Experience Berlin through writers who have walked the city, as you walk and write about the city yourself. Flaneurs, or consummate ‘city-walkers’, immerse themselves in the personalities, atmospheres, and built environments of the street. Honoré de Balzac called flânerie the ‘gastronomy of the eye’ and this laboratory intends not only to feast, in short extracts, on what former Berlin flâneurs have written about the city’s space but also to dive into today’s neighborhoods ourselves, writing and workshopping prose in the genre of ‘creative non-fiction’. Participants explore the German capital intimately as they create polished city portraits.
Our writers include not only from the classic era of Berlin flâneur writing, such as Christopher Isherwood, Franz Hessel, Irmgard Keun, and Walter Benjamin, but from also more contemporary voices, such as Audre Lorde, Sven Regener, and Emine Sevgi Özdamar.
Our excursions into the city – both group and self-directed – reflect on these writers’ cultural history at street-level, in a way that is experiential and site-specific. We question the extent to which memory persists in the historical locations about which these authors wrote. We then examine disputed spaces in the city’s urban development, such as those affected by gentrification. Like these writers, we respond to the cityscape with our compelling observations.
As part of the revision process, participants will spend one day participating in a formal writing workshop. Our prose – reflections on the cultural history of the city through the urban landscape, inspired by our laboratory of reading and exploring – can be forms as various as the essay, diary writing, place-based fictional narrative, or docu-fiction.
Day One: Saturday 23 July 2022, 10am – 5pm
Morning 10am-1pm: Introduction to the course and one another. An introduction to the city of Berlin, its past and present, and a discussion of the city’s geography of flâneur writing.
Afternoon 2pm to 5pm: First excursion walking the city to find stories the city tells. We will focus on how history is ‘written on the skin of the city’.
Day Two: Monday 25 July 2022, 10am – 4pm
Morning 10am – 12pm: We examine examples of flâneur writing set in Berlin (Isherwood, Hessel, Keun, Benjamin, etc.).
Afternoon 1pm – 4pm: Second excursion walking the city, based on the writers we have read, to find stories the city tells. We will focus on the historical ‘stranger’: minority, women, and queer voices, and the spaces the city has made for them in the past.
Day Three: Tuesday 26 July 2022, 10am – 4pm
Morning 10am – 12pm: We examine examples of flâneur writing set in Berlin (Lorde, Regener, Özdamar, etc.).
Afternoon 1pm – 4pm: Third excursion walking the city, based on the writers we have read, to find stories the city tells. We will focus on space of inclusivity, exclusion, and gentrification in the city today.
Day Four: Wednesday 27 July 2022
Participants spend the day walking on their own and writing about the city. They submit their drafts by 8pm to a group email so that we can read them and make notes for the next day.
Day Five: Thursday 28 July 2022, 10am – 2pm
We spend the morning workshopping and exchanging comments on each other’s work.
Afternoon (no class): free for revision. Students are asked to polish their work, aiming for publication standard, for presentation the next day. They email their final work by midnight.
Day Six: Friday 29 July 2022, 10am––12pm
Morning: The anthology of our work is published. We reflect on the walking Berlin, the writing process, our dynamic as a group, the market and publication possibilities, and what happened to us in Berlin.
Students are encouraged to spend the weekend in Berlin, exploring the city, and writing more!
This writing workshop is open to everyone – regardless of native language or level of writing experience – because we all have stories to tell. The number of participants should be limited to 8-10. No special materials are needed except a course reader of short extracts of city writing, distributed in advance. Participants should be ready to walk several kilometres on several occasions.
Joseph Pearson is a writer and cultural historian based in the German capital. He is the author of two books of literary non-fiction, My Grandfather’s Knife (HarperCollins, The History Press, forthcoming in 2022) and Berlin (Reaktion/U Chicago Press distr., 2017). His short fiction, poetry, essays, and journalism appear regularly in literary journals and other outlets such as the BBC, The New England Review, and Newsweek. He is also the house essayist of the Schaubühne Theatre in Berlin. Pearson received his doctorate in modern history from the University of Cambridge and previously lectured in the Core Curriculum of Columbia University in New York City. At the Barenboim-Said Academy, a German university, he teaches creative and arts writing, and chairs a writing workshop on political poetry.