Posts Tagged ‘Germany’

Book Review: Doing Germany by Agnieszka Paletta

AuthorAgnieszka Paletta
TitleDoing Germany
Publication Info: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (2013)
Summary/Review:

This is a book I idly picked up from a Kindle sale, because I enjoyed travelling to Germany.  What a surprise that the author declares early on that she never had any interest in visiting German.  As a Polish-Canadian, moving back and forth between the two nations, Paletta’s real love is Italy.  She only ends up in Germany after meeting the man she calls M in a Cracow nightclub, falling in love, and deciding to move into his Munich apartment for three months.  That three months turns to years as the couple are engaged, married, do a lot of house shopping, and have a child.  Along the way, Paletta records the cultural adjustments of living in Germany.  Her stories are episodic, a bit gossipy in tone, and she seems unusually wed to traditional gender stereotypes.  I could offer criticisms, but forget that.  Everyone thinks that they can write a book about their travels and life abroad, but few do, so good for her.  And Agnieszka seems like a fun person who’d I’d like to hang out with, perhaps to go dancing.  So it’s a breezy travel/memoir/life adventure story, and I’ll leave at that.

Favorite Passages:

“I can also relate to keeping one’s roots and traditions alive and not changing your culture just because you’ve changed borders. Canada is great that way – it promotes multiculturalism. Germany is more like the US: once you cross the border, you’re expected to drop everything and mould yourself into a citizen of your new homeland.”

“Unlike on that typical bike, you don’t sit leaning forward; you sit up like a lady, much like in a chair. Therefore, you don’t crane your neck to look up; your head is as God meant it to be – straight on. It makes cycling dignified and comfortable.”

“M tells me it’s impolite to stare and talk to strangers here. You don’t ask how their day is going, how they are feeling. Basically, you don’t intrude because it’s none of your business. So like, they’re not trying to be rude or cold, but polite. They say good morning or God bless you but not how are you – that’s a private matter and none of their business.” (Note from Liam: this is probably why I like Germany.  They follow the same rules as Bostonians).

Recommended books: My ‘Dam Life by Sean Condon
Rating: **1/2

Song of the Week: “Dying Breed” by Marissa Nadler (Stefan Biniak Private Edit)

Marissa Nadler is a singer-songwriter from Boston, but I’d not heard of her before now. In fact, “Dying Breed” is not a new song, but one she released back in 2007.  Luckily, German DJ Stefan Biniak is more up to date on Boston artists and has added the perfect groove to her vocals in this remix.

What musical discoveries have you made recently? Let me know in the comments.

Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Author: Markus Zusak
Title:  The Book Thief
Publication Info:   [New York, N.Y.] : Listening Library, 2006.
ISBN: 9780739348345

Summary/Review: 

This novel balances the line between heartwarming and heartbreaking, inevitably falling to the later, but never without giving up hope.  Boldly, Zusak has the book narrated by Death who proves to be sympathetic to humanity and tired of the work he’s given in the Second World War.  Central to the novel is Liesel, a German girl taken in by foster parents when her father is taken away for being a Communist.  Set in a fictional suburb of Munich near Dachau, the novel details day-to-day life in a way that’s familiar to a coming of age tale but also has the overlooming presences of things like the Hitler Youth and nights spent in air raid shelters.  Liesel finds comfort in books, and as the title suggests, purloins some books earning her nickname.  Her life is also changed when her foster parents the Hubbermanns (already at odds with the Nazi party) repay a promise by hiding a young Jewish man in their basement.  Zusak focuses on relationships, test of character, and hope while not dodging the tragedy and atrocity in their midst.  It sounds cheesy to describe it but it really is a wonderful, well-written novel.

Favorite Passages:

“They say that war is death’s best friend, but I must offer you a different point of view on that one. To me, war is like the new boss who expects the impossible. He stands over your shoulder repeating one thin, incessantly: ‘Get it done, get it done.’ So you work harder. You get the job done. The boss, however, does not thank you. He asks for more.”

Rating: ****

Recommended BooksSkeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian, The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies, and Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene

Beer Review: Hofbräu Oktoberfest

Beer:  Hofbräu Oktoberfest
Brewer: Staatliches Hofbräuhaus
Source: 12 oz. bottle
Rating: **** (8.0 of 10)
Comments: A golden, bubbly beer with a thick head, this Oktoberfest special gives of a musty, yeasty and grassy aroma.  The taste is a smooth balance of grain and cream which is refreshing and light.  Some lacing appears on the glass and the head abides while the beer is quaffed.  A nice German beer for the autumn season

Ach mein Gott!!

ALF was a popular TV show when I was a kid but I never watched because it looked stupid.  If only I had seen the show in German, things would have been different.

Book Review: Lee Miller’s War by Lee Miller, edited by Anthony Penrose

Lee Miller is a fascinating woman. She was a model and muse to photographers like Man Ray and took up surrealist photography herself among other talents. Following the Normandy invasion, Miller got herself credentialed as a war correspondent. She followed the progress of the American armed forces and the liberation of France, Luxembourg, and Germany for Vogue magazine of all publications (apparently her grim photographs of the war dead ran pages after typical fashion advice articles). Miller’s son Anthony Penrose says that his mother didn’t speak much of the war. In Lee Miller’s War (1992) Penrose collects the dispatches, letters, telegrams, and most importantly the evocative photographs of Lee Miller’s war experience.

Compared to Ernie Pyle, these stories have something of a women’s touch. Granted, Miller was often restricted from the frontlines against her wishes, although on one occasion she found herself in the heart of battle. More typically Miller is left to cover the fashion of Paris and how Parisians “dressed up” as an act of defiance against the occupying Germans. There’s even photos and descriptions of Paris’ first fashion show post-occupation. Miller also hobnobs with celebrities of the time like Picasso, Cocteau, and Collette which is interesting in that I never stopped to think that these well known people lived under German occupation. A similar novelty is the liberation of Luxembourg. It’s rare to hear about the war from the point of view of Luxembourg and its people.

Don’t be misunderstood though. Lee Miller confronts the war in all it’s grim and gritty nature. Her visceral distaste for the German POW’s and civilians lends an immediacy to the war correspondence. Her photos of liberated concentration camps capture all the horror while lending dignity to the survivors. She also ended up staying in Hitler’s Munich apartment where she was famously photographed in the bathtub.

This is a fascinating book to read and study. As always, MetaFilter has a couple of good posts with links relating to Lee Miller’s life and work.

Author: Miller, Lee, 1907-1977.
Title: Lee Miller’s war : photographer and correspondent with the Allies in Europe, 1944-45 / foreword by David E. Scherman ; edited by Antony Penrose.
Publication: Info. Boston : Little, Brown, c1992.
Edition: 1st North American ed.
Description: 208 p. : ill. ; 29 cm.

Book Review: Billiards at Half-Past Nine by Heinrich Böll

Nobel Prize Laureate Heinrich Böll‘s novel Billiards at Half-Past Nine represents Germany for Around the World for a Good Book. The story focuses on three generations of a family of architects set on one day in 1958, but encompassing flashbacks to life during two World Wars and living under Kaiser, Fuhrer, and Democracy. The three central characters are Richard Faehmel, his son Robert Faehmel, and grandson Joseph Faehmel. All three are tied to St. Anthony Abbey which is outside of the the city of Cologne where the family lives. Richard completed the Abbey in 1908, Robert as a demolition expert destroyed the abbey under orders in the waning days of the war, and Joseph contributed to its reconstruction in 1958. Through the novel each man’s relationship to the Abbey is revealed in ways that defy expectations – Richard is indifferent to the destruction of mere buildings, Robert more complicit in the Abbey’s destruction because he believed the monks collaborated with the Nazis, and Joseph horrified to learn that his father destroyed his grandfather’s work. The novel’s title refers to Roberts attempts to make order in his life with a rigid schedule that includes shooting billiards at the local hotel each morning from 9:30-11.

Billiards at Half-Past Nine is a complex novel with narration rotating from chapter to chapter offering perspectives of different family members, work colleagues and friends of the family. The time-scale and place are also affected by frequent flashbacks and memories to different places and times. All this is woven together well to show different perspectives on people and events in the novel.

Religious overtones are strong in this novel. The imagery of the lamb, referring to meek or sacrificial characters is used often. The lamb also comes up in allusion to Biblical passages such as “Feed my lambs” and “Lamb of God.” Meanwhile, those drawn to Nazism are described as taking the “Host of the Beast” and their actions are akin to Satan worship. Interestingly enough, while there presence is felt throughout the novel, the words “Nazi” and “Hitler” never appear in the text.

This is an excellent book, probably worth puzzling through again to get a better sense of the German zeitgeist in the aftermath of World War II. There are a lot of interesting details about place and time. I enjoyed reading about German school boys playing rounders (a game similar to baseball) in the 1930′s and one character’s ride on the Cologne streetcars whose routes and schedules haven’t changed over decades of turmoil.

I found these two discussion guides useful in sorting out the characters and chapters:

Favorite Passage

“Politeness is really the most effective form of contempt,” he thought.

New York: McGraw Hill (1962)

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