The portfolio Berliner Reise is Beckmann's second series of large lithographs after Die Hölle, published in 1919. Like Hölle, it is a journey into the abyss, an essay on the depravity and misery of the big city in the years after the first World War.
Morally, so Beckmann remarked in a letter to Reinhard Piper in 1922, the two series belong together. Like Hölle and Jahrmarkt (see previous lot) this series also begins with a self-portrait. The following plates are conceived as pairs, whereby one plate, illustrating the leasurely pastimes of a decadent, disillusioned and hypocritical bourgeoisie, is confronted with another, depicting the struggles and vulgar amusements of the urban poor. The final plate, as a companion piece to the first one, is a disguised portrait of the artist as a chimney sweep. The sun rises as he stands on a rooftop overlooking the city - an unlikely, yet powerful image of hope.
Complete sets of Berliner Reise 1922 have become very rare: only five sets have been offered at auction in the last 25 years and none has been on the market since 1993.