Skip to main content

Black History Month: Select Books 30% Off

Harvard University Press - home
Berlin Childhood around 1900

Berlin Childhood around 1900

Walter Benjamin

Translated by Howard Eiland

ISBN 9780674022225

Publication date: 05/30/2006

Request exam copy

Begun in Poveromo, Italy, in 1932, and extensively revised in 1938, Berlin Childhood around 1900 remained unpublished during Walter Benjamin’s lifetime, one of his “large-scale defeats.” Now translated into English for the first time in book form, on the basis of the recently discovered “final version” that contains the author’s own arrangement of a suite of luminous vignettes, it can be more widely appreciated as one of the masterpieces of twentieth-century prose writing.

Not an autobiography in the customary sense, Benjamin’s recollection of his childhood in an upper-middle-class Jewish home in Berlin’s West End at the turn of the century becomes an occasion for unified “expeditions into the depths of memory.” In this diagram of his life, Benjamin focuses not on persons or events but on places and things, all seen from the perspective of a child—a collector, flâneur, and allegorist in one. This book is also one of Benjamin’s great city texts, bringing to life the cocoon of his childhood—the parks, streets, schoolrooms, and interiors of an emerging metropolis. It reads the city as palimpsest and labyrinth, revealing unexpected lyricism in the heart of the familiar.

As an added gem, a preface by Howard Eiland discusses the genesis and structure of the work, which marks the culmination of Benjamin’s attempt to do philosophy concretely.


  • Conceived in the early Thirties, the Berlin Childhood belongs in the orbit of that primal history of the modern world on which Benjamin was working during the last thirteen years of his life. It forms the subjective counterpart to the masses of materials brought together for the project on the Paris arcades. The historical archetypes he wished to lay out in their social-pragmatic and philosophical provenance in the study of Paris were to be illuminated by lightning flashes of immediate remembrance in the Berlin book, which throughout laments the irretrievability of what, once lost, congeals into an allegory of its own demise. For the images this book unearths and brings strangely near are not idyllic and not contemplative. Over them lies the shadow of the Third Reich. And through them dreamily runs a shudder at the long forgotten.

    —Theodor Adorno, Afterword to Berlin Childhood around 1900 (1950)


  • Walter Benjamin (1892–1940) was the author of many works of literary and cultural analysis.
  • Howard Eiland is an editor and translator of Benjamin’s writings.

Book Details

  • 208 pages
  • 0-9/16 x 5-1/4 x 7-1/2 inches
  • Belknap Press

From this author