The literature of Berlin is a double category. It can at once reference literary writing that takes Berlin as its object and writing that, whether this is the case or not, belongs in Berlin, is attached to it, by virtue of being produced there. For the most part, this critical companion to the literature of Berlin will be concerned with the former: with writing, in a variety of genres and across the historical spread of modernity, that is concerned with the representation of this, one of the great cities of the modern world. But it will also incorporate consideration of the latter, of the sorts of habitation – and thus the conditions of possibility – that the city affords for the production of literature across its history.
Of course, given the chequered – often fraught – character of that history, in particular in the twentieth century, the conditions of literary production are not always hospitable. As we can see from the titles of two of the most prominent historical studies of the city, Alexandra Richie's Faust's Metropolis (1998) and Brian Ladd's Ghosts of Berlin (1997), modern Berlin is at once a city dominated (on the Faustian model) by sometimes catastrophic fantasies and compacts of self-transformation and a haunting-ground for the phantoms of the resulting historical violence. Accordingly, the literature of Berlin has to negotiate both the operations of political power and, certainly for the period after the Second World War, their – often spectral – after-effects. At the same time, the city is not exclusively conditioned by those models, and it shares much with the other major cities of modernity. Indeed, the key generic themes that run through the broader canvas of the recent Cambridge Companion to the City in Literature, the socio-cultural dynamics and literary constructions that are sustained by cities, per se, also feature in what follows, albeit in forms that are in significant respects site-specific.
While Berlin is a relative latecomer as a major urban centre, a status that the erstwhile provincial Residenzstadt, seat of the Hohenzollern dynasty since the fifteenth century, only really reached in the course of the eighteenth century, its ascendancy was remarkably dynamic. As discussed by Matt Erlin in Chapter 1 of this volume, it was with the reign of Frederick the Great (1740–86) that Berlin first became a significant centre of cosmopolitan thinking and cultural production.