Meet our Germany experts: Simon Winder, author of Germania
Germania proved a surprise bestseller when it was published earlier this year. In a personal, idiosyncratic odyssey, Simon Winder teases out choice threads from the rich tapestry of German history and culture.
Where’s your spiritual home in Germany?
It would probably have to be Bamberg – a lovely river integrated into the cityscape, a series of hills topped by consistently brilliant buildings, a lot of unusual beer, a great cathedral, the world’s most enjoyable small natural history museum, a garden which aims to include every plant mentioned in the Bible – I’m not sure there is anything that could be missing!
Do you have any ‘German’ characteristics?
A fatal weakness for huge plates of cooked meat with potatoes, an unBritish interest in schnapps.
What popular preconception about Germany would you like to see overturned?
Traditionally Germans used to be seen until the mid 19th century as dreamy and useless people, and then they became seen as brutal, efficient and militaristic, then as violent on a repulsive scale and then (for at least a couple of generations) as hypocritical, vacuous consumers. I’m not sure it is very helpful to see ANY nationality through a specific lens (except 1933-45) – it would be good if the whole country could be subjected to NO preconceptions really – this would be more realistic.
What’s your favourite German food?
They do some amazing things with geese.
Where would you recommend for a winter weekend?
The whole country is equipped for snow and one of the attractive autumn ceremonies is the setting up of anti-frost shelters around various statues and fountains – it depends what you like, but the south (I have particularly happy memories of a snow-clogged Ingolstadt) looks very pretty in winter, and the north can look memorably haggard.
If you were all-powerful, is there anything about Germany you’d like to change?
The US army went to a lot of trouble to wreck the Kaiser Wilhelm monument in Koblenz at the ‘Deutsches Eck’ where the Mosel joins the Rhine – definitely one of the world’s most pompous and depressing piles of stone and bronze. This was recently rebuilt and if I were all-powerful I would use my absolute authority to have the whole lot dumped in the Rhine. This would mean that what should be the prettiest confluence in Germany could once more be pretty.
Germany is wunderbar because…
Even the most sleepy small town will have something culturally or historically fascinating lurking in it somewhere.
Wunderlinks: Simon recommends Bamberg.
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