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Berlin Psychoanalytic Psychoanalysis and Culture in Weimar Republic Germany and Beyond

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Berlin Soulscapes

Alfred Döblin Talks to Ernst Simmel

The writer Alfred Döblin came into contact with the BPI and its members at a point when psychoanalysis was well on its way to transcending its disciplinary and institutional confines. As becomes manifest in Karl Abraham's letters to Freud, there was a "great enthusiasm" in the group after the end of World War I, and Berlin was ready for psychoanalysis. At this juncture, Döblin took an active role in the BPI's project to implement psychoanalysis in other fields and thereby bring it to other audiences. As a result of his fruitful clinical and intellectual collaboration with the psychoanalyst Ernst Simmel and other members of the BPI, Alfred Döblin moved from a late-nineteenth-century psychiatric understanding of mental illness to a psychoanalytic conception of the soul. This development changed his medical practice and simultaneously drove his search for radical new forms of narration in his fiction. It also influenced the way in which he thought about the relationship between science and literature.

In his psychoanalytic case study Two Girlfriends Commit Murder, Döblin deploys a large scientific apparatus in the form of an appendix to the narration, which includes a summary of published reactions to the case, an analysis of the protagonists' handwriting, psychoanalytic interpretations of their dreams in prison, and a series of illustrations of their psychological development before and after the murder. But this gigantic scientific effort is paired with a deep-seated skepticism as to its efficacy in capturing any kind of truth about the case, and ultimately Döblin developed a model of fictional psychology that he deemed more successful at revealing the soul than the various scientific approaches that he at once construes and undermines.

Alfred Döblin and the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute

Born in 1878 in Stettin, Alfred Döblin studied medicine and psychiatry in Berlin and Freiburg and graduated with a dissertation on Korsakoff's psychosis, a memory disorder related to alcoholism. Despite his traditional psychiatric training, which had focused on the classification of diseases, diagnostics, and pharmacology and assumed a purely physiological basis for psychological processes, Döblin's dissertation also indicates a remarkable interest in exploring the psychological role language and personal history play in pathological conditions. It investigates how memory works, how stories seem to emerge out of nothing, and how language functions in this context. As early as 1905, Döblin was fascinated by the idea of a link between the present and the past via the psychological existence of the past outside of our present consciousness.

After graduating from the University of Freiburg, Döblin worked as a psychiatrist in a series of large hospitals in southern Germany and in Berlin. Disillusioned, he later dismissed this period of "confinement in hospitals" as pure "diagnostics." He opened his own general and psychiatric practice in 1911, first in the more affluent western part of Berlin, then, in 1913, in the eastern part of the city, in the working-class neighborhood of Lichtenberg. In 1914, he started treating patients with psychoanalytical methods while also promoting psychoanalysis publicly, pointing out the significance of psychotherapy in the treatment of hysteria.

Döblin spent the war years as a military doctor on the Western front, where-as he wrote-he fought the Battle of Verdun with his ears. The very primitive and brutal treatment of war neurotics during and after World War I led many doctors in the field to reevaluate their approaches to the treatment of trauma. As the historians Andreas Killen and Paul Lerner have depicted, the shift from somatic to psychogenic theories of neurosis within the psychiatric profession was accompanied by its embrace of the Kaufmann method to influence and break the patient's will. The Kaufmann method involved a combination of brutal electric shock treatment and verbal suggestion.

Many psychoanalysts who later became part of the BPI experienced World War I as military physicians, and they opposed the radical physical treatment of shell-shocked patients. Their successful experiments with the psychoanalytic method in the battlefield led to a period of support by medical officials from the Central Powers and gave the psychoanalytic movement a major boost of recognition. Moreover, the clinical study of war neurosis became the theoretical stepping-stone for the concept of the ego in psychoanalytic theory. However, as Lerner has argued, psychoanalysis was presented with the dilemma that these successful treatments and the following recognition of its method ultimately served the war effort. Ernst Simmel and Karl Abraham both gave vivid accounts of the psychiatric treatments that Döblin encountered during his military service. As a military physician, a psychiatrist, and an early reader of psychoanalytic literature, Döblin must have followed the clinical discussions surrounding the treatment of war trauma in the war years. Disoriented by an uprooting war experience and distraught over the death of his sister in postwar street riots, Döblin moved back to Berlin in 1919 and began what he called a "training analysis" with Simmel.

Together with Abraham and Hanns Sachs, Simmel was one of the leading figures of the BPI. Döblin's encounter with him marked the beginning of Döblin's own involvement with the institute, which would influence his medical work, his psychological conceptions, and his literary production. The fruitful connections between clinical theory and practice, political activism, and innovative fiction that resulted from his encounter with Simmel and the BPI would characterize Döblin's work in the 1920s-the decade still perceived as the definitive moment of his writing.

Many previous studies have described Döblin's writing during the 1920s as a continuation of an assumed antipsychological, prewar, expressionist stance, and thus have related his work to the detached style of New Subjectivity. While there have been studies on the inherent connections between Döblin's work as a physician and his literary work, these studies, with a few notable exceptions (such as a study by Thomas Anz), confine themselves mostly to the psychiatric schools in which Döblin was trained, and do not account for his further intellectual development in what he considered his "real profession." As his library and his book reviews show, Döblin was an avid reader in many fields, ranging from natural history to ethnography, and he was vehemently opposed to any kind of dogmatism. His reception of psychoanalysis was decidedly open-minded: he read Freud as well as Freud's foes, like Adler and Jung, and he did not refrain from making fun of what he perceived as the cultlike aspects of institutionalized Freudian psychoanalysis. He also challenged the psychoanalytic claim of original discovery and emphasized that the idea of the unconscious in psychoanalysis owed much to nineteenth-century literature and philosophy.

Yet, the BPI offered Döblin an emerging institutional framework where he could connect his two professions-those of writer and physician. Moreover, he became part of an exciting theoretical moment in Berlin psychoanalysis: the convergence of psychoanalytic theory and communist and socialist theory in the works of Simmel, Wilhelm Reich, Otto Fenichel, and Erich Fromm. Because Döblin was familiar with the correlation between social and psychological misery from his medical work in the working-class neighborhood of Lichtenberg, he must have been intrigued by his encounter with this group of doctors dedicated to addressing the psychological vulnerability of the working poor and imbued with the idealism of a theory that was gaining international recognition.

Since Döblin's connections with the BPI are not usually included in accounts of his life and work, I will relate a few examples of his support for the goals and interests of the BPI, whose members perceived him as a colleague and collaborator. The psychoanalyst Heinrich Meng listed Döblin as a member of the BPI polyclinic's staff and mentioned that the two of them conducted a joint psychoanalysis, which, as he noted, was quite unusual. Meng later emigrated to Switzerland to escape Nazi persecution, but he and Döblin stayed in touch until Döblin's death in 1957.

The BPI polyclinic was established in 1920 under the direction of Abraham, Eitingon, and Simmel. Maintained by salary donations from the BPI psychoanalysts, the polyclinic provided free treatment for low-income patients. The BPI regularly trained outside physicians in courses designed specifically to familiarize them with psychoanalytic treatment. Since Döblin was training with Simmel and, as early as 1921, claimed to be "doing psychoanalysis," it is likely that these first courses were part of his training at the BPI, which later led to his practice in the polyclinic.

In 1923, Döblin publicly praised the work of the polyclinic and described how most of the cases, ranging from neurasthenia to paralysis, were treated over the course of half a year in several sessions per week. In his public statements, however, he omitted mention that the source of his intimate knowledge of this work was his own experience. Döblin was also familiar with the work of the psychoanalytic clinic Schloß Tegel, another clinic that Simmel directed, where up to thirty patients-primarily neurotics and drug addicts-were treated in an idyllic setting, and where Freud himself stayed as a guest on his trips to Berlin.

Like Meng and Simmel, Döblin was also a member of the Association of Socialist Physicians (Verein Sozialistischer Ärzte, or VSÄ) and was elected to represent the association in the professional chamber of doctors. This forum for discussions on medicine, psychoanalysis, and socialism had been founded in 1913 by Simmel and the doctors Ignaz Zadek and Karl Kollwitz, the husband of the artist Käthe Kollwitz. Simmel also coedited the association's official organ, the Socialist Doctor, where Döblin published an article against Germany's restrictive abortion laws. Like Simmel and other BPI analysts, Döblin was also active in the General Medical Society for Psychotherapy, which demonstrates his interest in a wide variety of psychotherapeutic approaches.

Döblin's involvement in the polyclinic, the VSÄ, and the General Medical Society for Psychotherapy indicates that he was attracted to psychoanalysis as a clinical discipline that offered him new techniques he could then incorporate into his medical practice. In 1922, Döblin reported from the Berlin convention of the International Psychoanalytic Association for the daily newspaper Vossische Zeitung. In this article he praised a talk by Simmel for its insistence on the clinical within psychoanalytic theory, thereby emphasizing his interest in the intersection of medicine and psychoanalysis.

The patient books of Döblin's doctor's office at Frankfurter Allee 340 for the years 1923-1926 have survived and tell a fascinating story of the professional life for which Döblin is less known. His office hours were from 4 to 6 P.M. each afternoon. His patients-mostly unskilled laborers, factory workers, and railroad employees-came from the surrounding working-class neighborhood. Many had been sent by their employer's health insurance company for him to evaluate whether they were fit to return to work. Döblin often gave them extra time and described this particular form of "medicine of the working class" in terms of an unconventional solidarity with his proletarian patients. In other descriptions of his own work, Döblin argues that the role of a doctor was inherently connected to the role of a therapist: "I am a doctor and yet, not just a doctor. There is nothing or almost nothing wrong with these people." He goes on to describe a young man who came to his office for headache treatment, but the true source of his pain was a marriage crisis. Döblin suggested that the young man bring his wife to their next session.

As a physician licensed by the state health insurance system (his stationary listed him as a "specialist in internal and nervous diseases"), Döblin treated a wide range of psychological and physiological complaints: a long fall from a factory staircase, menopausal disturbances, stomach ulcers, and many cases of insomnia. The young Helene M. came to talk about her depression after her father killed himself, while Johanna H. came to Döblin pondering killing others. Onetime visitors were an "old psychotic" and another patient who had violently attacked the referring doctor, cases which give insight into the fact that Döblin was working in a neighborhood that we would describe today as a "social hotspot." [figure 2]

The frequent appearances of war trauma in Döblin's patient records, along with the routine questions concerning war trauma in the health insurance questionnaires of the time, reflect the extent to which even in the mid-1920s Berlin still suffered from the psychological consequences of World War I. Döblin's patient Alma S. had survived being buried alive and subsequently suffered from claustrophobia and insomnia. Karl W. had headaches as a result of a mine explosion during the war. Johann S. came first to complain of rheumatism, and then returned for long-term treatment for attacks of fear and war neurosis. These cases are just a few examples of the considerable number of male and female war neurotics whom Döblin treated during this time. He usually treated his neurotic patients in a series of meetings once or twice a week, some of them over the course of several years. Thus, at the polyclinic as well as in his doctor's office, he was directly involved with war neurosis, one of the main theoretical and clinical concerns of the BPI.

As far as Döblin's therapeutic practices can be discerned, they were heavily influenced by psychoanalysis. Döblin perceived within himself a great sensitivity and ability to analyze the unconscious. These qualities are also featured in a publicity photograph taken for the press: Döblin sits at his office desk, hunched forward with a concentrated expression, facing his wife, Erna Döblin, who poses as his patient. Instead of sitting on the opposite side of the desk, which would have indicated the usual hierarchy between doctor and patient, she is sitting beside him and on the same side of his desk, suggesting a more equal relationship. Although Döblin's desk is covered with books and a large array of intimidating medical instruments and medications, he is turned away from these icons of medical knowledge and faces his "patient" directly. Regardless of whether this staged arrangement was an accurate portrayal of his daily practice or not, the image conveys the manner in which Döblin wanted to be perceived as a doctor. It captures what stood at the foreground of his medical work: equal conversation with his patient. For Döblin, this constituted one of the attractions of psychoanalysis: "All soul work by doctor and patient requires showing your deck of cards. One speaks German, not Latin, and in every sense one has to speak plain German to each other. This is something democratic." [figure 3]

Döblin's notes on a conversation with a female patient in 1921 provide a window on his therapeutic work. At first, Döblin took notes on the physical well-being of this patient and diagnosed a deterioration of her condition, especially evident in her backaches. He then proceeded to describe her dreams, after which he moved on to observations about her childhood: her love for her older brother, and the beatings she received for her stubbornness. He finished with a comparison that his patient drew between him and another man: the excitement, the heart palpitations, that she felt "when she comes to the session" were exactly the same as in her meetings with "K." In these notes, Döblin departed from a diagnosis of physical symptoms, progressed to an interpretation of dreams and the reflection of childhood events, and concluded with a situation of transference-a succession that corresponds very much to a typical setting in psychoanalytically oriented therapy both in 1921 and today.

The comparison of Döblin's clinical vocabulary with the classifications established by the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute shows that by the mid-1920s Döblin was operating with the diagnostic tools of psychoanalysis, for example, "epileptic neurosis"-a diagnosis informed by the contemporary psychoanalytic understanding of epilepsy as more than a purely biological affliction. However, Döblin also departed from the mainstream analysis of his time and literally took poetic license with diagnoses such as "Grübelsucht" (something along the lines of a "brooding addiction")-for patients with a penchant for pondering things too much. As I will elaborate later in this chapter, this mixture of clinical, colloquial, and poetical language becomes an aesthetic principle in Döblin's literary descriptions of psychopathology in the 1920s. They often evoked the workings of the individual and the collective unconscious and, at the same time, undermined the idea of any authority of interpretation in matters of the mind.

Clearly, Döblin engaged deeply with psychoanalysis in his medical practice. However, he was also interested in psychoanalysis as a theory with ramifications not only for his medical profession but also for his general understanding of the relationship between the individual and society, as well as for his artistic goals and means of expression. The psychoanalyst Werner Kemper depicts Döblin as a member of the BPI's younger, more politicized circles, which frequently held heated discussions into the early morning hours at the Romanisches Café on theoretical issues of the day, such as the "conditioned reflex."

Döblin followed closely the events in the psychoanalytic world and the public discourse on psychoanalysis. On occasion, he even intervened, as he did in the discussion of lay analysis, a crucial issue that affected how the BPI established itself as an international training institute. Döblin at first opposed lay analysis and, in 1923, voiced his concern that lay analysts would be rendered helpless in the face of many medical symptoms that might arise during treatment. But by 1926-the point at which the BPI established its training guidelines, and the discussion of lay analysis peaked-Döblin had reversed his opinion and favored lay analysis, citing Freud's article "The Question of Lay Analysis" in support of his view. In 1925, Döblin alluded to the tragic case of Hermine Hugh-Hellmuth, a Viennese psychoanalyst murdered by her "object of research," while pondering the limits of psychoanalytic treatment. In the same year, his obituary for the Viennese neurologist Josef Breuer turned into a celebration of Freud, in which Breuer's merit was reduced to his brief period of collaboration with Freud on Studies on Hysteria. If we consider that, in an article on hysteria that he wrote before World War I, Döblin mentioned only Breuer as a source and omitted Freud completely, his obituary for Breuer is even more surprising. This inversion clearly highlights Döblin's theoretical development away from psychiatry and toward psychoanalysis during these years.

Döblin was familiar with the current publications of the International Psychoanalytic Press and with the most important psychoanalytic journals of the time: Imago and the Internationale Zeitschrift für Psychoanalyse. He reviewed a broad spectrum of psychoanalytic literature and lectures, ranging from Freud's Beyond the Pleasure Principle to Sándor Ferenczi's Theory of Genitality to Melanie Klein's The Psychoanalysis of Children. Many of these reviews are brief and barely extend beyond a positive mention, but in particular his reviews of Freud's works engage more thoroughly with psychoanalytic theory. Similarly, Döblin's notes on psychoanalysis cover a broad spectrum of topics, including such tenets of psychoanalytic theory as the development of neuroses, dream interpretation, and the Oedipus complex. He also took notes on the history of psychoanalysis and Freud's biography, including short comparisons between Freud and Adler and Freud and Jung, observations that reveal a genuine effort on his part to consider non-Freudian approaches from the position of an independent-minded therapist and intellectual. This heterodoxy might also explain why, according to the available records, Döblin was never officially listed as a member of the German Psychoanalytic Society (DPG).

Official or not, however, Döblin was very much a part of the BPI's activities, so much so that he gave the keynote address at the institute's celebration of Sigmund Freud's seventieth birthday, in 1926. In his warm and poetic speech, Döblin traced Freud's development from neurology to psychoanalysis, a description of Freud's life that mirrors Döblin's own path. He described Freud's defiance of medical tradition and his discovery of the doctor's simple look at the patient as an analytical instrument for the soul. He also spoke of the persistence of patients who made their doctors listen in new ways, thus attributing experiences to Freud that Döblin described as his own in other instances.

Döblin's speech at this celebration also took on a perspective specific to the Berlin psychoanalytic context when he addressed the critical question of why Freud did not translate his psychoanalytic insights into a theory of societal change or practical political work. Döblin answered the question by portraying Freud as a mistrustful pessimist. He came to a different conclusion about himself, however, seeing himself as part of a force that, rather than wallowing in soulful lyricism, would fight against the remnants of a past, materialist age with a politicized, enlightening version of psychoanalysis: "The time for slackness and defeatism is definitely over." According to Döblin, Freud had paved the way, but it would still require a common effort to follow through. Nevertheless, Freud stood tall in Döblin's eyes as a pathbreaking benefactor of humanity.

Döblin lobbied for Freud in private as well as in public. When he was a member of the awarding committee of the 1930 Goethe Prize of the City of Frankfurt, his enthusiastic support played a key role in turning the vote in Freud's favor. Döblin drew a link between Freud and Goethe in their emphasis of Apollonian rationality, which called for new moral attitudes, over the Dionysian chaos of the unconscious. In the committee session, Döblin described how he overcame his initial reluctance to accept psychoanalysis and presented himself as a "Psycho-Analyst." He expressed his hope that the emerging science of psychoanalysis would become the means for the creation of a new man who could free himself from the current social and psychological misery.

The War in the Mind and on the Streets

Döblin's psychoanalytic writing evokes the language and thought of his psychoanalytic mentor Ernst Simmel. Both biographies show interesting parallels that must have strengthened their intellectual connection: Döblin's junior by only a few years, Simmel, too, moved to Berlin as a child from the Polish-speaking territories of the German Reich. Like Döblin, he also studied medicine in Berlin, came from a secularized Jewish family, was a fervent socialist, and chose Hollywood as his place of exile during the Third Reich, where for a time he lived only a few blocks from Döblin. By all accounts, Simmel was a charismatic and social person, and he even makes a brief literary appearance as a party guest in Mynona's Berlin novel Grey Magic.

Simmel's and Döblin's theoretical affinity is particularly evident in their descriptions of the polyclinic's work and their understanding of the mutual conditioning of poverty and psychopathology. In 1930, Simmel described the motivations behind the opening of the polyclinic for low-income patients: "It was a daring enterprise in a time of economic ruin to bring to life an institute that should attempt to make psychoanalytical treatment accessible to those people who suffer especially hard from poverty due to their neurosis." In a 1923 newspaper article praising the work of the polyclinic, Döblin similarly emphasized the mutual conditioning of mental and material misery as the motor of the psychoanalytic enterprise: "The establishment of similar institutes in all major cities ... seems an urgent necessity to me. I would like to point out to all experienced [professionals] the misery of neurological treatment of the disadvantaged."

Döblin's critique of the inefficiency of insurance-approved traditional treatments had a political dimension. As a provider for the public insurance network, Döblin could act as a mediator between the medical establishment and psychoanalysis, which was not yet subsidized by Germany's public health insurance. For Döblin, as for Simmel, psychoanalytic practice was a means both to liberate the individual and to implement a socialist vision of society. In a fashion strikingly similar to that of Simmel, who viewed the "psychoanalytic liberation" of the individual as "psychologically sanitizing" for society, Döblin described psychoanalysis as "soul drainage, an inner sewer system." Without this kind of sewer system, the massive social pressure underlying daily life in the city of Berlin could rise up in uncontrollable, dangerous ways. Simmel and Döblin both viewed this volatile social pressure as a direct consequence of World War I and conceived of war neurosis as an expression of a deeper societal pathology.

In a 1919 article, "On the Psychoanalysis of War Neurosis," Simmel described the state of mind of the war neurotic. The article is based on Simmel's experiences in a military hospital in Posen, where he successfully treated war neurotics in only a few sessions of combined psychotherapy and hypnosis. Simmel explained war neurosis as essentially a protective psychological mechanism that prevents war psychosis. The personality split in war neurosis is brought on by a repression of the traumatic war events. They resurface in debilitating physical symptoms that hint at their traumatic origin and thus present the psyche's unconscious attempt to heal itself. As one of many examples, Simmel relates the case of a soldier with a nervous facial tic. Hypnosis revealed that, while he was buried unconscious under debris at the front, he grimaced constantly to keep the sand from suffocating him by entering his nose and mouth.

Through years of military training, soldiers are prone to repress unpleasant events. In a military hierarchy, they experience a dramatic weakening of their personality complex (Simmel's early theoretical version of the ego), since the interests of others constantly overrule theirs. With vivid poignancy, Simmel described the humiliation, self-negation, and violence the soldiers experience in combat:

One has to have experienced either the war events or their recapitulation in the analytic-cathartic hypnosis to understand what kind of assault the inner life of a person is subjected to, who has to return to the battlefield after recurrent injury, who has to be separated for an uncertain duration of time from his family during important family events, who is exposed without rescue to the murderous monster of a tank or the approach of a hostile wave of gas, who has been buried or injured by a grenade attack, who often lies for days and hours under bloody, ripped corpses of his friends, and last but not least whose sense of self has been gravely wounded by unjust, cruel superiors full of complexes, and who has to be keep quiet and has to silently bear the pressure of the fact that he is worth nothing as an individual and is only an unessential part of the masses.

Simmel argued that this submission to harmful situations against their own better judgment affected soldiers of lower military rank most dramatically. They were more exposed to humiliation, and they were less equipped to avert and treat a neurosis than were older, wealthier officers. Thus, the masses were especially vulnerable to war neurosis. Simmel built on this idea in his article "Psychoanalysis of the Masses" (1919), in which he argued that the war demanded the suspension of the basic tenets of common morality: that one should not kill, steal, or cheat. The war thus lifted morality from the border between the conscious and the unconscious and unleashed uninhibited primal drives that would continue to govern the people beyond wartime. The war neurosis of the soldier had its equivalent in the peace neurosis of the proletariat, whose fight for sheer existence and recognition could be equally damaging psychologically. Simmel diagnosed "a diseased people," which could be helped by economic compensation and the recognition of psychoanalysis by the medical establishment. This was-according to Simmel-a matter of social hygiene.

Döblin picked up on Simmel's ideas two years later in a 1921 article, which Döblin titled with a direct quote of Simmel's terminology: "The Diseased People." Like Simmel, Döblin emphasized the fundamental threat that war neurosis posed for the masses, comparing it to the scourge of tuberculosis. Thus, both saw war neurosis as a highly contagious disease afflicting the poor and connected this psychological phenomenon to the contemporary discourse of housing reform and of social hygiene.

While Simmel evoked the image of pleading, shaking, and paralyzed limbs forced toward the passersby whatever the weather, Döblin described his constant encounter with the neurotic "war walk." The daily life of the war neurotic was a never-ending continuation of the war. Döblin diagnosed an irreparable and potentially explosive "attrition of the lower masses." For Döblin, psychopathology was rooted in and enforced by material inequality and a capitalist economy: "The external circumstances have become soulless and take away the soul." Both Simmel and Döblin criticized what they perceived as a change of morals in postwar society, which for Simmel manifested itself in an "unchained sexual drive," and for Döblin in a "tendency toward excesses." The two also agreed that radical politics could be an expression of a connection between a pathological drive to power and an otherwise altruistic ideology like Spartakism. They saw these political and personal excesses, this badly directed surplus of energy, as indicators of the extent of the continuing psychological devastation of the war.

The two men both conceived of a collective soul, which becomes especially relevant in the context of war neurosis. Simmel used the term Volkseele, or "soul of the people." While the soul of the diseased individual expresses war neurosis through the body, the diseased soul of the people expresses its war neurosis through its economy. A few years later, in his fictionalized psychoanalytic case study Two Girlfriends Commit Murder, Döblin employed the terms Seelenmasse, or "soul mass," and Gesamtorganismus, or "collective organism," to express the idea that individuals could not be described without consideration of their rooms, their houses, and their streets. Souls are not discrete entities, but overlap with other souls and with their material surroundings. In his descriptions, the city became a soulscape, where individual pathology expressed a collective problem. As I note in the following section, Simmel's war neurotics, their weakened egos seeking approval in violent acts, their personality splits, their flights from reality, and their militant political activism populated Döblin's fiction of the 1920s, especially Two Girlfriends Commit Murder and Berlin Alexanderplatz, the novel that made Döblin famous.

While psychoanalysis informed Döblin's writing, Döblin himself saw the influence as potentially mutual and envisioned ways in which literature could shape psychoanalysis: "The other way around, it would benefit an analytic practitioner, if he concerned himself more without reserve with literature, and I think that literature might indeed influence psychological thought." Given Döblin's practical and theoretical investment in psychoanalysis, and his explicit statement of literature's potential impact, his literary works of this period could also be read as scientific interventions in the field of psychoanalysis. In fact, Döblin's fictional account of a real case, Two Girlfriends Commit Murder, was reviewed in the psychoanalytic journal Imago (as well as in the sexological publication Zeitschrift für Sexualwissenschaft), and Döblin's attempt to find new visual forms of psychological representation was heavily criticized as "scientifically untenable." The really interesting point about this judgment is that Döblin's text and illustrations were-because of his professional standing as a fellow physician and psychoanalyst-measured in terms of their scientific rather than their literary value, and that they were discussed in a context in which science and literature were perceived as related players in the field of psychopathology.

Two Girlfriends Commit Murder

In 1924, Döblin's Two Girlfriends Commit Murder (Die beiden Freundinnen und ihr Giftmord) appeared as the first volume in the series Society's Outsiders (Außenseiter der Gesellschaft), which had been conceived by the leftist writer and revolutionary activist Rudolf Leonhardt for the small Berlin press Die Schmiede. For each volume of this series Leonhardt contracted authors such as Egon Erwin Kisch and Joseph Roth to render an account of a criminal case based on historical or contemporary juridical records. Döblin's contribution was based on the highly publicized and controversial Klein-Nebbe trial, which took place over the course of five days in March 1923. Two young women, Elli Klein and Margarethe Nebbe, were accused of murdering Klein's husband and plotting to kill Nebbe's husband. Nebbe's mother, Marie Riemer, was also tried for aiding in the crimes.

The newspaper accounts and bill of indictment reveal that the two young women were lovers, and that both of their marriages were unhappy. Elli Klein suffered substantial physical and psychological abuse by her husband. After making two unsuccessful attempts to leave him, Klein poisoned him continuously with arsenic. She took care of him over the course of his prolonged illness until he died in the hospital. After a tip by Elli Klein's mother-in-law, the police searched Klein's apartment and found, hidden under a mattress, about six hundred love letters that Klein and Nebbe had exchanged over the course of a few months. The women, who could see each other's apartments from their respective windows, had frequently exchanged letters, up to several times a day. The prosecution used these letters as evidence and quoted them extensively throughout the trial.

After a trial lasting five days, the jury came to a verdict: Elli Klein was found guilty of second-degree murder, taking into account the mitigating circumstances revealed by the evidence of spousal abuse presented by the defense. Grete Nebbe was found guilty of aiding and abetting, and her mother was acquitted. Based on the jury's verdict, the judge sentenced Klein to four years of prison, but Nebbe was denied the benefit of mitigating circumstances, since she was perceived to be the more active and morally guilty of the two women, and was sentenced to eighteen months in a hard labor camp. The jurors themselves viewed Nebbe's sentence as too harsh and appealed for a pardon, but it was not granted. The trial involved expert statements and discussions about homosexuality, marital violence, and above all the question of whether the women's circumstances or their genes were to blame for the events. It was prominently covered by all major newspapers, picked up by writers such as Joseph Roth and Robert Musil, and extensively discussed by the sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, who also gave an expert statement at the trial.

The murder and the events surrounding it took place in the immediate neighborhood of Döblin's apartment and doctor's office-at Wagnerstrasse in Lichtenberg. Döblin was invited to observe the trial, and he had the opportunity to speak personally with the defendants. He visited the places they inhabited and collected newspaper clippings about the case. His main source, however, was the women's letters contained in the bill of indictment.

At first glance, Two Girlfriends Commit Murder appears to faithfully follow the account that emerged from Döblin's sources. Döblin changed the characters' real names only slightly, evoking the originals either in sound or meaning: Grete's last name, "Nebbe," became the similar sounding "Bende"; and "Riemer," the last name of Grete's mother, from the German for "strap," became "Schnürer," from the German verb meaning "to tie." Döblin emphasized the social context, a leftist working-class environment, by renaming Klein, the murdered communist husband, "Link," a particularly meaningful replacement, as link in German means both "left" (as in "leftist politics") and "mean" (as in sadistic).

While Two Girlfriends Commit Murder offers ample material for discussing the influence of Freudian or Adlerian psychoanalysis (as well as Hirschfeld's sexology) on Döblin in regard to his representation of homosexuality or of drive theory, I will focus on the issues specific to the context of Berlin psychoanalysis, mainly his representation of war neurosis. To establish what I have termed the Berlin Psychoanalytic, I will also discuss the way in which Döblin's text not only reflects psychoanalytic theory but also attempts to contribute to it.

War Neurosis and Soldier Travesty

"The pretty, blond Elli Link arrived in Berlin in 1918." In this opening sentence of Two Girlfriends Commit Murder, World War I is subtly set up as the social background for Elli Link's unfolding individual catastrophe. While nothing further is said about this date, it is worth noting that Döblin selects the year of German capitulation and revolutionary unrest in Berlin as the logical and chronological point of departure for this story, from which his narrator will jump back and forth in time. Elli belongs to the working class: we learn that she comes from a family of carpenters in Braunschweig, and that she apprenticed as a hairdresser. However, "a boyish prank happened to her"-she stole money from a customer, and subsequently she had to work for several weeks in an ammunition factory, before she could finish her apprenticeship with another hairdresser. These few sentences contain the key issues Döblin develops in the book.

First is the loss of agency of his protagonists. Elli's theft of money is presented as a prank that happened to her. Her "act" resembles more a reaction than an action, which is indicative for the mode in which the narrator presents his protagonists' experiences. This agentless narrative mode points to the narrator's difficulty in presenting a causal sequence for an action-something that the narrator ponders explicitly at the end of the book: "With the principle of causality one dresses up." According to the narrator, establishing a logical sequence of external causes for psychological mechanisms means construing causality after the fact. However, once these mechanisms are triggered, they are represented in the text as following a causal sequence: "Thus, bullets can hit us from the invisible, they can change us and we just notice the change, not the actual motor, that which is effective, the bullet; within us everything proceeds causally." Here, Döblin clearly picks up on Nietzsche's metaphor of the cannon shot that reverses time, since one experiences first the effect, then the shot. Both Nietzsche and Döblin argue that the unconscious renders a simple construction of cause and effect problematic. But, while Nietzsche stresses the deceiving quality of the inner world that would render any psychological account fictitious, Döblin opens the possibility of a different type of psychological knowledge and representation that would reflect the disorder of the unconscious on a formal level: "In this instance, disorder is a better type of knowledge than order." In Two Girlfriends Commit Murder, the bullets that hit the protagonists from the invisible and unleash a tragedy are also an allusion to the psychological consequences of war violence.

A second key issue introduced in the opening lines is the change and ambiguity in gender roles: though Elli is a woman, her theft reads as a "boyish" prank (Bubenstreich). This switch of gender roles appears again later in the descriptions of Elli's relationship with her neighbor Grete and in Elli's incorporation of violence that the narration connotes as masculine. That Elli briefly works in an ammunition factory is another image that underscores the gender role reversal. Within a matter of weeks, Elli moves back and forth between two professional realms, hairdressing, a profession dominated by women (and concerned with femininity and appearance), and industrial production, which at this point in the war has become dominated by women because of the absence of men. Elli's move between these two spheres and her role as a male replacement enforce Elli's gender ambiguity in the narration. Elli's work on the home front also prefigures her role in the current of violence that Two Girlfriends Commit Murder closely follows, and which starts, as mentioned above, with bullets hitting the protagonists out of nowhere. Elli produces the weapons that will come to hurt her, once her husband brings the war back home; she becomes a recurrent link in a chain of violence that has no beginning and no end.

The third and last of the key issues laid out in the opening paragraph is the corrosion of moral inhibitions after the war exemplified in Elli's transgression of stealing, which the narrator plays down. All of these issues-loss of agency, gender role reversal, and a weakened collective superego-are related to World War I and its psychological destabilization of the collective state of mind, which Döblin and Simmel described a few years earlier in regard to the Berlin working class. Their analysis suggests that the lack of education or of access to resources plays a large role in these problems. Especially in Elli, the reader is confronted with a young woman who wants to leave a violent marriage and who, at the same time, wants to conform to her background and her family's wishes. With nothing and nobody to guide her, this conflict spirals out of control.

Döblin continues to develop these key issues relating to World War I in subsequent passages of Two Girlfriends Commit Murder. Both of the husbands, Link and Bende, are war veterans. Grete and Willi Bende, an experienced former sergeant, courted through letters while he was a soldier. Their marriage was hasty and propelled by the circumstances of the war. In his 1922 article "Neue Jugend," Döblin described this type of war marriage: "Even worse was the emergency marriage [Nottrauung], the war marriage. It was entered en gros, they knew each other barely three days, barely a week, but one had to leave to the 'field,' to an even more charged environment." He continued to paint a bleak picture-the men went to war, the women stayed at home and worked in ammunition factories. In the case of the Bendes, the awakening came upon his return from the war: he subdued his wife, cheated on her, and contracted a venereal disease. On the one hand, Willi Bende is characterized as a brash soldier; on the other, his masculinity has been weakened by the war. Dominant himself, he desires to be dominated, but Grete fails to provide him with "superiority."

The marriage of Link, whose first name we never learn, and Elli is equally doomed from the outset. The narrator's characterization of the war veteran Link reflects the unconscious struggle of the war neurotic. The narrator describes Link's relationship with Elli as an endlessly tormenting war that allows a "trembling peace" only briefly and leads mostly to new "acts of war." Link's perversion is presented as a "fruitless struggle within himself." Not unlike Willi Bende, Link craves domination to the point of self-negation. As the narrator points out, he seeks to be dominated by dominating his wife: "As he was presenting her with his old ways [his brutality], he subjected himself once again." His drive to destroy others is inherently connected with his drive to destroy himself. He beats, rapes, and tortures his wife, and in the aftermath he attempts to commit suicide. He also demeans himself by wanting to eat her feces. Link turns the violence he experienced at the front against himself and against the one who depends on him, the one at the lower end of what never ceased to be a chain of command.

One of Elli's prison dreams revolves around this psychological constellation, and the narrator lets Elli Link recount the dream in the first person: "I was watching a white flag with a black eagle while smoking a cigarette. Accidentally, I burned a hole in it. I was court-martialed and got sentenced to work camp for life. I hanged myself out of desperation." The narrator interprets the dream as follows: "In this dream with the navy war flag, she also identified with the husband, who had been a sailor in the war, and she punished herself by suffering his fate." In Elli's dream, her crime becomes a war crime, and the tribunal that she has to face, the Berlin court and the jury of Berliners, becomes a tribunal of a society at war. According to the narrator, the punishment meted out by this tribunal, the prison sentence, imprints the power of society and state on women, penetrating even their dreams with violence. The sentence becomes part of the structural violence that the women were already subjected to by their husbands, especially Link: "Link wasn't dead, there was the executor of his testament; it was paid back to them [the women] with loneliness and waiting, Elli with the dreams."

In her prison dreams, Elli is once again a victim of her husband's brutality, but she also comes to impersonate Link and reenact his traumatized existence. The dream interpretation suggests a connection between Link's war experience and his later violent and suicidal mental state. After attacking his wife, Link frequently tried to hang himself, and when his wife would find him and cut the rope in disgust, he would already be blue and gasping. The narrator suggests that his feeling of "unworthiness" led to Link's death, and that this war veteran's self-destructive inferiority and uncontrolled violence continued to spread and took over his wife beyond his death. While in her dream Elli embodies Link and his psychological fate, she also trespasses on forbidden territory by damaging a war symbol, the navy flag, with her cigarette. The severity of her punishment shows that her crime in the dream also encompasses the transgression of gender roles, or what I call her "soldier travesty."

A very similar constellation of events occurs in another passage. In a survey of the secondary literature on this case, the narrator mentions a detail from a sexological study by Karl Besser, a collaborator of Magnus Hirschfeld at the Institute for Sexual Science. Besser reveals that, before her marriage, Elli Klein posed for a photograph dressed in the uniform of a soldier. While Besser interprets this as a sign of Elli's physiological virility, and thus her inherent homosexuality, the photograph gains a different dimension in Döblin's text. It becomes an illustration for a general psychological constellation, an image of multiple levels of travesty in postwar gender relations. In the photograph taken before her marriage, Elli presents herself leading the idealized life of a man, the life of a soldier. The man she marries fought in World War I in the navy, but this former soldier turns out to be a broken man disturbed by the violence of the war and inclined to brutalize her. In return she kills him. The imagined life of a soldier clashes with its reality, and the violence practiced on a national level permeates the families. While Link wasn't killed in the war, he was certainly killed by its continuation at home.

As in the case of Willi Bende, whose sex is literally diseased, Döblin seems to tie the violence and sadism of the war veteran Link to a specific fragility of masculinity. In his notes to the unpublished essay "Civilization and Culture," Döblin mentions the blurring of gender distinctions by "masculinization" in the context of imperialism and nationalism. Two Girlfriends Commit Murder makes the argument that a masculinization of the social sphere led to a barely administered mode of pent-up violence that is ready to break out in the individual as well as in the social order.

The profile of war neurosis that Döblin and Simmel conceived in the early 1920s incorporated the socialist political discourse that both subscribed to at the time in its critique of the alienating conditions and lack of education among the working class. However, the two men also critiqued radical political activism as a potentially dangerous outlet of psychopathology, and this critique is featured in Two Girlfriends Commit Murder. Ironically, Link is-as his name suggests-a radical leftist himself. But his political aspirations are presented as a flight from his private problems, rather than as an enlightening or liberating activity. When things become tumultuous at home, he runs off to political assemblies in bars, where he fills himself with alcohol and "radical political ideas." Shortly before Link dies from an arsenic overdose, Grete scoffs at his political affiliation as a communist: "Soon, if everything starts punctually, the magnificent celebration begins, and Mr. Communist marches out of this world." This quote suggests that for the women it did not matter which country or ideology Link marched for. Structural violence and militarism affected the very circles whose ideology stood in opposition to war. With the figure of Link, Döblin criticized what he perceived to be "the dictatorial wing of the workers," which by 1930 he deemed militaristic, authoritarian, and ultimately too dogmatic: "Nowhere can the terrible effect and rigid domination of the centralistic tendency be seen as well as here, where the masses think like socialists, but they are led against the capitalist class in a single-minded fashion, which forces them into a warring spirit and an organizational mold, and they can't help but become armies."

Instead of offering an enlightened way out, radical leftist politics can perpetuate the warlike state of the proletarian soul. Link becomes the poster boy for what Simmel and Döblin described as a postwar psychology of excess and moral deterioration, which can infuse even the noblest cause. While Simmel described the unleashing of the unconscious in terms of a primal energy, Döblin lent it a demonic quality: Link is driven by a terrible, rejected, disappointed, ravaging ghost. In connecting this specific psychological constellation with the image of the undead, which could perpetually return (and which connects to other images of the undead in Weimar Republic culture, such as in Robert Wiene's film Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari), Döblin emphasized that the situation was beyond control. In Two Girlfriends Commit Murder, the marriages of the Links and Bendes became prime examples of the ways in which the war haunted the private sphere and rendered it neurotic and perverse.

While Simmel certainly influenced Döblin, I argue that Döblin also influenced Simmel. The imagery that Döblin deployed in Two Girlfriends Commit Murder reemerged in Simmel's later work on war neurosis. During his exile in Hollywood, and influenced by World War II, Simmel returned to the topic of war neurosis and elaborated on his theory by drawing on the concept of the ego that Freud had been developing since the early 1920s. Simmel described the state of mind preceding neurosis as the "military ego." The soldier's superego was weakened and had been externalized: the superiors came to function as the superego. At the moment the superiors mistreated the soldier, he had to come to terms with betrayal, which was experienced as a betrayal within himself. The soldier fought not only for his nation and for his physical survival but also for the survival of his soul. The ego became a battlefield.

The Sound of War in Döblin's Berlin Alexanderplatz

In 1927, Simmel argued for the necessity of closed psychoanalytic clinics such as Schloß Tegel, since a neurotic patient always represented just one link in a larger chain of collective neurosis, consisting of his family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues. While individual psychoanalytic treatment could at times heal the whole "life circle" of the pati