The Tin Drum, Günther Grass, 1959
Considered the voice—and conscience—of post-World War II Germany, Grass published his most acclaimed novel, set in the years leading up to the war on the German-Polish border, in 1959. It remains a literary masterpiece.
Berlin Alexanderplatz, Alfred Döblin, 1929
One of the most ground-breaking works of German literature when it was first published in 1929, this novel is told in myriad voices and takes place in the neighborhood around the Alexanderplatz, once the heart of Berlin nightlife.
The Berlin Stories, Christopher Isherwood, 1945
The work that loosely inspired the musical Cabaret, Isherwood’s Berlin Stories are a fascinating glimpse into 1920s and early ‘30s Berlin.
The Innocent, Ian McEwan, 1990
The British Booker Prize-winning author’s thriller was published in 1990 and is set in Cold War Berlin.
The Blind Side of the Heart, Julia Franck, 2009
Winner of the German Book Prize, Franck’s novel is based on the life of her father. Amidst the chaos of World War II, the author’s grandmother and protagonist Helene has managed to keep her son alive. One day she leaves him at a railway platform, never to return.
Half-blood Blues, Esi Edugyan, 2011
Short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, Half-blood Blues follows a journeyman jazz bassist as he attempts to escape 1940’s Berlin.
Wall Jumper, Peter Schneider, 1983
Frank and thought-provoking, Wall Jumper collects the stories of those who have illegally jumped the Berlin Wall. The novel examines life in both halves of Berlin, showing psychological differences.
This Must Be the Place, Anna Winger, 2008
Anna Winger’s American heroine falls in love with Berlin and regains her sense of self after a personal tragedy causes her to flee New York.
The Good German, Joseph Kanon, 2002
A fun-to-read romantic thriller set in post-World War II Berlin.
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin, Erik Larson, 2012
Set in the early days of Nazi Germany, this novel provides a stunning portrait of Hitler’s Berlin.
Stasiland, Anna Funder, 1987
Australian journalist Anna Funder lived in Berlin in the early 1990’s and, appalled by the general lack of interest in stories from the former East, set out to interview a variety of East Germans, including the victims and perpetrators of a regime that ceased to exist overnight. The deeply moving stories gathered in Stasiland paint a vivid portrait of the divided Germany. To me, this is a must-read.
Berlin, David Clay Large, 2000
A wonderful historic overview through the prism of the city’s cultural scene. It’s a tome but actually quite a page-turner, especially the chapters about World War II and the building of the Berlin Wall.
The Last Jews in Berlin, Leonard Gross, 1982
A riveting book about the small group of Jews who survived the end of the war in Berlin, both underground and in disguise, under constant threat of discovery.
A Woman in Berlin, Anonymous, 1945
This oftentimes difficult journal was kept by a 34-year-old journalist who lived through the Russian occupation in post-War Berlin. The mass rapes that took place during it remain an unaddressed chapter in World War II’s history.
Alone in Berlin, Hans Fallada, 1947 An incredible moving memoir about surviving the city’s most turbulent days.
Berlin Diaries, 1940-1945, Marie Vassiltchikov, 1988
The wartime diary of an émigré Russian princess who was secretary to Adam Von Trott, mastermind of the failed plot to assassinate Hitler.
Berlin Diaries, William L. Shirer, 1941
From a CBS radio reporter, Berlin Diaries is a first-hand account of the rise of the Third Reich and the road to global war.
Emil and the Detectives, Erich Kästner, 1929
One of Germany’s most prominent intellectuals, Erich Kästner is best-known for his children’s books, like Emil and the Detectives, which tells the story of a group of young boys who trail a bank robber through a very realistic 1920s Berlin.
Wings of Desire, Wim Wenders, 1987
A great visual love letter to the city.
Run Lola Run, Tom Tykwer, 1998
Set largely to a techno soundtrack, this high-speed chase all across the city stars Franka Potente. It’s a fun, young take of 1990s Berlin.
Goodbye Lenin, Wolfgang Becker, 2003
A seriocomic look at post-reunified Germany.
The Lives of Others, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006
An Academy Award–wining, incredibly moving film about life behind the wall.
Cabaret, Bob Fosse, 1972
The Liza Minnelli classic is set in a nightclub in Weimar Republic-era Berlin