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Why the Germans Do It Better by John Kampfner review – notes from a grown-up country

Why the Germans Do It Better by John Kampfner review – notes from a grown-up country

We shouldn’t romanticise nations, or be blind to their failings, but I’m interested in post-war Germany because of how it resolved its recent history over a period of 40 years or so, and the politics, music, design and Europe that resulted from this process (Can, Faust, St Pauli, Merkel, Kraftwerk, Herzog, Berlin, Dieter Rams, Klopp, Volkswagen, fan ownership etc. etc. etc.)

Perhaps the main virtue of this book is the mirror it holds up to the UK. The reflection can’t be flattering.

Like so much British writing on Germany, this is also a book about Britain. We need to see, in effect, post-Brexit Britain in a German mirror, not in a fantasy global one. This mirror does not flatter: Kampfner sees a Britain “mired in monolingual mediocrity, its reference points extending to the US and not much further”. It borrows and it shops, and lives in a nostalgic dreamworld.

Like the rest of Europe, Germany is perhaps fraying at the edges, which really is a cause for melancholy – the trains no longer run on time and we have AfD. Still, apparently German windows remain the best windows.

By David Edgerton. Originally published 22/08/20.

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