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What I Saw: Reports from Berlin 1920-33 Hardcover – 20 Feb 2003

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Few modern cities have quite so much history ingrained in their streets and buildings as Berlin. What I Saw: Reports from Berlin, 1920-33, an edition of the newspaper journalism of the novelist, Joseph Roth (best-known for his historical epic, The Radetzky March) captures perfectly both the exciting cosmopolitanism and the sinister cruelty of the city in the early years of the Weimar republic. No other European city quite so encapsulated the dislocation wrought by the first world war: refugees from eastern Europe, the homeless poor and the unclaimed dead, together with the usual flotsam and jetsam of the metropolis: late-night drinkers, carriers and messengers. Nor did any other post-war capital experiment with and advance modern culture quite as boldly as the German one: film, architecture, literary reviews, electric street transport, shopping, velodromes and amusement parks. In short, punchy pieces Roth describes this strange world of frenetic urban life with humour and compassion. He is very much of the "I Am a Camera" school of reporting, which English writers such as Isherwood and Cockburn were later to perfect. The bulk of the journalism comes from the first half of the 1920s and readers expecting an account of the rise of the Nazis should look elsewhere. Although Roth is aware of the new strident anti-Semitic tone to German nationalism, he does not dwell on it until he goes into exile in 1933. This book celebrates a world that was lost, rather than foretells the nightmare to come. --Miles Taylor


'A search for an English speaking equivalent to Roth leads to none other than George Orwell…It is a privilege to see an artist at work' -- Irish Times

'His acute, morbid observations, finely translated, form the core of this collection of Roth's writings from the Weimar Republic' -- The Sunday Telegraph

'Largely thanks to Michael Hofmann’s new translations, British readers have come to know the German Jewish writer Joseph Roth as the author of fine novels' -- The Independent

'Philosophical, challenging and often fantastical pieces of writing...Roth was the poet of Berlin streetlife in the 1920s' -- Evening Standard

'Slivers of Berlin life during the Weimar Republic catch a city juddering with a sense of its own modernity...The tone is tender and caustic all at once' -- Observer

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The name "Weimar Republic" has a whiff of fragility, of scandal, of doom about it. Read the first page
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Prelude to catastrophe 22 Oct. 2014
By Peter Wright - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Joseph Roth writes these jewel-like journalistic vignettes from an era that was also portrayed by a young Christopher Isherwood: Berlin of the 1920s and early '30s. But Roth's vision is that of an ageing man looking out, as if from the window of the local bar, onto a city in transition. He conjures up images of a Europe where the old order has been vanquished but nothing permanent is there to replace it; a world teetering on the edge, threatened by vast impersonal forces that cannot be fully understood. Everything he looks at has parallels in today's world but it still shocks to realise how hostile an environment Europe was for outsiders like the Jews and other immigrants. It also reminds us how the veneer of civilisation which we take for granted can be so easily swept away by a combination of desperation, fear, ignorance and prejudice. The final and most passionate essay, written from Paris just before his death in 1939, presages the writings of Jewish intellectual, Hannah Arendt, cautioning victims of prejudice not to be intimidated (and in some cases seduced) by their bigoted persecutors.
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