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Books on German History

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Malva's picture
Malva
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Jul 18 2012 13:20
Books on German History

I was wondering if anyone could suggest some good books on the history of Germany. Everything I've seen in the German section of bookshops focuses on just the Nazi period (pretty familiar with this already). I'm looking for something more general that goes right from the old Roman province, through the Medieval period of different city states and the Holy Roman Empire, into the unification of Germany and then the 20th century. It doesn't have to have any particular ideological bent, although a left-leaning one would obviously be better, but well researched and, most important of all, a good read.

If there isn't anything like that then suggestions for individual histories of Berlin, the Medieval period, 19th century, cultural histories etc., or even your favourite German novels (is there a German equivalent of Zola for e.g.?) would also be great.

Cheers!

Malva

Angelus Novus
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Jul 18 2012 15:36

I assume you mean works in English, right?

If so:

Mary Fulbrook - A Concise History of Germany

Good sweeping overview.

John Ardagh - Germany and the Germans

Portrait of of the contemporary Federal Republic, circa mid-1990s. Somewhat dated (a LOT has changed since then), but a good informative survey, despite the annoying liberal politics of the author.

Alexandra Ritchie - Faust's Metropolis: A History of Berlin

Dense, comprehensive history of Berlin. Very good for detail, an engrossing read, but the author is a horrible Thatcherite.

Victor Grossman: Crossing The River: A Memoir of the American Left, The Cold War, and Life in East Germany

Very engaging autobiography of an American Communist Party member who defected to the GDR during the height of the Cold War. A good picture of the ambiguities of "really existing socialism" by a sympathetic participant.

For a good, light-comic glimpse of contemporary Berlin (think Nick Hornby), there is an English translation of Wladimir Kaminer's "Russian Disco". Kaminer is a Russian who writes comic vignettes in his adopted language of German about his adopted city Berlin.

If you eventually read German, there are two good Marxist histories: Bernt Engelmann's "Wir Untertanen" ("We Subordinates" or "We Loyal Subjects") which spans the whole of German history, and Georg Fülberth's Finis Germaniae, which is a history of both the FRG and GDR since 1946. Also eventually check out Karl-Heinz Roth's "Die Andere Arbeiterbewegung", an operaist history of German labor (which has recently been translated into Spanish!).

Finally, An Introduction to the Three Volumes of Karl Marx's Capital by Michael Heinrich gives an introduction to contemporary German value-form theory. wink

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Jul 18 2012 15:34

it is always a matter of taste ... for the Weimar period, i like Detlef Peukert's The Weimar Republic : the Crisis of Classical Modernity, on the German Empire, my favourite overview study by Volker Ullrich Die nervöse Großmacht: Aufstieg und Untergang des deutschen Kaiserreichs 1871–1918 is unfortunately (like many good books) not translated so far, generally, books by historians like Jürgen Kocka, Richard J. Evans or Fritz Fischer can also be recommended ... don't really know a decent overview from Roman times to today further suggestions e.g. here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Germany#Further_reading

novels which tell a lot about 19th and early 20th century society are e.g. Buddenbrooks and The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann, Der Untertan and Professor Unrat by his more leftwing brother Heinrich Mann ... the leading the writer of German naturalism was Gerhart Hauptmann, but unlike Zola he had his focus more on writing for the stage (and became unfortunately pretty nationalistic after 1914) ... in my opinion, a must-read is the Ernst Toller's autobiographical piece Eine Jugend in Deutschland (I was a German)

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Jul 18 2012 20:33

These are all great suggestions. Thanks! Exactly what I wanted.

I am learning German (finally confident enough in my French now to move onto something else) but have only been doing so properly for a month. Am at the stage where I can order things in a restaurant and ask for directions that's about it, but when I am further along I'll check out the German language material too.

I'm in to German value theory, one of the reasons I am learning is to read this untranslated neue marx lekture material and also read Marx in the original. I've got the Heinrich book on Capital on order too.

Thanks again! Oder ... danke!

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Jul 19 2012 10:44

and some classics:

- http://marxists.org/archive/mehring/1892/lessing/index.htm

- http://marxists.org/archive/mehring/1910/absrev/index.htm

- http://marxists.org/archive/rosenberg/history-weimar/index.htm

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Jul 19 2012 10:50

and as far as I know, Geoff Eley has written some good stuff, e.g. on the "Sonderweg/German exceptionalism", a topic difficult to circumvent if you deal with German history (even with 16th century stuff)

Angelus Novus
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Jul 19 2012 15:23

I'm really ambiguous toward the concept of "Sonderweg."

It seems to me to be a relict of when the concept of a "bourgeois revolution" was considered the norm for capitalist development, with a stagist conception of history developing from slavery --> feudalism --> capitalism, with France and Britain being the model bourgeois societies (although I guess Perry Anderson and the New Left Review crew even thought that Britain deviated from the "proper" model!)

This is the best case scenario. In the worst case scenario, you've got the Anti-Germans arguing the ludicrous "Germany as a mode of production" line.

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Jul 19 2012 16:00

there are only Sonderwege and a model is always a model

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Jul 19 2012 16:28
Angelus Novus wrote:
It seems to me to be a relict of when the concept of a "bourgeois revolution" was considered the norm for capitalist development, with a stagist conception of history developing from slavery --> feudalism --> capitalism, with France and Britain being the model bourgeois societies (although I guess Perry Anderson and the New Left Review crew even thought that Britain deviated from the "proper" model!)

As it happens I just finished reading Perry Anderson's "Lineages of the Absolutist State" and the chapters on Prussia and Austria made me realise how little I knew about German history (as in, zip!). Tbf, I think by the time Anderson had finished Lineages he had pretty much ripped up the "classical" uni-linear model. That book was written back in the 70s so I'm sure there's been some decent critiques/refutations of Anderson's version by German Marxists somewhere or other, since. Any good ones come to mind?

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Jul 19 2012 16:34

as far as I know, Anderson was mostly ignored in Germany

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Jul 20 2012 07:49

Heh. That's funny but somehow predictable.

andy g
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Jul 20 2012 13:10

blackbourn and eley's "peculiarities of german history" is a good book. It rejects "exceptionalism" and the idea that nazism was a product of an incomplete bourgeois revolution btw. tbf to Anderson he has long since renounced what he has since called a normative conception of bourgeois revolution i.e. setting up the French rev as a model against which all others can be measured. he wrote a good essay on the matter yonks ago - was published as part of his "English Questions" book

rooieravotr
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Jul 20 2012 13:55

Detlev Peuker, "Inside Näzi Germany - conformity, opposition nd racism in everyday life"

Tim Mason, "Nazism, Fascism and the Working Class" (essays)

Sebastian Haffner, "Die Verratene revolution" ( haven't found a translation in Engish; I read it in Dutch translation)

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Jul 20 2012 16:02

More good suggestions. Cheers.

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Jul 31 2012 10:59

I've been following up on some of your suggestions. I was just wondering if anyone could also suggest any good tv series in German for picking up the lingo? I guess relatively colloquial stuff would be best, such as sitcoms or crime drama. I can always watch dubbed American sitcoms. This helped with learning French but it also meant having to watch crap like Friends, and I'd rather watch something culturally relevant and interesting.

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Jul 31 2012 12:13

haven't watched much German TV for the last decade ...

for crime drama Tatort and Großstadtrevier (with heavy Hamburg accent) are probably the best, if you want to watch really crappy soaps (compared with them, the Guardian stated a couple of years ago that Hollyoaks could be classified as "high artwork"), go for Gute Zeiten, schlechte Zeiten, a more sophisticated soap (inspired by Corrie) is the weekly Lindenstraße ... and than there are some classics, you can find on youtube: Ein Herz und eine Seele from the 1970ies, see video below, inspired by Till Death Us Do Part and Motzki (1993): a grumpy and reactionary German pensioner who hates the reunification and its consequences

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Jul 31 2012 14:07

Thanks Entdinglichung. More great suggestions. I've managed to find some episodes of Tatort. I shall come back to the comedy when I am a bit further along with my listening comprehension as I found it a bit difficult. Though I understood the second video better than the first.

Cheers!

Angelus Novus
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Jul 31 2012 18:03

Malva, this is probably not an appropriate suggestion for your level of German, but eventually, when you're a bit further, definitely check out a television series called Im Angesicht des Verbrechens, which in terms of its realistic depiction of social reality in contemporary Berlin has been compared to The Wire.

Also, one more reading suggestion: even though it's got tepid Green politics, die tageszeitung is the best daily newspaper for learners of German. At least that was my experience. Simply written, relatively short articles. It tries to appeal to a multicultural audience, which explains why the German is kept at a level understandable for non-native speakers.

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Aug 1 2012 08:50

Thanks Angelus Novus. These are some good resources. Im Angesicht des Verbrechens sounds particularly interesting.

Ogion
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Aug 1 2012 19:41
Malva wrote:
I was just wondering if anyone could also suggest any good tv series in German for picking up the lingo?

I'm learning German as well and asked the German poster Railyon here a similar question on a libcommunity thread. Here was his response:

Railyon wrote:
Ogion wrote:
Were there any cool cartoons or series produced in Germany in the 80's (or 90's)?

There's two or three I can think of.

Felidae, Werner Beinhart (total classic, dubbed in my local dialect as the creator lives right around the corner), Kleines Arschloch

Don'T know about any German series though.

Edit: Now there are a few coming to mind - Benjamin Blümchen, Bibi Blocksberg, Petterson und Findus...

Pretty popular but far older were puppet shows like Die Augsburger Puppenkiste, shit is seriously old but a classic of German TV...

These seem worthwhile to check out. Some of this you may not right now be able to understand (I'm at what I suppose is an intermediate level, and I still have a lot of difficulty watching German TV), but they are cartoons and children's television shows so if you can get a hold of them they may not prove to be too hard for learning.

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Aug 1 2012 20:14

Nice one Ogion. Thanks smile

Angelus Novus
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Aug 16 2012 21:28

I'm actually kind of surprised that no one mentioned this (myself included), but Malva, if you haven't already, read Fire and Flames by Geronimo. Don't get misled by the title; it's not only about the Autonomen (although that's the main focus); it also doubles as basically the best overview history of the extra-parliamentary left in (Federal Republic of) Germany since 1968.

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Aug 17 2012 16:32

Cheers Angelus. I shall add it to my reading list.

wojtek
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Aug 17 2012 17:49

Some I watched are Extr@, Das Boot, Das Experiment and Run Lola Run. The first three are on youtube.

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Aug 19 2012 08:25

There's "All Power to the Councils!: A Documentary History of the German Revolution of 1918–1919" by Gabriel Kuhn thats I've been excited about ever since Ramsey told me they were going to do a Bavarian council book. I also enjoyed the Landauer and Muhsam essay readers that preceded it. There isn't so much history, but you often get glimpses of what it was like to live in it.

Skraeling
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Aug 19 2012 23:10
Angelus Novus wrote:
] Also eventually check out Karl-Heinz Roth's "Die Andere Arbeiterbewegung", an operaist history of German labor (which has recently been translated into Spanish!).

Is that ever going to be published in English? It would be good to read it as it seems interesting and cos there are few operaist histories in english about. Also, a bit off topic i know, but another one i'd like to see translated is the book edited by Roth and Marcel van der Linden and Roth called Uber Marx (which is not about Germany - it's about global working class history IIRC).

Skraeling
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Aug 19 2012 23:10
Angelus Novus wrote:
] Also eventually check out Karl-Heinz Roth's "Die Andere Arbeiterbewegung", an operaist history of German labor (which has recently been translated into Spanish!).

Is that ever going to be published in English? It would be good to read it as it seems interesting and cos there are few operaist histories in english about. Also, a bit off topic i know, but another one i'd like to see translated is the book edited by Roth and Marcel van der Linden and Roth called Uber Marx (which is not about Germany - it's about global working class history IIRC).

Skraeling
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Aug 19 2012 23:10
Angelus Novus wrote:
] Also eventually check out Karl-Heinz Roth's "Die Andere Arbeiterbewegung", an operaist history of German labor (which has recently been translated into Spanish!).

Is that ever going to be published in English? It would be good to read it as it seems interesting and cos there are few operaist histories in english about. Also, a bit off topic i know, but another one i'd like to see translated is the book edited by Roth and Marcel van der Linden and Roth called Uber Marx (which is not about Germany - it's about global working class history IIRC).

Angelus Novus
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Aug 20 2012 14:47

AFAIK, Roth is not so positive on the prospect of having it officially released as a book, since he has always wanted to make major revisions to it (that's why it's out of print in German), but somebody I spoke to says he might be amenable to an English translation of it just being published on the web. I'd be totally down for doing this in between paid jobs, as long as people are cool with long waiting times between installments. Ideally, it would appear on Libcom.

I have no idea how the Spanish version from Traficantes de Sueños came about, presumably they would've also had to ask his permission.

Skraeling
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Aug 21 2012 21:23

Ah I see, thanks Angelus. I suppose the major revisions Roth wants to make it are in response to the criticism of it? Is the co-author of the book, Elisabeth Behrens, still around? In any case, i'd (and hopefully heaps of others would also) be v grateful if u could translate it in installments.

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Aug 21 2012 22:12

Germany-nerd question: Is Elisabeth Behrens related to Diethard Behrens?