If you’re planning a trip to the land of sausages, beer, and lederhosen, allow me to suggest a little light reading before you set off. No, I don’t mean a German-English dictionary (although that wouldn’t hurt either), I mean some of the finest literature on the subject of Germany. Whether you’re a history buff, a culture vulture, or just a lover of a good yarn, there’s a book out there for you.
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
Let’s start with the classics. If you’re interested in a bit of history, “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” by William L. Shirer is an absolute must-read. It’s an exhaustive account of the Nazi regime, and it’s all true. You’ll be amazed at how much you didn’t know about that dark period in German history.
The Tin Drum
But don’t worry, it’s not all doom and gloom. As Mark Twain once said, “If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own.” And that’s exactly what Germans did after WWII. They took a long, hard look at themselves and started to rebuild. “The Tin Drum” by Günter Grass is a great example of this. Set in the aftermath of WWII, it’s a darkly comedic and absurdist novel that will have you laughing and crying in equal measure.
If you’re more interested in contemporary Germany, “Berlin Blues” by Sven Regener is a great choice. It’s a comedy about a group of friends living in Berlin in the 1980s. It’s a hilarious and heartfelt look at a city in transition, and it will give you a good idea of what life in modern-day Germany is like.
Don’t Worry, Be German
And, if you’re looking for something a bit more lighthearted, “Don’t Worry, Be German” by Adam Fletcher is a fun and entertaining guide to German culture. It’s full of useful tips and humorous anecdotes that will help you navigate your way around the country.
Grimm’s Fairy Tales
I highly recommend reading “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” before taking a trip to Germany. This classic collection of stories, originally compiled by the Brothers Grimm, offers a glimpse into the cultural and folkloric heritage of the country. The tales, such as “Rapunzel,” “Cinderella,” and “Hansel and Gretel,” are not only entertaining, but also provide insight into the old beliefs and traditions of the German people. Reading these stories will enhance your understanding and appreciation of Germany’s rich history and culture.
Mr Norris Changes Trains & Goodbye to Berlin
“Mr Norris Changes Trains” (1935) and “Goodbye to Berlin” (1939) by Christopher Isherwood are a chronicle of early-1930s Berlin and provide a vivid and detailed picture of the city during that time period. The books were also the basis for the movie “Cabaret”, which further showcases the cultural and political atmosphere of the city during that time. They are a must read for anyone interested in understanding the history and culture of Germany, especially in the era before the World War II.
Lately, there has been a significant growth in the amount of books written on Germany, and in particular, about World War II and the Holocaust. You can learn more about German history, people, and politics by reading the books I mention below, many of which are written by outstanding German authors from the past and today.
Before the Deluge: A Portrait of Berlin in the 1920s, by Otto Friedrich
Berlin Journal 1989–1990, by Robert Darnton
Berlin Noir, by Philip Kerr: Bernie Gunther
Billiards at Half-Past Nine, by Heinrich Böll
Bismarck, by Edward Crankshaw
Buddenbrooks, by Thomas Mann
Europe Central, by William T. Vollman
Five Germanys I Have Known, by Fritz Stern
Frederick the Great, by Nancy Mitford
German Family Research Made Simple, by J. Konrad
The Germans, by Gordon Craig
Germany 1866–1945, by Gordon Craig
Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, by Roland Bainton
Hitler: 1936–1945: Nemesis, by Ian Kershaw
The Last Jews in Berlin, by Leonard Gross
A Tramp Abroad, by Mark Twain
The Unmasterable Past: History, Holocaust, and German National Identity, by Charles S. Maier
When in Germany, Do as the Germans Do, by Hyde Flippo
Witness to Nuremberg, by Richard Sonnenfeldt
So there you have it, folks, a few of the best books about Germany to read before you visit. Whether you’re interested in history, culture, or just a good laugh, there’s something for everyone. So, pack your bags, grab a book, and get ready for the trip of a lifetime.