Döblin, (Bruno) Alfred (1878-1957) By Heidt, Todd
Alfred Döblin’s contributions to modern literature consist primarily of his montage style, epic narrative structures and critical eye toward contemporary culture. His masterpiece Berlin Alexanderplatz. Die Geschichte vom Franz Biberkopf (Berlin Alexanderplatz. The Story of Franz Biberkopf) brought international acclaim and is often credited as the first German-language city novel. He was Jewish and thus fled the Nazi regime, settling in Hollywood for a time. He returned to Germany as a French Cultural Officer; however, he found Germany unwilling to cope with the recent past. Feeling out of place in Germany, he emigrated again in 1953 to France, and he died in 1957.
Döblin was born the fourth of five children in Szcecin (modern-day Poland). His father abandoned the family when Döblin was still young, motivating his mother to relocate to Berlin in 1888. He grew up in working-class neighborhoods and studied medicine. His first publication, Lydia und Mäxchen (1906), parodically and self-reflexively deals with Döblin’s role as author, but found little readership. In 1912 he married Erna Reiss, with whom he had four sons. He published a collection of short stories, Die Ermordung einer Butterblume (The Murder of a Buttercup), in 1913. The title story features a salesman who absent-mindedly knocks the flower off a buttercup during a walk. His resulting fear of nature’s revenge for this misdeed (often read as a symbolic rape) escalates to neurotic levels. Döblin here combined his literary talents with his medical training, which included training in psychiatry.