"Lost in Deutschland" vorher

Dieses Blog begann auf Deutsch - im Archiv befinden sich eine ganze Reihe von Texten über das Engländersein in Deutschland - von 2008 bis 2011 sortiert. 2008-2009 wurden zudem Video-Berichterstattungen auf Deutsch zum Thema hier veröffentlicht.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Fynes Moryson gets lost in Deutschland

The second writer I’ve chosen for my series of English-language texts about Germany is Fynes Moryson. Born in 1566, he spent the years between 1591 and 1597 touring through Europe and the Near East, and many of the following years writing them up at a somewhat leisurely pace.

I’ve chosen him because, in a way, he reminds me of sixteenth-century version of myself. Just like yours truly, he went to Oxford and then decided he fancied exploring Europe, making something of a base out of Germany for quite some time. Unlike me, however, he seems to have principally lived off his wealthy father’s allowance, as was the custom at the time for anyone with the leisure and resources to travel for its own sake.

Where, how & why did he write about Germany

In his eight years abroad, Moryson frequently passed through Northern Germany, entering Europe via the medieval Hanseatic port of Stade and moving on through Hamburg and Lüneburg into Germany proper. The extract I’ve chosen is his description of Hamburg as he travels through it the first time in 1591.

The well-preserved Hanseatic town of Stade, a bustling port back in Moryson's day

What to look out for
For readers with little time/short attention spans – or looking for dinner-party quips/neat essay segues

1. The “Limey bastard” factor: Being British abroad at the moment is a relatively sweet deal. People in Europe tend to like London, the Royal Family and a lot of the music our fair islands have produced, so you generally tend to get a warm reception wherever you go. This hasn’t always been the case, of course, as Moryson discovers in Hamburg. Even before City-style financial capitalism went wild, the English have always had a tendency to be neo-liberal, and the fact that the port of Stade just twenty miles down the River Elbe was offering slightly better conditions was reason enough for English traders to up sticks and break of hundreds of years of cooperation with the port of Hamburg.

2. The “Wow, he speaks German!” factor: Nevertheless, Moryson gets a “heads up” on the widespread dislike of the English amongst the Hamburg harbour workers as he overhears a couple of them scheming to throw a ten-pound sack of merchandise at his head. Moryson had a good command of the German language, something that, today, makes English people even more popular in Germany than they already are.

The Extract

The passage by water to Hamburg had beene much easier, especially for a stranger, and a boat daily passeth from Stode thither in some three hours space, if the winde bee not contrary, wherein each man paies three Lubecke shillings for his passage: but all Passengers without difference of condition must help to rowe, or hire one in his stead, except the winde bee good so as they need not use their Oares; besides that the annoyance of base companionsw ill easily offend one that is any thing nice.

Hamburg is a Free Citie of the Empire, and one of them which (as I said) are called Hans-steten, and for the building and populousnesse is much to be praised. The Senate house is very beautifull, and is adorned with carved statuaes of the nine Worthies. The Exchange where the Merchants meet is a very pleasant place. The Haven is shut up with an iron chaine. The Citie is compassed with a deepe ditch, and upon the East and North sides with a double ditch and wall. Water is brought to the Citie from an hil distant some English mile, by pipes of wood, because those of lead would be broken by the yce, and these pipes are to bee scene under the bridge, whence the water is convaied by them unto each Citizens house. The Territory of the Citie extendeth a mile or two, and on one side three miles out of the walles. It hath nine Churches and six gates called by the Cities to which they lead. It is seated in a large plaine and a sandy soyle, but hath very fatte pasture ground without. On the South side and some part of the West, it is washed with the River Elve, which also putteth a branch into the Towne, but on the North and somewhat on the East side, the River Alster runneth by towards Stode, and falleth into the Elve. The streets are narrow excepting one which is called Broad-street (vulgarly Breitgasse.) The building is all of bricke (as in all the other Sea-bordering Cities, lying from these parts towards Flanders) and all the beautie of the houses is in the first entrance, having broad and faire gates into a large Hal, the lower part whereof on both sides is used for a Ware-house, and in the upper part lying to the view of the doore, the chiefe houshold-stuffe is placed, and especially their vessell of English Pewter, which being kept bright makes a glittering shew to them that passe by; so as the houses promise more beauty outwardly then they have inwardly. Here I paid each meale foure Lubeck shillings, and one each night for my bed. The Citizens are unmeasurablyil l III affected affected to the English, to whom (or to any stranger) it is unsafe to walke out of the gates after noone, for when the common people are once warmed with drinke, they are apt to doe them injury. My selfe one day passing by some that were unloading and telling of Billets, heard them say these words: Wirft den zehenden auff des Englanders kopf, that is, cast the tenth at the Englishmans head. But I and my companions knowing well their malice to the English for the removing their trafficke to Stode, were content to pass bey as if we understood them not.

My two pfennigs
For readers with large amounts of time, and attention spans to match

Hamburg then and now

One reason I chose this extract is because I currently live in Hamburg, so it is naturally of interest to me to read what an Englishman was writing about the place five centuries ago. What is striking is just how recognisable the portrait is, despite the intervening years and the Great Fire of 1842, which destroyed most of the medieval Hamburg Moryson is describing. The “Senate House”, for example, perished in the flames, but the new Town Hall is a fine building also “adorned with statues”. Meanwhile, whilst the city has expanded considerably, the remains of the ditches Moryson writes of are still visible in the form of a belt of green parks surrounding the city-centre.

The typical merchants’ houses he describes, in which the bottom floors are used as a warehouse and the upper storeys for living, may have disappeared by and large, but there are enough of them around to give today’s traveller a feel for the city as Moryson would have experienced it. Ironically though, a trip on the S3 down to Stade is even more informative in this regard. In Moryson’s day, Stade was a major city in the powerful Hanseatic league, on a par with Hamburg and Lübeck in terms of its commercial and military importance; now, it is a forgotten backwater, a satellite town in Hamburg’s orbit which provides a neat day destination for the bicycle-besotted urban middle-classes. In 1591 though, Moryson landed there and was able to pay for his board and lodgings in pounds and shillings. Today, Stade is so behind the times that you can probably still pay in some places using those very same pre-decimal coins – or at least Deutsche Marks.

Then again, it is precisely this loss of power that has spared it for today’s flâneur out for a glimpse of old Northern Europe: the harbour was never developed much beyond its seventeenth century state, and its stock of narrow alleys and timber-framed merchants’ houses has survived the European wars since then intact.

Travel then and now

Maybe the savage conflicts that separate our place in history from Moryson’s make the ease and speed with which he traverses Europe seem so odd in retrospect. We’ve come to think of ourselves at the end of a long development from closed borders through to freedom of movement, but if there’s one thing reading Moryson’s memoires makes clear, history does not always keep moving in the same direction and there have been other times when crossing national boundaries was relatively easy.

Of course, Moryson belonged to a privileged class of traveller and had financial resources which would today be on a par with those of a very wealthy banker, but there is still something invigorating about the speed with which he can charter a coach or board a boat; he does it with the same sort of nonchalance that we modern Westerners reserve for budget airline trips, despite the fact that, on his maiden voyage, his ship to Stade is almost captured by pirates in the English channel (see the opening pages of the Itinerary).

Nevertheless, privileged or not, in this extract, Moryson has to slog his way upstream from Stade to reach Hamburg like any other man: “all passengers without difference of condition must help to row” as he notes, with a veiled hint that he have been slightly displeased by this rather hands-on approach to travel. I find the idea of an English gentleman being conned out of a few bob and then set to work rowing his own passage rather comical, and it’s certainly an indicator of how much travel has moved from being a tiring chore done by most out of strict necessity to something that people nowadays look forward to and see as their right. By setting off on a whim to explore Europe for its own sake (he writes in the introduction of his “innate desire to gaine experience by travelling into forraigne parts”), Moryson is, in fact, one of the first recorded modern travellers; but he’s travelling by distinctly pre-modern means.

Not lost in Germany, at home everywhere else

An interesting question for me however, raised both in this extract and the Itineraries generally, is whether and to what extent Moryson really did travel with the nonchalance and coolness depicted here. He didn’t publish his Itinerary until 1617, a good fifteen years after he set out on his first trip; according to his foreword, he writes from a combination of notes and memory. So by the time he started writing back in England in 1609, he would have passed through Germany four times, and so perhaps this explains the laconic, detached and somehow underwhelmed impression of his writing.

After all, Moryson went on to visit much of the rest of Europe as well as the Holy Lands, and so Germany must have seemed pretty tame to him in hindsight. At least at the time of writing, Moryson is by no means lost in Deutschland anymore. Furthermore, he may well not have admitted in writing if he was. The movement towards the description of one’s own feelings that has become more and more a feature of modern writing was, by most measures, only just beginning with Moryson’s French contemporary Montaigne; until him, most writers were aiming for a more Classical historian style. My bet, though, is that Moryson was probably as enthused, confused and mildly overwhelmed by Hamburg in 1591 as I was the first time I got here.

Dip into the full length Itinerary courtesy of Archive.org here.

Monday, 6 June 2011

David Hume gets lost in Deutschland

I thought I'd start this series on English-language writing on Germany with David Hume. His similarities to my situation are limited: apart from both being self-opinionated and both being barely able to scratch a living from writing stuff, we've little in common. Hume confesses to having known little about Germany before arriving (I knew a lot) and having anti-German prejudice (which I didn't) - then again, that makes him a perfect analogue to many a modern visitor to Germany, I suppose, and certainly makes him quite "lost in Deutschland".

Where, how & why did he write about Germany

In the spring of 1748, the somewhat impoverished David Hume found himself secretary to a Scottish general, whom he accompanied on his diplomatic mission for the British government to the capital of Austria. The quickest way to Vienna back then being to cross to Holland then travel up the Rhine and then down the Danube valleys, the party traversed a good portion of what makes up modern Germany.

Hume kept a written record of the journey in the form of letters to his brother John. (Incidentally, I find that there is a neat irony in reading Hume, key figure of the Edinburgh Enlightenment, writing on a country in which he may well be have said to kick-started one of the world’s most important philosophical traditions: forty years later, Immanuel Kant would single out the writings of the Scottish thinker as those which “woke him from his dogmatic slumber”. - but that's by the bye). Here, I’ve reproduced the two parts of Hume’s epistolary journal that I find most interesting: a letter written from Bonn on 25th March, and then another from the Danube on 15th April, just as he is about to leave Germany into Austria.

Bonn town hall, which Hume would have no dobut visited

What to look out for
For readers with little time/short attention spans – or looking for dinner-party quips/neat essay segues

1. The "Don't mention the war"-factor: If you're one of those rather one-dimensional types who likes to comb German history for early signs of the Third Reich, then you'll get a little kick out of Hume's observation that if Germany were united, "it would be the greatest power that ever was in the world." After all, just 100 years after he wrote that, Bismarck was trying to see whether it would work - and 200 years later, so was somebody else.

2. The "We're all friends now"-factor: If, on the other hand, you're looking for a conversation piece a little more suited to post-war sensibilities (and current German foreign policy - see Libya), you'll like the following quote about the Elector: "he always keeps out of wars, being protected by his suredness of character."

The Extract

"(Bonn) is about six leagues from Cologne, a pleasant well-built little town, upon the banks of the Rhine, and is the seat of the archbishop. We have bestowed half a day in visiting his palace, which is an extensive magnificent building; and he is certainly the best lodged prince in Europe except the King of France. For, besides this palace, and a sort of Maison de Plaisance near it (the most elegant thing in the world), he has also two country houses very magnificent. He is the late emperor's brother; and is, as they say, a very fine gentleman; a man of pleasure, very gallant and gay: he has always at his court a company of French comedians and Italian singers. And as he always keeps out of wars, being protected by the suredness of his character, he has nothing to hope and nothing to fear; and seems to be the happiest prince in Europe. However, we could wish he took a little more care of his high-ways, even though his furniture, pictures, and building were a little less elegant. We are got into a country where we have no fires but stoves; and no covering but feather beds; neither of which I like, both of them are too warm and suffocating."

Letter to John Hume of Ninewells, 25th March 1748

"Thus we have finished a very agreeable journey of 500 miles (for so far is Vienna from the Hague.) I have past through many a prince's territories, and have had in more masters than many of these princes have subjects. Germany is undoubtedly a very fine country, full of industrious honest people: and were it united, it would be the greatest power that ever was in the world. The common people are here, almost everywhere, much better treated, and more at their ease, than in France: and are not very much inferior to the English, notwithstanding all the airs the latter give themselves.
There are great advantages in travelling, and nothing serves more to remove prejudices; for I confess I had entertained no such advantageous idea of Germany; and it gives a man of humanity pleasure to see that so considerable a part of mankind as the Germans are in so tolerable a condition."

Letter to John Hume of Ninewells, 15th April 1748

My two pfennigs

For readers with large amounts of time, and attention spans to match

Lifestyle: more differences than similarities

In this series of letters to his brother John Hume, we are by no means dealing with the deepest of David Hume’s philosophical writings. In fact, if anything, the first thing to call the reader’s attention is his eye for the details of his surroundings. In the letters preceding the extract, Hume complains at length about the hearths and bedding in the lower Rhineland. In Bonn, where the first part of the extract begins, he may well be the guest of the “best-lodged prince in Europe”, yet the stoves and feather beds of this area are too hot for the (so I’ve read, somewhat portly) Hume to be at ease.

Travellers in today’s Germany, however, tend to complain rather more about how cold and clinically furnished some German homes can be. The high-ceilinged, well-proportioned city apartments preferred by the intelligentsia can be difficult to heat, while the Scandinavian style of wooden floors and white walls with minimalist furnishings has made inroads into almost all German homes. Pillows, too, are another point of consternation for English and American travellers: the average German pillow is a loosely-packed square which has to be doubled or rolled up to offer adequate neck-support.

Another difference in everyday life that made me laugh: whilst Hume upbraids Prince Clemens August for neglecting his highways in favour of rich interior furnishings, foreign travellers in Germany today are, of course, astonished by the autobahns. These premium-standard motorways need to be well-maintained, what with all the heavy, high-powered German vehicles powering down them without the inconvenience of a speed limit. Throughout his diaries, in fact, Hume’s now redundant pet peeves show generally how much Germany has changed in 250 years. This may sound like a trite point, but consider that this is little more than the life-span of four men, and is in sharp contrast to the relevance of his philosophical writings, which still form a core part of several degrees in this subject.

Politics: more similarities than differences?

Nevertheless, Hume’s writing is not just about his own physical comfort. Throughout his month-long tour through Germany, he has a keen eye for the economic and political circumstances of the city-states and palatinates through which he passes – which are manifold. In fact, at the end of the tour, in the second part of this extract, he sums up the fractured political situation of Germany as follows: “I have past through many a prince's territories, and have had in more masters than many of these princes have subjects.”

This humorous hyperbole illustrates the lack of central unified government in Germany at the time. And whilst Germany today does have a central government, in some respects, things have come full circle: the federal solution imposed on Germany after the Second World War had the aim of weakening German centralism in order to reduce the country’s liability to dictatorship. In its current, post-reunification model, this distinctly American structure has resulted in 16 different states, each with its own parliament and a full complement of state institutions.

In some cases, this seems like a sensible way to make government more manageable: the state of North-Rhine-Westphalia has nearly 20 million inhabitants, making it bigger than both its foreign neighbours, the Netherlands and Belgium, and seem somehow deserving of a regional parliament. In other places, however, this state apparatus appears ridiculously oversized: take the Saarland, a state with a population of under a million, or Bremen, a city-state which was independent in Hume’s time and now once again runs under self-government.

Just as Hume remarks on the opulence of palace at the comparatively unimportant Bonn, I myself am often astounded at the overgrown government buildings in state capitals such as Erfurt (Thuringia), an otherwise unremarkable historic town of some 200,000 souls, or Schwerin (Mecklenburg-Vorpommern), a city with the highest rates of child poverty in Germany. One may feel reminded of James Bosworth on the Grand Tour some twenty years after Hume wrote his dispatches: meeting the Prince of Zerbat, Bosworth laughs at his “troops, forsooth, to the number of 150 foot and 30 horse (… and) his little battery of cannon”. More profanely, I like to think of the child-hating ruler in “Chitty Chitty Bang-Bang” with his toy soldiers. Whatever the case, whenever German state rulers today have the opportunity to hold the federal senate to ransom and posture for the press, they often take on something of the pettiness of these past provincial rulers.

In another echo of today, however, Hume comments on the seemingly high level of comfort and independence enjoyed by Germans, who are “much better treated, and more at their ease, than in France: and are not very much inferior to the English.” In view of the alarming powers accorded to the British police since the late twentieth century, it would seem if anything odd today to take the English as a reference point for civil liberties. As far as I can tell, visitors to Germany from Britain and America are certainly amazed by the blithe way in which Germans swig beer out of glass bottles in public places and enjoy the use of cheap public transport without even having to pass through ticket barriers.

Travel removes prejudice

One point on which Hume is as modern as he ever was, however, has nothing to do with the way either Germany or other countries have changed. He writes of the “great advantages in travelling”, in that “nothing serves more to remove prejudices”, and this is an observation today so commonplace that it seems almost pointless to say it. Nevertheless, Hume is not alone when he writes that he “had entertained no such advantageous idea of Germany; and it gives a man of humanity pleasure to see that so considerable a part of mankind as the Germans are in so tolerable a condition.” This seems to me to be a reaction that many first time Germany-travellers experience today.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Lost in Germany - relaunching Lost in Deutschland

Dear new "Lost in Deutschland" reader,

It was just over five years ago that I first had the idea for “Lost in Deutschland”. At the time, I was working at the German edition of the Financial Times during my year abroad from a languages degree and started writing in German about my experiences as a new arrival in Europe’s most populous country.

After going back to Oxford to finish my degree, I returned to Germany over three years ago and picked up where I left off writing in German about all the weird and unknown stuff I came across out here: first, I opened up this blog for a German audience under the tried-and-tested “Lost in Deutschland” brand name; three years ago last month, some contacts and I made a pilot film for
the web video series to accompany it.

Since then, I’ve been writing and making films about German peculiarities – about the food and drink (hhmm, pork and beer, uhuhuhh), about the complicated-but-resourceful language, about the world-changing history and culture, and about the way that Germans always ask you to pee standing up and refuse to signpost their toilets adequately (articles in English on these points here). I've been making a loosely-bound Teutonopedia, if you like, with everything from the sacred (roast pork) to the profane (bog-holes).

Even if the pork is as delicious, the beer as intoxicating and the toilets as just plain bizarre as they ever were, I’d be lying if I said that, after three years, I weren’t more familiar with them than I had been. So it’s time to revamp the blog and turn things over to other people who really are – or rather really have been – lost in Germany.

So from here on in, I’ll be featuring and commenting on English-speaking writers of all ages, eras and types who have spent time in Germany, for whatever reason, and written about it. There’ll be some surprise candidates (David Hume’s views on Germany circa 1770, anyone?) as well as – publishing companies willing – some old favourites (as a statement of intent, I’m gunning for Bryson and Winder amongst others).

Also, as you may have noticed by now, I’ll be writing in English from now on.



Lost in Deutschland - Der Relaunch

Liebe Lost in Deutschland-Leser,

es ist im letzten Mai-Monat genau fünf Jahre her, da mir der Name dieses Blogs einfiel und ich auf www.ftd.de meine ersten Texte auf Deutsch über Deutschland veröffentlichte.

Nach einer Pause, um mein Studium abzuschließen, kam ich wieder hierher und begann vor gut drei Jahren unter demselben Namen hier Texte zu verbreiten. Im letzten Mai-Monat hat sich der Probedreh für das erste Lost in Deutschland-Video zum dritten Mal verjährt.

Obwohl ich mir auch nach den fünf Jahren komme immer wieder lost vorkomme – am stärksten war das Gefühl letztens sonntagmorgens, als mein einer Mitbewohner strunze dicht auf dem Hamburger Fischmarkt mal eben fünf Kilo Spargel gekauft und auf den Frühstückstisch gestellt hatte – schwallt das Gefühl nun mehr nur noch sporadisch auf. Im Grunde genommen fühle ich mich nun hier genauso zu Hause wie im UK.

Nach drei Jahren, in denen ich mich immer wieder mit dem Thema Lost in Deutschland beschäftigt habe, kann ich nicht behaupten, ich wäre noch lost. Der Mensch ist ja nun mal ein lernfähiges Tier.

Was tun, also? Das Blog dichtmachen und die Leser im Stich lassen? Niemals!

Die Antwort liegt auf der Hand. Wenn ich mich nicht mehr lost in Deutschland fühle, müssen irgendwelche andere her, die es doch tun.

Von daher werden Sie in den nächsten Wochen und Monaten Texte von anderen englischsprachigen Autoren finden, die auch mal in Deutschland lost gewesen sind. Ich mache die Recherche, schreibe gegebenenfalls den Verlag wegen Einverständnis an und kommentiere das ganze.

Das ist die gute Nachricht. Die schlechte? So viel Zeit zum übersetzen habe ich auch nicht – und die meisten Schreiber, die hier mal lost waren, waren naturgemäß auch nicht unbedingt der deutschen Sprache mächtig.

Daher verschiebt sich nun der Arbeitslast von meiner Seite zu eurer – denn ihr werdet jetzt in der Fremdsprache lesen müssen, wo ich doch nun in der Muttersprache veröffentliche. Wobei ihr euch ja schon freuen könnt, dass meine Muttersprache ja Englisch und nicht etwa Baskisch oder Minoisch-B ist!

Vielen Dank und bis bald!