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Walter Benjamin's Berlin

This pathway will focus on Walter Benjamin's childhood memoirs. Written throughout the 1930s, the greater part of which Benjamin lived in exile in Paris, the various versions of these memoirs are preserved under the titles of The Berlin Chronicle (Berliner Chronik) and Berlin Childhood Around 1900 (Berliner Kindheit um Neunzehnhundert). In them, Benjamin attempts to reconstruct his own past life, as well as the life of an epoch, as they were shaped by the city. The Berlin Benjamin reconstructs is a city of memory in a double sense: not only the past life, but also the traces of that past preserved in the present, were, at the time of the writing, accessible to Benjamin only as memories. In these texts, therefore, the time of the writing cannot be dissociated from the time written about. As Benjamin himself put it, "the man who merely makes an inventory of his findings, while failing to establish the exact location of where in today's ground the ancient treasures have been stored up, cheats himself of his richest prize. In this sense, for authentic memories, it is far less important that the investigator report on them than that he mark, quite precisely, the site where he gained possession of them."

In keeping with Benjamin's advice, the time remembered - the turn of the 19th century - and the time of remembering - the 1930s - will here be joined by the present time in order to form, in a word of central importance for Benjamin's understanding of history, a constellation of entry points into his city of memory. We will use them to access the different sections of that city, such as the Tiergarten, the West End, the cafes, the Youth Movement, the friendships, the schools, the parents, the theater, the apartments and their courtyards. These sections, which gave Berlin its topography in Benjamin's memory, will also constitute the chapters of our pathway. Our goal and hope is to accomplish something akin to Benjamin's fantasy, related in The Berlin Chronicle, of "setting out the sphere of life - bios - graphically on a map."

...continue onto the Tiergarten