Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
Döblin successfully captures the full atmosphere of the square, with its fast life, advertising slogans, popular songs playing in its cafés, and the cries of street vendors and newspaper agents, as well as random conversations among the passersby. This modernist collection of episodic slices of life fully evokes the bustle of human activities in Alexanderplatz, where life is hectic, transitory, and often devious. Burglary plagues Berlin, where no place is safe from plunder. The unwilling presence of the ex-convict Franz Biberkopf at one of these locations changes his life for the worse. Places outside Berlin have a remote quality; they tend to be locations of retreat or violence.
Alexanderplatz’s public houses of food and drinking serve as homes away from home for many characters. Many social activities occur in these places, all of which Döblin describes with a keen eye for atmosphere. These places typically have backrooms in which shady deals are negotiated. At Henschke’s, Biberkopf is thrown out for selling right-wing newspapers, and a police raid at Alexander Quelle has him arrested. Döblin also provides a graphic description of a central slaughterhouse and often refers to its slaughters when his characters encounter misfortune.
Dwellings of most characters are relatively drab, uninviting places, especially those of men living alone. The presence of their girlfriends brings them more liveliness. Important conflicts take place in some of these rooms, which see much mayhem and human despair. In general, Döblin’s characters prefer the streets or bars to their homes.
*Tegel prison. Penal institution in northwest part of Berlin, behind whose redbrick walls and black iron front gate, Döblin’s protagonist, Franz Biberkopf, has spent four years for killing his girlfriend Ida. The prison’s strict order distinguishes this place from the chaos of modern city life. Biberkopf has a hard time leaving the prison on the streetcar. His imagination cannot let go of the place. Later, he twice returns to look at the prison from the outside. Tegel is less severe than the rural penitentiary at Sonnenburg, the eventual home to Biberkopf’s false friend Reinhold. Its name, which means “castle of the sun,” is bitterly ironic.
Rabbi’s apartment. Home of a Jewish man who takes in the freshly released Biberkopf. Located in the former Jewish quarter of Berlin, adjacent to Alexanderplatz, the apartment has a comfortably arranged living room with a large sofa, chairs, and a plush carpet. The rabbi’s home is open to his friends. As Biberkopf sinks into Berlin’s underworld, his visits to the apartment eventually cease.
*Freienwalde (fri-ahn-VAHL-dah). Idyllic resort town outside Berlin whose nearby forest is the site of Reinhold’s grisly murder of Mieze, Biberkopf’s girlfriend. Reinhold buries and reburies her in the summer woods, until her corpse is found and laid to rest in a Berlin cemetery.
*Buch Insane Asylum. Located in a bleak, rural landscape outside Berlin, this place signifies the historical geographic and social ostracism of the mentally ill, kept at the margins of cities. Biberkopf nearly starves himself to death here before he overcomes his shock at Mieze’s murder. Suffering a symbolic death, he reenters the city a new man.