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Could do better; could have done better
on 22 April 2013
There are a number of things wrong with this work, measured against the claims implied in the all-encompassing sub-title "A History of Anglo-German Encounters". To begin with, Oltermann has a fixation about football and popular music which runs through the whole book, and this is curiously at odds with his repeated mention of the German philosopher Adorno and his own scarcely-concealed attempts to present himself as knowledgeable about philosophy. He doesn't in fact quite bridge the gap between what are often seen as highbrow and lowbrow culture, with very little in between.
In fiction the use of dialogue is a pre-requisite. However, when a man in his thirties has supposed verbatim recall of dozens of complex conversations that took place several decades earlier, this makes him appear as either a somewhat bumptious individual or someone who doesn't allow facts to get in the way of point-making. There are, quite simply, far too many factual errors in this book. Some of them can easily be explained. If you relocate to another country, you may think that things stay the same in your home country as you remembered them from your childhood, but that is not always the case. Newsreaders on the Tagesschau now make use of the tele-prompter and do not read from their scripts, as Oltermann maintains. He decries any suggestion that there is anything comparable to the Academie Francaise in Germany, but he has plainly forgotten all about the prescriptive nature of the Duden-Redaktion. And what then also happens is because he has not grown up with the culture, history and idiom in this country he presumes to understand things which are beyond his comprehension. He misunderstands the function of bonfires on Guy Fawkes Day, for instance, and the significance of burning an effigy of the Catholic terrorist, he gets historical dates wrong (the Education Act of 1870, for instance, introduced uniform elementary education and this did not occur later, as he maintains), his vocabulary does not extend to kale for the German Gruenkohl, calling it "green cabbage" instead (a direct translation) and he makes the absurd statement on page 215 that Labour won in 1997 because of "a new wave of cultural patriotism". A lot of the typographical errors and misprints as well as the factual inaccuracies could have been avoided, had he spent a little more care and attention on every precise detail.