Keeping Up With the Germans

Philip Oltermann

Keeping Up With the Germans

In 1996, in the middle of watching an ill-tempered football match between England and Germany, Philip Oltermann's parents tell him that they are going to leave their home city Hamburg behind and move to London. A number of worrying questions arise. How would English schoolboys take to a lanky 16-year-old German? How did they think and do things differently? What was the secret of the famed British humour? And were there values that English and German people shared? In search of answers, Oltermann interweaves memoir and history, taking ten key Anglo-German encounters from the last 200 years as his starting point. These include: an encounter between Joe Strummer and the Baader Meinhof gang, Helmut Kohl trying to explain the virtues of German cuisine to a sceptical Margaret Thatcher and philosophers Theodor Adorno and A. J. Ayer clashing over jazz. What emerges is nothing less than an alternative national story for the two countries: not one marked by military conflict and diplomatic hostility, but one shaped by dialogue, interaction and genuine fondness. 4.1 out of 5 based on 4 reviews
Keeping Up With the Germans

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre History, Travel
Format Hardback
Pages 304
RRP £12.99
Date of Publication February 2012
ISBN 978-0571240173
Publisher Faber & Faber
 

In 1996, in the middle of watching an ill-tempered football match between England and Germany, Philip Oltermann's parents tell him that they are going to leave their home city Hamburg behind and move to London. A number of worrying questions arise. How would English schoolboys take to a lanky 16-year-old German? How did they think and do things differently? What was the secret of the famed British humour? And were there values that English and German people shared? In search of answers, Oltermann interweaves memoir and history, taking ten key Anglo-German encounters from the last 200 years as his starting point. These include: an encounter between Joe Strummer and the Baader Meinhof gang, Helmut Kohl trying to explain the virtues of German cuisine to a sceptical Margaret Thatcher and philosophers Theodor Adorno and A. J. Ayer clashing over jazz. What emerges is nothing less than an alternative national story for the two countries: not one marked by military conflict and diplomatic hostility, but one shaped by dialogue, interaction and genuine fondness.

You might also be interested in: Germania by Simon Winder

Reviews

The Times

Helen Rumbelow

It’s so refreshing to hear a witty German poke fun at us, instead of an unfunny Brit doing the whole “achtung!” bit ... Oltermann vows to himself that he won’t write about the war, because otherwise he’d write about nothing but. He almost gets away with it (bar a wonderful moment when Unity Mitford dates Adolf Hitler — they flirtatiously squabble about soup). This clears so much space for this wonderful, surprising book that will have you rethinking British life even if you will never, ever, get the Germans.

11/02/2012

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The Sunday Times

Christopher Hart

Witty and entertaining … As a staunch monarchist, I object to his de-capitalised reference to “her majesty the queen”, I don’t think Heine visited England in 1927, and the author seems to agree with Monsieur Sarkozy that Britain no longer manufactures anything, even though we remain the sixth or seventh largest manufacturing economy in the world. These small quibbles aside, Keeping Up with the Germans is a highly entertaining and perceptive look at the relationship between our two great countries

12/02/2012

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The Guardian

Simon Winder

It is a risky way of creating a book as it relies on a high page-by-page level of interest rather than any real structure or overarching argument, but Oltermann manages it beautifully. There is a particularly good section on old-fashioned variety shows in Blackpool and the huge impact that one sketch – long-forgotten in Britain – has had on TV comedy in Germany. He describes the sequence of events that made this happen in a way which is touching, curious and funny, then neatly clicks it into his own experience, and leaves the reader with a fine sense of the sheer oddness of the modern world. Indeed, the whole book can be compared to a series of expert variety turns, with the reader watching act after act and not really noticing or caring what is linking it all together.

11/02/2012

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The Financial Times

Frederick Studemann

Keeping Up With the Germans avoids anything too heavy-handed and yet still manages to offer an intelligent, entertaining and, at times, surprising take on relations between the two nations … For those whose knowledge of German history is book-ended by the Beer Hall putsch and the rubble of the Berlin bunker, there is much illuminating stuff.

27/01/2012

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