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Germania: In Wayward Pursuit of the Germans and Their History

3.4  ·  Rating details ·  1,078 Ratings  ·  167 Reviews
A unique exploration of German culture, from sausage advertisements to Wagner

Sitting on a bench at a communal table in a restaurant in Regensburg, his plate loaded with disturbing amounts of bratwurst and sauerkraut made golden by candlelight shining through a massive glass of beer, Simon Winder was happily swinging his legs when a couple from Rottweil politely but awkward
...more
Hardcover, 480 pages
Published March 16th 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 2010)
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Steve Kettmann
A disappointing effort, overall. Here is my review for the San Francisco Chronicle:

Germania
In Wayward Pursuit of the Germans and Their History
By Simon Winder
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 454 pages; $25)

At first glance one assumes that Simon Winder has in mind with "Germania" something like an updating of the late great Gordon Craig of Stanford's "The Germans," a classic study by the onetime dean of American historians of Germany. Actually, not at all.

Winder, who "works in publishing" in Britain,
...more
Maia
Sep 16, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I have so many issues with this book that I don't know where to begin--but I'm glad I didn't buy it, only borrowed it.

First off, let me say that as someone brought up by a historian dad who's always had an intense interest in Germany (though he himself is Italian) I found the lack of historical accurateness or academia here quite baffling--even non-historians writing historical books usually tend to rely on history! Also, as someone now married to a German and for the past 2 years living in Germ
...more
Mark
Oct 22, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, travelogue
One of the things I love about this website is the fact that you encounter all sorts of genres and books you may never have encountered before and titles which endear, charm or intrigue...yep Dan, you know who you are. Then there is that encounter with the opinions through reading others reviews of books you have read or are in the process of reading and this is often a wonder too as you read someone who has encountered the book and experienced it in a quite different way and it perhaps enables ...more
Dan Sumption
So many reviewers of this book get caught up with the fact that the author claims not to be able to speak German. OF COURSE HE CAN SPEAK GERMAN, albeit not as well as he would like to, he is just being terribly, _terribly_ British about it.

This is a very quirky, very personal, utterly British, history of and travel guide to Germany. And I loved it. It's full of fascinating information, and endearing prejudices: I chuckled at his repeated Basil Fawlty-like assurances that he is not, under any cir
...more
Megan
Aug 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
The thesis of this book is that the Nazis manipulated and warped German traditions and culture in a way that has obscured the centuries that preceded them. Moreover, the horrors of that outrageous time command an inordinate amount of attention in history because of their outrageousness and world-altering effects. Therefore, it takes concentrated effort to engage with the rich but somewhat neglected history (at least within popular, mainstream history) of Central Europe from the time of the fall ...more
David Cheshire
Dec 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
On one level this is an amusing travel book around the Germany of the scores of tiny medieval city-states whose dottiness charm and fascinate the author; the reader must simply follow on behind in awe of his weird and obsessive learning. But there are also some mind-blowing bits of more modern historical insight. Building an insignificant naval base in the 1850's but then calling it 'Wilhelmshaven' left the nationalistic Germans with no choice but to build a navy to go in it; hence followed Angl ...more
James (JD) Dittes
I admit that I'm a sucker for "subjective" history books--as long as they're not about my own country. Winder is very opinionated--particularly about German food and just about every Land north of Hesse--yet he brings such insights into art, history and architecture that the reader cannot help but learn more about German history. One admirable trait of this book is its effort to describe the lunacy and interelations of the hundreds of German kingdoms and duchies that made up the Holy 'Roman Empi ...more
David Bales
May 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2010
Very interesting, funny, poignant and brilliant book on German history, from the Dark Ages to 1933; Winder is a British "Germano-phile", which is actually kind of rare. He journeys all over the sprawling, central European mass of Germania, a region not fixed onto the boundaries of the modern country and explores the great figures of German history, like Charlemagne, who was mostly French, or Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor who was kind of, well, Belgian, if such a thing really existed. He looks in ...more
Marijan
Mar 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Danubia A Personal History of Habsburg Europe by Simon Winder Was a little better. Anyway, i understend why some people were disappointed in this book. because they had expectattions. if you approach it without expectations, you'll be amused and be given an opportunity to learn quite a bit. But if you expect a classical history< book, or a travelogue, of course you'll be disappointed.
This book is a german history from a personal point of view. All the mediaeval burghs, over-ambitious cathedrals, little versailles(es?), all the funny little states, all
...more
David Dinaburg
Apr 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
I will occasionally take a Saturday afternoon to walk the twenty-odd blocks to Times Square and let the crowd subsume me; it is a useful diagnostic in determining the half-life remaining of one’s tenure in Manhattan. Once you cannot maintain a feeling of Zen after purposefully thrusting yourself into the heart of the beast, it might be time to start seriously inquiring about sedans and suburban property values.

It’s mostly awful in Times Square: oozing with tourists, their heads buried in maps;
...more
Paul
Germany. The industrial and economic behemoth of the modern Europe. But it hasn’t always been that way. In this book Winder takes us way back into Germanys past, as far as the Romans even, before bringing up to the relatively modern age. The Germany of this age was a frontier of the Roman empire, similar to the far north of England; over the line were the barbarians. There is still architecture from those days too, that has survived countless wars and skirmishes.

Until relatively recently, 1871 i
...more
Robert Morris
Dec 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I love this guy's work. Germania is a weird mix between hilarious travel writing and serious history, though Winder would deny the second bit. He describes his experiences, and in the process provides a very digestible, kind of chronological history of the German people and the many little states that eventually ended up as two.

One of his contentions is that German history and travel has become a weird dead zone due to the hangover from World War II. The complexity and geographical spread of wo
...more
Alex
Jul 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent book which teaches a lot while keeping a light-heatred, humouristic style and approach. Through anecdotes and personal experience, Simon Winder gives us an in-depth analysis of the course of German history - or should I say the history of the region of modern Germany, Austria, Poland, Hungary... and all the rest of Central and Eastern Europe which got involved in the successive empires. The book not only replaces Germany in its rightful cultural and historical context, but it also a ...more
Ren
Feb 19, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I expected a humorous portrayal of modern Germany alongside historical context, but when a sense of humor appeared it was more weird and offensive than anything, like in one instance the author wrote that unattractive people spend a lot of time looking at maps. Maybe a stereotype I've so far never encountered? (Or just personal bias because I consider myself not unattractive and also interested in maps, but there are plenty of other occasions when he makes sweeping and seemingly random generaliz ...more
Diane Duane
Oct 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing
A fabulous read. One of those books you keep reading bits from to other people. Winder is insanely peripatetic and hopelessly in love with his subject.
Adam
Jun 23, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: germany
Genug ist genug!

I have reached page 98 of this, often puerile, disorganised ramble through Germany and its history, and I will go no further.

Rebecca
Sep 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
If you're looking for a coherent narrative of German history...go read A Traveller's History of Germany. We'll wait. Then come back. Because this is impossible to follow without a preexisting knowledge of German history, but way more fun. (Do you not particularly care about following what's going on, and you're just in for the snarky asides? Don't worry about it, dive right in.) One extremely biased take on bits of German history by a slightly daft and dotty Englishman who would like to pen a mo ...more
Nick
Apr 12, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Quite a few times I laughed out loud. I learned a good deal. I felt the warmth of a long and wistful love affair between an author and a nation. But it was ultimately self-indulgent. For the first half, it seemed unsettled, undecided: was it history, guide book, vignette, or travelogue? Only in the final chapters did it resolve a purpose; putting aside the well-travelled rise of Nazism and shallow Wagnerian tropes to give a different prism to explore modern Germany's roots. For a book written by ...more
LiB
Apr 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
I've recently moved to Germany, and wanted to read some German history that was not about Nazis or the Cold War. In one sense this book failed - this book is often, if indirectly, about the Third Reich, the way the Nazis misused previous German history, the way that it overpowers previous events so that everything is read as leading to fascism or tragically failing to stop it.

It took me a while to get into it. Its a combination of travelogue/history - the author starts each section with a descr
...more
Lisa
Mar 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Right from the beginning, Simon Winder acknowledges the elephant that’s in the room of any history of Germany: “Germany is shunned for a very good reason — the enormity of its actions is part of the last century.”
But he immediately follows that with a reason for writing about Germany regardless:
“I want to get round the Fuhrer and try to reclaim a bit of Europe which is in many ways Britain’s weird twin, and which for almost all of its history has been no less attractive and no more or less admir
...more
Janice  Durante
Feb 08, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, travel
I've often thought it unfortunate that so many people refuse to consider visiting Germany. Simon Winder's lively, quirky valentine to the country could change a few people's minds -- if only they'd give him a chance. I know what you're thinking: The food's bad, the climate's so-so, the language impossible, the history dark. Yes, there's some truth in all of that, but ... there's so much more. For those of us who love to wander medieval lanes, enter ancient castles, and experience another culture ...more
Lyn Elliott
Sep 10, 2014 rated it liked it
This would have been so much more satisfying if Winder had been able to resist what he calls 'Anecdotal facetiousness' which takes off into manic self-indulgence from time to time. He's clearly aware of this, as he tells us quite often that he's gone too far in a spiral of speculation and needs to get back to the subject in hand. He leaps into silly value statements that sound as though he just hasn't taken the time to think of an accurate descriptor. For example he calls Hitler, among others, ' ...more
Terra
I originally bought this book for my little sister (who speaks and studies German) while in Berlin, but after snickering profusely at the first few pages I glanced through, I ended up reading the thing. It's filled with an exceedingly British brand of snarktastic humor that appeals to me (in books, at least). I don't know exactly how much I learned from it in terms of actual facts, though I suspect various pieces of information about German history stealthily sneaked into my brain as I read. Mos ...more
Rob
Aug 22, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I appreciate the need to bring unfamiliar material to a new audience and judging by the way Germania has been marketed, Winder has done us all a service by charting a German history that reintroduces us all to Frederick the Great, the Roman city of Trier, Thomas Mann, marzipan and the Thirty Years War - our memories having been clouded by twentieth century totalitarian regimes from Right and Left.

But I would have appreciated a less frivolous account. Too often, Winder lapses into Henry Blofeld
...more
Nick
I quite liked this, and think the mixed nature of reviews here have to do with the highly charged subject matter. The SF chronicle review rightly notes the unorthodox nature of Winder's theory that WWI would have been better with the UK remaining neutral and a German victory. But overall I think the thesis holds up -- that German history is not like that of the other Western European powers, but rather a tangled and mostly forgotten linchpin for the chaotic character of European history, from Ro ...more
Jarvo
Apr 07, 2014 rated it liked it
Historically informed travel writing - where people talk about places they've visited and tell you about their history - is one of my favourite genres, and this is what I hoped I'd be getting here. Instead I got a reverse of sorts, a history of Germany informed by countless visits to its highways and byways. I did come away with a clear sense that there are places I'd love to visit - Ravensburg and Bamberg, for example - but found the history just a bit too casual for my liking. Also although th ...more
Suzanne
Aug 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: german-theme
This is one of those books that you're sad to finish because it was so much fun to read--an amazing thing to say about a history book! But the author has a tongue-in-cheek approach to a serious history. He sets the tone early when he talks about his first trip to a German town when he was a child, when he and his sisters were "wandering through the streets yelling 'Dummkopf' and 'Achtung' at each other and whistling the "Great Escape" music in a way that probably didn't promote post-war healing. ...more
Franz
Jan 24, 2013 rated it did not like it
I had high hopes for this book that were cruelly dashed. After almost almost half way through this book, I gave up on it. The author is far too self absorbed and genuine insights too rare, and for someone who spends a fair amount of time in a foreign country, Winders willful refusal to learn the language and willingness to engage in superficial stereotypes of the most insulting sort made me leave the book to gather dust for several months. Perhaps he meant the book as a satire and I don't get th ...more
Katie D'Angelo
I found this book pretty interesting but a bit difficult to read. It tends to wander from topic to topic but by the end I was left thinking about some interesting facts about Germany and it's history that I did not know before. It's an entertaining read, albeit a big long, and I find that I now want to go back to visit some other cities in Germany that I previously have not been to. Do not read this looking for a historic account of Germany's history, read it more for learning a bit of German hi ...more
Ryan Mccormick
Oct 02, 2015 rated it liked it
This book is a very light hearted and whimsical look at German history. This leads to absolutely hilarious scenes, such as when he describes the worst parts of German food (with the constant irony of his Britishness hanging over him). For some parts of the book I was laughing uncontrollably. However, his descriptions of history are often long-winded, boring, and often inaccurate which is frustrating as there really is a lot of quality writing present. This book could have been phenomenal as a co ...more
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SIMON WINDER has spent far too much time in Germany, denying himself a lot of sunshine and fresh fruit just to write this book. He is the author of the highly praised The Man Who Saved Britain (FSG, 2006) and works in publishing in London.
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“It is possible to get too hung up about this point. In, for example, the genealogical multiple pile-up of Swabia with almost every hill under its own prince, it is possible to imagine a feudal version of Jorge Luis Borges’ infinite library, a world of so many hundreds of rulers that every variation of behaviour is possible, or indeed certain, in any given moment. So somewhere a ruler with a huge grey beard is dying surrounded by his weeping family and retainers; somewhere else a bored figure is irritably shooting bits off the plaster decorations in the ballroom; another is making an improper suggestion to a stable boy; another is telling an anecdote about fighting the Turks, staring into space, girding for battle, converting to Calvinism, wishing he had a just slightly bigger palace, and so on. This dizzying multiplicity makes each of hundreds of castles a frightening challenge – with the possibility of the guide making my head explode with the dizzying details of how the young duchess had been walled up in a tower for being caught in a non-spiritual context with her confessor and how as a result the Strelitz-Nortibitz inheritance had passed, unexpectedly, to a cousin resident in Livonia who, on his way home to claim the dukedom, died of plague in a tavern near Rothenberg thus activating the claim of the very odd dowager’s niece, long resident in a convent outside Bamberg. But it is probably time to move on.” 0 likes
“It would be interesting to know, for example, at what point it became decisively clear to everyone concerned that unicorn horns were in fact narwhal’s tusks – a knowledge long available only to a handful of Norwegians and Shetlanders, who may well not have been asked. Was there an awkward silence when these prized objects (very rarely washed up on far northern Atlantic coasts) ceased to be magical, or just a polite agreement to pay no attention to such ideas? They would have been part of the general, encroaching battle to continue enjoying traditional medicine, magic and astrology in the face of ever more plausible scientific scorn. A” 0 likes
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