fond of it and find it beautiful, until it is beautiful." ...more
Magdalena Wajda
Mar 24, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Loved it.
A portrait of a city that is gone in some parts, but some of what Hessel writes about still remains.
Beautiful language, splendid English translation - not that I could appreciate the German version, but I loved the flow of sentences in English!
A must for those interested in the Weimar Republic period, highly recommended for all Berlin enthusiasts.
May 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Unglaublich scharf beobachtet, unglaublich lässig-plaudernd dargestellt, unglaublich aktuell - was und wie Hessel als Flaneur durch das Berlin vor 90 Jahren sieht und zu berichten weiß, hat (manchmal zwischen den Zeilen) auch uns Heutigen noch so einiges zu sagen.

Allemal Unterhaltung auf höchstem Niveau, der man die schiere Freude am Erzählen anmerkt.
Valerie Verveda
Jan 16, 2020 rated it it was ok
It's a too detailed and too factual renumeration of what the author saw while having walks. It's great depiction of the reality but a very boring read, for me, the one who was in Berlin many times and lives the city. My expectation were too high probably. At the end I read a blog of a walker ...more
Eva María
Feb 18, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: viajes
Hermoso e intenso paseo x el Berlín de entreguerras. Lleno de detalles y de abrumadora información. Sólo he estado una vez en Berlín, pero literariamente es una ciudad que he revisitado muchas veces y cada vez me sorprende y gusta más. Un placer leer también el epílogo del gran Walter Benjamin.
Callum McAllister
Pretty entertaining. Also I always like perspectives on the changing world that are actually written decades or centuries ago. Kind of want to know how he wrote it. It reads as though he's talking aloud, wandering aimlessly around Berlin. ...more
Frank Farrell
Feb 14, 2021 rated it liked it
A little disappointed given the reviews. One chapter has him taking a bus tour around the city: hardly the act of a Flaneur!

However, I did enjoy looking up places he mentions to see what they looked like.
May 20, 2020 rated it liked it
3.5 To be savoured slowly. A lovely account of ramblings around Berlin that made me look at my surrounding more carefully and perceptively. It captures the spirit of the 1920s Berlin, but may be difficult to follow if you don't know the geography of the city well. ...more
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Franz Hessel, Berlin-born son of a Jewish banking family, was a writer and translator, translating works by Casanova, Stendhal, and Balzac, as well as collaborating with Walter Benjamin on a translation of Proust's "À la recherche du temps perdu" into German. Hessel died in early 1941, shortly after his release from an internment camp. ...more

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