Author provides fascinating, humorous history of Germany

Travel was one of my favorite hobbies. Mexico was a fine country for spending a thrifty winter’s holiday. I must be getting old: I’m now reluctant to go there.

Europe was another lovely destination. I am fascinated by France, intrigued by Italy and completely baffled by Germany. The German language is an utter mystery to me. I have always wanted to have a better understanding of the German people. They seemed different from other Europeans — more efficient, rather serious.

Fortunately, books let me travel the globe without leaving the cocoon of my recliner. I found a book that enhances my understanding of Germany and the German people — “Germania: In Wayward Pursuit of the Germans and Their History,” by Simon Winder, is part travelogue, part history lesson.

The author is English, and he has made many trips to Germany. He describes his intent: “It is an attempt to tell the story of the Germans from their notional origins in the sort of forests enjoyed by gnomes and heroes and ending at the time of Hitler’s seizure of power.”

Winder has a humorous writing style. He takes us to places far from the beaten path. Some punishing German food beckons. He describes “guests greedily tucking into blocks of lard on black bread.” But he insists that if you know where to look that “Germany does do some great food.”

The modern Germany of today is a fairly recent development if you go back through history. Winder makes the point that the very idea of being a German is a somewhat recent concept since there really wasn’t a unified German state until the 19th century.

Winder takes us over an arc of history. We learn about the rulers, the wars, the famines, the plagues, the revolts, and the reformations that shaped the region we call Germany. We realize how those forces have shaped this land, leaving remnants of former times scattered across the terrain; some ancient walls, cathedrals, statues, ruins.

He takes particular delight in visiting obscure museums. In one he finds “a board game from the early 1940s called Bomb England.” For a moment he considers “the issues involved in stealing Bomb England: it would give much more pleasure in use than trapped in a desiccated museum, objects are designed for use not exhibition, conceivably I had some rights as a representative of a victor power, and so on.”

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Story by Vick Mickunas

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