1913: The Year Before the Storm by Florian Illies

1913 The Year Before the Storm

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This is the month when Hitler and Stalin meet while strolling in the Castle Park at Schönbrunn, Thomas Mann nearly gets outed and Franz Kafka nearly goes mad with love.

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The stuffy conventions of the nineteenth century are receding into the past, and 1913 heralds a new age of unlimited possibility. Kafka falls in love; Louis Armstrong learns to play the trumpet; a young seamstress called Coco Chanel opens her first boutique; Charlie Chaplin signs his first movie contract; and new drugs like cocaine usher in an age of decadence.

Yet everywhere there is the premonition of ruin – the number 13 is omnipresent, and in London, Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Trieste, artists take the omen and act as if there were no tomorrow, their brief coincidences of existence telling of a darker future. In a Munich hotel lobby, Rilke and Freud discuss beauty and transience; Proust sets out in search of lost time; and while Stravinsky celebrates the Rite of Spring with industrial cacophony, in Munich an Austrian postcard painter by the name of Adolf Hitler sells his conventional cityscapes.

Told with Illies’s characteristic mixture of poignant evocation and laconic irony, 1913 is the story of the year that shaped the last century.

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