(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Berlin Alexanderplatz covers some eighteen months in the life of Franz Biberkopf, beginning with his release from Tegel Prison and ending with his release from the Buch Insane Asylum. Within this period Biberkopf, a slow-witted but vigorous man, suffers three shattering blows which mark his passage from naive and hubristic individualism to a mature mutualism.

Biberkopf has served a four-year term for manslaughter: He had, in a jealous rage, attacked his mistress Ida with a cream-whipper. Ida, whose chest had been pierced by the wire coil of the implement, died after five weeks of hospitalization. Biberkopf, the ex-convict, is determined now to lead a decent life and to achieve an orderly existence. His determination is bolstered by his sense of self-sufficiency but will be frustrated by failings in his own character.

His reluctance to part from the gates of Tegel at the gateman’s urging indicates that the order he desires is actually behind him, in the security of the prison. His release from prison is equivalent to expulsion from Eden. After a streetcar ride into Berlin, his insecurity becomes disorientation and terror before the chaos of freedom. He has hallucinations of roofs leaving their houses. He is taken in by two Jews, who befriend him and restore him to calm. Leaving them, he gets back into the stream of freedom by enjoying prostitutes and visiting Ida’s married sister Minna, who shows affection for him but will not consort with him.

Aided by loans from a landlady and his friend Gottlieb Meck, Biberkopf begins to earn money, first as a street vendor, selling necktie clips and, eventually, newspapers, including the Nazi Party’s Volkischer Beobachter, and later as a door-to-door salesman of shoelaces. He gains stability and secures Polish Lina as his mistress.

Then he suffers the first of the three blows. Lina’s uncle, Otto Luders, listens to Biberkopf’s boasting about his conquest of a widow, who, grateful for his attentions, had purchased his entire sample of shoelaces. Luders takes advantage of the information and forces himself upon the widow, taking back Biberkopf’s sample and compelling the widow to give him money and valuables. When Biberkopf attempts to revisit the widow, he is repulsed and learns of his having been betrayed by Luders. Crushed by Luders’ deceit, Biberkopf disappears for a time.

Recovering from his discomposure, Biberkopf makes a new start and falls in with a thief and womanizer named Reinhold. His attachment to Reinhold becomes quite strong, and he helps his new friend by systematically relieving Reinhold of each woman of whom his friend quickly...

(The entire section is 1090 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Franz Biberkopf is released from Tegel prison, where he served four years for killing his girlfriend in a drunken rage. Back in Berlin, he decides to go straight. He begins to peddle bow ties on a street corner and drifts into selling other merchandise. At the same time, he starts an affair with Polish Lina and gets involved fleetingly with a bewildering series of political movements, ranging from homosexual rights to the Nazi Party. His wearing of the Nazi armband angers his worker friends, who expel him from his favorite pub. However, his real troubles begin after he enters in a partnership with Otto Lüders. After Lüders robs and assaults one of his customers, to whose apartment he gained access by using Franz’s name, Biberkopf is forced to flee to an obscure part of the city to avoid complications.

A few weeks later, Franz returns to his usual haunts and takes up a job as a newspaper vendor. He also begins to consort with the flashy miscreant Reinhold. Reinhold is adept at making women fall in love with him, but he tires quickly of each new conquest and devises a system for Franz to help him. Each time Reinhold tires of a girlfriend, Franz throws off his current mistress and takes Reinhold’s latest castoff. When Franz becomes sincerely attached to Cissy, one of Reinhold’s rejects, he refuses to comply further. Indeed, he tells Reinhold’s girlfriend how things stand. This infuriates Reinhold, though he pretends to acquiesce in Franz’s attempt to reform him.

Through a mix-up, Franz is recruited by Fatty Pums, a so-called fruit vendor, who wants his men to collect some “produce.” It soon becomes clear that Pums heads a criminal gang, which includes Reinhold. The gang is closely pursued as they drive away from a robbery, and Reinhold, given to psychotic rages and remembering Franz’s interference with his social life, pushes him from the speeding automobile. Franz is run over by the chasing car.

He awakens in a hospital, missing one arm. Bedridden, he is taken in by the pimp Herbert Wishchow and his companion, Eva, friends from his...

(The entire section is 851 words.)