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Germania: In Wayward Pursuit of the Germans and Their History

3.47  ·  Rating details ·  1,620 ratings  ·  233 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
Hardcover, 480 pages
Published March 16th 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published January 1st 2010)
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Steve Kettmann
A disappointing effort, overall. Here is my review for the San Francisco Chronicle:

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,
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
Oct 22, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travelogue, history
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
Oct 10, 2020 rated it did not like it
The author starts out with some mildly funny humor, describing his first visit to Germany as a kid:

An afternoon in Baden-Baden, the nearest German town, was another. My parents had never been to Germany before and were patently uneasy with the whole idea, not helped by my sisters and I 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.

Another interesting take was the impact
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
Jul 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm a real fan of the author after reading Danubia: A Personal History of Habsburg Europe. His quirky, self-deprecating sense of humor is one you'll either love or hate; audio narration is an outstanding fit. ...more
David Corleto-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
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
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 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
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;
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
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
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
Marijan Šiško
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
Jul 09, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: germany, 2018
An interesting read. It's about the author personal relationship with Germany, not a story of Germany like I initially thought. This book touches on some aspects of Germany's history but it requires you to know the facts beforehand.
You can tell the author is very enthusiastic about all things German, sometimes even to a fault, the book seems dedicated to tidbits of German history, places and people that don't amount to much in the big picture. There's interesting stuff but also some that seems d
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
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
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
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
Duncan Howsley
Jan 08, 2020 rated it did not like it
I bought this book a year or two ago and had been excited to read it (and its partner Danubia) on my next trip to Germany and Austria. Disappointingly I found this almost unreadable - Winder spends so much time demonstrating the extent of his knowledge of Northern European minutiae and searching for scathing remarks that he doesn’t craft a logical narrative. The book jumps around in a seemingly random manner, reading more like a disconnected collection of trying-too-hard-to-be-funny articles tha ...more
Jan 23, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Not history

This was billed as a historical account of central Germany. It is not. It's more like a travel essay by someone who is trying very hard to be witty and failing. It assumes you already have a deep knowledge of German culture and makes many 'jokes' that the average reader will not get. I gave up after about 100 pages. This was just awful, I really can't say who would be the target audience.
Jul 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is brilliant, a combination of travel writing and history of the German world. Anyone with an interest in central European history or travel must read this, as should fans of Bill Bryson. Absolutely packed with wonderful little details from the German world, just great.
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.
Dec 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Simon Winder is a writer who works in publishing. He is perhaps best known, at least to me, as the author of a trilogy of books that mix history and personal experiences in covering Central Europe. Germania is the first book of the trilogy. I ended up reading the trilogy in reverse - first Lotharingia, then Danubia, and finally Germania. He knows a lot of history and has a lot to say about it. His writing is clever and funny. These are not travel books, in the sense of the travel genre, but they ...more
Jun 20, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a concept I've been complaining about for years, that of history mostly forgetting Germany's contributions to world culture prior to 1939 (or even 1914, if you wish). The 20th Century viewed Germany as Europe's bully, a point which the author acknowledges, but this book sets out to give Germany its soul back.

What I really enjoyed about it was the general sense of meandering through the history of Germany, which gives a real, raw picture of the general overall messiness of European histor
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 b ...more
Jun 23, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

I felt this was more a book about Simon Winder than about Germany. He clearly loves many aspects of German culture and cleverly weaves this into his history of the nation. I wasn't so sure that he actually loves Germany, certainly he is very critical of much of what if offers to visitors. I felt it was quite a self-indulgent book, a coherent historical narrative is always secondary to him showing off about the obscure places he has visited and the esoteric culture he has experienced.
Patricia Roberts-Miller
I love this book. Beautifully written, smart, fun.
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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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24 likes · 3 comments
“Indeed, a parallel history of Europe could be written which viewed family life and regular work as the essential Continental motor of civilization. Then war and revolution would need to be seen by historians as startling, sick departures from that norm of a kind that require serious explanation, rather than viewing periods of gentle introversy as mere tiresome interludes before the next thrill-packed bloodbath.” 2 likes
“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.” 1 likes
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