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Great Berlin writers and where they lived

Ever wondered where Bertholt Brecht, Günter Grass or Hans Fallada used to hang out? Here are twelve famous writers who once called Berlin home.

A sculpture of the famous playwright Bertolt Brecht outside the Berliner Ensemble. Photo: IMAGO / Rolf Kremming

Berlin is steeped in literary history. From the feuilletons of Joseph Roth, Nabokov’s stories or Christopher Isherwood’s legendary autobiography, writers have left an unmistakable mark on how the city sees itself.

Commemorative plaques hang on residential buildings, and squares, streets and buildings in the city have been immortalised in their works. So, where did the most important Berlin writers live and work? Where were they based as they drew inspiration from this city?

Join us on a journey to twelve special addresses across town, to walk in the footsteps of some literary giants.

Christopher Isherwood – Nollendorfstraße 17

W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood. Photo: IMAGO / United Archives

First up, an expat who became a legendary Berlin writer, Christopher Isherwood followed his friend W.H. Auden to Berlin in 1929 and resided in Schöneberg, not far from Nollendorfplatz. They both immersed themselves in the city’s famous gay scene, hitting the bars, variety shows and theatres, and generally tearing it up.

Isherwood describes this time in his autobiographical novel Farewell, Berlin, which became a worldwide success as a musical and film entitled Cabaret, and had a lasting impact on the image of the Golden Twenties in Berlin.

  • Nollendorfstr. 17, Schöneberg

Robert Walser – Kaiser-Friedrich-Straße 70

Photo: Public Domain

Robert Walser’s native Swiss town of Biel became too small for his ambitions, so he moved to Berlin in 1905. The 27 year old settled down in his brother Karl’s bougie Charlottenburg pad after short stints in Basel, Stuttgart and Zurich. During his time in Berlin his career picked up speed. He wrote his most successful novels here including Geschwister Tanner, Der Gehelfe and Jakob von Gunten which were published by Bruno Cassirer, an influential Berlin publisher and gallery owner.

  • Kaiser-Friedrich-Str. 70, Charlottenburg

Bertolt Brecht – Spichernstraße 16

A young Bertolt Brecht in the 1920s in Wilmersdorf. Photo: IMAGO / Photo12 / Archives Snark

Berlin and Brecht are intimately connected, and it was during his time here that he became a household name. The influential theatremaker, poet and dramaturge has his last resting place in the Dorotheenstadt Cemetery. The last house he lived in on Chausseestraße in Mitte, now the Literaturforum im Brecht-Haus, is best known. However, he also spent much of his time in Berlin at Spichernstraße 16 in Wilmersdorf. Here he wrote the text for The Threepenny Opera to music by Kurt Weill who lived at Luisenplatz 3 near Charlottenburg Palace. With the words and music of the two artists in your ears, you could connect both places with a pleasant walk.

  • Spichernstr. 16, Wilmersdorf, & Chausseestr. 125, Mitte

Christa Wolf – Amalienpark 7

Photo: IMAGO / gezett

No other author shaped the literary scene of the DDR as much as Christa Wolf. She left behind an extensive oeuvre which, in addition to her novels and short stories, also includes essays, radio plays and screenplays. Head to Pankow to follow in the footsteps of the author of The Divided Sky and Patterns of Childhood. She lived there in one of the beautiful listed houses in Amalienpark. If you’re in the neighbourhood, a stroll in Pankow Schlosspark is a must.

  • Amalienpark 7, Pankow

Irmgard Keun – Meinekestraße 6

Photo: © Margaret S. Travers

Doris, the protagonist of Keun’s novel The Artificial Silk Girl, flees the boredom of her hometown for Berlin in 1932. She is a cheeky, likeable character from modest circumstances who dreams of becoming a celebrity. Keun herself was a Berlin native, born in Charlottenburg in 1905. Her novel was a huge hit, until it was banned and destroyed by the Nazis in 1933. Wander up and down Ku’Damm for a flavour of Keun’s old haunts.

  • Meinekestr. 6, Charlottenburg

Erich Maria Remarque – Wittelsbacherstraße 5

Photo: IMAGO / Courtesy Everett Collection

Before the Second World War, Wilmersdorf and Charlottenburg were particularly popular with writers. Erich Maria Remarque lived on Wittelsbacherstraße until 1929, and wrote his novel All Quiet on the Western Front there. After the film adaptation and global success of his novel, in which he tells the story of a young soldier at the front in World War One, he moved to Switzerland in the early 1930s.

  • Wittelsbacherstr. 5, Wilmersdorf

Hans Fallada – Rudolf Ditzen Weg 19

Photo: Public Domain

Walk the streets of Pankow to follow in the footsteps of the last tragic phase of Hans Fallada’s life. Around 1946 he lived in a seven-room apartment on Eisenmengerweg, which was renamed Majakowskiweg in 1951 and Rudolf-Ditzen-Weg in 1994. It is at this address, shortly after the end of the Second World War, that Fallada finished his last novel Every Man Dies Alone. His final years were marked by excessive morphine consumption, numerous hospital visits, depression and a suicide attempt. He died in 1947 at the age of 53 in the Niederschönhausen hospital.

  • Rudolf-Ditzen-Weg 19, Pankow

Ingeborg Drewitz – Quermatenweg 178

Photo: IMAGO / teutopress

Ingeborg Drewitz’s novels, short stories and dramas are among the most important works of post-war literature in a literary scene that was largely dominated by men. In 1946 she moved with her husband to a house at Quermatenweg 178 in Zehlendorf, where she lived until her death in 1986. The idyllic address between Onkel-Toms-Straße and Krumme Lanke invites you to take a stroll in this peaceful south-west corner of the city.

  • Quermatenweg 178, Zehlendorf.

Nick Cave – Yorckstraße 81

Photo: IMAGO / Brigani-Art / Brigitte Heinrich

In West Berlin, legendary Aussie musician Nick Cave developed into one of the outstanding songwriters of his generation. During his time here he wrote lyrics for three studio albums, worked on multiple record projects, on films, and recorded an album of covers. In between time spent doing all of this and touring the world, he found time to write his first novel in a shared apartment on Yorckstraße. It was here that he wrote the novel And the Ass Saw the Angel in 1989, in which a pitiable antihero is driven insane by a fundamentalist community.

  • Yorckstr. 81, Kreuzberg

Günter Grass – Niedstraße 13

Photo: IMAGO / Marcello Mencarini / Leemage

Günter Grass, a native of Danzig, came to West Berlin in the early 1960s. His fellow writer (and later neighbour), Uwe Johnson, told him about a beautiful old house on Niedstraße in Friedenau that he moved into with his family. He stayed there for over 30 years and was an influential character in the neighbourhood.

Günter Grass was not just a world-class writer – who influenced politics in the Federal Republic of Germany, caused nationwide scandals and was honoured with the Nobel Prize in 1999 – he was also a self-confessed gourmet, who liked to go shopping at the Friedenau weekly market and served his guests exquisite delicacies.

  • Niedstr. 13, Friedenau

Wolfgang Herrndorf – Nordufer

Photo: IMAGO / Sven Simon

Wolfgang Herrndorf was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour and took his own life on the Hohenzollern Canal in 2013, where he had previously gone for meditative walks. His hugely popular novels live on, such as the iconic spy thriller Sand, which won the Leipzig Book Fair Prize, and his best known work Tschick, which tells the tale of two misfits who embark on a road trip through East Germany in a Lada.

  • Nordufer, Wedding

Erich Kästner – Prager Straße 6

Photo: IMAGO / Sven Simon

For a few years up until 1929, Erich Kästner (author of beloved children’s book Eric and the Detectives), lived in a room on Prager Platz in the middle of Wilmersdorfer Kiez, a short step from Schöneberg via Motzstraße. Eric and the Detectives was his first big hit, and the action follows the twelve year old hero Emil Tischbein and his friends, as they try and catch a thief on the streets of Berlin.

  • Prager Str. 5, Wilmersdorf

This article was adapted from the German by Poppy Smallwood.