am 3. Juli 2012
I'm an expat that got a job in Germany and so I wanted to read up on this country that is now my home... sadly, I picked this garbage. It is written by a Brit, which means Germany was compared to "glorious" England the whole time. You can guess which one is shown in a better light.
The reviewers said this book was "witty", "funny", and even "hysterical". Who in their right minds would think this is funny? It's nowhere near funny! His attempts at wit are basically saying things that amount to, "Look how Germany screwed up in the past - stupid Germans, should've been British." Then explains how Britain did it differently.
He is also relentlessly cynical and negative. He always starts off his sections talking about a wonderful aspect of German culture and then finishes it with a rolling-of-the-eyes remark or a quip of how lame that aspect ACTUALLY is. I truly don't understand how this author lives in Germany and is able to survive with it's failings. My advice to Mr. Winder... move back to Britain.
am 30. Januar 2013
Why does Mr Winder write a book about Germany if he quite obviously dislikes it so much? He mentions his love of everything Italian. Well, write a book about Italy then. I would recommend learning the language first though. To write a book about a country, without understanding the language is really not worth the bother, if you' re just going to repeat what you read in some history books and the leaflets that are available in English. Britain is a wonderful country, why not write books about Britain, Mr Winder?
am 21. Dezember 2011
Germany is a complex country, the name itself only came to mean what it means on a map today not even 200 years ago. German culture is a complex jig-saw of various and extremely varied regional cultures. German history is just as deep and complicated to learn for the outsider. What Simon Winder attempts here is a colossal enterprise: resume more than 2000 years of history, give the reader insights into the diversity of what is "German", and at the same time, keep it entertaining enough. I personally think I did this with success: I am myself a big fan of Germany and this book gave me a really good overview of the history, bits of it I had never heard of. I like the "travel diary" style of it sometimes: " as I was going through this city", " as I stopped into this museum..." It gives you an alternative view to guide books, history books, and general text books on this beautiful countries. However, I would say the reader needs to be already familiar with Germany in order to see with an objective eye the comments of the author. For instance, he is quite virulent against Ludwig II of Bavaria and his very famous castle of Neuschwanstein, calling it something of an architectural atrocity... Well, having been to Bavaria many times and seen the above mentioned castle with my own eyes, I am forced to - quite strongly -disagree with Mr Winder. Of course everyone will have to build their own opinion of what they read and see, but I find the author expresses his own a bit too strongly sometimes.
Apart from this, and a few passages which lacked a certain dynamism in the narrative flow, this book ranks among my favourites and I have added many "to do"s and "to see"s in Germany on my list of future travels. Danke, Herr Winder !
am 19. April 2010
Mr. Winder must be a very clever man indeed, for he has written a history of Germany without being able to read or speak a single word of German. He seems to have visited the country at least three times, and has read a few history books which he has paraphrased in his own humorous way. He believes Germans worry about the war all the time (they don't). He says, on the basis of his few visits, combined with the inability to read the menu, that German food is awful.
Amusing, yes. Superficial, very. Historical content, well-filled but one sided. Do not use as a guide to Germany.
am 2. Juni 2011
"Don't mention the war" nimmt sich der Autor in der Einführung vor, er will den Führer umgehen ("get round the Führer"), aber wie weiland Basil Faulty schafft er es nicht. In jedem Kapitel kommt er mindestens zwei Mal auf das Dritte Reich zu sprechen. Egal, wo er sich in Deutschland aufhält, findet und erwähnt er Hinweise auf Nazi-Deutschland. München ist nichts anderes als die Hauptstadt der Bewegung, in Ulm findet er Rommels Grab (was sonst?) und selbst Quedlinburg ist erwähnenswert als SS-Heiligtum.
Der Buchtitel und das Cover verrät schon eine ganze Menge: Germania war Hitlers Begriff für die Welthauptstadt als Synonym für den Gesamtbauplan der Reichshauptstadt. Der Schriftzug blättert ab, und darunter kommt die Farbe braun zum Vorschein - Deutschlands braune Vergangenheit ist überall!
Der Klappentext sagt , Germania sei "a very personal guide to the Germany that Simon Winder loves". Liebt Winder Deutschland? Der Eindruck entsteht nicht.
Er schreibt von "unedible food" - so, wie er die Restaurants beschreibt, in denen er gegessen hat, scheint er in den übelsten Touristen-Nepp-Spelunken gelandet zu sein - einmal die Rüdesheimer Drosselgasse rauf und runter. Genauso könnte man behaupten, die englische Küche habe nichts als fish and chips mit Essig, serviert in Zeitungspapier zu bieten.
Er beschreibt die Leute, die er in diesen Örtlichkeiten antrifft, wie Außerirdische, die man mit einem gewissen Ekel und aus einer sicheren Distanz heraus beobachtet.
Dass er sich auf seinen zahlreichen Deutschland-Reisen nie die Mühe gegeben hat, Land und Leute wirklich zu verstehen und kennen zu lernen, zeigt mir die Bemerkung, dass er in einer Schlange stand und auf den Bus wartete ("standing in a bus queue") - in Deutschland gibt es keine "bus queues"!
Alles in allem erscheint mir Winders Sicht auf Deutschland wie die eines Kolonialherren aus dem 19. Jahrhundert auf einen fremdländischen, merkwürdigen Stamm - überheblich und distanziert zu den Menschen (allerdings nicht zur Nazi-Vergangenheit), ohne echtes Verständnis.
am 23. August 2011
Let me lay my cards on the table: I'm neither German nor British but American, with an undergrad degree in German Lit. From my point of view, this book is less about Germany than about English attitudes to Germany, and if the reader approaches it with that in mind she may find it quite interesting and entertaining. The main thing is the author really likes Germany, and wants to explain his affection to other English speakers. If you find a sentence like (I paraphrase) "Small German towns are like potato chips in that there seems to be no discernible upper limit to how many may be enjoyably consumed" unbearably condescending and all around "schnoddrig" then this book isn't for you. There is a ceaseless patter of English cleverness that can be hard to take. (Do the English have to learn this manner to get into their universities, as in the The History Boys?) But beneath the compulsively chatty wit punctuated by swoops of overstated self-deprecation Mr. Winder has two serious aims. One is to undermine the standard tidy and linear approach to history, which he sees as fundamentally at odds with the fog of delusion, mixed motives, and general chaos in which reality actually unfolds. The other is to retrieve for English speakers an appreciation of pre-1933 German culture and civilization. Again, if this offends you, save your euros. You have to be willing to explore the extent to which the NS period colors and distorts non-German perceptions of Germany and Deutschtum, and this may be obnoxious to German readers, especially in the British-flippant voice. But there it is. Mr. Winder wants to convey how enjoyable Germany can be to people who do not see how "enjoyable" and "Germany" belong in the same sentence, and to call attention to how sad it is that the events of 1914-45 have caused English speakers to systematically undervalue everything German from German philosophers to German wine. Also, Mr. Winder endeared himself to me by his grief over the loss of Austria-Hungary. (By the way, from it an American point of view it is noteworthy how freely Mr. Winder is able to express his heartache and loss and grief. American male writers are as a rule unable to voice this range of emotion. Yet, oddly, we stereotype the British as emotionally repressed.) I found Prague almost unbearably sad, with its ethnic cleansing and re-cleansing; its restaurants with menus in four languages, none of them Czech; its "concerts" of Beethoven symphonies on four flutes and a kazoo. Yet I have never been able to explain this feeling to an American, most of whom find Prague "delightful." It is like requited love to find an English writer who can articulate this feeling. That said, Mr. Winder has some blind spots, most notably German food, which he doesn't like. This is bizarre. I am always astonished at the sheer competence of German chefs, who must be wonderfully well trained. Also German desserts are the best in the world, as is (to my taste) the German breakfast. The English breakfast is a thing of horror. Also, Mr. Winder is perhaps unfair to Munich, which he sees through the lens of the Hofbraeuhaus rather than, say, the Lenbachhaus or the Prinzregententheater. Still, I heartily recommend this book to German readers. It should be read as though standing out of sight and overhearing a conversation, not intended for your ears, but of which you are the subject. It may sting at times, but it is vastly informative, and --this is what redeems it--the speaker genuinely loves his Germany.
am 15. November 2010
Who is this guy? He does not speak German, might have been to Germany two or three times and definitely read many history books on Germany. In my view Germania is a bullshit bingo about sterotypes. Germany is the evil twin of the UK. A country too big to be ignored but without it the world wouldn`t miss much. Germany is a cold country with awful food, which is obsessed with the dark ages and a people that suffers from low self-esteem. I would not recommend it as a travel guide or preparation for a trip to Germany at all. I would higly recommend it to everyone who likes to have reassurance on his already negative attitude towards Germany. It comes not as a surprise that German critics praise this book since we always try to be helpful if some one has a laugh at our expense.
am 4. Januar 2012
This book is, to put it in words Mr. Winder himself might use, really really bad. His attempts at humor are weak, his style of writing 3 Klasse, his understanding of Germany and Germans is more of a misunderstanding. He claims to love this country, but the general tone of the book is one of antipathy. The book was a moderate success in England and one can understand why, they love dragging out the last war; Nazis and Hakenkreuze are still a guarantee for some sort of a hit on the island. Like Basil Fawlty, Mr. Winder says he wont mention the war, but for some reason he keeps bringing it up. I have no problem with this in principal, but either this is a 'history' of pre-1933 Germany or not. (Its not a history really anyway.) I could go on, as Mr. Winder does about Germany, listing the faults of this book, but it would be, as reading this book was, a waste of time.
am 16. März 2011
One of the wittiest Introductions I have ever read prepares us for a diverting and idiosyncratic book on the history of German-speaking lands from their earliest days to 1933. Don't expect a tidy narrative: this is more of an impressionist account, though, like an impressionist painting, consisting of many brilliant and highly coloured individual brush strokes. It is basically, but not always chronological; and it is interspersed with digressions and bits of autobiography which increase in length as the book proceeds. Winder is having fun: "fun" used as an adjective occurs frequently in the book, which is light-hearted, often hilarious, full of colloquialisms (the same ones recur rather frequently), discursive, never short of an opinion and indeed sometimes opinionated and over-the-top: he calls Weber's book on the Protestant Ethic "famously idiotic"; Napoleon III is rebuked for his "sheer childishness"; the word "mad" occurs with a somewhat maddening frequency; he describes the successor states of the Habsburg Empire as "a mass of poisonous micro-states". It is also quite serious, in many ways insightful, cultured, affectionate but also critical, and fantastically knowledgeable.
Winder has travelled all over the German lands, seems to have visited every municipal museum and found there many object worth an illuminating paragraph or two. He has a keen sense of the history of the towns and the countryside, and evokes what he has seen in wonderful passages, like this description of a church in Kuttenberg (now Kutna Hora):
"one of Central Europe's strangest pieces of architecture wobbles into view, as you walk towards the old town, like a very grey version of the Emerald City. The spires of St Barbara's Church are a set of vast witches' hats, seemingly floating free of any town or indeed any base."
(Now look at it on Google Images. Over and over again I was pleasurably and immensely slowed up in my reading by looking up on Google Images the many little-known architectural features, artefacts and paintings mentioned by Winder - and these show how good his descriptions are.)
Some themes stand out particularly well:
- The role the earliest centuries and the Middle Ages play in the imagination of the Germans in all sorts of ways; and how much medieval architecture remains in Germany;
- Why the Holy Roman Emperors, with no proper capital before 1533 when Vienna was declared the capital city of the Habsburgs, never managed to overcome the extraordinary fragmentation of Germany in the way in which the English and the French managed it many centuries earlier. There are delightful vignettes of the courts of tiny principalities, often presided over by dotty or self-indulgent rulers. Due to the frequent absence of primogeniture, many of them had hyphenated names, like Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg which provided the wife for Edward VII: the more hyphenated, the tinier they were. There were also at one time as many as "some 75" self-governing Free Cities. ("Bopfingen is a town whose name is on relatively few lips.") Then there were some 500 Imperial Knights, individuals subject only to the Emperor himself, all of whose lands added together (according to Wikipedia) came to only some 200 square miles.
- How weak Prussia was between the end of the reign of Frederick the Great in 1786 and Bismarck's Danish War of 1864. Winder asserts that "Frederick's actions DID NOT LEAD (his italics) to Bismarck's empire." Winder doesn't think much of Frederick's achievements, and his admiration is for Maria Theresa and her "adorable", "fun" husband, the Holy Roman Emperor Francis I.
- And after all the tomes that have been written about the Prussian - later German - armies, it is interesting to see Winder rather debunking their achievements "outside the delusive little seven year period [covering the Danish, Austrian and French wars between 1864 and 1871]". He also debunks the German navy. He lays into some conventional views about the run-up to and course of the First World War with a zest reminiscent of A.J.P.Taylor. He makes a case for saying that Germany between 1871 and 1914 was militarily less aggressive than Russia, Britain, France or Italy during the same period. He sees the French as the main trouble-makers in Europe from Louis XIV onwards. But then he had decided from the start that his book would "bale out" in 1933. (He does not completely manage that: reference to the Nazi period are dotted throughout the book.) He told us at the beginning that he wanted us to look at pre-1933 Germany free from the hostile mind-set which has been created by the two World Wars, and which had been quite absent from Britain for almost the whole of the 19th century. For him there was no German "Sonderweg": for him "Germany in 1914 had been a normal country, espousing much of the same racism, military posturing, and taste for ugly public buildings that bedevilled the rest of the Continent."
- Winder is most intrigued with the German lands when they are fragmented and different from one another, when they are quaint or have what strike him as quaint names. It is not surprising therefore to find his post-Napoleonic chapters, when Germany becomes gradually more homogenized, becoming steadily less "fun" and, from 1914 onwards, understandably somber; and then, in 1933, "anecdotal facetiousness has to get out of the way and simply stop."
There can be no reader, however knowledgeable, who can fail to learn something from this book, nor any who will not be pulled up frequently to reflect on what Winder says, whether in the end he agrees with him or not. And it is, to use one of his favourite adjectives, a fun book.
am 19. Mai 2011
I found the book to have carefully concocted Anti-Germanism all over it. I found it awful. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who decides to travel to Germany. Unless of course you enjoy to scorn at German culture and European culture as a whole.