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Traveling to Germany? Read This, This, and That.

Posted by Ashley Smith on Nov 17, 2016 11:00:00 AM

Check out more blogs from this experienced traveler at My Wanderlusty Life


Hallo from Germany, ja! Wait, that sounds a bit more Swedish Chef than German, huh? Doesn’t matter, I’m in Prague at the moment anyway–coming to you with the culmination of three months of ignoring everyone around me. Just kidding, I love making small talk with strangers when I’m trying to research for a blog post. More specifically, my recommendations for what to read before traveling to Germany (that is not on the label of a beer bottle).

I’ve spent a lot of time reading lately–at the beach, in my bed, on planes, in cars… calm down, I was the passenger… most of the time. I’m joking! No, I’m not. Ok, I am. Reading location-based books before I travel is my favorite part of the planning process. “Ashley, where are we going to stay in Munich?” “I dunno…” “Ashley, what time does our flight get in?” *shrugs shoulders* “Ashley, did you know there’s a book about Hitler becoming a YouTube star?” “NNOOOOO! GIMMEEEE!”

And judging by the popularity of this post, I gather you love them too. Turns out you people are a lot nerdier than you let on. Deleting your internet search history fools no one. The truth is out there. *Pushes glasses up on her nose*

Now, Germany… you’re okay in my book. What’s not to love? You give us beer, roast chickens, men in short-shorts, whatever the heck obatzda is, and the fact that the word ‘weiner’ is on every menu. You really know how to make a girl say “Hell yeah!” You even have an entire collection of spot-on, virtually untranslatable words and phrases: gemütlichkeit, schnapsidee, and the frightening torschlusspanik. So basically what I’m trying to say is even reading a German dictionary can be a form of literary entertainment. It also doesn’t hurt that simply reading some of these books in public keeps strangers from talking to me. Heil introversion!

So as it goes with Germany, these books cover two of my favorite subjects: WWII and famous people whom everyone thinks is nuts. But please remember that not everything about Germany can be learned in books. You need to head to the beer halls for the real education. So if you’re headed to Munich tomorrow like I am, cramming for Oktoberfest 2017, or doing a school book report on Hitler as an internet sensation (as you should be), I give you:

WHAT TO READ BEFORE TRAVELING TO GERMANY

It just so happens that I am already a big fan of WWII books of all kinds. Are there books about Germany or that take place in Germany that aren’t about WWII? A smidge… I guess if you want romance novels you should head to Paris. If you want samurais, head east. If you want tales of men eating only Super-Sized McDonald’s meals for 30 straight days, join me here in the United States where watching a guy Mcbarf is entertainment. This world has something for everyone!

KILLING PATTON — BILL O’REILLY & MARTIN DUGARD

I loooove the Killing books. I recently read Killing Kennedy to learn all about JFK before my trip to Dallas, and Killing Jesus for general knowledge to use on my upcoming Jeopardy! test. Eighth time’s the charm, ja?

Why I love Killing Patton by Bill O'Reilly
  • It’s basically a WWII 101 course. It covers all sides of the war in an easy-to-understand fashion for technical war dummies like me and is a lot less embarrassing on my book shelf than those bright yellow books that scream, “You’re an idiot!”
  • George Patton was hil-ar-i-ous. Not intentionally of course, but the way he operated–that often got him in serious trouble–is face-slapping hysterical. (And his speeches–OMG)
  • Pictures.
  • Even though you know how the story turns out (uhhh…it’s in the title for one thing), Bill O’Reilly’s writing style is suspenseful and seriously engaging.
  • George Patton died doing something nice for a dog!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Think what you want about Bill O’Reilly–people are constantly sharing their feelings about him to me and I just don’t care–but know that these books have nothing to do with him. He and Martin Dugard write these books using only straight-up factual information. There is no commentary, no speculation, no personal agenda. There is, however, a crap-load of slapping and ridiculous statements by George Patton like:

“When you, here, every one of you, were kids, you all admired the champion marble player, the fastest runner, the toughest boxer…Americans love a winner. Americans will not tolerate a loser.” ⇠Americans will not tolerate a shitty marble player. WE JUST WON’T.

“If you’re not alert, sometime, a German son-of-an-asshole-bitch is going to sneak up behind you and beat you to death with a sock full of shit!” ⇠ The lesser-known subheading of World War 2 For Dummies.

The book takes you through the lives and deaths of the era’s world leaders–Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Dwight Eisenhower, Winston Churchill, FDR–focuses on Patton’s time leading the United States Third Army through France and Germany, and includes a picture of Patton with his wee-wee out pissing in the Rhine River.

ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE — ANTHONY DOERR

All the Light We Cannot See is one of my favorite books of ALL TIME. It’ll make you laugh; it’ll make you cry; it’ll make you really think about seashells. Like, intimately. Okay, not in the Little Mermaid way… you’ll see what I mean…

Why I love All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr:
  • This is not your typical WWII novel. It covers very different aspects of the war and some you would never even think about.
  • The story and characters are more addicting than a Sunday afternoon Game of Thrones binge.
  • The author is an expert on everything–radios, mollusks, being blind, peaches–but technically isn’t.
  • The average chapter is only one or two pages long, the longest being three pages. This is HUGE for an ADD reader like myself. Go ahead, laugh. You and your attention span…
  • The ending is one of my favorite fiction endings ever. ⇠a significant literary feat, no?
Why I hate it:
  • It makes me really want to eat peaches but I’m allergic. Curse you adult-onset food allergies!
  • It really drives in the point that I will never, ever be as good a writer as this guy. It’s hopeless. I might as well just join MySpace down in the “it was cool for a while but…. no.” hole of despair.

All the Light We Cannot See consists of two separate stories that eventually come together–one taking place in France and the other in Germany. It recently won the Pulitzer Prize and I have henceforth pushed it violently upon all my friends, much like I did with Oktoberfest, putting honey on everything, and BJ’s Brewhouse. Though the chapters are short, each one is pure poetry in itself. Everything is so beautifully written that after every single chapter you’re just like, “UGH. This is so fucking good it makes me sick!” My own utter lack of talent makes me want to eat three Big Mac extra value meals and throw them back up.

THE SWAN KING, LUDWIG II OF BAVARIA — CHRISTOPHER MCINTOSH

Everyone knows about this guy. Or at least thinks they do. “He was crazy!” “He was a closet homosexual!” “He killed himself… maybe!”

Well… yes, pretty much. But do you know whyyy? I don’t know about you, but when someone calls someone else “crazy” I instantly want to know the deets. Crazy people are way more interesting to hear about than that lady you work with who may or may not have done something slutty last weekend.

Kind Ludwig’s life was the ultimate fancy-rich-people soap opera, bursting at the well-tailored seams with drama and intrigue. For instance, King Ludwig II suffered an intense phobia of ugly people (this is real, I kid you not) that affected not only his daily life but also his political affairs. Oh, and then there was that time he tried to kill his brother when they were little–the brother that then spent most of his life locked up in an asylum.

And that’s just chapter one. Call him crazy all you want, just don’t call him boring.

Why I love The Swan King by Christopher McIntosh:
  • Real life is always stranger (and funnier) than fiction. Some of the stuff in Ludwig’s life is just outright lunacy.
  • King Ludwig is someone you hear about all the time and it’s nice to finally separate fact from crap-your-know-it-all-friend-tells-you on trivia night. (The book is split into four parts addressing the four main areas of controversy in his life.)
  • As you can imagine it’s really, really funny.
  • As I did with Italy, I always try to find biographies of a country’s most famous figures before traveling there. KL was one, but I also tried to find one on Richard Wagner and came up empty. Lucky for me, King Ludwig and Wagner had some strange goings-on making a large part of this book a Wagner biography. Score one for serendipity and questionable sexuality!
  • This is the perfect book for anyone traveling to Neuschwanstein Castle. Especially if you think you know everything already. Don’t be that guy.

THE MONUMENTS MEN — ROBERT M. EDSEL

I know what you want to ask: “Shouldn’t I just watch the movie?” And to that I’d reply: “For the love of Bill Murray, NO!”

The Monuments Men, the movie, is probably the worst book-movie adaptation I’ve ever seen and I have a high tolerance for crap (maybe you’re forgetting I grew up in the era of Crossroads and Freddy Got Fingered). It just proves that even an A-list cast can’t save George Clooney’s directing/screenwriting career. He really should just stick to what he does best: knocking off casinos.

The Monuments Men, the book, is incredible.

Author Robert M. Edsel tells of an unlikely band of WWII heroes who leave their everyday lives to track down and keep safe the world’s finest art and architecture–Michelangelos, Da Vincis, Vermeers, errrthang–from being destroyed, stolen, and/or hidden all over Europe. That Hitler guy was obsessed with art and either wanted it all for himself or just didn’t want anyone else to have it. Classic narcissist. Maybe try for a lil’ originality next time?

Enter: the Monuments Men (+1 woman).

Why I love The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel:
  • It’s an entirely new outlook on WWII. While there are, of course, battles raging throughout, this book keeps them in the background focusing on this lesser-known aspect of the war.
  • It’s an underdog story proving that even Joe Schmo can become a war hero.
  • The only woman in the book is the badassest of them all. Big surprise there… NOT.
  • I’m a fan of fine art and this book excels at educating on the subject overall and on specific works.
  • It’s inspiring — If Hitler, in the midst of WWII, can still find the time to plunder five million pieces of European art and culture, surely I can finish this work project and paint my kitchen by Friday.

THE BOOK THIEF — MARKUS ZUSAK

The Book Thief is more of your typical World War 2 fiction: boy meets girl; girl hides Jew; boy wears blackface and eventually joins the Hitler Youth.

I don’t want to spoil it for you, but there’s just no way this can possibly end well. Oh, you weren’t born yesterday?

Well if you’re wondering, yes, there is some book thieving. There’s also a lot of kids being brats, Nazis being mean to people, and an accordion. One aspect that makes this book stand out as such an incredible WWII read is the unique narrator that I wish I had thought of myself. That prologue? Wow.

Why I love The Book Thief by Markus Zusak:
  • Best. Narrator. Ever. making this a seriously one-of-a-kind story.
  • It teaches you a lot of really important German cuss words.

And perhaps you’d like to know: will I allow you to watch the movie? Yes, yes I will; but you didn’t say “mother may I.” I was shocked at how similar the movie was to the book–it looks almost exactly as I had imagined it. BUT, as always, READ THE BOOK FIRST. Just don’t steal it.

LOOK WHO’S BACK — TIMUR VERMES

Ah, Hitler humor… my go-to source of entertainment that will no doubt become the source of my blog’s first hate comment.

I learned about this book AFTER seeing the movie. While searching for something to watch I came across a description that went something like… “Hitler wakes up in present day. Everyone thinks he’s just a really good comedian. Hitler becomes a YouTube star with a hefty following any blogger would be jealous of.” TOO MUCH TO PASS UP! But also, IS IT TOO SOON TO LAUGH ABOUT HITLER? Ehhh….

So yeah, Adolf Hitler wakes up in 2011 at the location of the former Führerbunker like nothing ever happened. Well, shit happened obviously but none of that cyanide/pistol action. It isn’t long before that sum’bitch is up to his usual trying to conquer the world bit. Only no one takes him seriously because they think he’s just a phenomenal (and ballsy) actor.

It sounds ridiculous, sure. But this is actually one of the most brilliant and thought-provoking books/movies I’ve encountered.

The book is written from Hitler’s perspective and conquers the subjects of ruling the Reich, obviously, his obsession with the computer mouse, gaining loads and loads of followers with his political rants (that everyone thinks is spoof), and how screwed the human race is judging by the garbage he sees on his hotel room TV set.

The movie is more of a documentary type. The same hilarious story is told but in addition the actor (in full Hitler character) goes out into the cities to interact with the German public. The film crew captures all the reactions–most of which will SHOCK YOU.

Why I love Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes:
  • It includes an incredible amount of historically accurate information. It really is as if Hitler is telling this story.
  • Such a hilarious premise for a book. Why didn’t I think of this?! PASS THE MCNUGGETS!
  • It really makes you think. We all know how horrible Hitler was, but when he shows up today preaching the same ideologies he still gains an endless amount of supporters. How??
  • It makes you question everything: Could history actually repeat itself? Has anything really changed? What would happen if Hitler went to the dry cleaners by himself? Really important stuff.

Check out more blogs from this experienced traveler at My Wanderlusty Life

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