‘Berlin: Imagine a City’

Berlin is a city of fragments and ghosts, a laboratory of ideas, the fount of both the brightest and darkest designs of history’s most bloody century. The once arrogant capital of Europe was devastated by Allied bombs, divided by a Wall, then reunited and reborn as one of the creative centres of the world. Today it resonates with the echo of lives lived, dreams realised and evils executed with shocking intensity. No other city has repeatedly been so powerful, and fallen so low; few other cities have been so shaped and defined by individual imaginations.

I’ve known three Berlins: West Berlin where I made movies with David Bowie and Marlene Dietrich, East Berlin where I researched my first book, ‘Stalin’s Nose’, and now the unified capital. To tell the city’s story, I have assembled a remarkable, eclectic cast of Berliners over five centuries, from a wild medieval balladeer to the ambitious prostitute who refashioned herself as a royal princess, from a Scottish mercenary who fought for the Prussian Army to the fearful Communist Party functionary who helped to build the Wall. Alongside them appears Dietrich flaunting her sexuality in ‘The Blue Angel’, Goebbels concocting Nazi iconography, Hitler fantasising about his mega-city Germania and David Bowie recording ‘Heroes’.

In its architecture, through its literature, in its movies, songs and unrealized dreams, these men and women conjured Berlin into one of the world’s most volatile and creative capitals. No other city has so often surrendered itself to its own seductive myths. ‘Berlin: Imagine a City’ captures, portrays and propagates the extraordinary story of those myths and their makers.

‘Berlin’ was chosen a top ten of 2014 by the Washington Post.

‘Berlin is the most extraordinary work of history I’ve ever read. To call it history is, in fact, reductive. There’s some historical analysis, quite a lot of fiction, some philosophizing, lashings of wit and a fair dose of invective. It’s a work of imagination, reflection, reverence, perplexity and criticism that reveals as much about the author’s precocious mind as it does about the city he adores. The book’s most profound feature, however, is its stunningly beautiful writing – phrases of transcendent rhythm force the reader to reverse and read again.’ – Gerard De Groot, Washington Post

‘This grandly ambitious work has a noble intention: to re-create through art and imagination the whole historic presence of a great capital, from its beginnings to its present day… Maclean’s book is a wonderful achievement, not justly to be summarised in the few hundred words of a review. but hauntingly representing, as in a tangled dream, 600 years of history.’ – Jan Morris, Sunday Telegraph

‘I loved it. It is such a beautiful way of understanding history, its stories are so vivaciously told, it is so heartfelt, so intelligent, and so talkative a book. So many of the characters do end up talking to each other, and the author is eavesdropping. It paints the past and the present, portrays Berlin as a portrait of someone you love. It is beautiful.’ – Jay Griffiths, author of Wild, Pip Pip and Kith.

‘Brilliant… what makes MacLean’s history of Berlin stand out is that this is an intensely human document, a rich tapestry spanning five centuries and woven together through intimate portraits of 21 of its former inhabitants which collectively reveal the narrative of the city… This is how I love history to be told, through the people that live it… a fascinating book.’ – Clare Wigfall, The Observer.

‘intelligent, entertaining and ambitious… MacLean has written a great book about Berliners’ – Philip Oltermann, New Statesman.

‘[MacLean] writes with the lyricism of Bruce Chatwin and the traveller’s eye of Marco Polo. He engages with his readers as if he is talking to an intelligent friend. Read this book if you already know Berlin, or will do one day.’ – Janie Hampton, The Oldie.

‘A wonderfully enjoyable, poetic and instructive tour through the history of this fascinating and changing city. A book that magnificently combines real history and pure reading pleasure. Not just for those interested in Germany, but for anyone interested in the history of Western culture.’ – Stephane Kirkland, author of Paris Reborn.

‘The admiration and love travel writer and filmmaker MacLean has for Berlin is evident throughout this history of the city, which begins in the 17th century. His careful arrangement of detail and far-reaching scope make for a perfect description of one of Europe’s most enigmatic and controversial cities. It’s when he explores the minds of Berlin’s modern masters… that MacLean reveals his prowess as a storyteller, flawlessly weaving together history, facts, and folklore. MacLean brings this “city of fragments and ghosts,” with its fractured and volatile past, to life.’ – Publishers Weekly (starred review).

‘Berlin: Imagine a City’ is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in the UK, St. Martins Press in the US, Hachette in Canada, Magnum in Poland, De Bezige Bij in Belgium and Holland, Shanghai Literature and Publishing in China and Rye Field Publications in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau.