|Map of Germany from worldatlas.com|
I’ve started writing a new book in the past week, a historical urban fantasy set in Germany, and I’ve had the most frustrating time with research. The sheer lack of information on Germany prior to the world wars, particularly World War II, is shocking. Naturally, living in the U.S., I expect a greater proportion of books on America, but the lack of information on Central Europe is still dizzying.
There are vastly more books on England and even France, and of course, there are a number from other areas of the world, particularly Asia, Central America, and the Middle East, if I recall correctly. There are also a number of other locations around the world that suffer a similar lack to Germany in their coverage in English, but this begs the question of why?
The other day, I found a book on castles and fortresses around the world that I hoped would have some information, yet it illustrates my point. This book included castles from England, France, Italy, Russia, Japan, crusader castles, which I take to mean ones in Turkey and Israel, and Indian fortresses. I sat in the middle of the aisle with the book in my lap, aghast. Why had the author illustrated castles from so many other places in Europe and left such a gaping hole in their coverage. Spain was also not included, by the way, a fact I also found unsettling.
To explain my shock a bit better, Germany has lots of castles, and, on the Rhine River, many are closely clustered. Germany is also home to Neuschwanstein, built by King Ludwig II, a beautiful though not terribly defensible castle, but one that exemplifies modern concepts of castles. It looks closer to Cinderella’s castle than any other. Besides this, Germany was the place where the Germanic tribes halted the Roman advance some 2,000 years ago. Germany has also been a major component of military history: from their part in the crusades to the Thirty Years War to the world wars that I think some acknowledgement to their fortifications is in order, yet its lack is louder than its presence.
Again, I ask why? But in this question there are two parts. Is the lack of information in English on Germany due to the fact that it is Germany? A result of a tight focus on the British Isles, an anglophilia, if you will? Or is it a combination of the two?
If the problem is the first, my only explanation is that, for the past hundred years, Germans have stridden the stage in theater and in Western perceptions as the villains. World War I began that image, and the Nazis solidified it into something truly terrifying. Honestly, when most people think of Germany, some of the first things that come to mind are still Hitler and the Holocaust. With these images, it is no wonder that some might shy away from the study of Germany.
But Germany and the German people have existed well before and after the atrocities of World War II, and while I will never excuse those acts, it would be a shame to allow them to paint our whole perceptions of the country that brought us the printing press, the Protestant Reformation, and some of the most brilliant composers in history.
If, however, the issue is more an overemphasis on Britain, what does it say about us, a country that claims multiculturalism and diversity? Naturally, we would tend to lean toward a country that speaks our same language, but that cannot be an excuse. Yet, time and again, I find that most historical books, whether on knighthood or the Industrial Revolution, are through the British lens, as if England were representative of the entirety of Europe. If so, our perceptions of history and culture are concernedly biased and misleading. Granted, there are commonalities and similarities on certain subjects in European history, but England was by no means the beginning, end, and epitome of European culture, movements, social institutions, or technology.
Whatever the reason or combination of reasons for the lack of material on pre-modern Germany might be, it puts me in a frustrating position as a writer interested in telling stories set in Germany. As of now, my best option is to finish learning German and start browsing Amazon.de for German-language books on the subjects I’m researching.
What are your thoughts? What other parts of the world do you think suffer a lack of English language coverage?