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The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  506 ratings  ·  46 reviews
In this compelling work, Brian Ladd examines the ongoing conflicts radiating from the remarkable fusion of architecture, history, and national identity in Berlin. Ladd surveys the urban landscape, excavating its ruins, contemplating its buildings and memorials, and carefully deconstructing the public debates and political controversies emerging from its past.

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Paperback, 282 pages
Published November 15th 1998 by University of Chicago Press (first published 1997)
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Oct 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
This book offers pretty much everything you want in a walking tour of a city (history and architecture, anecdotes and themes), apart from the thousand photographs you wish were in here. But mainly it's an analysis of issues of memory and politics and the German psyche in general, and how it affects (and is reflected in) the landscape of the city. Understandably, there basically isn't a brick in town that doesn't associate with it some measure of guilt and mourning. I bought this book because I'm ...more
Dec 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone visiting Germany
What kind of Berlin can there be after the Holocaust and the Wall? The answer is more than complicated. The city's visitors feel like archeologists, digging for the layers under every building, every street name. Because the book focuses on the physical city, I'm guessing that it would feel too abstract for someone who had never visited. But for me it was a revelation, supplying details about the sights I have seen and leading me to new ones.

For example, there is the large office building on Wil
Dec 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
I found this book at a great second-hand bookstore in Seattle (Mercer St. Books) and almost didn't buy it because, even though it's right up my alley, it's also about 20 years old now and I wasn't sure it would have anything to say about the Berlin of 2018.

I was very wrong. It's an astute and still very relevant analysis of post-Wall Berlin and how the city grapples with its history through architecture (and grapples with its architectural history). The landscape of Berlin is a source of endless
Dec 10, 2007 rated it liked it
not bad, but Koshar's "Germany's Transient Pasts" is a better academic treatment of a similar topic.
Oct 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nazi-germany, history
In urban landscapes, sites often have multiple histories. How do we determine which histories are to be remembered and which are to be forgotten? Moreover, how do these choices impact the citizens who engage with urban sites on a daily basis? Brian Ladd’s book is a fruitful meditation on these questions. Ladd recounts the histories of several of Berlin’s high-profile public sites from the medieval period through reunification. While each site has a unique trajectory and ultimate fate, what shine ...more
Chris Schroeck
Aug 18, 2012 rated it liked it
Despite the rating, this is a mist read if you plan to visit Berlin. While the information is excellent, unfortunatley the writing is not.
In spite of the circular writing, i found the rich history of the city of Berlin to be incredibly fascinating and truly helps you understand the culture of Berlin and Germany as a whole with respect to the events of the 20th century.
The author provides plenty of anecdotal information that can be easily compiled as a guidebook for those interested in digging
Nov 26, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
There may be no other city in the world with as complicated an architectural history as Berlin. It is amazing that anything ever gets built in the welter of competing and conflicting historical narratives. There is the old, medieval Berlin, the imperial city of the Hohenzollerns, Weimar Berlin, Nazi Berlin, Communist Berlin, and now the modern city. Each of these previous epochs has its own proponents for historical preservation and, like an archaeological dig, in some cases you cannot preserve ...more
Jun 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: everyone!
Shelves: germany
Fantastic look at the history of Berlin via architecture and landscape. The book really shines when it discusses the human drama surrounding these monuments and buildings, the little personal stories that highlight everything. The use of design contests was surprisingly frequent, as was the total disregard for the winning design. By far my favorite story was about the Linné Triangle and the only mass flight from West Berlin to East Berlin.

Also excellent was the way the author explained the contr
Jul 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
My partner recommended this because I was traveling to Berlin and she was 100% correct. Ladd is an architectural history professor but he writes without jargon and with a fair amount of elegance. The photos are also essential. This book may make you look at your own hometown differently; though it probably has not gone through the trauma of Berlin, Ladd gives you a frame to see all buildings as a contest between preservation and the needs of the people who live in the city at the time, as well a ...more
May 21, 2019 rated it liked it
Brian Ladd takes an unusual angle on the layered and varying history of Berlin/Germany by focusing on architecture and monuments. This provides a very interesting story of cultural and national identity and a very fascinating look at how history unfolded.

The book is dated - published in the 90s so some sections were no longer relevant or missing the full story - so the best parts were looking back and analyzing from the turn of the 20th century to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

I recommend this i
Jul 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was an almost perfect book for me to read on a trip to Berlin. I spend all my time in foreign cities walking around looking at buildings and wondering what their stories are, and this is a perfect set of some answers for a particular strange city. It was engaging, informative, and made my whole trip more meaningful. My only wish is that it could be written again in the current decade.
Earl Adams
Jun 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
A fascinating look at the evolving Berlin landscape. While The Ghosts of Berlin is nearly 20 years old, it's still largely relevant. Berlin-lovers, residents and visitors will find some thought provoking nuggets here.
Michael Pennington
May 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
This troubled city.
Sep 05, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Would have been four stars were it not for the poor quality of the photos. Picked the book up while visiting Berlin- bookstore tourism. Really wished I had read it prior to the trip.
Jul 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great look into the political and architectural history of Berlin and how it plays into Germany's identity.
James Folan
Sep 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
The fact that it’s not actually about ghosts is the only disappointment.
Apr 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A surprisingly incisive book on an unexpectedly fascinating topic. This book is very well written and has some extremely thoughtful ideas about Berlin.
Porter Illi
Jul 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Updated with a 2017 afterward, the text provides a comprehensive yet approachable review of Berlin’s history told through the monuments and buildings across the city.
Jun 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I am enjoying this book so much, I love the architecture of Berlin, what is here and what is missing. This book is from around 1995. It is an amazing period when they are removing the wall and looking at the area that has been for thirty years no mans land, but is now the center of the new capital of reunified Germany. Amongst these ruins are palaces, churches, synagogues, parlimentary headquarters, interrogations cells, secret service buildings, antifascist squats, prison camps, large stretches ...more
Mar 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
I just returned from my first visit to Berlin, and this book allowed me to truly appreciate the architecture in this beautiful city. The author walks you through the history of Berlin by examining its buildings and monuments, and explains how these structures are a manifestation of the "identity crisis" the city suffers as its inhabitants struggle to come to terms with its violent past. Highly recommended for lovers of history, architecture, and/or travel!

Jul 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book was a really interesting complement to what I already know about Germany and German culture. Just today, there was a news article on a controversy about tearing down an apartment building. Even more than 10 years after it was published, this book is still very relevant. I only wish it would be translated into German, as I have some friends who would be interested, but don't read English on a high level.
Mar 06, 2012 rated it liked it
Great book - would have given it 4 stars if I was anything resembling an architect or civil engineer, however I read it merely for the purposes of a curious traveler. I learned so much about Berlin's unique history from this book which I anticipate will enhance a planned visit to the city immensely.
Jun 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
The tone this book wa written in was engaging, and got me very interested in the subject. The author establishes the uniqueness of Berlin as a city, and sets up the "mystery" element very well for a non-fiction academic book.

I felt that this was a fluid read, and definitely one of the better course reads I have had in the Intl. Relations major.
Oct 16, 2012 rated it really liked it

A really interesting public history of Berlin. Berlin has such a unique history as the center of so many globally significant events, both positive and negative, that how they have preserved and written their identity is a fascinating case study of public history. Well written and engaging, a good read for anyone interested in public history.
G.M. Burrow
Jan 29, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Read this to discover the history of Berlin's architecture and why it's so different from what people picture when they think of Germany. (They're typically picturing Bavaria and medieval pockets like Rothenburg.) The book was pretty well written and very informative. Glad I had already read a history of the Berlin Wall so I was armed with the city's most recent history.
Ben Zhang
May 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is such a book that invests my sensations and urban experience in Berlin with rational lights. Brian Ladd's writing is haunting. His approaches to historic/contemporary landscape, commemorative space, the concept of place and time and layers of history in Berlin really constructed a visual picture of this amazing city between lines. Love it so much!
Sep 29, 2009 rated it liked it
A little dated now, and I would have loved to see it go deeper into neighborhoods instead of focusing on the mostly obvious, but still an excellent look at the history and controversy of many of the buildings and other structures we pass every day in Berlin.
May 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, germany
Absolutely fascinating coverage of the political & historical implications of Berlin's urban landscape; sadly a bit outdated (published in 1997), and I'd love to see an update of what's been going on & settled & argued about for the last almost 20 years. ...more
Geoffrey Kabaservice
Oct 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
An interesting meditation on the history encoded in Berlin's buildings, ruins, and absences. I would have preferred more discussion of the architecture itself rather than Ladd's discussion of the politics surrounding them, which are now somewhat dated, but this was a thought-provoking work.
Julia Feldhaus
Feb 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Great book for a college course focused on the topography of Berlin. I learned a lot, and once I return to Berlin, I'll see it with opened eyes. I wish Ladd would rework this book, and bring out a new edition that would cover the building of the City Palace.
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