Posted by isargood on Friday, July 22, 2011

Books about Germany in English

Germania. Simon Winder. Picador 2010

When I came to Germany I didn’t really know much about the place. I arrived in Munich very ill informed about the country I was moving to, either historically or culturally. While I think a school history lesson or two may have been devoted to Bismark and unification, really I had nothing to go on beyond this and of course, the huge number of war movies I have watched. Luckily my clever girlfriend has slipped a copy of the newly published ‘Germania’ into my case as I was packing.

I read it avidly, got to the end and read it right through again. This did have something to do with my limited selection of English reading material at the time, but it was also down to the enjoyable and informative nature of this book that takes you right through Germany, both historically and geographically.

The book tells the whole European story through the episodes of bit part towns and kingdoms. Subtitled ‘A personal history of Germans Ancient and Modern’, the history lesson is interspersed with anecdotes about the author visiting the towns where it all happened. And you can’t fault him for research, he really has been to every little town and former kingdom in Germany.

One of the best things about the book, is that it is not about modern Germany. It is the story of what Germany was in the middles ages and early modern periods, and how that still determines its character today. The author is very aware of this and his constant reminders not to approach German history with a ‘where did it all go wrong’ mindset, do get a bit irritating. He is clearly gagging to relate the fragments of pre-modern history he describes, to the apocalyptically fascinating events of more recent times.

Still, it is in conveying what Germany is about, beyond the recently formed stereotypes, where the book is very successful. It wets the appetite for travelling within Germany and visiting some of the odd little towns or ex-kingdoms. Places that all have their own quirky rather than necessarily glamorous histories. Admittedly there might be some disappointment, as I doubt many can muster the nerdy wonder with which the author manages to enjoy endless collections of cribs, gemmed up sea shells and other trinkets that seem to be standard schloss/town museum fare….still


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