Where is Rixdorf?


It’s an understandable question that arises whenever we venture forth with our books: where does the name Rixdorf Editions come from?

Rixdorf is and was an actual place, although its contours are not always easy to define, with the area to which the name is attached growing and shrinking over time. Its Medieval origins pre-date even the city of Berlin into which it was later incorporated, and it has cycled through the stages of chivalric outpost, village, district, city and back to village again. And its history is interwoven with successive strands of migration that continue to the present day, a tale of Bohemians and bohemians, riotous taverns and shisha bars, imperial censure and tabloid hysteria.

Bethlehemskirche, Richardplatz

Bethlehemskirche, Richardplatz

Our story begins about 800 years ago with the Knights Templar, who settled in – and gave their name to – Tempelhof. Later this would be very much a part of (southern) Berlin, with an enormous parade ground that was turned into an airport and now serves as a park. But at the time Tempelhof was a modest elevation above a largely unpopulated plain. It was about this point that the knights of Tempelhof established an outpost to the east. And presumably one of their number was named Richard, giving his name to ‘Richardsdorp’, as the first recorded mention has it in 1360 (‘dorp’ being an old Germanic designation for ‘village’, which survives in Dutch and Afrikaans) on the site of the present-day square, Richardplatz. Over time the village’s name contracted to ‘Rixdorf’ and at some point it was taken over by the rival order of St John, and a church, the Bethlehemskirche, was established. Around this time the village came under the control of the twin towns of Berlin and Cölln to the north, but it was some distance away from even this modest hub and kept largely to itself.

Böhmish u. Deutsch Rixdorf.jpg

The village fared poorly in the Thirty Years War, although it did come out the other side with its own blacksmith – a sign of its growing importance. One of the key moments in Rixdorf’s history came in 1737, when Protestants cast out of Bohemia settled there with the permission of Prussian king Friedrich Wilhelm I. Rixdorf was divided into ‘German’ and ‘Bohemian’ parts, the latter still remembered in locations like Jan-Hus-Weg, Böhmische Strasse and the Comeniusgarten named for 17th-century Czech philosopher John Amos Comenius. The grateful exiles erected a statue of their royal benefactor which still stands on Kirchgasse.

In the mid-19th century Rixdorf was devastated by fire and partly rebuilt. A horse-drawn omnibus connected the village with Berlin (which had long since devoured its twin, Cölln), and the rapidly expanding metropolis drew ever closer. The name Rixdorf was now applied to the neighbourhood north of the original village as well, which hosted a number of beer gardens and the huge Neue Welt amusement park which drew pleasure-seekers from all over the greater Berlin area. In 1874 German and Bohemian Rixdorf joined to form one community, known as ‘the largest village in Prussia’, but on the eve of the 20th century Rixdorf became a city in its own right.

RIxdorf in 1900, on the edge of Greater Berlin

RIxdorf in 1900, on the edge of Greater Berlin

As the new century dawned, Rixdorf had a rapidly growing proletarian population, and was fast developing a reputation. Music halls and other pleasure spots sprang up in this relatively out-of-the-way location, bringing thousands of revellers, along with prostitution, public drunkenness and (gasp) close dancing. A popular song of the time, ‘In Rixdorf is Musike’, hymned the pleasures of a night out on the lash in this louche, lively neighbourhood, sung in broad Berlin dialect. Soon the very name Rixdorf stood for unsavoury and insubordinate elements, and the consternation went right to the top.


The more conservative city fathers, supported by the prudish Kaiser Wilhelm II, launched a rebranding exercise. With Cölln off the map they figured no one would mind if they adopted (and adapted) the name. And so in 1912 Neukölln was summoned into being by imperial decree (if you’re familiar with London and have ever wondered why Clapham Junction station isn’t actually in Clapham – it was the same problem; Battersea, where the station is in fact located, had become tainted by the area’s seamy reputation). Along with this renaming came a ban on close dancing. Neukölln had over a quarter of a million inhabitants but in 1920 it surrendered its short-lived city status to be officially absorbed into Berlin as a borough that also included neighbouring Britz, Buckow und Rudow.



Neukölln was always a working class district, and in 1933 the decidedly anti-Nazi council was forced to stand down, but throughout the Third Reich the district harboured a number of undercover resistance cells. In 1940, the last Czech-speaking inhabitants of Bohemian Rixdorf died. In contrast to central Berlin, much of Neukölln’s building stock survived the Second World War, but in the Cold War it found itself hard up against the Berlin Wall on its entire eastern and southern periphery. Immigration continued, and this corner of the American sector in West Berlin became a home to Gastarbeiter (guest workers), from Turkey in particular.

[Aside: a radical art collective emerged in the 1960s calling themselves Werkstatt Rixdorfer Drucke, although they were actually based in Kreuzberg; they combined interventions, poetry and highly innovative letterpress images and their work is well worth seeking out.]

Villa Rixdorf, Richardplatz

Villa Rixdorf, Richardplatz

After reunification, Neukölln was afflicted by high levels of unemployment and race-baiting populists pointed to the large number of foreign-born residents and claimed that it was a ‘no-go area’ — a recurring right-wing trope. But it never was, and the district’s crime rates always corresponded largely with those for Berlin as a whole. The northern part of Neukölln increasingly became home to Arab immigrants, particularly in 2015 when Syrian refugees were admitted in large numbers. Simultaneously, this area has followed a cycle of gentrification familiar from formerly down-at-heel parts of East London and Brooklyn.

Rixdorf Christmas market

Rixdorf Christmas market

Today the name Rixdorf refers – unofficially – to more or less the area of the old village(s), which still retains much of its historic flavour in the midst of the city, where you can still see the Bethlehemkirche, the blacksmith’s and a number of original houses. The borders of Rixdorf are difficult to define but are generally held to encompass the few streets surrounding Richardplatz, which each year hosts an extremely popular Christmas market, as well as a traditional Czech hay bale rolling competition in summer.

So that’s Rixdorf, but why Rixdorf Editions? Well, our office is located in Neukölln (in Germany’s most densely populated square kilometre, no less), a few streets from the historic village. But when it came to choosing our name we were particularly drawn to the period of iniquity, insurrection and illicit pleasures that so discomfited the authorities, especially as that period also produced the works that we are now bringing to a new readership. Once abandoned in disgust, the name ‘Rixdorf’ is one our books wear with pride.

Comeniusgarten, once the site of a perilously overcrowded apartment block which housed numerous left-wing residents; in 1931 the SA attempted to take over the tavern that stood at the front of the building but were driven out by the locals. The building was demolished in 1971.

Comeniusgarten, once the site of a perilously overcrowded apartment block which housed numerous left-wing residents; in 1931 the SA attempted to take over the tavern that stood at the front of the building but were driven out by the locals. The building was demolished in 1971.

Wedding (Anna Croissant-Rust)


Presenting a previously unpublished translation of a banned short story by Anna Croissant-Rust

In 1891, early on in her career, German author Anna Croissant-Rust (1860-1943) published a number of remarkable short works. Blending prose and poetry, disregarding taboos, she was pushing at the edges of the permissible in both style and subject matter. In August she pushed right through, with a contribution to Moderne Blätter, the journal of the Munich-based ‘Society for Modern Living’ of which Croissant-Rust was the sole female member.

‘Wedding’ was a vivid insight into sexual anxiety in which a marriage ceremony is rendered as something akin to a ritual sacrifice. Croissant-Rust describes a young bride exposed to the leering gaze of the wedding party, her fear of imminent deflowering projected into imagined dialogue. Here we find the hallmarks of the writer’s most audacious work that would culminate in Prose Poems (1893) and reappear in Death on the eve of the First World War – lights, colours, flowers, the agency attributed to inanimate objects, instants distilled to their emotional essence through a filter of acute psychological perception.

But the intimations of sexuality were too much for the authorities, who confiscated the edition of Moderne Blätter in which it appeared. As the author herself related, it was given to three trainee lawyers to read, who were then asked if the story had aroused them; when they replied in the negative the issue was cleared for sale once more. It was at least a marketable episode, and as the issue returned to newsstands it bore a banner announcing the confiscation.

With its fearless avant-garde style and pre-Freudian insights, ‘Wedding’ confirms Anna Croissant-Rust as a vital yet undervalued exponent of early Modernist literature.


A psychological study

The bride’s coupé stops at the church door, the long, stark row of black coaches forms a dark line on the sunny, whitish street.

A tingling curiosity passes through the crowd. It orbits above their heads, a fever in their hands and feet and a gawking in their eyes; softly, softly it steals through the silk upholstery of the coach and creeps into the matt white bridal bouquet with its sweet, sensual aroma of Malmaison roses, myrtle and orange blossom.

It peers out from the blossoms, a yellowish gaze with flickering red, it eyes the bride –

The bride!

She is overcome by quaking, she recoils in apprehension and fear of the yellow-reddish brute gaze that lurks there. The coupé door is now wide open, the church steps dazzling in the sunshine, boastful in their ingratiating covering, crimson, soft, submissive, while solemn plants peer expectantly from the dark church door, tall and green, with light flickering over the earnest admonishment in their leafy twigs. The stiff satin of the bridal train rustles busily and waves over the coupé footstep, billows haughtily over the supplicant runners and moves inside the church, grave and worthy.

White satin, white tulle surges soft and shy around maiden cheeks drained of colour, sultry scent of roses brazenly dominating the orange blossoms, while the myrtle remains stiff and incorporeal. The stiff white myrtle wreath is set firmly in her hair.

White the walls, white the flowers, myrtle and orange blossom …

A shudder runs through the young bride.

She sees the reddish-yellow brute gaze lurking all about, squatting in the church pews, grinning from the side aisles, nodding from the alcoves, waiting at the altar.

And it gets redder, it shimmers and glitters, it sits in the eyes of the men, comes toward her, closer and closer, it sticks to her dress, runs over her face, her breasts … she feels as though her dress has fallen away, her white body naked, standing there in the church sullied and soiled, under the green, stiff plants, in the constant glittering light. White the blossoms, white the satin …

Are they all looking at her? All of them?

Oh they know that today, only this day is she still a virgin; they grin, they mock, they laugh, pointing at her naked body …

Her mother sits in her firm-fitting silk dress, she sees her as though through a mist, but from the mist she beckons …

She beckons and steps forward, her right hand an obliging, inviting gesture directed at her child. She smiles sweetly.

‘Please, I insist, come closer everyone, you all know that today, today is the day, you know, you know the day when one wears white satin and myrtle because … well’ – and here she giggles, and now thick tears are running down her face, but again she laughs – ‘closer, please, look at my daughter the virgin for the first, second, third and last time. This very day she will give herself to her husband. In due form, with all due honour – a good match. But tactfully, not straight after their wedding; a banquet, a honeymoon, the first stop is in …’ her voice drops to a murmur, she retreats to her misty circle.

‘Money! So much money it cost,’ her father puffs behind her, wiping the sweat from his brow and twirling his top-hat in his hands, ‘but she has my blessing, it’s all fine and above board,’ and then he leers at her, leers at her friends.

Restlessly they encircle her, with garbled laughter, hot heads and beating hearts … what? In their eyes, too, the reddish-yellow brute gaze begins to smoulder, to spark …

The young bride looks at the floor, she shivers, her hands clutching the flowers, maliciously rises the sweet and sultry scent of the orange blossoms.

Next to her, touching her, a black tailcoat of the most elegant cut. The dull sparkle of silk lining, patent leather shoes tittering pretentiously, a stiff collar, white, dazzling and haughty, wreathed by a white tie. The wax head with its stiffened moustache and singed hair smiles with unceasing vapidity beside her.

The yellowish-reddish gaze steals over him to her, this spark – can he not see it?

The young bride is shaken by quivering. Like cold, slimy mud it runs down her body, soiling, staining, defiling.

Are the flowers not wilting in her hand? Is the wreath not falling from her hair, are the lights not going out? Is it not getting darker, darker?

But from out of the darkness comes bright, weaving sunshine. Breeze-ruffled flowers, swaying green leaves.

And a sunny, surging joy in her heart, calling hot and shy.

Another’s hand holds hers with the strength and joy of youth, two eyes shine, shine, call to her.

And no one about.

Flames ignite in her heart, shy, shivering little flames, flaring, flickering, increasing in constant ardour.

Two arms hold her tight, sheath upon sheath falls from her body, in chaste purity her body shines, inundated with hot sun. Soft, hesitant sounds of joy in her ear, resounding, exulting cries, she feels herself being carried away, bedded, engulfed – alone, alone!

The sound of the organ, women’s voices, a circlet presses her finger, skipping gleams of light, arms that press her, moist, fat, sucking lips meeting hers, a flaccid mouth pressing against hers, kisses, kisses … yellowish, reddish flashing gaze, the beast, the beast!

Her train rustles over the flagstones once more, the weary, mocking scent of flowers all around, mist, unsteady grimaces all about, a hand supports her and the silk upholstery creaks reluctantly under its dual burden.

Ah, ah – a note of redemption; the wax head stretches and yawns, his left hand on the scrunching silk, he bends toward her … white the blossoms, white the satin …

‘Wedding’ by Anna Croissant-Rust was first published in German as ‘Hochzeitsfest’ in Moderne Blätter, no. 22 (29 August 1891). First book publication in Lebensstücke: Ein Novellen- und Skizzenbuch, Dr. E. Albert & Co. in Munich, 1893.

This translation © 2018 James J. Conway

Death by Anna Croissant-Rust (incl. Prose Poems), tr. James J. Conway, is available through Rixdorf Editions.

Beauty in the metropolis



Berlin-born architect and theorist August Endell issued his most important text, Die Schönheit der großen Stadt, in 1908. And this year brings not only our English translation of this title (The Beauty of the Metropolis) but also an exhibition currently running in Endell's hometown that takes the name and content of the book as inspiration. Where the text drew numerous examples from the German capital in its celebration of the urban environment and the aesthetic riches it has to offer, the exhibition focuses on canvases capturing views of a city that has had numerous qualities ascribed to it, but rarely ‘beauty’.

On a bright, cold day with Siberian winds strafing the Spree (this was a while ago, you will note) I made my way from Jannowitzbrücke station to the centrally located Ephraim-Palais, a bijou Rococo palace originally built for the jeweller to the court of Frederick the Great, although deconstructed and reconstructed in the 20th century. The close identification of location and subject matter was confirmed by two works that offered views of precisely the route I had just taken, from differing historical perspectives.

The exhibition takes us from the Biedermeier era to the early 2000s, or as the subtitle has it ‘Berlin images from Gaertner to Fetting’, i.e., from someone you've probably never heard of to someone else you've probably never heard of. This is something of a misdirect, as the show actually offers work by the far more recognisable likes of Max Beckmann, Oskar Kokoschka and Jeanne Mammen. Wisely the pieces are grouped thematically rather than chronologically, but the selection sticks almost exclusively to oil on canvas, with no etchings, drawings or other works on paper. And no photography, although as I note in the afterword to The Beauty of the Metropolis, it is arguably in this medium that Endell’s vision of a citizenry in full aesthetic possession of its urban surroundings is most compellingly realised in the present day.

Inside the Ephraim-Palais.JPG

Extracts from The Beauty of the Metropolis adorn the walls of the show, and both the work and its creator are at home in these surroundings. It wasn’t his building or design works that first brought Endell to public attention, but a rousing piece of art criticism published in 1896, entitled Um die Schönheit (On Beauty). It addressed a major exhibition in Munich that year, in which doughty offerings by seasoned academicians appeared alongside explosive new experiments in form and theme. The text announced Endell as a new and original thinker, one who proposed a radical submission to aesthetic input:

But those who learn to give in to their visual impressions completely, without associations, without secondary objects of any kind, those who just once feel the emotional impact of forms and colours, will find them to be an inexhaustible source of extraordinary, unimagined pleasure. And the moment when the understanding for these things first awakens should be an event in every person’s life. It is like an intoxication, a madness that comes over us. The joy threatens to destroy us, the profusion of beauty to suffocate us. Those who have not experienced this will never understand visual art.

These ideas in turn informed his perception of the city a dozen years later when he wrote The Beauty of the Metropolis. Certainly the variety of experience of which Endell speaks in the book is reflected in this selection. Sharing the same feverish, pre-World War One period with Endell’s text is Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s well-known Nollendorfplatz, which depicts a relatively new district as the meeting place of almost irreconcilable axes of motion, while Ludwig Meidner’s desolate images of building sites show the city simultaneously claiming yet more of its sandy environs for itself.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner Nollendorfplatz 1912

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner Nollendorfplatz 1912

There are, it has to be said, a few works evidently selected for their affinity with the theme at hand, with artistic excellence a secondary consideration. Conversely, other artists are exposed in a new light. Jeanne Mammen's images of demi-mondaine city-dwellers may be familiar, but here she is represented by an unpeopled image of a church (thought to have been executed in the late 1930s), rendering the scene in a way that didn't at all conform to the Nazis' approved styles. And while I was dimly aware of the work of Impressionist Lesser Ury from reproductions, here they appeared as a revelation, one that brought Endell’s words vividly to mind. The most thrilling and evocative was a nocturnal study of the Landwehr Canal, and Endell’s depiction of this waterway in The Beauty of the Metropolis could be a transcription of Ury’s image (which unfortunately doesn't reproduce well):

The thick treetops prevent light from making its full impact. The quiet buildings rise darkly behind the shadowy clouds of the treetops. The gas lanterns seem like points of light attracting cabs and automobiles; a fine, blinking web of stars spreads out above this dark mass. The smooth, turgid water is completely dark, and this silent, spectral mirror below reflects the gentle life of the night above, shimmering at the passer-by.

Lesser Ury Abend am Landwehrkanal 1889

Lesser Ury Abend am Landwehrkanal 1889

Night takes on a far more sinister iridescence a century later in Wolfgang Peuker’s imagining of the (old) Chancellery, a scene populated solely by outsized martial statuary at the entrance of Hitler's intimidating lair. This is a rare retrospective view, with most artists sticking to their own eras, as seen in Louise Rösler’s deceptively festive Marsden Hartley-esque study of Kurfürstendamm on the eve of the Second World War, and Karl Hofer’s desaturated view of the bombed-out city after its conclusion. Konrad Knebel’s Straße mit Mauer (1977) is one of numerous works to depict the divided city in the Cold War, but while it depicts the Berlin Wall itself, its perspective magnifies the adjacent apartment blocks with the odd effect of reducing the barrier to the status of an almost incidental plane. Meanwhile Stefanie Bürkle’s Weinhaus Huth (1995) brings us forward to the redevelopment of the post-reunification era. Here skeletal concrete behemoths dwarf a tenacious remnant of old Berlin in the form of the eponymous building, almost the last original structure left standing on or around Potsdamer Platz following wartime bombing and the construction of the Wall.

Perhaps the most surprising work here is Oskar Kokoschka's Berlin, 13. August 1966. For one, I had no idea Kokoschka was still active in 1966 (and was further surprised to discover he lived until 1980). Not just that, the work was created at the behest of Axel Springer, and depicts the view over East Berlin from the top of the publisher's new high-rise, built right on the course of the Wall. Springer’s conservative, staunchly pro-American tabloid provocations would soon make him one of the bogeymen of West Germany’s ’68 generation, so it is all the more unusual to find him here in association with a survivor of the Weimar avant-garde.

For anyone familiar with Berlin, it is difficult to avoid trying to identify locations and individual features, but here – again – Endell is way ahead of us. It is not the metropolis that we should be seeking, but the beauty within it:

But only in our present era have we slowly begun to realise that form and colour do not derive their beauty from the object, that there may indeed be a beauty that is not even perceived in the object when we observe it for purely practical purposes, and that it is only artistic vision that confers upon the object the beauty that resides in form and colour, independent of all material relationships.

Die Schönheit der großen Stadt continues at Museum Ephraim-Palais, Berlin, until 26 August 2018

Beauty of the Metropolis Endell cover medium.jpg

Wish you were hier


As well as using old postcards in our artwork, we have recently started using postcards to make... postcards. Specifically, a series of art cards offering variations on original motifs of German postcards from around the beginning of the 20th century.


Well, one of our central aims with the whole Rixdorf Editions project is to introduce a combination of time and place largely unfamiliar in the English speaking world (Wilhelmine Germany) and show how it was actually a crucible for progressive thought that exerted an unacknowledged influence on later eras from the Weimar Republic to the present day.

postcard 2.jpg

Taking original imagery from the time and cropping, blowing up and amplifying the colour symbolises this process by liberating the latent Modernism of the age. There are the dots seen in close up which foretell everything from Pointillism to Pop Art. There are the mismatched colour registrations and their evocative suggestion of new and dynamic graphic realms. And even when (actually especially when) catering to mass market tastes, there are surreal juxtapositions of imagery.

The first series of eight cards is called 'Landscape', referring to both the format and the subject matter, with the source material depicting scenic splendour throughout Germany from Heligoland to the Bavarian Alps. Some of the original cards were photographs, some illustrations, some a strange amalgam of the two.

Anyway, it's just an experiment for now. We'll be including a selection of postcards with each online order until we run out.

postcard 3.jpg

Prepare yourself for Death

It's time we had a little talk about Death - the forthcoming English-language debut by late 19th/early 20th century German writer Anna Croissant-Rust which I translated for Rixdorf Editions.

Perhaps we should start with the author's highly unusual Franco-German name. She was actually born (1860) as Anna Rust in the Palatinate, then part of the Kingdom of Bavaria. But in 1888 she married Hermann Croissant – descended from French Huguenots – and added his name to hers. Bonus fun fact: Anna’s mother-in-law was called Philippine Croissant.

As remarkable a name as it is, even the bookish German of your acquaintance is likely to draw a blank if you mention it. Anna Croissant-Rust sold relatively few books while she was alive and posterity hasn’t been much kinder. And until now, she was one of a large number of women writing enthralling, groundbreaking works in German at the time who have never been translated into English: Maria Janitschek, Elsa Asenijeff, Laura Marholm, Ilse Frapan – to name just a few.

Anna Croissant-Rust

Anna Croissant-Rust

In 1890 Anna Croissant-Rust became the only female member of the Society for Modern Living, a group of forward-thinking Munich-based writers largely associated with the Naturalist movement. But she was already thinking further forward than her male colleagues, and certainly beyond Naturalism. One of her most contentious early works was ‘Wedding’, a tale that relates a bride’s terror of imminent deflowering with pre-Freudian psychosexual frankness; the issue of the journal in which it appeared was promptly banned from sale.

Throughout the early 1890s, Croissant-Rust published works that read like they were conjured from the future, breaking down forms well before ‘breaking down forms’ became a thing in the early 20th century. She was out on her own, fusing free verse and fragmentary narrative in an intense emotional register, but these experiments met with little more than bewilderment at the time. And by the time other writers (usually men) were creating similar work, Croissant-Rust's pioneering work was forgotten. I thought it was essential to highlight Croissant-Rust’s dazzling formal innovation, so the forthcoming Rixdorf edition is actually two books in one: Death, as well as the early book Gedichte in Prosa (Prose Poems). The original publication of Prose Poems (1893) is set in Fraktur, which just highlights its uniqueness. You would struggle to find anything else from this time in the old font – which had defined the look of German books since the dawn of movable type – that was as fearless, as avant-garde, as this. In fact you really have to jump ahead to the pre-WWI Expressionists to find anything comparable.

A page from the original 1893 edition of  Gedichte in Prosa  ( Prose Poems )

A page from the original 1893 edition of Gedichte in Prosa (Prose Poems)

By the time others had caught up, Croissant-Rust’s thoughts were turning to Death. Based on the medieval danse macabre, or Totentanz, Death (1914) finds the Grim Reaper scything through a selection of unfortunates in a cycle of 17 stories. In 'Corn Mother', for instance, it comes to a sick child as an apparition from local lore (related to the 'corn dolly'), in 'Shadows' it appears to be a young woman's own beauty which snuffs out her life, in 'The Bird' it's, well, it's a bird, but the fact that it apparently plucks a man from a cliff and tosses him into a valley suggests this is no normal winged creature. Even in these short tales there is space for mystery and ambiguity. And there's surprisingly little morbidity, in fact if anything it’s a celebration of life and colour and light. Especially light. If nothing else, Death is a thesaurus of the effects of light.

The cover of  Der Tod  ( Death ), 1914

The cover of Der Tod (Death), 1914

The original 1914 publication (Der Tod) was a bibliophile edition of 800 copies with illustrations by Willi Geiger showing Herr G. Reaper at work; Geiger was later defamed as a ‘degenerate’ artist by the Nazis. My first reading of the book was a revelation; suddenly not translating it was simply not an option, and later encountering the electrifying originality of Prose Poems merely confirmed that I had to try to bring this largely forgotten writer to a wider readership. Hopefully I have preserved something of the wonder I found in the original. Now that the book is here in Cara Schwartz's beautiful cover I am extremely proud that Death will be available through Rixdorf Editions on 21 May. I can't wait for you to read it.

Death Croissant-Rust cover small.jpg

Visionary of vision

August Endell portrait.jpg

After an unseemly spell of blogging silence we are now emerging from hibernation and full of spring plans. We've just announced the first of our two titles appearing in May 2018 - The Beauty of the Metropolis by August Endell.

Originally published in German in 1908, it wears its 110 years lightly. This is an extremely forward-thinking book that offers a way of visually accessing urban surroundings, even for those of us who know little else. Endell was an architect, a designer and a theorist, and an aesthete more than anything. But for him this didn't mean constructing his own refined environment and retreating into it, but rather finding and appreciating the visual enrichment offered by the things around him. Or in his own words: 'Open your eyes, don’t invent miracles or another world above the clouds; for here in your world you have the kingdom of Heaven.' Endell's love of the city, with all its chaos and squalor, shines through in this book.

Beauty of the Metropolis Endell.jpg

It is typical of Endell's equivocal relationship with posterity that he is best known for a building that no longer exists - the Elvira photo studio in Munich, which opened just weeks before the beginning of the 20th century. Its radical design looked like nothing before it (and frankly not a lot that came after it, either). Just as interesting is the story of the studio's proprietors, Anita Augspurg and Sophia Goudstikker. A lesbian couple who lived in relative openness, they were the first women in Germany to run a company independently of men. You can read more about them in the Afterword to The Beauty of the Metropolis.

Endell Schönheit der grossen Stadt.jpg

And as we were working on the translation we learnt that a museum here in Berlin, the Ephraim-Palais, was planning an exhibition of artworks depicting scenes of the city and which is inspired by Endell's book, even taking its original title - Die Schönheit der grossen Stadt. It's already under way and will be running until late August; we're going along soon and will duly report back. Meanwhile, we'll check in shortly to share news of our other spring title...



Huge thanks to Dave and Orla of Curious Fox for hosting last night's Rixdorf Editions launch and reading in Berlin, Jodi Rose for organising and taking photos, Cara Schwartz for the brilliant artwork and most especially everyone who came along! It was a fantastic night, with a full house of lovely, attentive listeners and smart question-askers - the best start in life a new publisher could hope for.

Metropolis Documents

Magnus Hirschfeld’s 1904 report Berlin’s Third Sex – probably the first sympathetic account of gay and lesbian city life ever published – is a remarkable enough book in its own right. But in fact it was just one part of a much larger project. The Großstadt-Dokumente, or Metropolis Documents, of which Hirschfeld’s book was the third instalment, were issued by the Hermann Seemann publishing house between 1904 and 1908. In all there would be 51 volumes, together representing one of the most far-reaching studies of urban existence ever undertaken, a vast portrait of the city at the outset of the 20th century. And around three quarters of the titles were about one city in particular: Berlin.

The original German edition (1904) of  Berlin's Third Sex

The original German edition (1904) of Berlin's Third Sex

The books appeared at an astonishing rate (up to 16 in a single year) and were printed on cheap stock to be sold at the price of one mark – significantly less than the average paperback of the time. Later they were issued in hard cover thematic anthologies of five volumes apiece. They were the brainchild of Berlin-born writer Hans Ostwald (1873-1940), and reflected his enormous interest in the society around him, particularly those of its members who stood outside the mainstream – including bohemians, prostitutes, cult followers, socialists, petty criminals, vagabonds, unwed mothers and juvenile delinquents. Each book addressed a different phenomenon of urban life. Five of the titles were by Ostwald himself, while the 39 other writers he chose were typically young, male journalists of his acquaintance, few of whom found lasting renown. The sole female author, Ella Mensch, used her platform to attack what she regarded as overly radical elements in the women’s emancipation movement.

Hans Ostwald

Hans Ostwald

It all began with Ostwald's own Dark Corners of Berlin (1904), which took the reader to dive bars, homeless shelters and other haunts of the down and out ordinarily invisible to the bourgeois reader. Subsequent volumes blended reportage, polemics and sensationalism, and while they certainly pushed at the limit of what Wilhelmine Germany would allow, only one volume was actually banned from sale – Germany’s first major study of lesbianism, written by Wilhelm Hammer. But even the less contentious titles revealed parts of the city readers might never otherwise encounter, including court rooms, sweatshops and the offices of public servants. The last of the Metropolis Documents was Edmund Edel's Neu-Berlin (1908), a stroll amid the bright lights and consumerist revelry of the Ku’damm and other gathering places of the moneyed bourgeoisie in the rapidly expanding city.

Rixdorf Editions' collection of  Metropolis Documents  anthologies

Rixdorf Editions' collection of Metropolis Documents anthologies

Even within Germany this remarkable series excites little recognition beyond academic circles, in contrast to the broad, educated readership Ostwald originally had in mind (any German-speakers who wish to find out more are directed to Ralf Thies’s exhaustively researched 2006 book, Ethnograph des dunklen Berlin). Berlin’s Third Sex is the first of the titles to appear in English and considering how much these books tell us about Berlin at the outset of the century it would define like no other, it is remarkable that over 100 years later the Metropolis Documents are all but unknown to Anglophone readers.

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Tossed in translation

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Happy International Translation Day!

Forthcoming fiction collection The Guesthouse at the Sign of the Teetering Globe is the first book by German author Franziska zu Reventlow (1871-1918) to appear in English. Reventlow herself was a prolific translator, almost exclusively from the French, introducing well over 40 works to German readers. Titles by Marcel Prévost account for almost half of those works, along with Guy de Maupassant, Anatole France and one book by Emile Zola.

Reventlow – look away now, conscientious translators – was not above taking shortcuts with her work, as she admitted in a 1901 letter to her lover, philosopher Ludwig Klages: "You should know that I am very haphazard with the novels, and I cut wherever they seem too long."

In addition to French books, Reventlow translated one novel by Norwegian author Bernt Lie and a sole English work, perhaps the strangest entry in her bibliography. Originally entitled The World Allies: A Survey of Nationalism, Labour and World-trade, it was written in 1917 by eccentric American millionaire John Wesley De Kay, who made his fortune with sausages in Mexico. De Kay, evidently quite the polymath, wrote a number of works on big issues of the day as well as a 1910 dramatization of the life of Judas, for which he enlisted no less a stage presence than Sarah Bernhardt. It was banned in New York after just one performance.