On the surface, Berlin Alexanderplatz is about a down-on-his-luck Berliner named Franz Biberkopf. But really, the book is about Berlin itself, and the working class milieu to which Biberkopf belongs. When the novel opens, it’s some time in the 1920s and Franz has just been released from prison for killing his girlfriend.
Berlin has a lot of Markthallen - Market Halls. Like many other substantial changes to Berlin’s urban infrastructure (including the Central Slaughterhouse in the last third of the 19th century, the construction of market halls was undertaken to address the needs of a quickly growing city. Quite simply, there weren’t enough indoor, hygienic places for people to buy groceries and other food supplies.
Berlin’s Central Livestock- and Slaughterhouse - the Zentralvieh- und Schlachthof - was the largest of its kind in the city. It was originally conceived at the end of the 19th century as a remedy to the chaotic situation in Berlin’s livestock and slaughterhouse industry. In the 1870s, there were as many as 800 independent slaughterhouses in the city.
Ernst Thälmann Park in Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood is located on what used to be an enormous gas production and storage facility. Built in 1872, the facility was expanded until the second world war, when it gradually fell into disrepair. It was almost entirely demolished in 1982 to make way for the Memorial, new housing blocks, as well as a culture forum. Traces of the old gas facility, though, remain.
In 1945, in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Berlin, Soviet occupation forces settled into House 3 in an abandoned hospital complex in Prenzlauer Berg. They used the building not only as an administrative center, but as a secret detention and torture facility. Prisoners unlucky enough to find themselves in the basement of House 3 often had a long, painful experience before they were finally released - if they were ever released at all.
The Memorial to Polish Soldiers and German Anti-Fascists, located in Volkspark Friedrichshain in Berlin, was originally dedicated in 1972. It was rededicated in 1995 to include non-communists amongst those memorialized.
In 1933, Hermann Tietz & Co., one of the largest department store firms in Germany, was forcibly expropriated from its Jewish owners as part of the Nazi policy of Aryanization. It was renamed Hertie, and remained one of Germany's largest retailers until it was purchased in 1994. The heirs of Georg Karg, who took over the firm from its rightful owners in 1933, set up a foundation in his honor shortly after his death.
It made me really sad when I read in the New York Times the other day that American politicians who had advocated bringing Syrian refugees to the United States had been called the “jihadi caucus” by right-wing conservatives. What a stupid, fearful, counter-productive thing to say, I thought. But American politics is prone to this kind of hyperbole and idiocy.