Phase I
  Phase II
  Phase III
  Phase IV


Gottfried Benn (1886-1956) invited his readers time and again to grasp his person and works in terms of often irreconcilable dichotomies.  The titles of his autobiographical sketch, "Doppelleben" ("Double-Life") along with his 1954 poem "Teils-Teils", illustrate Benn's sense of a divided self -- a recurring theme throughout Benn's literary corpus.  Critics such as Hans Egon Holthusen and Günter Blöcker have grasped onto this notion of oppositions as an elemental aspect of understanding Benn:  his parentage (German father and French-Swiss mother), his career choices (medical doctor and poet), his personality (socialite and loner) and perhaps most provocatively his wavering political stance.  As much as this dialectical view serves to describe Benn's exceptional life and choices, it also aptly characterizes the way in which he apprehended his world.  That is, an "einerseits -- andererseits Struktur" ("on-one-hand on-the-other-hand structure") -- to use Benn's terms -- also fittingly describes Benn's approach to his objects of inquiry.

Perhaps it is no coincidence then that twentieth-century Berlin, a city of simulating oppositions and irreconcilable contradictions, would entice Benn as a young student in 1905 and captivate him until his death in 1956. Berlin's eclecticism and dynamism became the spark for Benn's creative growth.  Its compelling residents and venues gave rise to extraordinary verse, whose sense, rhythms and emotion preserve for us the qualities of a Berlin uniquely known to Benn.  Yet, in addition to serving as the object and inspiration of Benn's aesthetic, Berlin was also a space within which Benn would react, change and grow as a thinker.  For example, its newspapers and radio became a forum through which Benn would experience -- and participate in -- Berlin's cultural, social and political evolution.  Therefore, Benn must be regarded as an extraordinary chronicler of a half of a century of Berlin's tumultuous history, both through the poems which capture its life, and in the traces of his continually transforming persona.

This link aims to broaden our understanding of Berlin's cultural, political and social development in the early twentieth century, by tracing a single man's encounters with the city -- its institutions, residents and spirit.  As illustrated in the table of contents below, I pinpoint significant locations for Gottfried Benn, in an attempt to reconstruct the ways that these Berlin spaces were rendered by -- and gave form to -- Benn's work and life.  This includes evaluating the extent to which critical readings of Benn, as a man of contrasts, might serve us in helping to understand his particular relationship with this city.  In so doing, I will reveal the ways that Benn, by accompanying us to sites scarcely explored in traditional chronicles of Berlin's history, contributes in unique and invaluable ways to our understanding of this vibrant and complex city.

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