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3—Berlin Alexanderplatz
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Berlin Alexanderplatz

Döblin's literary life during the Weimar Republic was intense and varied. Besides novels, he wrote plays, a verse epic, two books of philosophical speculation, a book on contemporary Poland, plus occasional journalism and theater reviews. His imaginative works were accompanied and illuminated by a steady stream of essays. The record of Döblin's complex and often contradictory political and social ideas and how they influence his fiction is contained mainly in the essays he wrote for such liberal journals as the Neue Rundschau and the Neuer Merkur . They reflect a gradual change in Döblin's political, philosophical, and aesthetic views that had a profound effect on the novel Berlin Alexanderplatz .

Scholars who have attempted to sort out Döblin's politics have generally come to the conclusion that they were at best confused.[1] What is clear is that from 1919 on, Döblin considered himself a progressive writer on the side of the working class. His basic political sympathies lay with the workers' and soldiers' councils that were formed early in the German revolution of 1918–19 and then bypassed and suppressed by the majority Social-Democratic government under Friedrich Ebert. "A comradely association of free men," Döblin wrote in 1919, "forms the natural basic cell of all society, the small community; there one must begin. . . . That's what Prince Kropotkin had long known and taught, what he learned from the Swiss watchmakers in the Jurabund, in political jargon: syndicalism, anarchism" (SPG 92).[2] But his interest in anarchism was never that of an activist, only of an observer and sympathizer. This is the pose Döblin adopts in a series of occasional "glosses" he wrote in 1919 and 1920 on the contemporary political and cultural scene. He wrote under the pseudonym Linke Poot (Left Paw) for the journal Die Neue Rundschau, where he was serving as editor. In these articles, Döblin attacks the Weimar state and its Social-Democratic leadership as a thin veneer beneath which the old power


structure of officers and junkers remains: "Gemany, the Imperial Republic" (WV 22).

By 1921, however, in a speech entitled "Staat und Schriftsteller" (The State and the Writer), Döblin has accepted the new German state, at least as a theoretical ideal to be striven for, and urges his fellow artists to activism in its support. An ideal image of the Weimar Republic emerges as a new societal order, spiritualized through its artists and writers, trying to break out of the old, capitalistic and imperialistic mold. To the latter definitely belong the negative images of the city that arise at the end of the speech and echo the Friedrichstrasse passage in Wadzek: "Amid the roar of the factories, amid the window displays that entice and disquiet the people, amid the partisan wrangling, I wanted to speak to writers—without resignation, but rather full of hope" (AzL 61). In another 1921 essay, "Der Epiker, sein Stoff und die Kritik" (The Epic Writer, His Subject-Matter, and the Critics), Döblin defends his choice of the Thirty Years' War as the subject of his novel Wallenstein by presenting an even more incisive image of the contemporary writer and his spiritual isolation in modern industrial and consumer society:

The cities have destroyed everything. Everyone sits at his desk and writes away; he can take delight in the scratching of his pen. Nothing holds the human masses together. They only touch each other. The fact that they speak a common language is only superficial. The nations have developed into immense conglomerations in which—besides other diseases—industry rages; the inventive spirit, unbridled, uncontrolled, absorbing absolutely everything, has led the mutually dependent European nations to the ideal of the inner-spring mattress and toothpaste.
(AzL 335)

Döblin here sees the cities as the focus of the restoration of both the old capitalistic, exploitative order and the "partisan wrangling" that prevented the parties of the Left from establishing a new order after the war.

In his next major novel, Döblin was to present a prognosis for the "disease" of industrialism and uncontrolled technology. Mountains Seas and Giants, written between 1921 and 1923 and published in 1924, is a fantasy set in the twenty-third to twenty-fifth centuries A.D. Humanity, organized into supranational regions and city-states, perfects its technological mastery of the natural world. Hunger is abolished, for example, through the artificial synthesis of food. The hubris


of the technocrats, however, leads them to attempt the deglaciation of Greenland in order to gain new land. The attempt has terrifying consequences, freeing from the glacial ice prehistoric monsters which reproduce in frenzied hypertrophy and attack the European continent. In the end, groups of "settlers" are left to begin again under primitive conditions. Nature, supposedly brought under total control by technology, rebels and overwhelms human society.

As Döblin gradually turned away from leftist party politics in the early twenties, bitterly disappointed at the failure of the Weimar state to achieve a genuine renewal of Germany, he evolved instead a new attitude toward the natural world. We have seen that in his earlier works, nature is identified with woman and thus alien and hostile to man. In the Expressionist story "The Murder of a Buttercup," for instance, the central character casually beheads a flower during a forest stroll and is soon obsessed by the idea that he has "murdered" it—or rather, murdered her—for he gives it the name Ellen.

It is by no means the aesthete's appreciation of the surface beauties of nature to which Döblin, the quintessential homo urbanus, is now converted. He describes how some ordinary stones picked up on a Baltic beach during a vacation induce a sort of epiphany leading to the composition of Mountains Seas and Giants: "The stones on the Baltic shore touched me. For the first time, really for the first time I returned hesitantly—no, unwillingly—to Berlin, the city of houses, machines, human masses to which I was otherwise totally devoted. I felt the desire to stay even longer in the midst of nature, and for once to be surrounded by such things as these" (AzL 347). We will see that nature ceases to be associated with women as the realm of emotions. It is now appropriated for intellectual man as part of a dynamic, ordered universe.

The novel Mountains Seas and Giants marks the turning point in Döblin's view of nature. It begins with a dedication that connects it specifically to contemporary reality. It is as if Döblin needed this reassurance before his imagination carried him into the distant past or future. Wang-lun had been dedicated to the Taoist Liä-Dsi, the preacher of passivity in the face of life's unalterable flux. Mountains Seas and Giants is dedicated to the flux itself, in the shape of the "thousand-foot thousand-arm thousand-head" Nature, which now is positively reinterpreted. The narrator plunges into a world alive with


dynamic forces, a world in which the cultivated nature of a park on the edge of Berlin forms a seamless continuum with the entire universe:

I walk on the soft, springy ground at the low-lying end of the Schlachtensee. Over there the tables chairs of the Old Fisherman's Cottage, haze above the water and the reeds. I'm walking on the floor of the air. Enclosed in this moment with myriads of things in this corner of the world. Together we are this world: soft ground, reeds, lake, chairs, tables of the Fisherman's Cottage, carp in the water, gnats above it, birds in the gardens of the villas of Zehlendorf, cuckoo's call, grasses, sand, sunshine, clouds, fishermen, poles, lines, hooks, bait, children singing, warmth, electric tension in the air. How blindingly the sun rages up there. Who is that? What a mass of stars rage beside it; I can't see them.

The dark, rolling, roaring power. You dark, furious, intertwined—you gentle, delightful, unimaginably beautiful, unbearably heavy, unceasing powers. Trembling grasping flickering thousand-foot thousand-spirit thousand-head.
(BMG 10)

This ecstatic hymn to the natural world, with its characteristic strings of nouns and adjectives, is the declaration of a pantheistic worldview that decisively influences Döblin's production from now on. At the same time that Döblin was withdrawing in disappointment from the cut and slash of party politics in the Weimar Republic,[3] he was turning toward a speculative natural philosophy characterized by an overriding biological metaphor. He bypasses, as it were, the concrete questions of political power and how it can be controlled and used, by moving into a universal context and rising above politics.

Döblin's new attitude found its most concentrated expression in The I over Nature and the important essay of 1924, "Der Geist des naturalistischen Zeitalters" (The Spirit of the Naturalistic Age). It is only seemingly paradoxical that the one represents an act of acceptance of man's place and purpose in the totality of the universe while the other is a paean to the spirit of the modern industrial age, because now there is no longer any dualism between man and his works on one side and nature on the other. Both are subsumed under the biological metaphor which had come to dominate Döblin's thought. The string of nouns in the dedication to Mountains Seas and Giants already established a continuum from the narrator through inanimate objects and animate nature to the stars and sun.

"The Spirit of the Naturalistic Age," published in the same year as Mountains Seas and Giants, belongs in fact more to Döblin's writings


on natural philosophy than it does among his essays on literature, where it was placed by Walter Muschg, the first editor of the Selected Works.[4] The essay is clearly a turning point in Döblin's thought.[5] He declares himself without reservation to be in favor of the scientific, technological, and industrial progress of our age, which he chooses to call "naturalistic." He rejects as specious the distinction between profound Germanic "culture" and superficial, Western, democratic "civilization" that Thomas Mann, for one, propagated in his Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen (Observations of an Apolitical Man; 1918). How radically Döblin rejects this distinction can be seen in his positive use of images of the city and capitalistic phenomena like advertising, which only a few years earlier had attracted his scorn. We have seen him in 1921 using the example of toothpaste to mock the supposed achievements of "the inventive spirit." Now he uses the same image for a diametrically opposite purpose: to praise the new spirit and the practical orientation that ignores outdated philosophical problems: "We have respectfully acknowledged the greatness and importance of the old problems and have then turned to the production of toothpaste" (AzL 68). Similarly, the unbridled advertising he castigated in 1921 now wins his explicit approval as part of the dynamism of the new age:

From the standpoint of the old power and way of thinking, there is no greater challenge, nothing so naively shameless as the shops, window displays, department stores of a big city. Any private person is allowed to open a shop or an entire department store and display his products. No censorship is practiced here, as it is in literature and art, although they are much less dangerous because their realm is the conservative one of the spirit. The unpretentious tradesman can decorate his wares, arrange and illuminate them in a suggestive way. One glance shows what is going on here: needs are being met and new needs are being bred. Man is being modified in an intensely practical way. The technical spirit walks the streets, agitating and forming.
(AzL 82)

How did Döblin accomplish this apparent about-face in his assessment of the modern, technological world? The very title "The Spirit of the Naturalistic Age" suggests the answer: the new age has a spirit, a spirituality, specific to it, just as did the preceding scholastic-humanistic age. The spirit of the naturalistic age is as yet in its infancy, difficult to discern, but undoubtedly there. We stand, writes Döblin, only at the beginning of the new age, whose roots lie in the first precise observa-


tions of nature in the Renaissance, and which emerged fully with the birth of modern technology in the mid nineteenth century. As yet, the new epoch manifests itself only technologically ("The spiritual consequences of Copernicus have not yet been drawn"; AzL 83), and even its chief representatives think of it as materialistic and still revere the old values: "One encounters very capable fathers abashed by their piano-playing daughters. Three measures of Schumann make them red with embarrassment" (AzL 67).[6] But the inchoate ethics of the new age are already discernible. They are founded on the collective nature of its achievements and will be "grandly social and friendly" (AzL 83).

The most striking thing about this essay is that the biological metaphor prevails throughout. Its effect is to distance us from specific social problems by seeing them as part of a larger, natural process. The motive force behind the naturalistic age, for instance, is defined as the "social drive" (Gesellschaftstrieb ), which in the realm of both natural history and social history "makes use of the small groupings it has formed at earlier, lower levels as material for larger and larger groupings" (AzL 64). The formation of nations and cultures is seen biologically as "attempts at variation, at the formation of new human types" (AzL 65). Both industrial capitalism and imperialism are now explained as expressions of the related "drive for expansion" (Ausdehnungstrieb; Azl 74). As late as 1923, in an essay on Heine's modern relevance, Döblin had attacked imperialism as "a terrible spirit of expansion, an empty drive for purely spatial increase" and showed its direct connection to the capitalistic "drive to cull, snatch, absorb" (Klaub-Raff-Saugtrieb; AzL 278). Yet in "The Spirit of the Naturalistic Age," he writes: "The urge to enlarge, to expand, is an expression of the naturalistic spirit." To be sure, he admits that this impulse is as yet impure, still mixed with a local, "rural" patriotism left over from the previous age. A purely naturalistic imperialism would be "peaceful and supranational" (AzL 75) in keeping with the nature of technology, presumably an economic and scientific rather than a military imperialism. "Under these circumstances," however, "it is basically inevitable that gigantic wars will burst forth from the epoch of the young naturalistic-technological spirit" (AzL 75–76).

The biological metaphor simultaneously annuls Döblin's earlier understanding of imperialism as an outgrowth of capitalism and allows him to accept imperialistic war as inevitable. It also allows him to praise the young Soviet Union in the very next paragraph as the country most


profoundly influenced by the naturalistic spirit.[7] He clearly sees that the Soviets worship technology as much as the capitalists do: "The real enemy of this revolution is not the bourgeois. The capitalist and the Soviets have a common enemy, the antinaturalist, antitechnologist, the humanist: Tolstoy" (AzL 76).

Although Döblin recognizes nationalism and racism (which he subsumes under the generic term "the rural") as a countercurrent to the stream of naturalism, he misjudges their danger, categorizing them under the overriding biological metaphor as vestiges of an older organism: "The ancient words 'race' and 'blood' concern the inhabitant of the metropolis. They are, to be sure, something different than a soap factory and a locomotive, but they have their own specific life, take part in the differentiation within the social animal, and are characteristic of that in him which is not yet completely fermented, an older stratum" (AzL 81).

In this essay the metropolis achieves an apotheosis as the natural home of the "social animal" man in the naturalistic age.[8] The technological achievements of this age are collective achievements and need the metropolis in order to flourish. This is exactly what the old, individualistic, humanistic spirit hates about the cities: "The new spirit makes of the cities its body and instrument. That is why the cities, and especially the big cities, are objects of Romantic antipathy" (AzL 71). Man within the great cities is above all collective man: "Everywhere there exists the battle between the whole individual man and the drive of the group to make him into the carrier of a certain function" (AzL 73). Again, the biological metaphor allows Döblin to reinterpret this otherwise depressing development into a positive phenomenon: "Only the collective being Man as a whole represents the superior species Man" (AzL 73). The parallel to the social animals suggests itself: "Cities stand in the same line of development as caves, beehives, termite nests" (AzL 71). In a summation of the importance of the city, Döblin harks back to the coral colony metaphor he first used in Wadzek:

The cities are the principal home and seat of the human group. They are the coral colony for Man, the collective being. Is there any sense in opposing the country and the city?[9] One can find weaknesses and dangers in the cities, can take sides in the battle of instincts at work in the cities. But one cannot reject or even evaluate the cities themselves, the foci of the social instinct. One can only confirm the existence of such forces of nature and their manifestations.
(AzL 74)


In Wadzek, the image of the coral colony expressed the uncontrolled growth of the physical city and emphasized its alienation from the hero. Here, the image has been both humanized and absolutized. The growth of the modern city is a product of collective human endeavor, but also a "force of nature" beyond the control of the individual.

Because of its utopianism, its ruthless attack on the humanistic spirit, and its suggestion of approval for the idea of the sacrifice of the individual for the good of society, "The Spirit of the Naturalistic Age" is a deeply ambiguous essay. By the late twenties, Döblin had managed in The I over Nature to reach a purely speculative solution to the activity/passivity dilemma that characterized his early works and thus to formulate a new conception of the individual as integrated into and important for the world. The same pantheistic and biological thinking in the essay "The Spirit of the Naturalistic Age" leads to a positive, optimistic, utopian reinterpretation of technology and the modern city, now manifestations of an overriding life force. While still presumably critical of capitalism, Döblin now accepts imperialism, war, and needs artificially induced by unbridled advertising as "natural" developments.

The influence of these philosophical positions on Döblin's imaginative writing is evident in the essay "Der Bau des epischen Werkes" (The Structure of the Epic Work). Written during work on Berlin Alexanderplatz and originally delivered as a lecture at the University of Berlin, it bears directly on Döblin's greatest novel. Two new elements especially reflect the change from the Berlin Program of 1913. First, the epic demands "exemplary actions and figures" of the sort created by Homer, Cervantes, and Dante (models, along with Charles de Coster, to whom Döblin again and again appeals in his essays on fiction): "There one finds powerful basic situations, elementary situations of human existence, being worked out" (AzL 106). Strengthened by the convictions he had reached in the I over Nature, Döblin now defines this exemplary sphere as a "suprareality" (Überrealität, AzL 103) above and beyond the realities of everyday life.

From this premise follows logically the second new element in Döblin's narrative theory, namely the reintroduction of an authorial narrator: "Is the author allowed to have his say in an epic work? May he jump into this world? Answer: yes, he may and he should and he must" (AzL 114). He now casts off the "iron curtain" (AzL 113) of pure, objective narration which he had demanded in the Berlin Program, but retains the basic avant-garde, antitraditionalist impulse as


well as his lifelong formal eclecticism: "The epic work is not a rigid form. It must be constantly developed like drama, and specifically in constant opposition to tradition and its representatives" (AzL 113). Under the same rubric of narrative freedom, he argues for the formal pluralism within the individual work that characterizes Berlin Alexanderplatz: "Authors will wring their hands in dismay when I advise them to be decisively lyrical, dramatic, even reflective in their epic work" (AzL 113).

As for the form of the work of fiction, Döblin continues and amplifies his distinction between the novel and the epic. In contrast to the novelist, the epic author never begins with a predetermined plot, but rather with a half-formed idea, "in statu nascendi "—again the birth metaphor: "One works his way toward the theme by writing. Thus the reader experiences the production process along with the author " (AzL 123, emphasis in original). Moreover, the epic is by nature infinitely extendable, an open form. Here Döblin adduces as evidence the episodic structure of Cervantes: "Again and again, Don Quixote battles against new kinds of windmills, and that is enough for Cervantes, and so it is simply stuck on and purely fortuitous that Don Quixote also happens to die" (AzL 125).

In its advocacy of the exemplary hero, the authorial narrator, and open form, "The Structure of the Epic Work" is the theoretical reflection of Döblin's work on Berlin Alexanderplatz .

Franz Biberkopf, the central character of Berlin Alexanderplatz, represents a departure from Döblin's earlier novels. From The Black Curtain to the verse epic Manas (1927), his heroes had been exemplary in the traditional sense of having inherent importance as either intellectuals (Johannes in The Black Curtain ), great leaders of historical mass movements (Wang-lun, Wallenstein), technocrats (Wadzek, Marduk in Mountains Seas and Giants ), or mythic heroes (Manas). Indeed, these earlier heroes often have something superhuman about them.[10] Franz Biberkopf is a more realistic hero than any of these predecessors. Sociologically and intellectually, he harks back to figures from Döblin's shorter prose, figures like Bertha in "Modern" or the Nasskes in "On Heavenly Mercy."[11]

Unlike the latter, however, Biberkopf is more than just a random


victim of modern industrial society. He is an Everyman in the new, ahistorical sense outlined in "The Structure of the Epic Work." The narrator emphasizes his importance in one of the street-ballad passages which introduce each book of the novel: "But this is no ordinary man, this Franz Biberkopf. I did not call him here for sport, but to experience his hard, true, and enlightening existence" (BA 47, EJ 49).[12] Biberkopf's importance is not inherent, but lies in the fact that the narrator has chosen him, "called him here," in order to demonstrate those "elementary situations of human existence" mentioned in "The Structure of the Epic Work." The narrator openly announces his active participation in the work. Exemplary hero and active narrator go hand-in-hand in the service of enlightenment. The story of Biberkopf's life has a didactic function both for him and for the reader, and in the course of the novel, the narrator will speak freely to both of them.

However, Biberkopf is exemplary in a universal, not a social or political sense. He is an erstwhile laborer and pimp who, after serving four years in prison for the manslaughter of his girlfriend Ida in a fit of jealousy, is released at the beginning of the novel to try to begin his life again. Döblin from the beginning isolates him sociologically and forestalls any interpretation of him as a typical proletarian. He said as much in answer to a newspaper poll of writers conducted in 1928 or 1929: "I am interested in the social problem of people who, for one reason or another, have been torn from their own inner sphere and cannot easily join another class, the problem of people who stand 'between the classes'" (SLW 180). In fact, we shall see that Biberkopf is at pains to divorce himself from any solidarity with working people, whether they be socialist, communist, or anarchist.

The plot of Berlin Alexanderplatz , that is, the story of Franz Biberkopf, is simply told. It has the straightforward, banal quality of "On Heavenly Mercy."[13] Biberkopf is released from prison at the beginning of the novel, determined to lead a "decent" life. The novel is articulated by three increasingly severe disasters that bring this attempt to naught. With book 1 functioning as a prelude, the remaining eight books of the novel fall naturally into four groups of two. In books 2 and 3, Biberkopf first works at various occasional jobs—street vendor, peddler of Nazi newspapers—before becoming a door-to-door salesman of shoelaces with the uncle of his new girlfriend Lina. When he boasts to this uncle, Otto Lüders, about his sexual conquest of a young widow during his rounds, Lüders himself goes to the woman and robs


and threatens her. When Franz finds out about Lüders' betrayal of his confidence, he sinks into exaggerated despair at the existence of such duplicity in a world in which he is trying to be decent.

In books 4 and 5, Franz goes into hiding from his friends and begins a drinking binge that lasts several weeks. He recovers enough to walk the streets again, and his friend Meck introduces him to a circle of shady characters whom Franz takes at their word to be fruit dealers. Actually, they are a burglary ring, the Pums gang. Franz is especially drawn to one member of the gang, Reinhold. A sickly-looking stutterer who cannot stand alcohol, Reinhold nevertheless exerts a magnetic fascination on women and on Biberkopf. The two men enter into a pact in which Biberkopf agrees to take over Reinhold's girlfriends as he becomes tired of them. Biberkopf soon decides, however, that this "spirited white slavery" (BA 193, EJ 235) is indecent, and he tries to cure Reinhold by revealing his habits to his newest girlfriend. When Biberkopf unwittingly gets involved in one of the gang's burglaries, Reinhold takes the opportunity to avenge himself by throwing Biberkopf from the speeding getaway car into the path of a following automobile. Franz loses his right arm as a result.

In books 6 and 7, he slowly recovers from the accident. In his "Third Conquest of Berlin" (BA 261, EJ 324), he reestablishes contact with his old friends Herbert and Eva, whom he had avoided up to now because of their criminal activities (Herbert is a pimp, Eva a high-class prostitute, a former lover of Franz's and now Herbert's girlfriend). In a world which has battered him twice, Biberkopf abandons the attempt to be decent, but not the delusion that he can survive by his own strength: "But Franz Biberkopf goes through the streets, jogging along in his own little way. He does not give in, and asks for nothing more than to get really well again and strong in his muscles" (BA 260, EJ 322–23). He begins to fence stolen goods for a new friend named Willi. When Eva introduces him to a young girl from the provinces, he allows her to become a prostitute for him, and thus returns to the life of a pimp and petty criminal which he had led before his prison term.

This girl Mieze, an embodiment of purity and self-sacrifice, becomes the great love of Biberkopf's life, yet he is still not satisfied. In a self-imposed test of his own power and courage, he again approaches Reinhold and begins to commit burglaries with the Pums gang. He boasts to Reinhold of Mieze's love for him and agrees to conceal Reinhold in his apartment so that he can witness her devotion.[14] But in-


stead, a terrible fight develops between the lovers in which Biberkopf almost kills Mieze, as he had killed Ida. Reinhold conceives the idea of taking full revenge on Biberkopf through Mieze. He lures her into the woods outside Berlin, tries to rape her, and then kills her.

In the final two books, Biberkopf is arrested for Mieze's murder. He goes into a catatonic stupor and is interned in the prison hospital in Buch, on the edge of the city. During his catatonia, he has a vision of death, in the course of which he recognizes his own guilt and hubris. He is then resurrected as a new man. At the end of the novel, exonerated of the murder, he finds a job as gatekeeper in a "medium-sized factory" (BA 499, EJ 632). He faces the future with a new caution and sense of reality, but also with the determination to stand in solidarity with his fellow men.

The story of Franz Biberkopf summarized above conveys at best an inadequate impression of the novel, for this is a work that owes its fascination and greatness primarily to the way it is told. We have seen that Döblin's affinity for the montage technique is evident even in his earliest attempts at prose.[15] In "Modern," both the interweaving of essay and narrative and, even more, the details of narrative technique such as the incorporation of counter-voices and the suppression of narrative comment, presage Döblin's future development. In the story "On Heavenly Mercy," the introduction of the goldfinch's song and the lyrical metaphor for death into an otherwise fiercely naturalistic narrative serve primarily to shock the reader with a sudden, unmediated intimation of other layers behind the bleak narrative foreground. These other layers, however, do not significantly modify that foreground, they only shake our faith in its absoluteness.

Armed with the new narrative freedom proclaimed in "The Structure of the Epic Work," Döblin in Berlin Alexanderplatz makes montage the central technique of his narrator. Montage is on the one hand the aesthetic technique adequate to the city theme that permeates the novel. The life of an industrial metropolis resists description as a "linear, discursive process."[16] On the other hand, the montage technique not only dominates the presentation of milieu in the novel, but also of character and action. In order to see just how remarkable this accomplishment is, let us examine the city as it is presented in montage.


Döblin had intended to call his work simply Berlin Alexanderplatz . His publisher Samuel Fischer, concerned for clarity and certainly also for sales, urged the inclusion of the subtitle "The Story of Franz Biberkopf" (AzL 390). The simplicity of the original title emphasizes the importance of the city itself for the novel, an importance which far transcends the role of a mere setting for the hero's story. The title Berlin Alexanderplatz implies that place, the exclusively urban space of the novel, is just as important as character, the traditionally central concern of the bourgeois novel. At the very least one can say that in this novel, with more success than in perhaps any other, the modern metropolis comes alive and asserts its uniqueness.[17] We cannot conceive of the story of Franz Biberkopf without the Alexanderplatz, while the reverse is not the case. Throughout the novel, Döblin is at pains to demonstrate that Biberkopf's story, although exemplary, is merely one of many within the city. The frequent encapsulated narratives are all potential novels, whether they be several pages in length or only one sentence: "In a little hotel over there in that dark street two lovers shot themselves early yesterday morning, a waiter from Dresden and a married woman, both of whom, however, had registered under false names" (BA 53, EJ 55). Most of these novels in ovo surface only to disappear immediately, and have only an indirect, comparative relation to Biberkopf's story. What relates them to it and to each other is primarily the space in which they occur, "Berlin, Center and East" (BA 209, EJ 257).[18] It is the city itself which makes these parallel narratives plausible.

The formal introduction of the city as a component of central importance occurs in the first chapter of book 2. Book 1 already takes us into Berlin—its first chapter is entitled "On Car 41 into Town" (BA 13, EJ 4)—but it is a city radically distorted by the perspective of a convict freshly released from prison.[19] Biberkopf's acute anxiety at being freed finds expression in the apparently paradoxical assertion, "The punishment begins" (BA 13, EJ 4), and in the chaotic flood of images that assaults him as he rides the streetcar into the city (BA 13–14, EJ 4–6). His desperate wish is to flee back to the completely prescribed life of a prisoner. Döblin's virtuoso use of montage to reveal psychology is already evident here, when he juxtaposes Biberkopf's search for a hiding place and his need to manage his own time with the official prison regulations concerning the inmates' time and space:


He thought, this street is darker, it's probably better where it's darker. The prisoners are put in isolation cells, solitary confinement and general confinement. In solitary confinement the prisoner is kept apart from the others night and day. In isolation cells the prisoner is placed in a cell, but during his walks in the open air, during instruction or religious service, he is put in company with the others. . . . I'm really a big duffer, a fellow ought to be able to traipse his way through hereabouts, five minutes, ten minutes, then drink a cognac and sit down. When the given signal rings, work must begin immediately. It can only be interrupted at the time set aside for eating, walking, and instruction. During the walk the prisoners must hold their arms stiff and swing them back and forth.
(BA 14–15, EJ 6–7)

Biberkopf's terror at being plunged back into the city causes a radical distortion in his perception: the crowds of people surrounding him seem lifeless, like the mannequins he notices in a store window, so lifeless that they are referred to collectively with the neuter singular pronoun:

Wax figures stood in the show-windows, in suits, overcoats, with skirts, with shoes and stockings. Outside everything was moving, but—back of it—there was nothing! It—did not—live! It had happy faces, it laughed, waited in twos and threes on the traffic islands opposite Aschinger's, smoked cigarettes, turned the pages of newspapers. Thus it stood there like the street-lamps—and—became more and more rigid. They belonged with the houses, everything white, everything wooden.
(BA 14, EJ 5–6)

Conversely, inanimate objects spring threateningly to life by virtue of the dynamic verbs which accompany them: "The cars roared and jangled on, house fronts were rolling along one after the other without stopping. And there were roofs on the houses, they soared atop the houses, his eyes wandered straight upward: if only the roofs don't slide off, but the houses stood upright" (BA 15, EJ 7).

Thus it is Biberkopf's overwhelming ochlophobia and agoraphobia which define the city and set the tone in book 1. The hallucination that the roofs are slipping off the buildings—the symbolic expression of his fear of total chaos—will recur throughout the novel when he thinks back on this first crisis (BA 99–100, 126, 140, 246, 250, 277, 492–93; EJ 117, 150, 165–66, 304, 309, 345, 624). Although he has physically arrived in Berlin, he is "Still Not There" (BA 17, EJ 10), as the title of the second chapter avows, because he cannot yet draw the


line between himself and his surroundings. He is not yet capable of perceiving the city objectively. Book 1 thus concerns the preconditions for his psychological reentry into Berlin: first, the reestablishment of his identity with the help of some Jews who befriend the terrorstricken man,[20] and second, the compulsive reassertion of his masculinity through the rape of Minna, the sister of the girl he has murdered. The preliminary character of book 1 is also attested to by the fact that it is the only book whose primary tense is the traditional narrative preterite, rather than the present which the narrator otherwise prefers.[21]

Having brought Biberkopf from Tegel to Berlin, from the edge of paranoia to "normalcy," Döblin is ready to introduce the city as an autonomous component of equal importance to the hero. At this point, the beginning of book 2, the technique of montage takes full command of the narrative. To be sure, montage occurs throughout the novel. We have already cited an example from book 1, and one can find others on almost every page. The technique predominates, however, in those chapters that concentrate on Berlin itself and mention Biberkopf either only in passing or not at all. The importance of such chapters to Döblin's overall conception is evident in their placement: four of the novel's nine books (2, 4, 5, and 7) begin with such chapters. In addition, book 8, while it does not begin with an urban montage, ends its first chapter with a montage passage (BA 397–400, EJ 500–503).

Montage is, of course, a term borrowed from film, and although Döblin does not use the term himself in his essays on novelistic theory,[22] he does acknowledge repeatedly his debt to film. We have seen him advocating a Kinostil in the Berlin Program, sixteen years before Berlin Alexanderplatz . In his review of Joyce's Ulysses , written while he was at work on Berlin Alexanderplatz , he assesses both film and the daily press as a challenge to the traditional novel: "The movies have invaded the territory of literature; newspapers have grown powerful, are the most important and widespread form of the written word, the daily bread of all men" (AzL 288). Finally, in "The Structure of the Epic Work," Döblin welcomes the recent use of film, or "picture narration" (Bilderzählung ), in the live theater, as one means of breaking down the barriers between stage and audience (AzL 113). While he does not mention Piscator or Brecht in "The Structure of the Epic Work," it has been demonstrated convincingly by Dietrich Scheune-


mann that cross-genre influences were of great importance to Döblin at this point in his life. It is also to Scheunemann's credit that he directs attention to a specific film, Walther Ruttmann's 1927 documentary "Berlin, the Symphony of a Great City," which used montage to convey the hectic and many-layered life of Berlin and likely had an influence on Döblin's novel.[23]

It was Walter Benjamin who first explicitly used the term montage to characterize the style of Berlin Alexanderplatz . In his 1930 review of the novel,[24] Benjamin not only identifies the technique, but sees in it the key to Döblin's attempt to reestablish the old connection between the epic artist and his public: "The material of the montage is, after all, by no means random. Genuine montage is based on documents." The technique of montage, according to Benjamin, thus lends the epic work both authenticity and authority. It is a formal technique which anchors the work in the life of the people and as such fulfills the same function as "the formulaic verses of the old epic." Both Benjamin and Scheunemann stress that the use of montage does not mean the elimination or even the weakening of the narrator: "Epic means both the open, basically unending series of independent images which, taken singly, are unmotivated, and at the same time the appearance of a narrator who is organizing the narrative, expressing opinions, and informing the reader about the purpose and goal of his undertaking."[25] But even in the full-dress urban montages, where the narrator's role is limited to that of monteur, there are indirect ways in which narrative opinion is conveyed. Let us examine the first such montage, in chapter 1 of book 2, in its dual function as documentation of and judgment upon the city.[26]

The hero himself appears only in the title of the chapter, "Franz Biberkopf Enters Berlin" (Franz Biberkopf betritt Berlin; BA 49, EJ 50). The transitive verb suggests his newly won integrity and mastery of his environment, with the alliteration providing mock solemnity. The first book of the novel presented Berlin from Biberkopf's radically limited perspective. Now the city appears in propria persona, in a montage of aural and visual images gathered around the Rosenthaler Platz.

While the montage is, by its very nature, composed of extremely heterogeneous elements, their grouping in this chapter, although it may initially seem to reflect nothing more than the jumble of impressions which confront one in the midst of a busy city, is not simply


fortuitous. The chapter has several organizing principles. First, it progresses temporally from daytime (the bustle of activity on the Rosenthaler Platz, BA 51–54, EJ 53–57) to late afternoon (the conversation between Krause and Georg, BA 54–58, EJ 57–61) to evening (the tryst between the young girl and her older lover, BA 58–59, EJ 61–63). By the end, the reader has the impression of having spent a day in the vicinity of the Rosenthaler Platz. This "day in the life of the city" is also the structure of the film "Berlin, the Symphony of a Great City."[27] Second, the chapter is spatially focused on the Rosenthaler Platz in the East End of Berlin. The stops on the trolley line 68 are listed, from north to east, with the Rosenthaler Platz in the middle and ending, significantly, with the Herzberge Insane Asylum (BA 52, EJ 53). The centrality of the square is reemphasized at the end of the chapter when the trolley-line device is repeated, this time listing the stops on line 99 (BA 58, EJ 61).[28] The chapter's focus on the square[29] is balanced by the attention paid to four main streets radiating from it, which are not simply enumerated, but rather give rise to digressions which document the diverse activity in this one urban space. Mention of the Brunnen-strasse leads to a lengthy list of the various offices of the AEG, the giant General Electric Company, located in that street. The Invalidenstrasse leads toward the Stettiner Station and so to a flurry of fragments of train-station dialogue, and so on. That the mention of each street is centrifugal and digressive explains an otherwise inexplicable lack of grammatic agreement: at the beginning of the list, the narrator uses a plural verb, anticipating all the streets as compound subject, but gets led afield by his first street which remains the only formal subject: "From this square run the wide Brunnenstrasse toward the north, the A.E.G. runs along its left side in front of the Humboldthain. The A.E.G. is an immense enterprise, which embraces, according to the 1928 telephone directory. . . ." (BA 52–53, EJ 54).[30] This centrifugal tendency, whose effect is to imply that everything in this space has an equal claim on our attention and interest, is however kept in check by the space itself, to which the narrative again and again returns and which is the space of the whole chapter. The rhythm imitates that of the constantly arriving and departing streetcars.

The spatial organization of the first chapter of book 2 around a focal point is matched by the intimation that this moment in 1928 is also a temporal focal point, with extensions both into the past ("Albert Pangel, master furrier, who may look back upon an activity of


almost thirty years as honorary official"; BA 51, EJ 52) and into the future. The narrator, become suddenly prescient, switches to the future tense to inform us that the boy Max Rüst, just now boarding the Number 4 streetcar, will later become a sheetmetal worker, have seven children, become a partner in the roofing firm of Hallis and Co., win a quarter jackpot in the Prussian lottery at 52, retire, and die at 55 during a settlement suit against his former employer. The narrator then goes on to quote the texts of Rüst's obituary and the letter of thanks sent out by his survivors (BA 54, EJ 56).

The most important organizing principle of the chapter, however, is variation in the role of the narrator-monteur himself, for here, as in the entire novel, the narrative voice is itself montagelike: not a constant preterite presence with a firmly established vantage point, but a compound voice, a series of contrasting attitudes, a prismatically broken point of view in keeping with Döblin's injunction in "The Structure of the Epic Work" to be "decisively lyrical, dramatic, even reflective." Looked at in this light, the chapter falls naturally into three sections which we shall examine one by one.

Probably the most aggressively avant-garde pages of the novel are those which open this chapter (BA 49–50, EJ 50–51). Döblin has found the simplest possible way to eliminate the narrator altogether—he has abandoned linguistic for graphic representation; here, the reader encounters a series of eleven emblems reproduced on the page. To be precise, only the first emblem, the bear and chevron of Berlin's coat of arms, eliminates language completely. With this one image Döblin evokes the city in its entirety, lending heraldic ornament to the mock solemnity of the alliteration in "Franz Biberkopf betritt Berlin" and anticipating in abstract the chapter and the novel to come.

The ten emblems which follow are akin to the emblemata of the Renaissance. That is, the pictures themselves, signifying various municipal departments,[31] are accompanied by explanatory mottos: next to the Red Cross flag are the words "Health Department" and so on. As in the emblemata, the relationship of picture to motto is completely univalent, while the text of the chapter that follows is a sort of explicatio adding complexity to the straightforward graphic representation. The immediate effect of this column of pictographs is to introduce the functional complexity of the metropolis as an orderly whole.[32] This complexity and the logos which suggest it have a high degree of independence from the novel defined as "The Story of Franz Biberkopf."


There are clearly connections between some of the emblems and Biberkopf's story, not so much with its plot as with some of its leit-motivic imagery: "Underground Construction" (picture of a construction ditch), "Traffic" (picture of a streetcar). Others, however, like "Gas Works" or "Finance and Tax Office," have little or no connection and, most interestingly, a municipal department which might immediately suggest itself, the police, is absent. The city is here represented as a set of parts functioning for the most part independently of Franz Biberkopf, although some touch his life.[33]

Following immediately upon the emblems are the texts of three public announcements: a proposal for a change in a house façade, the granting of a hunting license, and the retirement of a welfare commissioner. They resemble the emblems in possessing intrinsic interest and a high degree of independence within the novel.[34] Whereas the list of municipal departments at least pretends to comprehensiveness, these announcements seem to be a fortuitous collection. The reader may supply them with a conjectural context if he chooses—say, physical proximity on a Litfass pillar or in a newspaper[35] —but it is their essence not to need one, and thus not to need a narrator. We are all familiar with the language and tone of such announcements. We need no more information to interpret them and Döblin supplies none. He writes of his fascination for such self-explanatory data in "The Structure of the Epic Work": "In the course of writing one historical book or another, it has happened that I could hardly restrain myself from simply copying entire documents. Indeed, I sometimes sank down among the documents and said to myself, I can't improve on these" (AzL 114). In the passage under consideration, the announcement of the granting of a hunting license is just such an authentic "document," extracted from the official gazette of Berlin-Weissensee of January 1928 and pasted into the manuscript of the novel with only the names changed and a few dates crossed out in pencil.[36] This first section is in the strictest sense documentary.

Following this objective, narratorless introduction to the city, the second section displays a narrator actively involved in the text in several ways. This central section is more narrowly organized by the space of the Rosenthaler Platz and begins with the reflexive, impersonal construction, Der Rosenthaler Platz unterhält sich (BA 51, EJ 53). Eugene Jolas translates this as "The Rosenthaler Platz is busily active," but a more literal translation is "The Rosenthaler Platz amuses


itself." The city itself now joins Biberkopf as an important "character" in the novel, and the sentence encompasses all activity on the square: human, mechanical, and meteorologic. It is not dehumanizing, but simply impersonal, and the verb itself is undeniably positive, suggesting both enjoyment and self-sufficiency.

At first, the narrator restricts himself to simple, declarative sentences. We have already mentioned an example: "Car No. 68 runs across Rosenthaler Platz, Wittenau, Nordbahnhof, Heilanstalt, Weddingplatz, Stettiner Station, Rosenthaler Platz, Alexanderplatz, Straussberger Platz, Frankfurter Allee Station, Lichtenberg, Herzberge Insane Asylum" (BA 52, EJ 53). Primarily, he lets the elements of his montage create the ambience for him: a weather forecast for Berlin and surroundings, a list of streetcar stops, instructions to streetcar passengers, the list of telephone extensions for the AEG, fragments of advertising copy. As the section proceeds, we encounter for the first time an actual narrative in very simple form, precipitated by an element in the montage:

. . . getting off or on while the car is in motion may lead to fatal accidents.

In the middle of the Rosenthaler Platz a man with two yellow packages jumps off from the 41, an empty taxi glides just past him, the copper looks at him, a streetcar inspector appears, cop and inspector shake hands: damned lucky, that fellow with his packages.
(BA 52, EJ 54)

This narrative, in its objectivity and simple grammatical parallelism, is a good example of the Kinostil . In the midst of the flow of the montage, the tracking camera halts briefly to record a small scene, and then moves on. It will be seen that throughout this chapter the narrator strictly refrains from the kind of analysis of thought and motive in which the traditional narrator indulges and of which film is incapable. While the narrator can be prescient, as in his knowledge of Max Rüst's future, he is by no means omniscient. Even in his virtuoso flight into Rüst's future, he confines himself to the external, documentable facts of the life: profession, number of children, text of obituary, and so on.[37] With more justification than Isherwood's Herr Issyvoo he could say of himself, "I am a camera."[38]

In the Berlin Program of 1913, as we have seen, Döblin spurns the psychologizing manner and calls for a Kinostil . It is important, however, to be clear about what the Kinostil entails. Fritz Martini repeat-


edly speaks of Döblin's debt to film, but has a very one-sided conception of film's influence on the novel, identifying it as "that hypnotizing flow of images and scenes, the breathless activity, the shifting interpenetration of outer and inner action, which in its most compact unity allows no division into layers."[39] Yet in the same essay, Martini himself quotes Döblin's dictum, "In the novel one must layer, pile up, turn over, shove." And in the next sentence Döblin says, "Forward is never the watchword of the novel" (AzL 20). Martini overlooks the fact that film can be analytic as well as hypnotic, calm as well as à bout de souffle, and that "the shifting interpenetration of outer and inner action" is a specifically literary technique impossible, for the most part, in film, unless a film adopt a literary device like the off-camera narrative voice in Truffaut's Jules et Jim or Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Berlin Alexanderplatz . The Kinostil is in the end only a metaphor useful to describe the peculiarities of Döblin's style.[40]

The middle section of the chapter, a sort of sustained tracking shot around the Rosenthaler Platz, ends with Max Rüst and three other personages boarding the Number 4 streetcar. The brief glimpse into these lives forms the transition to the third and final section of the chapter, a more intense look at two sets of individual figures. Even in these two longer scenes—the first a conversation between an old morphine addict and a younger man who has just lost his job, the second between a young girl and her older lover[41] —the reader does not gain any privileged insight into the characters. In fact, the narrator is here less a narrator than a playwright, for these scenes are dramatic dialogues, with the narrative voice restricted to stage direction:[42] "Small café on Rosenthaler Platz. In front they are playing billiards, in the back, in a corner, two men sit puffing and smoking and drinking tea. One of them has a flabby face and gray hair, he is sitting with his raglan on: 'Well, shoot. But keep still, don't fidget around like that'" (BA 54–55, EJ 57).

We have seen that the urban montage which opens book 2 of Berlin Alexanderplatz has three sections, the first characterized by documentary style and absence of narrator, the second by cinematographic style and narrator as monteur, and the third by dramatic style with narration restricted to stage directions.[43] In none of these sections do we get the guidance and reassurance of a traditional novelistic narrator introducing the setting for his story. Döblin has consciously excluded such a narrator in the conviction that the experience of a city must be pre-


sented in a more dynamic and objective way. There are nevertheless some guiding principles at work here by means of which Döblin indirectly suggests his point of view toward the metropolis.

Most significantly, there is a movement from the impersonal to the personal. We have noted, for instance, that the middle section begins with the impersonal construction Der Rosenthaler Platz unterhält sich . Next comes a weather forecast placed here precisely because there is nothing so irrespective of person as the weather. Next comes the list of stops for the 68 streetcar—again valid for everyone—then the first actual mention of people in the fare schedule for the streetcar: "Fares for adults are 20 pfennigs, for schoolchildren 10 pfennigs, reduced fares allowed for children up to the age of 14, apprentices and pupils, poor students, war cripples, persons physically unfit for walking as certified by the district charity offices" (BA 52, EJ 53). Here people are classified purely with respect to the means of transportation, by the external categories of age, profession, and physical condition. Not until the brief narration of the near-accident quoted above do we arrive at an individual case and hear an individual voice. This contrast between the impersonal language of information, regulation, and advertisement on the one hand, and individual human voices and narratives about individuals on the other continues throughout the montage, moving gradually toward the closing focus and hold on Max Rüst.

Like the central montage, the chapter as a whole obviously moves from the impersonal to the personal. It begins with the narratorless emblems of municipal departments and public announcements, both of which portray the city as a functional collective. The central montage, as we have seen, gives us several glimpses of anonymous individuals—the man with the yellow packages, the waiter from Dresden, travelers at the Stettiner Bahnhof, five workers paving the sidewalk in front of the bank in the Elsasser Strasse—before naming the four people boarding the Number 4 car. The final section presents individual, differentiated lives with the immediacy of drama.

This movement from impersonal to personal implicitly conveys a certain attitude toward the phenomenon of the city, an attitude as complex as the chapter itself. We have already noted that the view of Berlin at the beginning of book 1 is a view of chaos from the subjective perspective of the newly free Biberkopf. The chapter under discussion serves to correct that view. The city is presented initially, in its own


officially promulgated terms, as an orderly and well functioning set of departments, although the casual omission of precisely the police department, whose function is ostensibly to protect the community against disorder, and which plays an important role at the end of the novel, looks suspiciously like an attempt to make things appear more orderly than they really are. The three announcements which follow particularize the sense of order; they illustrate the city functioning according to established laws and customs. There are elements in the central montage which have the same effect: the list of streetcar stops, of AEG departments, of regulations for the public transportation system.[44] On the whole, it seems a well ordered complexity. Yet as the chapter begins to focus on individuals, the impression of lawfulness and order is undercut. The individuals appearing in the chapter counterpose a negative to the positive image of the city presented in the emblems, comprising a spectrum ranging from banal disorder to death. We are shown a near-accident, a double suicide, a woman with an umbilical hernia, the petty exploitation of a coachman by his boss, and a fourteen-year-old stutterer on his way to the "clinic for the defective in speech, the hard of hearing, the weak-visioned, the weak-minded, the incorrigible" (Beratungsstelle für Sprachkranke, Schwerhörige, Sehschwache, Schwachbegabte, Schwererziehbare; BA 54, EJ 57). The institutional name, with its insistent repetition of the syllables schwach (weak) and schwer (difficult) and its mixture of physical, mental, and social complaints is a kind of litany of human affliction.

This impression of unhappiness and suffering within the city is then carried forward and elaborated by the two dramatic dialogues of the chapter's final section. The clerk Georg recounts his firing to the unsympathetic addict Krause, anticipating similar barroom discussions of politics and unemployment later in the novel. Then we see a "young girl" (BA 58, EJ 61), a piano student, secretly meeting her leering older lover. This tryst also has anticipatory force. It is characteristic of the relation between the sexes throughout the novel—and specifically in the case of Biberkopf—that women are exploited by men: as prostitutes earning money for their boyfriends, as sexual objects to be used and discarded, as convenient outlets for physical violence. Here the exploitation is more subtle and must be read between the lines. It is visible in the difference in their ages, her naiveté and his cynical hypocrisy, and the second-person forms they respectively employ: he uses the familiar du while she addresses him with the formal Sie . The mood is


reminiscent of Arthur Schnitzler's "Liebelei," a fin-de-siècle drama of dalliance that ends in tragedy.

The city, then, so bravely marshalled under the various insignia of the first section, is shown by the end of the chapter to be a place of disorder, danger, suffering, and even death. The narrator does not state this directly, but merely suggests it by his arrangement of the montage elements and the human situations he chooses to show us. Yet in spite of this gloomy summary there is a seemingly paradoxical yet undeniable celebration of the multiplicity of the city in the sheer exuberance of presentation.

Although the narrator refrains from explicit judgment of the city, there is evidence that Krause, the morphine addict in the third section of the chapter, speaks for the narrator on both the city and man's place in it.[45] In his physical appearance ("flabby face"), his cynicism, Schadenfreude, and unrepentant degradation, Krause is undoubtedly an unattractive figure. But as a former secondary school teacher, he is one of the few well-educated characters anywhere in the novel. Döblin, who like Thomas Mann hated the harsh discipline of the Gymnasium as a schoolboy, no doubt took wicked delight in this portrait of the Oberlehrer as junky.[46] Nevertheless, Krause's education does allow him to be more articulate about his feelings than, say, a Biberkopf. Moreover, he possesses that quintessential Berlin virtue, wit in the face of life's misery:

When I didn't find my wife and child at home and there was only a letter, gone to mother in West Prussia and so on, life a failure, a man like me, and the scandal and so on and so forth, I slit myself here, here on the left arm, looks like attempted suicide, eh? We should never neglect the opportunity to learn something, Georg, I knew Provençal all right but anatomy—I mistook the tendon for the pulse. I don't know much more about it today, but that doesn't matter now, that's all over. In a word: pain and regrets were nonsense, I went on living, the woman also went on living, the child, too. In fact, more kids came on the scene in West Prussia, a brace I think, seems I operated at a distance; we're all alive and healthy.
(BA 57, EJ 60–61)

Finally, although this and the following section are formally dramatic, consisting of dialogue with the narrator's contribution limited to stage directions, there is one exception: "The man in the raglan swallows some hot tea, it's good to drink hot tea with sugar and rum, and listen to somebody else yapping. It's cozy here in this place.


'You're not going home today, Georg?'" (BA 56 EJ 59). Since here the present is the tense of narration, one can interpret this passage either as narrative comment, style indirect libre, or as stream of consciousness. All three techniques are used in the novel, and in the end it makes little difference how one labels this passage. Either the narrator speaks his own opinion or he allows us a direct or indirect peek behind Krause's spoken words into his thoughts, which he does not do in the case of Georg or any other figure in the chapter. In either case, the passage serves, along with Krause's intelligence and wit, to heighten his importance and identify him with the narrator.

But how can anyone, least of all a broken-down morphine addict, be a spokesman for a positive view of a city that seems so inexorably to grind down its inhabitants? At issue in this conversation is not whether injustice, disorder, and unhappiness exist in the world, but how one meets the disorder that is undoubtedly there. The young clerk Georg expresses indignation at his unjust firing: "I'm used to order, and that damned business is rotten from top to bottom" (BA 56, EJ 58). His rebellion against disorder has led to his sacking, and now he despairs and can't find the courage to go home and face his pregnant wife with the news. He considers his fate unique: "What do you know about it? . . . Just put yourself in my place" (BA 56, EJ 59) and scoffs at the idea that the "wreck" (BA 58, EJ 61) Krause could understand.

Krause responds not only with evidence that he has had his share of trouble, but with the suggestion that on the basis of his experience he has adopted a new attitude toward the world's disorder: "Just stay here and keep quiet, Georg. Drink a bit, then play some billiards. At any rate, don't let disorder get the upper hand. That's the beginning of the end" (BA 57, EJ 60). In rebelling against disorder, Krause implies, Georg is fighting a losing battle. But that does not mean that one must fatalistically surrender to it. On the contrary, one must not "let it get the upper hand." Heroic struggle and fatalistic surrender, exemplified by Georg, emerge again, as they did in Wadzek's Battle with the Steam Turbine, as two sides of the same coin, both outmoded posturings. The position reached only at the end of Wadzek is thus clearly stated at the beginning of Berlin Alexanderplatz, although it will cost Franz Biberkopf an arm, his beloved Mieze, and almost his life to arrive at it.

About his own life Krause says, "I have no regrets. I don't feel any


guilt about it, we have to take facts, like ourselves, the way they come. You shouldn't be a big shot about your fate. I'm an enemy of Destiny, I'm not a Greek, I'm a Berliner" (BA 57, EJ 60). Not just a German, but specifically a Berliner, for the metropolis with its millions of parallel lives is especially conducive to this attitude which accepts the facts about the world and the self while at the same time rejecting the idea of an inevitable and unique fate. The passage anticipates the extensive comparison of Biberkopf and Orestes at the end of book 2 (BA 103–108, EJ 121–128).[47]

The delicate balance between individuality and the collective, which has given rise to much critical debate about the end of the novel, is already clearly struck in this scene. At the end of the novel, Biberkopf, veteran of the First World War, refuses to be drawn into any future war. He rejects with the last words he utters both what Hans-Peter Bayerdörfer, following Döblin himself, calls the "false collective"[48] of war and the idea of individual fate: "It's no use revering it merely as Fate, we must look at it, grasp it, down it, and not hesitate" (BA 501, EJ 634). It is Georg's Dicketun, his showing off with his personal fate, that arouses Krause's scorn, and at the end of the conversation, he attacks exactly this pretension in a metaphor that again identifies him with the narrator: "The fly, let's see, it's all in the point of view. A fly stands under the microscope and thinks it's a horse. Just let the fly get in front of my telescope some time!" (BA 58, EJ 61).

It is in the context of the city, with its multiplicity of individual lives, that the narrator can develop his own telescopic perspective. At the end of another urban montage, in the first chapter of book 4, the narrator describes floor by floor the lives—some squalid and some merely ordinary—of the inhabitants of a building in the Linienstrasse where Biberkopf has holed up after being betrayed by Lüders. At the very end of the chapter, the narrator forestalls objections to the supposed dreariness and monotony of these lives (and by extension, to his choice of a Biberkopf as hero):

Wonder what those two get out of life? Well, first of all, they get each other, then last Sunday a vaudeville and a film, then this or that club meeting and a visit to his parents. Nothing else? Well now, don't drop dead, sir. Add to that nice weather, bad weather, country picnics, standing in front of the stove, eating breakfast and so on. And what more do you get, you, captain, general, jockey, whoever you are? Don't fool yourself.
(BA 136, EJ 160–61)


With the social leveler Death as his alter ego, the narrator of Berlin Alexanderplatz is emphatically egalitarian. It is a summary of the celebration of the city amid its undeniable disadvantages, a peroration to the preceding montage, when Krause declares: "I enjoy the Rosenthaler Platz, I enjoy the cop at the Elsasser corner, I like my game of billiards, I'd like anyone to come and tell me that his life is better than mine" (BA 57–58, EJ 61).

We have already seen how Döblin's reinterpretation of the city as the "coral colony for man, the collective being" in "The Spirit of the Naturalistic Age" set the stage for the acceptance and celebration of the city. A more personal and self-ironic version of the same message is contained in the autobiographical sketch "First Glance Back," published just a year before Berlin Alexanderplatz . It begins with a section entitled "Dialogue in the Münzstrasse" in which Döblin introduces himself in the present, as a public health system doctor in Berlin's East End. At the time Döblin wrote this sketch, he was hard at work on the novel, and so it is not surprising that he presents himself sitting "in a small café on the Alexanderplatz" (SLW 108). What he has to say here illuminates the significance of this environment for the novel.

It occurs to him that he would sometimes like to get over to the western part of the city, where there are amenities such as trees, the zoo, the aquarium, and the botanical gardens. This idle thought generates an anonymous figure, a temptation externalized as a Jewish gadfly who immediately begins to needle Döblin with the suggestion that he's out of place here in the proletarian East End, that he really belongs in the West "among people," and that the reason he doesn't leave is simply self-degradation, "Sadism! Towards yourself!" (SLW 109). Döblin finds this hysterically funny, but once he has recovered his composure, he rejects decisively the suggestion of his interlocutor. He refers him first to the passing throngs of workers, "nothing but gray, simple people," and asserts that he is one of them: "We are the working folk, the proletariat[49]  . . . that is my heart and that is my blood" (SLW 109). Döblin in his medical persona, like Krause the addict, rejects the idea of fate—here the psychological fate of his alleged masochism—and asserts the integrity, the logic of the urban life he has chosen, without denying an occasional longing for more pleasant sur-


roundings: "Defects—I've got them like any other decent person. But for the rest, my motto is: this is my home, and I'm doing fine, I'm doing excellently. (Although I'd like to get out to the country, see a tree or a little lake once in a while.) I'm a frog and hop around here quite contentedly. Without sadism and without masochism. I only supply them in novels. I'm a working man and a proletarian" (SLW 110).

It is a confirmation of the positive character of the city in the novel when, towards its end, Döblin returns his resurrected hero to the neighborhood of the Alexanderplatz and recapitulates the thematic material related to the interaction of man and city. It is Biberkopf who has changed, not Berlin: "First the Alex. It's still there. . . . And the streetcars are chock-full of people, all of them have something to do, the tickets still cost 20 pfennigs" (BA 494–95, EJ 626–27). In his afterword to a new printing of the work in 1955, Döblin emphasizes this basic relation between the novel's two main components: "Since Berlin remained what it was, it fell to the punished man to change himself" (BA 508). He has changed specifically in his relation to the city. Freshly released from the Buch Asylum, he does not feel the panic that gripped him upon his release from Tegel at the beginning of the novel: "As he gets out at Stettin Station, at the suburban section, and the great Baltikum Hotel greets his eyes, nothing moves—nothing at all. The houses keep still, the roofs lie quiet, he can move securely below them, he need not creep into any dark courtyards" (BA 493, EJ 624). Biberkopf has been transformed in Buch, and his reentry into the city is, the narrator declares, "a re-encounter, more than a re-encounter" (BA 493, EJ 624). It is not just that Biberkopf can now encounter the city calmly and without panic. There is something more which contradicts those interpretations that see in the city a demonic chaos against which Biberkopf struggles fruitlessly. The question of whether Döblin intends to present the city as a chaos or as a complexly ordered fabric with both positive and negative aspects—essentially as a metaphor for human life itself—is intimately related to the critical controversy regarding the interpretation of the last chapter and the significance of fate in the novel. In general, those scholars who interpret the city as chaotic also see Biberkopf as a victim of fate and interpret the moral of the last chapter as the obliteration of his individuality and acceptance of his fate.[50] On the other hand, those critics who regard the presentation of the city as a complex fabric with clearly positive aspects also argue for an ending which balances and harmonizes Biberkopf's indi-


viduality ("Reason is the gift of man, jackasses replace it with a clan"; BA 500, EJ 634) and his solidarity with his fellows ("Much unhappiness comes from walking alone"; BA 500, EJ 633).[51]

In the penultimate chapter, the city itself, unchanged throughout the novel, stands in a new, positive relation to the hero who has changed. Döblin clearly locates the responsibility for progress in the individual: "He walks around the town. There are many things there to make a man well, if only his heart keeps well" (BA 494, EJ 626). There follows a collage of such "things" on the Alexanderplatz, including some of the leitmotivic images that earlier in the novel connoted the threat of dark, subterranean powers: the steam pile driver, the foundations of the demolished Hahn Department Store, the warning against stepping off a moving streetcar, and then the repeated assertion, "All these are nice things that can help a man get on his feet, even if he is a bit weak, provided his heart is in good condition" (BA 495, EJ 627). This assertion is neither paradoxical, nor a sign that Biberkopf is as feebleminded as ever, but rather a declaration of the fruitful and positive relation possible between man and metropolis, evidence that Biberkopf has reached the level of consciousness toward his urban milieu that the narrator has had from the beginning.[52] The key to this fruitful relation is Biberkopf's "sound heart," his acceptance of his own past (including Ida, Mieze, and even Reinhold) coupled with his rejection of the uniqueness of his individual fate.[53] The "heart" image, rejected in favor of "ideas" by Wadzek, is now presented as the key to a sound relation between individual and collective. The final image of modern metropolitan life is a composite of many parallel lives, a confirmation of their interrelatedness which the narrator has shown all along:

He is no longer alone on Alexanderplatz. There are people to the right, and people to the left of him, some walk in front of him, others behind him.

Much unhappiness comes from walking alone. When there are several, it's somewhat different. I must get the habit of listening to others, for what the others say concerns me, too.
(BA 499–500, EJ 632–33)

The montage technique has its origins partly in the experience of the metropolis and the conviction that the traditional bourgeois novel, with its focus on the individual psyche, cannot do justice to that experience. At the same time, this does not mean that montage automatically portrays the metropolis as fragmented, chaotic, and dehuman-


ized. Döblin's urban montage in Berlin Alexanderplatz presents reality in all its complexity. For Döblin, the multitudinousness of the city is clearly a positive aspect, and one for which montage is particularly suited. The city in montage is able to relativize even such an apparently unique paragon of evil as Reinhold, by showing that his stutter does not constitute a "fate," is not an "explanation" of his malice. From its multitude of parallel lives, the city provides a counterexample in the person of Max Rüst: "At present this Max Rüst is 14 years old, has just finished public school, it supposed to call by on his way home at the clinic for the defective in speech, the hard of hearing, the weak-visioned, the weak-minded, the incorrigible, he has been there at frequent intervals, because he stutters, but he is getting better now" (BA 54, EJ 56–57).

The city montage at the beginning of book 2 thus serves multiple functions that make it far more than a mere presentation of setting. The brief interpolated narratives in particular have an anticipatory, parallelizing and relativizing function in relation to the main narrative, the "Story of Franz Biberkopf." Max Rüst the stutterer anticipates Reinhold the stutterer. Georg, the railer against an unjust fate, presages Biberkopf.[54] Each of the multitudinous interpolated figures is in principle the richtiger Nebenmann, the "proper comrade" who represents, according to the original dust jacket copy of 1929,[55] the end point of Biberkopf's odyssey and the starting point of his new life. It is, in the end, not possible to separate Biberkopf from the Berlin in which he lives. Only taken together do they constitute the novel.

The problem posed by the story of Franz Biberkopf, its ethical theme if one will, is almost simplistic. Biberkopf's failing is basically hubris. At the beginning of the novel, he is determined to live decently, independent of others, on the strength of his own character. The three disasters which befall him with increasing severity are brought about by his own boastful pride in his strength and good fortune. After the third, he suffers a final fall, gains insight, and is redeemed at the last hour. The script of the radio play "Berlin Alexanderplatz," on which Döblin collaborated in 1930, articulates Biberkopf's failing more clearly even than the novel, when Death calls him "You little demon of pride!" (Du Hochmutsdeibel; DHF 316).[56]

Translated into the Berlin dialect that permeates the novel, this hubris is the Dicketun that the Oberlehrer Krause criticizes in his young friend Georg. Just before he murders Mieze, Reinhold uses pre-


cisely this expression to describe what it is in Biberkopf that attracts his malevolence: "I don't know what to do with the bozo, he always did have a big mouth, but wait a minute, there's a car back of us, and I thinks to myself, now watch out, m'boy, you with your highfalutin' airs [Dicketun ], boasting to us about being decent. And out of the car he flies. Now you know where he left his arm" (BA 386, EJ 487–88). At bottom, Biberkopf's sense of himself as an individual dependent on his own resources, an isolated hero against the world ("The first man who comes along gets one in the jaw"; BA 31, EJ 27), is the same as the exaggerated sense of heroism that leads Wadzek to barricade himself in his villa in Reinickendorf. Wadzek's behavior is from the beginning so grotesque, however, that he cannot achieve Biberkopf's status of exemplary Everyman, or deutscher Michel, as he has been called by Robert Minder.[57]

Biberkopf's initial attitude is more or less characteristic of novelistic heroes, from the beginnings of the genre in the Spanish picaresque to the present. The novel must, after all, have a hero and that hero must be an individual, living in the world but clearly differentiated from and standing out against it. But Döblin rejected this pattern from the beginning of his career. Although he proposes the criterion of exemplariness for Biberkopf, he does not return to the format of the traditional novel in Berlin Alexanderplatz . The point of Biberkopf's agony is precisely the destruction of the idea of unique fate, the idea that prompts him to complain to Death, "I don't know nobody else who had things happen to 'im like I did, such wretched, miserable things" (BA 477, EJ 603–604), echoing Georg's complaint to Krause, "What do you know about it?" (BA 56, EJ 59). In this sense, what happens to Biberkopf is the opposite of tragedy, while preserving the outer form of tragedy.[58] He is not destroyed by an inevitable fate, but is redeemed through his final realization of guilt, responsibility for his own life, and dependence on others:

Franz weeps and weeps. I'm guilty, I'm not a human being, I'm just a beast, a monster.

Thus died, in that evening hour, Franz Biberkopf, erstwhile transport worker, burglar, pimp, murderer.
(BA 488, EJ 617)

This passage, with its echoes of biblical diction, suggests that Biberkopf's end is modelled on a Christian rather than a Greek worldview.


The particular metaphors Döblin uses to suggest the process are those of refining ore (BA 480, EJ 607) and baking bread (BA 481, EJ 609), both processes of purification by fire, from which objects emerge transformed.[59]

The specific process by which Franz's redemption is accomplished is that of a review and acceptance of his past, under the repeated admonition "So let it come" (BA 48off., EJ 607ff.). So pass before his mind's eye Lüders, Reinhold (who reminds him explicitly that he, too, has murdered), Ida, and Mieze. In keeping with the universal significance of Biberkopf's story and with his integration into the city, however, it is not just these figures who pass review. The narrator interpolates a montage of anonymous masses moving from the provinces toward Berlin, thus anticipating within Biberkopf's agony the larger social context into which he will be released. Biberkopf's acceptance of responsibility for his past thus merges into his need to live with others:

So let it come—the night, however black and nothing-like it be! So let them come, the black night, those frost-covered acres, the hard frozen roads. So let them come: the lonely, tile-roofed houses whence gleams a reddish light; so let them come: the shivering wanderers, the drivers on the farm wagons traveling to town with vegetables and the little horses in front. The great, flat, silent plains crossed by suburban trains and expresses which throw white light into the darkness on either side of them. So let them come—the men in the station, the little girl's farewell to her parents, she's traveling with two older acquaintances, going across the big water, we've got our tickets, but good Lord, what a little girl, eh, but she'll get used to it over there, if she's a good little girl it'll be all right. So let them come and be absorbed: the cities which lie along the same line, Breslau, Liegnitz, Sommerfeld, Guben, Frankfort on the Oder, Berlin, the train passes through them from station to station, from the stations emerge the cities, the cities with their big and little streets. Berlin with Schweidnitzer Strasse, with the Grosse Ring of the Kaiser-Wilhelm Strasse, Kurfürstendamm, and everywhere are homes in which people are warming themselves, looking at each other with loving eyes, or sitting coldly next to each other; dirty dumps and dives where a man is playing the piano. Say, kiddo, that's old stuff, you'd think there was nothing new in 1928, how about "I kiss your hand, Madame," or "Ramona."

So let them come: the autos, the taxis, you know how many you have sat in, how they rattled, you were alone, or else somebody sat next to you, or maybe two. License Number 20147.
(BA 480–81, EJ 607–608)

The tone of this montage is strikingly similar to Molly Bloom's great affirmative peroration at the end of Joyce's Ulysses . But there the


streaming, conscious thoughts of a single figure focus the reader on the individual, whereas the montage here is not Franz Biberkopf's but rather the narrator's, who by this point in the novel has merged almost completely with the figure of Death.[60] The streaming movement of the passage is embodied in the trains which are its central image. Like the streetcars of book 2, they are dynamic and serve here to articulate "the black night." And in the midst of this montage, the figure of the little girl bound for America relates not only to Döblin's personal experience as a young child torn from his home and removed to Berlin, but also to Biberkopf: we see her parents giving her the same empty rules for behavior which Biberkopf has vainly tried to follow: "If she's a good little girl it'll be all right."

For many readers, Franz Biberkopf's redemption and illumination at the end of the novel have seemed altogether too abrupt, and moreover curiously ambivalent. The final chapter of the novel in particular, with its title echoing the march motif that accompanies Biberkopf's aggressively individualistic battle against life, has given rise to controversy: "Forward March and get in Step and Right and Left and Right and Left" (BA 497, EJ 629). The chapter is divided into two parts. The first half reports Reinhold's trial for the murder of Mieze. Biberkopf, in the witness stand, still feels "a curious devotion" to Reinhold (BA 498, EJ 630) and eschews "shooting off his mouth before the judge" (sich vor dem Richter dicktun; BA 498, EJ 631) as Reinhold expects him to. His confrontation with Death and with his own hubris has finally taught him that "The world is made of sugar and dirt" (BA 479, 498, EJ 606, 630–31), not just of sugar, and that Reinhold is no unique paragon of evil: "I know who you are. I now find you here, m'boy, in the prisoner's box, outside I'll meet you a thousand times more, but my heart will not turn to stone on account of that" (BA 498, EJ 631). Reinhold gets ten years for the murder; Biberkopf is offered a job. The novel threatens to end in breathtaking triviality: "Immediately after the trial Biberkopf is offered a job as assistant gatekeeper in a medium-sized factory. He accepts. I have nothing further to report about his life" (BA 499, EJ 632).

But then comes the second half of the final chapter, the half that poses problems for interpreters of the novel. It does not in fact report


anything further about Biberkopf's life, but rather turns to his frame of mind in his post in the "medium-sized factory." The narrator declares his story to have been "a process of revelation of a special kind" with Biberkopf now standing at the end of the "dark road," beneath a streetlamp, "able to read the sign" (BA 499, EJ 632). Now that his personal problems of hubris and guilt have been illuminated and understood, Biberkopf is directly confronted with the social context in which he must resume his life. As we have seen, the social is linked to the personal at the point where Biberkopf realizes he cannot stand alone, but must live among and depend upon his fellow men in the city and in life in general.

Indeed, expressions of a generalized solidarity abound, both on the part of the narrator and of Biberkopf, who now share the same insight and speak the same language:

He is no longer alone on Alexanderplatz. There are people to the right, and people to the left of him, some walk in front of him, others behind him.

Much unhappiness comes from walking alone. When there are several, it's somewhat different. I must get the habit of listening to others, for what the others say concerns me, too. Then I learn who I am, and what I can undertake. Everywhere about me my battle is being fought, and I must beware, before I know it, I'm in the thick of it.

He is assistant gatekeeper in a factory. What is fate anyway? One is stronger than I. If there are two of us, it grows harder to be stronger than I. If there are ten of us, it's harder still. And if there are a thousand of us and a million, then it's very hard, indeed.[61]
(BA 499–500, EJ 632–33)

What has particularly disturbed many readers is the fact that the call for solidarity is mingled with the drum rolls and trumpet calls of marching masses who pass Franz's window, masses whose political allegiance is unclear; they could be communist, anarchist, socialist, or fascist. Are these the fellow men with whom Franz ought to ally himself? And if so, then why is it any more likely for him to join the Left than the fascist Right?

The latter, in fact, would seem the more likely possibility. Throughout the novel Biberkopf, who thinks of himself as apolitical (BA 294, EJ 367), has evinced the kind of yearning for security and order that makes him susceptible to Nazi propaganda. After his release from Tegel, he peddles racist newspapers ("He is not against the Jews, but he is for law and order"; BA 85, EJ 97), and does so again after recover-


ing from Lüders's betrayal (BA 184, EJ 223). He nearly gets into a fight with his old army friend Georg Dreske and other Communists when they see him with his swastika armband. While selling Nazi papers conforms to his idea of "decency," he shuns the Communists just as he shuns Herbert and Eva. In his rage at their baiting, he screams: "We've gotta have order, order, I'm telling you, order—and put that in your pipes and smoke it, order and nothing else . . . and if anybody comes and starts a revolution now and don't leave us in peace, they ought to be strung up all along the street . . . then they'll get theirs, when they swing, yes, sir. You might remember that whatever you do, you criminals" (BA 99, EJ 116). After he has lost his arm and given up trying to be decent, he is drawn to the antisocial, radical solipsism of the pickpocket Willi ("a reasonable man believes only in Nietzsche and Stirner, and does what he pleases; all the rest is bunk"; BA 306, EJ 384), with whom he attends anarchist meetings in order to bait the participants (BA 291–99, EJ 363–74).

James H. Reid has drawn attention to the space the novel devotes to this encounter with the anarchists,[62] and infers that the old anarchist worker with whom Franz talks is "Döblin's mouthpiece in Berlin Alexanderplatz ." Franz, who has resumed his old life as a pimp and petty criminal, articulates his stubborn doctrine of individuality: "A man's got only himself, just himself. I look after myself. I'm a self-provider, I am!" The anarchist counters with the need for solidarity: "And I've told you that three dozen times already: you can't do anything alone. We need a fighting organization" (BA 298, EJ 373). Yet if this worker articulates the message that makes Berlin Alexanderplatz, according to Reid, a political novel, then one would expect his message to be much more clearly repeated in the final chapter.

The solidarity proclaimed in the final chapter, however, seems thrown into question and almost contradicted by two other elements. First, there is Biberkopf's own caution:

Often they march past his window with flags and music and singing. Biberkopf watches coolly from his door, he'll not join the parade any more. Shut your trap, in step, old cuss, march along with the rest of us. But if I march along, I shall have to pay for it later on with my head, pay for the schemes of others. That's why I first figure out everything, and only if everything's quite O.K., and suits me, I'll take action. Reason is the gift of man, jackasses replace it with a clan.
(BA 500, EJ 633–34)


Then there is the apparent reason for his caution: these masses are marching in solidarity, to be sure, but it is the mindless solidarity of an army marching into war and death. The drum rolls of the Dance of Death chapter (BA 488–90, EJ 618–20), in which the imperialist armies of Napoleon and Kaiser Wilhelm II and the revolutionary armies of the French and Russian Revolutions, the Peasants' Wars, and the Anabaptists all fall, without differentiation, under Death's sway, are repeated at the very end of the novel, in a paragraph printed in italics in the German edition and bold face in the English translation:

The way leads to freedom, to freedom it goes. The old world must crumble. Awake, wind of dawn!

And get in step, and right and left and right and left, marching: marching on, we tramp to war, a hundred minstrels march before, with fife and drum, drrum, brrum, for one the road goes straight, for another it goes to the side, one stands fast, another's killed, one rushes past, another's voice is stilled, drrum, brrumm, drrumm! THE END
(BA 501, EJ 635)

Hans-Peter Bayerdörfer has gone further than anyone else in trying to explain the apparent contradictions of this chapter. He carefully differentiates between the positive solidarity, based on the insight Biberkopf has achieved, and the false, mindless solidarity created by force and legitimized by the idea of fate. The latter, according to Bayerdörfer, is embodied in the figure of the Whore of Babylon and leads to war. If death becomes ideologized as a sacrificial, heroic death in war, then its meaning, in Bayerdörfer's reading of Döblin, is perverted in the service of the Whore of Babylon.[63] The last paragraph is set off typographically not because it contains the moral of the novel, which would then be that Biberkopf ought to sacrifice his new-found wisdom and submit to war as the inescapable fate of mankind. Rather, it shows that the power of the false collective of war continues to exist in the world in which Biberkopf must live. "True to his role as a street-ballad singer, however, [the narrator] cranks out one more verse of the Song of the World on his organ. To be sure, there is an ambiguous twinkle in his eye in the sentence that introduces the song quote [i.e., "The way leads to freedom, to freedom it goes. The old world must crumble"], and that ambiguity has led to misunderstanding. Formally, the epilogue forms the last refrain of the street ballad. As for its content, it also has the character of a refrain that reproduces the unending reprise


of the battle songs of the world."[64] Bayerdörfer's point is that Biberkopf has in the end achieved the political insight of the narrator into the dangers of the crumbling and violent Weimar Republic, but that the narrator refuses to suggest any easy answer to the question of what is to be done with that insight; he admits that "he is unable to spin out his story beyond this point. He eschews the possibility of presenting a utopian New World, and instead points to the potential for politicizing the level of consciousness that has been achieved."[65]

Döblin himself was well aware of the dilemma in which the final chapter leaves both Biberkopf and the reader. In a 1931 letter to the Germanist Julius Petersen he wrote,

This book was conceived as the first volume of a two-volume work. The second was supposed to (or will?) present the active man, although perhaps not the same person; the conclusion is a sort of bridge—but the other bank is missing. And then, my basic spiritual "naturalism" coalesced in a particular phase. A more passive-receptive element with tragic overtones is opposed to an active element that is more optimistic. . . . In Berlin Alexanderplatz, I definitely wanted to bring Fr. Biberkopf to the second phase—I didn't succeed. Against my own intention, simply from the logic of the action and the plan, the book ended as it does; it was beyond rescue, my hopes were dashed. The conclusion really ought to play—in heaven: one more soul saved—well, that wasn't possible, but I couldn't resist playing fanfares at the end, whether they were psychologically plausible or not. Up to now I see no resolution to the dualism.
(Briefe 165–66)

In spite of its moving call for solidarity, the final chapter leaves Franz Biberkopf alone at his gatekeeper's window. By Döblin's own admission, his hero has not reached the "second phase" of positive action. On the other hand, neither has he been "saved" through sublimation from the real situation of a "humble workman" (BA 501, EJ 634) in the Berlin of 1928 to "heaven"—the timeless metaphysical-religious plane of the biblical parables of Job and Isaac, parables of sacrifice and humility that accompany his story but, in the end, do not absorb it. Döblin never wrote the projected second volume, and even if the Nazi accession to power had not occurred and he had not been forced into exile, it is doubtful that he ever would have. In his next Berlin novel, however—written in exile—he would readdress the dilemma of a hero left hovering on the brink of action and push it a step further. Before we turn to this novel, Men without Mercy, we need to take a brief look


at an aspect of Berlin Alexanderplatz that is intimately related to Biberkopf's isolation at the end of the novel: the role of women.

Although the structure of Franz Biberkopf's three-tiered fall and redemption has been thoroughly discussed in the secondary literature, it is curious that almost no attention has been paid to the common element in all three "blows" against the hero: in each case, it is Franz's relation to women that is involved. He brags to Lüders about his conquest of a widow; he first participates in and then tries to cure Reinhold of his "traffic in girls"; he parades his good fortune with Mieze in front of Reinhold. In addition, of course, he has served four years for the unpremeditated murder of his girlfriend Ida. Upon his release at the beginning of the novel, he regains his equilibrium in Berlin primarily by raping Minna, Ida's sister.

The category in which Biberkopf habitually thinks about women is that of business—precisely what one would expect of a pimp. He excuses his infidelity with the widow by emphasizing its monetary aspect: "Pshaw, it's business, business is business" (BA 118, EJ 139). His arrangement with Reinhold is explicitly "traffic in girls" (or "white slavery" in the Jolas translation; BA 193, EJ 235). And even before Franz has met Mieze, his friend Herbert suggests her commercial possibilities: "If you're a man who knows what's what, Franz, then maybe you kin make something out of the gal. I've seen her. She's got class" (BA 281, EJ 350). Eva persuades him with relative ease to accept Mieze's voluntary prostitution, and he gets murderously angry only when she falls in love with one of her customers (BA 367–69, EJ 461–64). Franz's boastful exploitation of women is the main component of the hubris of which he must be cured.

It is all the more astonishing that Robert Minder, the French Germanist who met and worked with Döblin during the war, could call Berlin Alexanderplatz —and indeed, most of Döblin's works—"books without women."[66] Minder continues, "The writer himself was not unaware that in the middle [of his novels] there is almost always a grimly intense struggle of love between two male partners. A struggle of love that plays itself out on levels other than the purely sexual, and which are therefore all the more threatening. This struggle has a fun-


damental influence on the total behavior of the characters. Its most hidden cause lies in the exaggerated paternal authority that has astonished foreign observers of German culture for centuries." It is true that the metaphysical battle in Berlin Alexanderplatz is waged between Franz, the exemplary Everyman, and Reinhold, the epitome of malice, of "the cold force" (BA 456, EJ 576). Similarly, Wadzek battles against Rommel and Schneemann. The furious battle of the sexes in the early novel The Black Curtain was left behind when the Berlin Program rejected the "erotic" as a primary novelistic theme and Döblin had developed the solution of sacred prostitution in The Three Leaps of Wang-lun .

Yet to call Berlin Alexanderplatz a "book without women" is to miss the fact that beneath the sublimated homoeroticism of the metaphysical battle between Biberkopf and Reinhold, the battle of the sexes in fact continues, although Döblin has tried to resolve it in the idea of sacrificial prostitution. We have seen that in Wadzek, the image of woman is split between the poles of the devouring, solipsistic Pauline and the self-sacrificing, masochistic Gaby. That novel, however, failed to achieve a satisfying resolution of the polarity. In Berlin Alexanderplatz, women have been rendered unproblematic through the elimination of Pauline's side of the polarity. The sacred prostitution of Wanglun has been secularized and universalized. In the Berlin underworld that is Biberkopf's universe, all women are prostitutes.

On the surface of the novel, Franz's exploitative, self-serving relations with women are the major component of his hubris. From the beginning, he makes women subservient to him, takes out his anger, aggression, and frustration on them. When he finds himself impotent after his release, he blames his victim, Ida, the "beast" or "bitch" (BA 37, EJ 37; Jolas translates Biest as "tart" and then "wench"). His instinctive response is to return to her and regain his potency by force. The violence of his feeling cancels time and allows her sister Minna to replace the dead Ida: "Prison had never existed, nor the conversation with the Jews in the Dragonerstrasse. Where's the slut, it's her fault" (BA 38, EJ 37). Part of the chapter's title is a military metaphor, "Victory all along the Line!" (BA 37, EJ 36), and his rape of Minna is introduced by the march rhythms so prominent at the end of the novel: "A little twitching of the face, a little twitching in the fingers, then we'll go there, bumbledy, bumbledy, bumbledy, bee, tumbledy, rumbledy,


tumbledy, bee, rumbledy, bumbledy. . . . He walks along left wheel into the room. Rumbledy, bumbledy" (BA 38, EJ 37).

The military motif is continued in the picture decorating Minna's living room: "So that's the room, the stiff-backed sofa, the Kaiser hanging on the wall, a Frenchman in red trousers giving him his sword. I have surrendered." But rather than swelling with pride at the sight of this icon of German nationalism, Biberkopf reveals the fear which motivates him by reversing the significance of the picture: "'What do you want here, Franz? Are you crazy, or what?' 'I'll sit down.' I have surrendered. The Kaiser presents his sword, the Kaiser must return the sword to him, that's the way the world runs" (BA 38, EJ 37). It is this fear of utter defeat and impotence that motivates the rape which follows. When it is over, the metaphor of victory returns. The world has been set right: "He clambered up, laughed, and spun around with joy, delight, beatitude. The trumpets are blowing, hussars ride forth, hallelujah. Franz Biberkopf is back again! Franz is discharged! Franz Biberkopf is free!" (BA 40, EJ 40). The rape has been brutal enough, leaving Minna with a black eye and scratches on her neck. But Minna is also shown in the end acquiescing to the inevitable:

And she, the sister, what strange thing is happening to her? She feels from his face, from his lying still on her, that she has to give in, she defends herself, but a sort of transformation comes over her, her face loses its tension, her arms can no longer push him off, her mouth grows helpless. The man says nothing, she lets lets lets him have her mouth, she grows soft as in a bath, do with me whatever you please, she dissolves like water, it's all right, just come, I know it all, I love you, too.
(BA 40, EJ 39–40)

After the rape, Franz can afford to be magnanimous: "She was lying on the floor, tossing herself about. He laughed and stretched himself: 'Well, go ahead and choke me. I'll keep still, if you can do it'" (BA 40, EJ 40). Later, he replaces her torn apron, stops by to see how her black eye is healing, and buys her two veal cutlets. They embrace before she sends him away for good (BA 42–43, EJ 43).

Otto Keller has suggested that this denouement prefigures Franz's ultimate salvation by showing that he "would also be capable of genuine devotion . . . as Minna obviously also seems to sense."[67] This is probably an accurate assessment of Döblin's conscious intention. Biberkopf's affection for Minna—once he has raped her—prefigures


his love for Mieze, and conversely, Minna's melting surrender anticipates Mieze's selfless devotion to him. For all his ugliness and brutality, he is consistently attractive to the women in the novel. But the rape of Minna anticipates Franz's relation to Mieze in another sense that was perhaps less conscious on Döblin's part. Both Minna and Mieze conform to a pattern that demands that the woman be conquered and humiliated before she can be allowed to love or, in Mieze's case, to be the salvation of Franz. Only when she is prostituted can she be transfigured.

If there is unanimity among Döblin's interpreters about anything, it is about the figure of Mieze. For Roland Links, she is "a person . . . who really sticks by [Franz], on whom he can count"; for Klaus Müller-Salget, "the only person who accepts him completely, who gives herself to him without reservation"; Otto Keller universalizes, calling her "the truly loving person, who sacrifices herself for others" and "the most beautiful figure of the novel on the realistic level of plot."[68] Theodore Ziolkowski adopts Biberkopf's perspective when he calls Mieze "his most prized possession."[69] Indeed, the novel leaves no doubt that Mieze, always dressed in white, is the embodiment of purity and selfless love. She is from the beginning the "proper comrade" for Franz, and his great guilt is that he fails to realize that until it is too late.

But it seems also to be true that just as Minna must be raped in anger, amid military metaphors of conquest, before she can give in and love, so Mieze must be murdered before she can be Franz's salvation. She is the most sacred of all Döblin's sacred prostitutes, submitting to literal martyrdom in order to become canonized.[70] It is not accidental that Mieze receives a past, a biography, a vita sancta, only after she is dead. It seems, in fact, to rise like a miasma from the trunk into which her body has been stuffed:

They open the trunk in which Mieze lay. She was the daughter of a streetcar conductor from Bernau. There were three children in the family, the mother deserted her husband and left the home, why, nobody knows. Mieze was alone in the house and had to do everything herself. Sometimes at night she rode in to Berlin and went to dance-halls or to Lestmann and other places nearby, occasionally she was taken by this one or the other to a hotel; then it was too late and she didn't dare come home, so she stayed on in Berlin and met Eva; that's how it started. They were at the police station near the Stettin Depot. A cheerful life began then for Mieze, who at first called herself Sonia, she had many acquain-


tances and friends, but later on she always lived with one man, a strong fellow with one arm whom Mieze loved at first sight and to whom she remained true till the end. A bad end, a sad end, was the last end of Mieze. And why, why, why? What crime had she committed? She came from Bernau into the whirl of Berlin, she was not an innocent girl, certainly not, but her love for him was pure and steadfast; he was her man and she took care of him like a child. She was struck down because she happened by chance to encounter this man; such is life, it's really inconceivable. She rode out to Freienwalde to protect her friend, and there she was strangled, strangled, killed, extinguished; such is life.
(BA 416–17, EJ 526)

It is particularly interesting that in Berlin Alexanderplatz, this kind of capsule biography is usually provided only for nonrecurring, secondary characters—the people, for instance, inhabiting the building where Franz is hiding at the beginning of the fourth book (BA 132–36, EJ 156–61). We learn next to nothing about the family history or social background of Franz Biberkopf or Reinhold.[71] Their lack of past means both that they are caught up in the dynamism of the present moment that dominates the novel's unidirectional plot, and that their struggle can all the more easily be raised to the metaphysical level of the biblical and classical allusions that the narrator increasingly mounts into the text. Mieze's biography, almost more than her murder, marks her exit from the novel. She has become a case among other cases.

On the level of plot, she is the apotheosis of all the women in the book. But while the monstrous, devouring side of woman—in Wadzek embodied in the figure of Pauline—has been banished from Berlin Alexanderplatz on the realistic level, the many-tiered structure of this novel allows its introduction on the metaphysical, apocalyptic level:

And now come here, you, come, and I will show you something. The great whore, the Whore of Babylon, that sits there beside the water. And you see a woman sitting on a scarlet colored beast. The woman is full of names of blasphemy, and has 7 heads and 10 horns. She is arrayed in purple and scarlet and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand. And upon her forehead is written a name, a mystery: the great Babylon, the mother of all abomination on the earth. The woman has drunk of the blood of all the saints. The woman is drunken with the blood of the saints.
(BA 260, EJ 322)[72]

Is it any accident that this apocalyptic adversary of the illuminating, purifying, preserving figure of death ("it is my duty to preserve"; BA 474, EJ 599) is female, and furthermore a whore and a vampire? The sym-


bol of violence and self-centered evil in the novel, she makes her first appearance in book 6, just before Biberkopf launches his "Third Conquest of Berlin" by giving up his attempt to live decently and resuming his life of crime. She then accompanies his downward course until the Dance of Death chapter, when she is driven off by a triumphant Death after Biberkopf's redemption (BA 488, EJ 618).

But her entrance into the novel also happens to precede by only twenty pages the introduction of Mieze. Indeed, the first repetition of the Whore of Babylon motif, inserted in the middle of an unequivocal narrative warning that Franz Biberkopf has become a criminal, "and the worst is yet to come" (BA 277, EJ 345), is followed only two pages later by the first appearance of Mieze (BA 280, EJ 349). Throughout the remainder of the novel, the image of the monstrous, apocalyptic Whore recurs in close proximity to the stages of Mieze's tragedy: just after Franz, in the depths of pain, loneliness and self-pity, calls out "Where is Mieze, anyway, leaving me lie here like that. Ow, ouch, ow, ow, oooooooh" (BA 319, EJ 401); after Mieze's body has been found by the police and the narrator has related her biography (BA 419, EJ 529); after Franz has discovered that she is dead (BA 425, EJ 537); and then finally, during his catatonia (BA 467, 474, 488; EJ 589–90, 599, 618).

The Berlin prostitute Mieze and the Whore of Babylon, both introduced more than half way through the novel, are complementary. They repeat the polarity in Döblin's image of women embodied in Wadzek by the figures of Gaby and Pauline. We have seen how Wadzek's escape with Gaby fails to resolve the polarity: he persists in his domineering approach to her and intends to resume the capitalist battle in America. In Berlin Alexanderplatz, the polarity is complicated and obscured by the fact that Mieze appears on the plot level, whereas the Whore of Babylon belongs to the mythological imagery that the narrator mounts into the story of Franz Biberkopf, thereby raising it to the level of the exemplary. Nevertheless, each woman must be done away with before Biberkopf can reach his ultimate illumination. The Whore, in whom Pauline's solipsism has been raised to the absolute level, is finally driven away by Death, the great equalizer, who thus triumphs in their battle for Biberkopf's soul. At the archetypal level, Mieze is the sacrificial lamb through whom Franz is redeemed. In his personal life, as in his political consciousness, he has achieved


illumination at great cost. The final chapter holds out the hope that in both spheres of his life, he is now prepared to recognize and cherish the "proper comrade," but it is no more than a hope. The anonymous masses of the city who surround him are as yet only potential comrades. The narrator, at the end of his wisdom, leaves the ending open and the hero alone.


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