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3.1 out of 5 stars
3.1 out of 5 stars
Springtime For Germany: or How I Learned to Love Lederhosen
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on 21 February 2010
Being German, I have to admit that the author is indeed an accurate observer of (a few aspects of) todays Germany. Still, finishing EVERY chapter by attributing the chapters topic to the German pursuit of Gemütlichkeit is tiring. With the only exception of putting the story of cannibal Meiwes into the chapter on German cuisine and calling it curiously German (obviously a tribute to British humour or bad taste only?) I cannot see, why one should feel offended by this book. More than one time I had to smile because of feeling caught red-handed. When I discovered this book in the store, I was thrilled by the idea of an Englishman writing about Germany. The book is worth reading but did not quite live up to my expectations on this great idea. My last remark is no conclusion on the quality of the book, I just consider it a pity that in spite of several comments on how the author (or the first-person narrtor?) learned to like or appreaciate Germany during his research I could not help to notice it hardly ever felt honest. But then in the end, perhaps he does want Germany to stay tierra inconocida for the British in order to keep it all for himself ;-)
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on 17 November 2008
This book is a hotchpotch of the well-researched and the banal. Ben Donald takes aspects of stereotypical Germany and the Germans, as seen by the British, and attempts to test the truth of these. In the process he tries to reveal some little-known corners of German life and characteristics. These aims are admirable but the format is irritating. The travel mentor "Manny" (did he really exist?) is a diversion from the basic premise. Yes, he provides guidance but he limits the author's own curiosity, ingenuity and sense of exploration. The writing style relies too much on the repetition of the "towels on sunbeds" and other clichés.
Under the surface there is a potentially very good insight into the Germans and their country just crying to get out. It's a shame that the author did not approach it in a less convoluted manner.
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on 19 December 2007
I was interested in reading the newest attempt, or pretence of an attempt of an Englishman to understand my homecountry. After numerous disasterous attempts I was hopefull because the author seemed to feel fit to present his insights to everyone willing to get to know us better. What a dreadful thought people might actually think this book comes even close to getting anything.

Frankly, I would never even dare to write about English humour without being able to understand and speak the language. My English may not be perfect but I get and love English humour, the good one at least, especially because it is quite similar to German humour. Now writing about your travelling is one thing but taking a shot at writing about German humour without actually being able to experience German humour or being able to listen to some of our amazing stand-up comedians (since the author allows himself to touch on that topic) because Mr. Donald does not understand German, is painful to read. You read on and on, you search for the joke that is not there, you ignore the worst cliché and then you finally ask yourself, what is that country this man is talking about? Unknown to me in it's one-dimensionality, full of cliché and boring, sometimes plain bad humour. Maybe in an attempt to make it sound more "German" by writing it in a style of what is perceived as German style in England.

If you want to learn something about Germany, please don't read this book. If you like yourself a good load of cliché, a cheap laugh or two and the garantee that you won't know Germany any better than before you picked up this book, I recomment it. The thought that some readers actually state they learned something and got rid of some biase is frightening. Just imagine how distorted their view of Germany must have been prior to reading a book that provides a very distorted view itself.

Pity that the gift of humour seems to fail English writers most of the time they try to write about Germany.
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on 29 April 2008
As a student of German who spent a very happy year studying in Germany I had high hopes for this book. I was bitterly disappointed at how the author was apparently unable to finish each chapter without resorting to at least one of the old clichés, resorting to the lowest common denominator while all the while claiming to break away fom these clichés. I couldn't even bring myself to finish the book but judging by the rest of the reviews I don't believe the author was going to redeem himself by the end of it.
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on 19 September 2007
If it hadn't been for the fact that this was the only piece of travel writing (as opposed to a guidebook) I could find on Germany, I wouldn't have bought this book. The most obvious trend of recent years in travel writing has been down towards the lowest common denominator, with puerile writing about contrived - supposedly humourous - situations. Both the jacket design and the title of this book led me to suppose that this was no exception.

In fact, there is an element of the puerile and jokey (and, in places, clunky) to the writing. And the central conceit about the travel therapist quickly becomes rather wearisome. But behind it all, Ben Donald has evidently put in a lot of time and research and, when he leaves the tired gags about the German sense of humour and sunbed habits alone, what he has written has a great deal to offer. I came away feeling I had learned a lot about the Germans and Germany.

I am not entirely sure who it is in the publishing industry that has come to the view that the reading public are all idiots who must be suckered into buying a travel book by cramming it with schoolboy jokes, giving it a hackneyed title and wrapping up the whole in a tacky cover - but I wish they would desist. I have a sneaking suspicion that it is the publishers themselves, who think they can sell more copies that way. In his acknowledgements, Ben Donald thanks his agent for persuading him that a 'straight' travel book about Germany wouldn't work (or sell?). I think this is probably learned behaviour on the part of the agent, but in any case - I don't think your agent actually did you any favours, Ben!
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on 11 July 2010
Looking at the reviews, this book has polarised opinion somewhat and I can understand why.

What frustrates me about it, is that it could have been a great book. Clearly the author does like Germany. Clearly he researched and learnt a lot about the country. Clearly he can even write.

I even liked the premise of rediscovering travel through seeing the beauty of a place that would normally be dismissed as boring. This in fact affected me somewhat and made me think about my travelling in general.

So WHY OH WHY did he have to pepper the book with the puerile stereotypes and ridiculuous "v instead of w" jokes which led me to roll my eyes every five minutes. Was this honestly how Ben Donald wanted to write the book, or was he told to dumb it down to make the book more accessible? These jokes also made him appear quite negative about Germany at times which I suspect wasn't even really intended. This may be a symptom of the British cultural cringe which requires "as much as I hate to admit it" or something similar to preface any positive comment about Germany. The book unashamedly shouts "I quite like Germany even though I feel like I shouldn't" which is, of course, part of the premise but gets rather tiring.

So after all this, why have I still given Springtime for Germany three stars? Unlike many who have reviewed it here, I managed to enjoy reading it despite all that and think that it has a lot to offer not only in terms of knowledge about Germany but also with regard to philosophy of travel. It's a shame that I could not really recommend it without a massive set of disclaimers attached.
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on 4 March 2013
(writing in a rush, so if my tenses/grammar etc is off i apologise!!)

I'm a Germanophile and i've been to Germany 6 or 7 times in the last two years and I love Germany. I have friends in Germany and i am painfully in love with the country. I have a German boyfriend and have spent a lot of time with his family. Most of my fellow Brits think I'm a bit weird for loving Germany so much, i make Germans miss Germany. I'm that bad! so lets get that clear at the start of this review! basically i'm biased. also lets get it clear that when i read this i had a head start on many people, because i have read/watched an obscene amount about Germany, i read German newspapers etc. However when i started this book (17 months ago!) i had read less, been there less etc. the information in this book is very useful and did give me an insight into the German spirit. It did help, when i was having conversations with Germans, to have knowledge i'd absorbed from the book, so i could sound like a giant geek and say 'I've read about that...!' To be honest i probably didn't need to read this book any faster than i did! I'm glad I've read it and glad i have it, but a lot of the stuff in there i, personally, have/could have found out first hand for myself from my friends.

i find this book very difficult to describe! I - as already stated - found this book incredibly difficult to read/finish! i had to keep putting it down and coming back to it later i'd read a chapter or half a chapter and get fed up or bored and wander off to another book! i kept forgetting about it and then remembering it and trying to force myself to read it! It's very heavy with cultutral and historical information, there is a side helping of the typical english-impression-of-anything-german, which is obviously being expanded during the course of the book. he has a prejudice/ignorance about German wine - for example - which i found very typical of English attitudes. and actually it's very typical of German attitudes towards German wine! most Germans I've met think their own wine is rubbish! except Riesling of course!

i respect the man for doing what he did in Germany, he actually got naked in a german sauna, which is something i refuse to do (by the way i have met Germans who don't want to be naked in saunas lol.) and, i suppose, i find it difficult to relate to a lot of his ORIGINAL opinions about Germany. He tends to start in one mode of thinking and then progress to another. so his impressions/prejudices are gradually being changed and expanded to allow a more realistic image of Germany to creep through.

i found some sections offensive. on page 233 he becomes a borderline misogynist when he says all high culture such as classical music, art, literature, philosophy are resilient male and strong, while the world of consumerism and celebrities is more feminine! i didn't like that!

overall i'd say the book is a good history/culture lesson!
His impression of modern Germany, while accurate, is not, in my opinion, complete, since he doesn't really have long conversations with Germans about anything significant.for example when he goes to Berlin, he seems to meet no one there and do nothing, as far as i can discern he goes to a coffee shop! that's all i know. He then goes on to describe the atmosphere of Berlin which i felt was fairly accurate and describing atmosphere is a good thing to do, but then he again lapses into history and culture. then he makes several judgements about Berlin, but i can't tell what those judgements are really based on, as he doesn't recount any conversations with people or even say that he met people. This book, obviously, lacks that 'insider' aspect. but it is a good place to start. Bear in mind, though, the question of how he is getting his impressions and whether he is judging the place fairly or accurately. but this is also HIS personal opinion.

i DID agree with a lot of his conclusions and he did bring to light a few interesting points, about Berlin, for example, he questions whether being artistic in Berlin is no longer a political/personal expression of someone's individuality, are people NOW going to Berlin to be poor artists because it's cool/trendy to do so! Berlin has a certain unique history, it always attracted weirdo's and misfits and still does. but how genuine is it in the 21st century?! this is a very good point/question which had risen in my mind when I was there!

i do think the book is lacking some kind of bibliography or further reading/viewing section, because he makes reference to a lot of writers, musicians, films etc which i feel could be put in list form in the back for reference!!
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on 20 November 2007
Nice idea, shame Bill Bryson was busy and it was left to someone who thinks that sticking V and W into sentences is a scream. The narrative is laboured, what I did on my holidays type stuff.

It contradicts itself regularly, eg devoting a whole chapter about how wonderful the Oktoberfest is having 100,000 inebriated people in the one place, with food, toilets etc laid on and no trouble and then at the end saying that the whole German party feels too organised. Also saying that Cologne Carnival starts in November and then goes on to write about Mardi Gras which is when the Cologne Canival actually happens.

The author is aparently bored with the whole travel thing, which obvously is an issue if you are a travel writer. However he comes accross as such a dull character in the book one can not be surprised he would bored with his own company.

I cannot even bring myself to drop this book around to the charity shop as it would be lurking on the shelf to waste someone elses time.
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I read the entire book in the hope that somehow it would eventually begin to live up to its hype, but that did not happen.

It is a waste of a good idea, and sadly reading it was just a bit of a waste of precious time.

Hopefully one day someone will write a fun book about modern Germany that is not only easy to read but accurate, informative and interesting, and not simply vaguely patronising and rather shallow. This however is not that book.
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VINE VOICEon 3 May 2008
Having just read 'Springtime in Germany' I am not surprised to see all the previous negative comments about it. Yes this book is a very odd mix of near insults and occasional declaration of love. The artificial device of 'Manny' the travel doctor and mentor is just that : artificial and dreadful and nearly stopped me reading the book. Yet I persisted and indeed considering how few are the travel writing books on Germany, it is quite worth reading. If lots of stuff come through as 'cliches', it is difficult to deny there's always some part of truth in there. Ben Donald managed to be sometimes genuinely amusing , and on the whole, if one has never been to Germany and want to have some feel for the place in advance, I suppose one can read Donald for want of a better equivalent.
But I agree that if I were german, I would feel rather insulted by the crass cover and the overall condescending tone of the book.
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