Weimar memories: walking Berlin … in a flâneur’s footsteps

April 3, 2017

Armed with Franz Hessel’s cult guidebook, Walking in Berlin, published in 1929, Vanessa Thorpe is transported back to the city’s decadent period

Time travel is still a long way off as a short break option, but happily there are some good approximations. Last month, in a very chilly but sunny Berlin, I opened up a copy of Franz Hessel’s cult 1929 guidebook, Walking in Berlin: A Flâneur in the Capital, and, sure enough, the jaunty, literary tone of the book, now published in English for the first time, is like a private invitation back to the city’s most beguiling era.

Hessel had an appetite for cafe culture and people-watching, although his own life was easily as colourful as the life he observed around him. His open relationship with his wife, fellow writer Helen Grund, inspired Henri-Pierre Roché’s famous ménage-a-trois novel Jules et Jim. He was, to use his preferred French term, a flâneur – a man of means at ease in the cosmopolitan hub of Weimar Germany.

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Hessel loved the rooftop Kranzler caf​​e and the nightclubs or “ballrooms”, with their table telephones

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Hessel’s observations are detailed, but using his book today is partly an imaginative exercise. Many landmarks are gone

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