Berlin's Forgotten Future

City, History, and Enlightenment in Eighteenth-Century Germany

By Matt Erlin

Berlin's Forgotten Future

238 pp., 6 x 9, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-1463-2
    Published: April 2014

University of North Carolina Studies in Germanic Languages and Literature

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Through an analysis of the works of the Berlin Aufklärer Friedrich Gedike, Friedrich Nicolai, G. E. Lessing, and Moses Mendelssohn, Matt Erlin shows how the rapid changes occurring in Prussia's newly minted metropolis challenged these intellectuals to engage in precisely the kind of nuanced thinking about history that has come to be seen as characteristic of the German Enlightenment. The author's demonstration of Berlin's historical-theoretical significance also provides perspective on the larger question of the city's impact on eighteenth-century German culture. Challenging the widespread idea that German intellectuals were anti-urban, the study reveals the extent to which urban sociability came to be seen by some as a problematic but crucial factor in the realization of their Enlightenment aims.

About the Author

Matt Erlin is assistant professor of German literature and culture at Washington University in Saint Louis, Missouri.

For more information about Matt Erlin, visit the Author Page.


"As Erlin’s exciting opening chapter makes clear, the city of Berlin, which became the royal Prussian capital at the very beginning of the eighteenth century and tripled in size as the century wore on, became a flashpoint in debates over the mechanisms of historical change, the meaning and merits of the Enlightenment, and the ascendant Prussian monarchy. . . . This book opens fascinating new avenues into a history of an urban modernity well before what has become the “canonical” urban modernity of German Studies. Erlin’s accessible prose and lucid presentation make this study especially valuable."--Goethe Yearbook

"Erlin’s individual analyses are careful and sophisticated. His interest is not in showing a direct reflection of urban representations in the tenets of historicist philosophy, but in unveiling the ways in which attempts to articulate the contradictions of the disturbing and exhilarating mutability of an urban life, increasingly defined by relations between individual strangers and divergent religious and ethnic groups, produced consciousness of a complex mixture of temporalities (of diverse pasts and possible futures)."--European History Quarterly

"Erlin challenges the common view that eighteenth-century Germany had no understanding of urban modernity, demonstrating that although Berlin did not function as a German capital, its environs were already producing a sizable body of writing on the experience of urban living. This book is an important contribution to our understanding of German culture because it applies discussions about urban experience and modernity that are normally reserved for the turn of the twentieth century to the new arena of eighteenth-century studies."--Daniel L. Purdy, Pennsylvania State University