Germany, With a Side of Quirk
In Wayward Pursuit of the Germans and Their History.
By Simon Winder.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 454 pp. $25
It is not easy to be funny about the Germans, and unusual to be affectionate about them. Germania, Simon Winder’s idiosyncratic but delightful book, manages to be both. Winder, a British publishing executive, has fed and embellished his obsession with Germany during the requisite annual visits to the Frankfurt Book Fair. His book is the result of diligent reading on endless train journeys to small towns with half-forgotten treasures—provincial museums, lesser-known castles, and palaces of the many minor dukedoms that litter Germany.
At the Darmstadt Artists’ Colony, that “wonderland of pre-1914 modern design” founded by the melancholic grand duke Ernst Louis, Winder hits upon the key to his fondness for Germany. It is his conviction that the real Germany can be found in the stuff usually absent from the history books: the obscure artists and the mad petty princelings, the herbalists and ornithologists and forgotten inventors whose artifacts stuff local museums. “It is this slightly marginal Germany that has survived, while the political and historical Germany has destroyed itself.”
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