Alfred Döblin

Alfred Döblin (August 10, 1878June 26, 1957) was a German expressionist novelist, best known for Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929).



Döblin was born in Stettin (Szczecin), Province of Pomerania, as the son of a Jewish merchant. His family moved to Berlin in 1898, where Döblin studied medicine, first at the University of Berlin, then at Freiburg University. During his student years, he became interested in German philosophy, especially that of Immanuel Kant, Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche. After graduating, he worked as a journalist in Regensburg and Berlin, before actually beginning a psychiatric practice in the working class neighborhood of Alexanderplatz.

During this time, he wrote several novels, but none of them were published until 1915, when Die Drei Sprünge des Wang-Lung was published, for which he won the Fontane Prize. It tells the story of political upheaval in 18th century China.

He was garnering popularity through several expressionist short stories in the magazine Der Sturm. Eventually he dropped out of the Expressionist Movement, but many of his 'Sturm' stories were published in 1913 in a collection called Die Ermordung einer Butterblume.

During World War I, Döblin served as a doctor with the German Army, but continued his writing. His historical novel, Wallenstein, set during the Thirty Years' War, was written during this period, but not published until 1920. During this time his son the mathematician Wolfgang Doeblin was born (he had two other sons as well).


In 1920 Döblin joined the Association of German Writers (Schutzverband Deutscher Schriftsteller), and in 1924 he became its president. He reviewed plays for the Prager Tageblatt for several years, and was a member of the Group 1925 with Bertolt Brecht. In 1924 he published Berge, Meere und Giganten, a dystopic view of a future in which technology confronts man and nature.

In 1929, Berlin Alexanderplatz was published. Partly written in colloquial German, with many viewpoint characters and a narrative style reminiscent of John Dos Passos and James Joyce, it tells the story of a criminal who is drawn deeper and deeper into an underworld he cannot rise out of.


When the Nazis took power in Germany, Döblin fled to Switzerland and then the United States, working for MGM in Hollywood. His novel Das Land Ohne Tod (The Land without Death), set in South America, was published in 1937.

In 1941, Döblin converted to Roman Catholicism, citing Søren Kierkegaard and Baruch Spinoza as influences.

Döblin returned to Europe in 1945, working for the French Ministry of Cultural Affairs. He returned to Germany, settling in Baden-Baden, where he worked as an education officer and a magazine publisher, but, unhappy with the political environment in his native country, he settled in France (he had become a French citizen in 1936).

His two outstanding contributions from this period are a historical novel, November 1918, and Hamlet, an expression of his hopes for the future of Europe.

In 1956 Döblin entered a sanitarium in Freiburg im Breisgau suffering from Parkinson's disease. He remained mostly paralyzed for the remainder of his life, dying in Emmendingen the following year.

Selected bibliography

  • Die Ermordung Einer Butterblume
  • Die Drei Sprünge Des Wang-Lun (The Three Leaps of Wang-Lun)
  • Wadzeks Kampf Mit Der Dampfturbine
  • Der Schwarze Vorhang
  • Wallenstein
  • Berge, Meere Und Giganten (Mountains, Seas and Giants)
  • Die beiden Freundinnen und ihr Giftmord
  • Reise in Polen (Journey To Poland)
  • Manas
  • Berlin Alexanderplatz
  • Die Ehe
  • Unser Dasein
  • Babylonische Wandrung (Babylonian Wandering)
  • Pardon wird nicht gegeben (4 Vols.) (Men Without Mercy)
  • Das Land ohne Tod
  • November 1918
  • Der unsterbliche Mensch
  • Der Oberst und der Dichter
  • Schicksalsreise (Destiny's Journey)
  • Karl und Rosa (part of November 1918)
  • Hamlet, Oder Die Lange Nacht Nimmt Ein Ende (Tales of a Long Night)
  • Die Zeitlupe
  • Aufsätze zur Literatur

External links

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