Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Franz Biberkopf

Franz Biberkopf (BIH-behr-kopf), an unskilled laborer and convicted criminal. Approximately thirty years old and of stocky build, Biberkopf has been a cement worker, furniture mover, tie-pin hawker, newspaper vendor, notions peddler, burglar, fence, pimp, and assistant doorkeeper. After his release from Tegel prison, where he spent four years for the involuntary killing of Ida, his fiancée, Biberkopf is at a loss as to what to do with his life and suffers from a sense of disorientation. He resolves to begin a new life as an honorable man, but he finds that after four years in prison, his real punishment is yet to come. Ida, whom he killed in a fit of jealous rage, had a sister, Minna, who is married to Karl, a locksmith. Franz is drawn to the place of his crime. He visits Minna and, on an impulse, rapes her. As a criminal convicted of a violent crime, Biberkopf receives official notice of his imminent expulsion from Berlin. the prison welfare association, however, intervenes, and he is allowed to remain in the city. He manages to stay on the path of blamelessness and earn his livelihood peddling notions, though he spends his evenings in the bars around Alexander Square in the city’s center, a slum with high rates of crime. He soon becomes involved in racketeering.


Mieze (MEE-tseh), whose real name is Emilie Parsunke (pahr-ZEWN-keh) and who is also called Sonia. She is an attractive prostitute under twenty years of age. Eva introduces her to Franz Biberkopf, and she becomes his third mistress after his release from Tegel prison. Mieze has a gentleman friend of means, and Biberkopf becomes her pimp. Mieze and Eva are friends and, to make Biberkopf happy, she suggests to Eva that Eva bear him a child, because of Eva’s continued feelings for Franz. Eventually, Eva has a miscarriage. Biberkopf and Mieze are in love; after her murder by Reinhold, Biberkopf loses his inhibitions concerning him and seeks to avenge her murder.


Eva (AY-vah), whose real name is Emilie, a prostitute and the lover of...

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The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Döblin has, with few exceptions, drawn all of his characters in Berlin Alexanderplatz from the lower classes and the underworld of 1920’s Berlin. Minor exceptions include members of the constabulary and members of the psychiatric profession; both groups are subjected to the author’s satire,particularly the latter, to which in real life Döblin, himself a neurologist and psychiatrist, belonged. The major exception is the unnamed narrator, whose speech patterns, varying from gutter slang to sophisticated High German, provide a cultural cross section of Berlin society. The reader’s inclination to identify the narrator as Fate or as a type of Greek tragic chorus is checked by the narrator’s overt opposition to the Greek concept of Fate and to classical concepts in general. The narrator insists that there are, not Erinyes and Fate, but people and Death; after presenting the lower stratum of Berlin’s populace and commenting in voices from all strata of Berlin society, that is, after presenting real people, the narrator indirectly discloses himself as Death.

Biberkopf and Reinhold, the two people with whom the narrator is chiefly concerned, are complementary characters. Biberkopf is fat, naive, extroverted, warmly amicable, and manic-depressive. Reinhold is thin, shrewd, introverted, coldly calculating, and consistent in temperament (inwardly sensitive but insensitive to others). As alter egos, each is a criminal, each is guilty of a woman’s death and is accordingly given a prison sentence, and each is both attracted to and repelled by the other. Biberkopf is the more humane, but he does not attain to human fullness until he takes on the Reinholdian characteristics of shrewdness, calculation, and reserve. Both men learn dependence upon others, Reinhold because he will need his cohorts after his ten years in prison and Biberkopf because he can fulfill himself only through others.

Döblin’s focus upon proletarian and underworld characters is a reminder that the values of any society are encapsulated in its dregs, wherein they can be known for what they are, undisguised by any bouquet of classical Greek concepts: When one character, a gray-haired former schoolteacher, says, “I am an opponent of Fate. I’m no Greek, I’m a Berliner,” he is speaking for both the narrator and the author.