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Berlin: Recommended Books and Movies

By Rick Steves

To learn more about Berlin past and present, check out a few of these books and films. (And see our similar lists for elsewhere in Europe.)

Books: Nonfiction

  • Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent (William Shirer, 1941). Stationed in Berlin from 1934 until 1940, CBS radio broadcaster Shirer delivers a vivid and harrowing day-by-day account of the rise of Nazi Germany.
  • Berlin Now — The City After the Wall (Peter Schneider, 2014). A long-time resident and journalist explores aspects of Berlin since 1989, including the Stasi legacy, the debate about how to preserve sections of the Wall, the city's frenetic club scene, thorny urban planning issues, and the ongoing BER airport debacle.
  • Berlin — Portrait of a City Through the Centuries (Rory MacLean, 2014). MacLean's colorful look at this pivotal and resilient city focuses on the people (from Frederick the Great to JFK to David Bowie) who were instrumental to its narrative — and its unique soul.
  • Culture Shock! Germany (Richard Lord, 2008). Lord provides cultural insights on German customs and etiquette.
  • In the Garden of Beasts (Erik Larson, 2011). Larson captures Berlin during the rise of the Nazis, as seen through the eyes of a reserved US ambassador to Germany and his socialite daughter.
  • Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall (Anna Funder, 2002). Funder delivers a powerful account about the secrets of the Stasi, and how it affected the citizens of East Germany.
  • When in Germany, Do as the Germans Do (Hyde Flippo, 2002). Want to fit in? This lighthearted and helpful guide details the do's and don'ts of being German.

Books: Fiction

  • 1632 (Eric Flint, 2000). This sci-fi/time travel book sends West Virginians back to 17th-century Germany.
  • Berlin Noir (Philip Kerr, 1993). An ex-policeman turned detective struggles with secrets and crime in 1930s and '40s Berlin.
  • The Berlin Stories: The Last of Mr. Norris and Goodbye to Berlin (Christopher Isherwood, 1945). Composed of two novellas published in the 1930s, these stories capture the freewheeling early '30s Berlin and inspired the musical/motion picture Cabaret.
  • Winter (Len Deighton, 1987). Deighton's engrossing historical novel traces the lives of a German family from 1899 to 1945. The book also serves as a prequel to Deighton's masterful nine-part Cold War spy series, which kicks off with Berlin Game (1983).

Films

  • The Baader Meinhof Complex (2008). Lightly fictionalized telling of the acts of terrorism committed by radicalized Germans in 1967, which rocked the still-fragile German democracy.
  • Cabaret (1972). The Oscar-winning classic musical about 1930s Berlin, when Hitler and anti-Semitism were on the rise, and the only refuge was the cabaret.
  • The Counterfeiters (2007). This Oscar-winning film tells the story of Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp inmates forced to run a counterfeiting ring to undermine the British pound.
  • Downfall (2004). Bruno Ganz delivers a frightening performance as Hitler in this story of Der Führer's final days in his Berlin bunker.
  • Good Bye, Lenin! (2003). In this funny, poignant film, a son struggles to re-create a pre-unification Berlin for his ailing communist mother.
  • Hannah Arendt (2012). This biographical drama examines the life of the German-Jewish philosopher who reported on Adolf Eichmann's 1961 Nazi war crimes trial for the New Yorker.
  • The Lives of Others (2006). In this gripping, Oscar-winning drama, a member of East Germany's secret police becomes too close to those whose lives he surveils.
  • Valkyrie (2008). This historical thriller chronicling the July 20, 1944 attempt to assassinate Hitler includes scenes shot on location in Berlin's Bendlerblock, the nerve center of the failed coup and now a memorial to the resistance effort.
  • Wings of Desire (1987). Set in the former West Berlin, Wim Wenders' romantic fantasy tells the story of an angel who falls in love with a human. The story concludes in Wenders' 1993 sequel, Faraway, So Close.