Exploring Weimar Berlin’s History through its Geography

Mark Hobbs (University of Glasgow / Royal Academy of Music, London)

In their attempts to reconstruct Weimar Berlin, historians frequently rely upon the insights of the city’s most prominent commentators and prolific writers, producing very particular impressions of the city, that risk being framed by outdated and oversimplified models of urban development and urban class structure.

This paper applies a spatial analysis to firsthand accounts from Weimar-era Berlin to help us understand the distortions and blind spots of our historical interpretations, offering suggestions as to how our reconstructions might be refined and improved. The framework for this spatial analysis is provided by Chicago School of Sociology professor Ernest Burgess’s 1925 concentric-ring model of urban development, originally based on observations made in Chicago, but equally applicable to Berlin, the so-called ‘Chicago on the Spree.’ Using Burgess’s model, combined with Weimar-era accounts of Berlin, the city’s class divisions and prejudices of the 1920s will be revealed; divisions and prejudices that have been frequently perpetuated by later generations of historians.


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