The construction and practice of place in Weimar Republic Berlin
This dissertation looks at the spatial strategies which people enact in their daily lives and which, in turn, become part of the sociocultural and historical context of their existence. It examines this nexus, which conjoins human behavior with the physical world, in the context of an urban built environment located in Europe during a period of intense social and political change early in the twentieth century. Specifically, the dissertation focuses on life in one part of Berlin—Moabit—during the Weimar Republic (1918–1933), drawing on historical data and life histories I gathered from people who lived there during that period.
The chapters which make up the first part of this study explore historical documents and studies to establish that Moabit was home to a heterogenous urban population and to sketch out the social profile of this population. The assertion that Moabit was socially heterogeneous is in direct opposition to popular and scholarly stereotypes of the area as a working-class district. The contradiction between this stereotype and how people talk about Moabit in their life stories gives rise to questions about how places gain reputations and how we think and talk about places.
The second part of the dissertation is ethnographic and plumbs personal narratives to show how different place-related practices contributed to an urban heterogeneity that was sociohistorically specific to the Weimar period. It opens with a look at what we can learn from the different ways in which people talk about the place named Moabit in their life histories. Ensuing chapters reveal that people's construction and practice of place were intimately involved with their sense of social identity, both integral components of and contributors to a system of social relations which set the working and middle classes in opposition. Further, spatial strategies varied within both these groups as well, most clearly along gender and political fines and in ways indicative of attitudes towards social change and modernity. Finally, the life histories allow us to trace how such practices of differentiating urban place developed through the socialization of children and youth.
In conclusion, this work returns to an examination of the importance of place as a cultural construct in Weimar Berlin, by looking at the value placed on being sedentary. I argue that the ideal of sedentarism was a cultural response to the contemporary economic and social stresses experienced by Berliners, but was rooted in politically-loaded practices of the modern era in Europe as well. During the Weimar Republic this cultural construct provided a vehicle for place-making practices which concurrently addressed people's material and social needs.
0335: European history
0311: Germanic literature