Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2022

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

Germanic Languages and Literatures

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



Riding the Bahn, Reading Berlin: Berlin in Transit(ion) from Reichshauptstadt to Weltstadt (1871-1930) is a study of the relationship between Berlin’s public transit network and representations of the city in literature and film. The ride within the confines of the city differs from journeys with the national railway, and the passenger’s encounter with urban space diverges from the perambulating flâneur. Although Berlin’s intra-urban transit system relied on horse-drawn carriages and busses until the construction of the Stadtbahn in the 1880s, the number of passengers commuting and traveling in and around Berlin grew exponentially each year between the 1870s to the 1930s. The responses to this increase in traffic volume and mobility are varied, but they all underscore that the transit network grew to be synonymous with “modernity” in Berlin. Riding with the Bahn shaped how, and when, people moved between spaces of home, work, commerce, and leisure. Throughout the five dissertation chapters, I show that this historical transformation in the built environment also impacted the written city. In the introductory chapter, I argue for the unique experience of public transit and highlight what makes the space different from the railway journey and the streets of Berlin. I discuss the social dimensions of the interior of the public transit vehicle and the prismatic view of the cityscape through the window. In the subsequent chapters, I explore differing—on occasion contradictory— visions of futurity and urban life in relation to the public transit space as mediated in a wide array of textual representation of Berlin, including Max Kretzer’s Meister Timpe, Alfred Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz, Walter Ruttmann’s Berlin—Die Sinfonie der Großstadt and Robert Siodmak’s Menschen am Sonntag. Throughout the chapters, I supplement my literary analysis with visual materials and public and intellectual debates revolving around city life, stressing the intimate relationship between public transit, artistic engagement with Berlin, and the urban dweller’s sense of belonging.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Matt Erlin

Committee Members

Kurt Beals


Update embargo

Available for download on Friday, May 26, 2023