If you’ve taken a Cold War tour with me, you’ll already have heard this recommendation, but it’s worth repeating that Anna Funder’s ‘Stasiland’ is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the complex and recent history of espionage, mistrust and betrayal in this city. Funder, an Australian journalist based in Berlin and Leipzig in the mid-90s, intrigued by the enormous surveillance operation undertaken by the East German Ministry of State Security, wondered to which degree citizens of the DDR had submitted to the organisation’s authority, and how they may have resisted it. Funder encounters numerous ex-Stasi who are willing to talk, and with unexpected humour and pathos she teases out the stories of those who worked for this insidious organisation.
This month’s book is the lengthy but utterly gripping “Travellers in the Third Reich” (2017) by Julia Boyd, a chronicle of experiences of visitors (including Charlie Chaplin and Lloyd George) to Nazi Germany. This marvellous read speaks for itself – I’ll say little more than that those of you who have travelled to Berlin to explore Third Reich history will find it absolutely fascinating to read about the reactions of tourists (largely American and British) to the Berlin of the 1930s and 40s!
A break from Nazis and Stasi for this month, to recommend you a book which I devoured in two sittings during my recent trip to Belgrade: John Waller’s ‘A Time to Dance, a Time to Die: The Extraordinary Story of the Dancing Plague of 1518‘. During the stiflingly hot summer of that year in Strasbourg (in the region of Alsace, now French territory, at the time part of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nations) what can be perhaps described as the world’s longest rave would take place. Over 400 would become entranced, many dancing themselves to death. Waller examines this and other seemingly-spontaneous instances of ‘choreomania’ to produce a truly fascinating account of a most intriguing phenomenon!
Several of you recommended this title to me in the last few months, so I am especially pleased to suggest our book of the month for June as Philippe Sand’s ‘East West Street’ (2017). A mixture of family memoir with a compelling legal history, the book examines the intertwining destinies of the Jewish lawyers (particularly Hersch Lauterpacht and Rafael Lemkin) who would prepare material for the trial of Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg which gave rise to the modern system of justice.
This month, I wholeheartedly recommend Thomas Harding’s Hanns and Rudolf. In a unique double-biographical style, Harding contrasts the decisions and destinies of Hanns Alexander, a German Jew who had fled to England and served as a Lieutenant in the British Army, and the man he would track down in 1945: Rudolf Höss, the Commandant of Auschwitz. A truly astonishing read which is gripping from first to last page.
This month, a wholehearted double recommendation for you: Simon Winder’s Germania and Danubia, packed with anecdotes and revelations, by an author with a clear fondness for the many idiosyncrasies and oddities of Germany and Austria – and by one who shows that they’re not so very different to Britain, after all…!
A book that is more than deserving of its bestseller status, Norman Ohler’s ‘Blitzed‘ is an examination of drug addiction in Nazi Germany. The book’s real fascination lies not in its graphic depiction of Hitler’s long-suspected habits, wrought from the medical notes of Dr. Theodor Morell, but in the revelation of what Ohler calls a ‘doping mentality’: the consistent intoxication of the German people through readily-available methamphetamine during the years of WWII. Painstakingly researched, this book certainly might prompt you to re-examine the history of the Third Reich.
‘The Kaiser’s Holocaust‘, by David Olusoga and Casper W. Erichsen, exposes the long-ignored history of the German Empire’s colony in modern-day Namibia and the mass murder, first officially acknowledged as a genocide by Germany in 2015, of the Herero and Nama peoples. Colonial soldiers soon enslaved Namibians, established the Shark Island concentration camp for punitive purposes and ‘medical research’, and murdered perhaps 100,000 Herero and Nama before the territory was confiscated following World War One. Olusoga and Erichsen hypothesize an ideological continuity between the Second and Third Reichs, investigating National Socialism as a newly-technologized manifestation of colonialism, and illustrating the racism which suffused the upbringings of those who went on to become Hitler’s acolytes – not least Hermann Göring, son of the ‘Imperial Commander of German South-West Africa’. A contentious thesis to be sure, but a fascinating read and a timely publication as the Bundestag publicly grapples with the question of if, when and how to recompense Namibia.