Water and oil: cultural encounters between Russians and Germans in early 1920s Berlin

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


During the years 1921-24, Berlin stands out as the epicentre of Russian creativity where most of the artistic and literary forces of pre-revolutionary Russia had gathered and established for themselves a space of communication outside Russia. Journalism culture emerged as the most vivid tool of this communication. Its purpose extended far beyond using the situation of exile to criticize the new soviet regime; rather it enabled the émigré communities in Berlin to stay in touch with their fellow countrymen scattered around Europe. Following the collapse of book production in Russia, émigré communication networks, especially journal and book publishing enterprises, also helped the new soviet elites to accommodate the new requirements for literary products. From being offered to a small elitist group, the intelligentsia, literary products now had to serve a mass audience thirsting for education. Despite the deep ideological antagonisms between the various groups of Russians staying in Berlin at the time, intellectual exchange took precedence over political recriminations, and their encounter led to an enormously fruitful period of cultural production.
The outsourcing of cultural assets to the German capital brought about an international Russian culture that transcended both soviet and émigré activities and, over a short period, developed a division of labour between both camps. Yet, Russian activities were not limited to the Russian Diaspora; they also transformed local neighbourhoods in Berlin, as many Russian agents used the German capital as a platform to disseminate their manifestos to German and international audiences. The following paper explores the mechanisms of this dissemination; it challenges the conventional image of Russian Berlin as a microcosm and aims to modify the characterization of the relationship between Russian Diaspora communities and their surrounding neighbourhoods in Berlin, which at least one commentator described as separate as “Water and Oil”.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPromised lands, transformed neighbourhoods and other spaces
Subtitle of host publicationmigration and the art of display, 1920-1950
EditorsSusanne Marten-Finnis, Michael Nagel, Malgorzata Maksymiak
Place of PublicationBremen
PublisherLumière Edition
Number of pages24
EditionThe European Jewish Press. Studies in History and Language
ISBN (Print)978-3-943245-49-3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2015


  • Promised Lands


Dive into the research topics of 'Water and oil: cultural encounters between Russians and Germans in early 1920s Berlin'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this