Germania In Wayward Pursuit of the Germans and Their History

Simon Winder




Trade Paperback

480 Pages


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An investigation of how a society could be misled by, and how it could twist, past occurances, Germania examines Germany's history while embracing its culture. A book full of curiosities, including odd food, castles, mad princes, fairy tales, and strange videos, Germania is about the limits of language, the meaning of culture, and the pleasure of townscape. In this travels through Germany, Simon Winder tries to understand why foreigners spend time wandering around a country with such historical, linguistic, climatic, and gastronomic barriers. Ultimately, Winder’s book is propelled by a wish to reclaim the brilliant, chaotic and endlessly varied German civilization that the Nazis buried and ruined, and that, since 1945, so many Germans have worked to rebuild.




Praise for Germania

“Simon Winder has spent more than enough time in Germany to catch the bug, that virus that turns even innocent tourists into amateur anthropologists, desperate to figure out just how the Germans got that way . . . Winder has a severe case, but luckily, he's a smart, witty fellow with a knack for finding the threads that connect patches of the crazy quilt that is German history.”—Marc Fisher, The Washington Post

“This candid, cheerful and idiosyncratic approach to travelogue makes a refreshing change. Whether being stridently critical or puppyishly enthusiastic, Winder is a master of the well-turned phrase or the unexpected insight.”—The Times (London)

“Winder is perhaps the first to have succeeded in presenting Germany as no less fun that France or Italy and the Germans as a nation of eccentrics very like our own . . . He excels in a style that he self-deprecatingly calls ‘anecdotal facetiousness’ but which manages to convey copious quantities of facts in the most enjoyable way possible.”—The London Evening Standard
“A beautifully written and insightful book . . . It can only be hoped that it will be read by many and that it will be recognised for what it is: a witty, thought-provoking account of Germany’s various histories, cultures and oddities.”—The Irish Times
“Best to follow Winder on his rambles as you’d follow a favourite uncle who knows lots about lots of apparently random things . . . He is most engaging and sporadically wise . . . Winder’s mind is a very agreeable place to go rambling.”—The Scotsman

“This book is the chronicle of a ­passion. It is also an engrossing, informative and hilarious read. He has spun an enthralling weave of travelogue, anecdote and historical mock-epic. What is often most engaging about these encounters is the spectacle of Winder himself. It made me laugh so hard that I woke up my wife and had to give up reading the book in bed. If Bill Bryson had collaborated with W. G. Sebald to write a book about Germany, they might have wound up with something like this. Winder’s extravagant mixing of genres allows him to seek historical depth without sacrificing the pleasures of anecdote. There is a serious purpose behind all the playfulness.”—Christopher Clark, The Sunday Times (London)

“His rich and broadly chronological history of Germany and its peoples is minutely researched. Interspersed in the narrative, however, are the deliciously opinionated, often hilarious and occasionally vituperative reminiscences of the author’s many excursions to Germany and Austria. They make the book. The love-hate nature of his relationship with his subject brings out the best in his writing . . . It is the kind of knockabout humour that has British readers rolling while Germans smile politely but a little uncomprehendingly . . . A splendid offering.”—Hugh Mortimer, Financial Times (UK)

“Simon Winder peppers his meaty tome with quirky digressions, anecdotes and memories, revealing intriguing insights about Germany, from its cuisine to its architecture, people and history.”—ABTA Magazine

“Travelogue and historical narrative are merged in a gloriously free-wheeling narrative of the entire sweep of German history . . . This book is clearly not intended to be the last word on German history. But for any readers wanting a learned, entertaining and lucid introduction to a notoriously complex subject, it should certainly be their first.”—Seven Magazine, The Sunday Telegraph

“Entertaining and informative... Delightful”—Philip Hensher, The Independent

“Wonderful—very witty and highly entertaining, splendidly and amusingly opinionated, marvellously colourful in its descriptions of unusual places and little known people, and full of enjoyable insights into German history and culture.”—Ian Kershaw, author of Hitler: A Biography
“It’s plain that Winder’s mind is fizzing with interesting ideas. He can write beautifully, embodying a whole world in a phrase . . . He finds new angles on familiar subjects . . . His excitement is beguiling and infectious; he’s widely read, good-humoured and—a wonderful asset in writing this book—utterly lacking an axe to sharpen on the subject of the Second World War . . . There are many pleasures to be savoured in Germania . . . gems that make Winder’s clever, rambunctious work a book to treasure.” Miranda Seymour, Literary Review

“A cheerful, dryly unserious survey and travelogue through the landscape and psyche of Germany. British writer Winder (The Man Who Saved Britain: A Personal Journey into the Disturbing World of James Bond, 2006) slips as giddily into discussing the ravages of the Thirty Years' War as the awfulness of German cuisine, the pogroms that seized German towns in the wake of the Napoleonic wars as the family tree of the Hohenzollerns. The author works with a meandering, loose chronology, beginning with the fantasy of ancient Germania as ‘a land of forest and personal freedom’ and ending after World War II, when the incomparable richness of German history and achievement was ‘replaced with messianic infantilism.’ Winder explains that first visiting Strasbourg cathedral as a young teen awakened his awareness of ‘an aesthetic sense,’ and that he has been fascinated by Germany as Britain's ‘weird twin’ ever since. As a Brit, he has been inculcated in the horrors of German militarism, which since World War I essentially shuttered all intellectual and cultural curiosity about its golden prewar years, once ‘an intolerably poignant place’ depicted in Thomas Mann's early novels, now a ‘sort of dead zone.’ The author makes a dogged, gracious attempt to re-engage with what is remarkable about Germany, or at least interesting and moving, even in its grotesqueness—often in the manner of W.G. Sebald, whom Winder evidently reveres. In his travels, Winder has galloped across the countryside in search of the German echt and on the way stopped at every notable castle, cathedral, walled town and bulky monument from Aachen to Wittenberg . . . Charmingly illuminative . . . he offers an impressive discussion of the shattering effects of World War I, both on Germany and the world. A nimble and knowledgeable . . . cabinet of curiosities.”—Kirkus Reviews
"Germany has a culture that both fascinates and puzzles Winder, a Londoner. This broad and often whimsical portrayal of German history and culture is an apparent effort to express and perhaps understand those dual sentiments. Winder traces German history from the dim, mythological pre-Roman past in northern forests to the Nazi seizure of power in 1933. Although he utilizes a chronological narrative, his account is loaded with enjoyable digressions on German food, the charm of medieval castles, and German composers. Some of his historical points are instructive, including the fact that, for most of history, “Germany” was defined by language rather than geographical or religious unity, which he sees as fundamental in understanding the ferocity of German nationalism in the twentieth century. This is an enjoyable, often amusing, often serious effort to understand a people who remain at the center of European civilization."—Booklist

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Chapter One
From the land of gloomy forests
There can be few better times to think about the myths of the ancient origins of Germany than when listening to the second act Prelude to Siegfried. This scarcely manageable piece of music creates in some five minutes a trackless, choked, gloomy forest, menace (specifically a sleeping dragon) and a sense of waiting – the many years during which dwarves and gods have been drumming their fingers waiting for the great (if borderline silly) events at last to unfold.
It is hard to avoid a sense of irritation mixed with relief that non-Germans
Read the full excerpt



  • Germania - Simon Winder Talks About All Things German

    Author Simon Winder discusses his book, Germania, and his fascination with Teutonic culture.



  • Simon Winder

  • Simon Winder is the author of the highly praised The Man Who Saved Britain and works in publishing in London.

  • Simon Winder © Justine Stoddart