Simon Winder


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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 awkwardly asked: “So: why are you here?”
This book is an attempt to answer that question. Why spend time wandering around a country that remains a sort of dead zone for many foreigners, surrounded as it is by a force field of historical, linguistic, climatic, and gastronomic barriers? Winder’s book is propelled by a wish to reclaim the brilliant, chaotic, endlessly varied German civilization that the Nazis buried and ruined, and that, since 1945, so many Germans have worked to rebuild.
Germania is a very funny book on serious topics—how we are misled by history, how we twist history, and how sometimes it is best to know no history at all. It is a book full of curiosities: odd food, castles, mad princes, fairy tales, and horse-mating videos. It is about the limits of language, the meaning of culture, and the pleasure of townscape.
From BooklistGermany 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. --Jay Freeman
ReviewPraise for Germania
“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
“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.” —Evening Standard

“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
“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 pl…
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