Berlin in the 1930s: between frenzy and chaos

Berlin in the 1930s: between frenzy and chaos

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Title: Street in Berlin.

Author : GROSZ George (1893 - 1959)

Creation date : 1931

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas

Storage place: Grenoble Museum website

Contact copyright: © ADAGP, © Photographic museum of Grenoblesite web

© ADAGP, Grenoble museum photography

Publication date: February 2015


Berlin in the 1930s: between frenzy and chaos


Historical context

Germany in chaos

The First World War and the German defeat had important political and economic consequences. The war gave way to a period of violent internal turmoil, especially in Berlin where the Spartacist revolution was taking place at the beginning of 1919.

On the other hand, in 1923, the Weimar Republic had to face a very serious economic crisis: Germany suffered unprecedented inflation, which ruined millions of savers and left a lasting mark on people's minds, while certain industrialists managed to get rich during this period. Despite the recovery of the economic and social situation in the following years, social inequalities remained glaring, and the government was the object of increasingly virulent criticism from not only extremist parties, but also intellectuals who now had many means of expression, as intellectual and artistic life has developed in Berlin.

Image Analysis

Grosz's social satire

George Grosz (1893-1959), designer and painter from Berlin, thus put his art at the service of social criticism. Mobilized during the war, he returned in 1918 to Berlin, where he took part in political activity: he contributed to the founding of the Dada movement in Berlin in 1918, before joining the German Communist Party, while his caricatures, very aggressive, ruthlessly castigate the representatives of the bourgeoisie and refuse to offer an embellished image of reality.

Painted in 1931, this Street in Berlin is distinguished by the violence of its iconography and style: in this street scene, Grosz depicts the loneliness of people from different social classes. The bourgeois of the time, identifiable thanks to their typical clothes of the fashion of the Roaring Twenties, their pig faces or their plump forms, rub shoulders with the people, who here take the appearance of a butcher seen from the back, an apron tied at the waist. History bursts into the middle of the stage through the intermediary of a woman dressed in black, the incarnation of the war widow, ubiquitous figure in Germany, where World War I decimated an entire generation. All these human beings roam the streets, without their paths crossing. In the background, from left to right, a railway station sign, butcher's stalls, a new building surrounded by wooded areas and a car remind us that the scene takes place in the German capital, the quintessential symbol of modernity.

This Grosz painting, which, by certain features, approaches the caricatural and swarming art of Hieronymus Bosch, nevertheless stands out by its craftsmanship: its sketchy character, its rapid and disorderly brushstrokes that evoke graffiti popular, its lack of material effects and the darkness of its tones mark this painting in its time. The impression of fragmentation, asymmetry and the overlapping of plans is a reflection of urban frenzy and chaos.


Life in Berlin in the interwar years

Latent in this work, Berlin, which was the object of Grosz's love, anguish and hatred, aroused the same contradictory feelings among the artists who came to settle there, the German capital having become the point meeting place for European avant-gardes. Its extraordinarily rapid growth in the 19th century helped forge a reputation as a city of "nouveau riche". The enrichment of the bourgeois class, which coincided with the growth of the proletariat in the 1920s and 1930s, only accentuated the contrasts between the rich and poor neighborhoods. In addition, Berlin was for a long time the scene of bloody street fights. Thus, the sordid poverty and the climate of violence which reigned continually in Berlin constitute the backdrop of the works carried out at this time. But Hitler's coming to power on January 30, 1933 put an end to all artistic expression and brought about the ruin of Berlin civilization. Avant-garde artists who, like Grosz, had not been able to go into exile in the United States or elsewhere, were persecuted by the Nazis, and their works labeled "degenerate art."

  • Germany
  • Berlin
  • defeat
  • women
  • modernism
  • city
  • avant-garde
  • Bosch (Hieronymus)
  • social crisis
  • dadaism
  • persecutions
  • modernity
  • Weimar Republic
  • Hitler (Adolf)


Serge BERSTEIN and Pierre MILZA Germany from 1870 to the present day reprint, Paris, A.Colin, 1999.Alfred DÖBLIN Berlin Alexanderplatz trad. fr., Paris, Gallimard, 1970J.-M.PALMIER Expressionism and the arts. 1- Portrait of a generation Paris, Payot, 1979 Collective Paris-Berlin, 1900-1933 [exhibition, Paris, Center Georges-Pompidou, July 12-November 6, 1978] reprint, Paris, Editions du Center Pompidou-Gallimard, 1992.Serge SABARSKYGeorge Grosz.“The Berlin Years”. Drawings and watercolors from 1912 to 1931 [exhibition, Paris, Musée-Galerie de la Seita, September 19-November 25, 1995], trad. fr., Paris, 1995. Uwe M.SCHNEEDE et alii George Grosz, life and work trad. fr., Paris: F. Maspero, 1979.

To cite this article

Charlotte DENOËL, "Berlin in the 1930s: between frenzy and chaos"

Video: Berlin unter den Alliierten 1945 - 1949 - Ganzer Film in HD