Books to enhance the experience of travelling in Germany
August 31, 2013 4:28 PM   Subscribe

So, I'm looking to do some travelling in Germany either this fall, or next spring. Right now, Munich and Berlin are on my list. I'm hoping for some interesting books to read before the trip on the history and culture of the places I'll be visiting.

I love Bill Bryson's stuff, so anything like that would be great - but I'm okay with fiction and non-fiction. Basically, anything you think will make my trip more enjoyable for having read the book in advance. Essentially, I'm looking for the German version of this thread. Bonus points if I can read it on my Kindle.

I've already read through these threads.
posted by backwards guitar to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
If you're going to Berlin, pick up a book about the Pergamon Museum's collection, particularly the Islamic part.
posted by thewalrus at 4:48 PM on August 31, 2013

Best answer: will have some great suggestions.
posted by TheLibrarian at 5:06 PM on August 31, 2013

Best answer: The last couple of times that I was in Berlin, I enjoyed reading Robert Walser's Berlin Stories. They're short, perfect little vignettes.

Or Christopher Isherwood's Christopher and his Kind. Other might suggest Isherwood's Goodbye to Berlin.
posted by geryon at 5:17 PM on August 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

Peter Wende's A History of Germany is very good - from Roman empire to present day in 200 pages.
posted by melissasaurus at 5:37 PM on August 31, 2013

I shamelessly plug Mary Fulbrook whenever the opportunity arises, as I find her stuff exceptionally readable. I have The Divided Nation: A History of Germany 1918-1990 (mentioned in one of the previous posts and not even by me) and The People's State: East German Society from Hitler to Honecker (yes, I read a social history of East Germany for fun). If you want 20th century German history for context, that's where I'd go. As a note, if you do go to Berlin, the German History Museum is awesome, but not everything is translated, so it would probably help to have read a history of Germany for a bit more context.

I continue to harbor ambitions of reading Berlin Alexanderplatz, but it's super long and, as much as I love the Weimar Republic, I don't know that it would enhance a trip to Berlin now.
posted by hoyland at 6:16 PM on August 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You should definitely read Stasiland by Anna Funder if you plan to go to Berlin. It's amazing. Then you could stay at Ostel which has all the kitsch/fabulous accoutrements of pre-wall-fall GDR/East Berlin.
posted by honey-barbara at 6:23 PM on August 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

Seconding Isherwood's Goodbye to Berlin.

Summerhouse, later by Judith Hermann is a series of short stories set in and around Berlin and I think it captures something of the city.

The Book Thief is set in a fictional town just outside Munich and you should read it even if you weren't going to Germany because it's excellent!
posted by neilb449 at 11:48 PM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding Stasiland, even if only because it is a really fantastic book.

Probably the best grounding you can get on German culture that gives a lot of background that we non-Germans are rarely aware of is The German Genius: Europe's Third Renaissance, the Second Scientific Revolution and the Twentieth Century by Peter Watson. It is a broad, fantastic and I found it gave me a really good insight in to this country I am now living in.

And the chapter on Germany in Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World by Michael Lewis was pretty interesting as well.
posted by Megami at 12:49 AM on September 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's not at all like the other recommendations, or like Bill Bryson, but you did say you were interested in history and culture, so... how about Jerome K. Jerome's Diary of a Pilgrimage? Written over a hundred years ago, it's the highly entertaining account of a journey to Oberammergau (via Munich) for the Passion Play. You can get it from Project Gutenberg, and it's a quick read - 192 pages, says Goodreads.

If it puts you in the mood for more by the author, Three Men on the Bummel (sequel to the more famous Three Men in a Boat) is also set in Germany.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 3:00 AM on September 1, 2013

"Berlin Blues" ("Herr Lehmann" in German) is a very good novel about contemporary Berlin, it describes some weeks in the life of a bartender in Berlin around the time of the fall of the wall.
posted by SweetLiesOfBokonon at 6:19 AM on September 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Alfred Döblin's Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929) is lovely. Otherwise I support the Isherwood selections (you can visit his house!).
posted by Catchfire at 10:12 AM on September 1, 2013

Jerome K. Jerome's "Three Men on the Bummel" may still have some specks of informational value about Germany and the German character, and it is definitely as entertaining as ever.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:20 AM on September 3, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for all the recommendations. I've marked the ones I'll start with, and will try to read more as time permits.
posted by backwards guitar at 9:03 AM on September 5, 2013

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