Before I travel somewhere (or move there!), I like to get myself in the mood, atmospherically. This may seem excessive to some, but I read a lot, so transitioning my reading list to focus more on where I’m going adds a lot to my trip.
I have a few history books in my list, but not guidebooks. This is all about getting the feel for a place.
Imagine Reader’s Digest-type stories from the early 19th century, but all centred on the southwest corner of Germany. The Treasure Chest is a collection of Hebel’s fables originally written to accompany a Lutheran calendar sold in the region. Some are funny, some are clearly meant to impart a moral, and some are just ridiculous, but it’s an easy read that brings to life some of these Black Forest villages you see out the train window.
This is a very personal story of East Germany, and how different family members managed their relationship to the state. The author digs back in his own family’s history to pull apart the narratives of his socialist hero grandfather, his journalist mother, and his artist father. It’s the first book I’ve read that really conveys the feeling of building a new world that infused the early days of the GDR after the war, and it’s fascinating to watch it go to pieces through the prism of these small stories.
You’re going to Germany, you have to read some Goethe. I kind of love Young Werther for all its moping around, hand-on-forehead draping moodiness. The landscape descriptions are lovely, and give you a real sense of the pastoral scenes Germans of the 18th century were so enamoured with. Goethe loved the ruins of my local schloss in Heidelberg, so I admit I have a fondness for him no matter what.
Now I recommend Flashman books with a very huge caveat, which is that while they are enjoyable to a certain extent, the average woman’s role in these books is terrible. Fraser wrote the screenplay for Octopussy, so that should give you an idea of what I’m trying to get at. However, this one covers Flashman’s mixup with Bismarck and delves into some interesting North German and Danish history.
This rambling sort-of history is a good overview of the different regions in Germany, and some of the history that makes the country what it is today. I found the author’s occasionally smug, self-important Britishness a bit much sometimes, but he is quite funny. It’s clear, particularly by the end of the book, that he has a great fondness for the country.
This one is a great for kids coming along on a German adventure. The Brothers Grimm collected folklore in the early 19th century, and grew up in southwestern Germany. They were influenced by Johann Peter Hebel’s stories, and you can see the parallels in their description of little villages, naughty cobblers, recalcitrant blacksmiths, and so on.
I’ve made you a lovely image, so you can pin this post for later.
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