General Archive

3 German History books being read by Germans

I have read and reviewed several German History books here on the site and of course they were always of my choosing, irrespective of the books’ popularity or newness.  When trying to come up with a book list for 2010, one of the questions I asked myself was, “What are the Germans themselves reading these days about their own history?”  

Because that is somewhat of an interesting question, I thought that it could, in itself, become the topic of at least one blog post.

So here I present to you the top three German History books — in the German language — being ordered at Amazon’s German store (  Of course, the Amazon ranking will likely have changed by the time you read this, so I’ll be specific and say that these are the top three as of 23:00 CET on 07 January 2010. Also, to be clear, I have not read any of these three books yet.

Here goes:

Guido Knopp, Die Sternstunden der Deutschen.  The title can be roughly translated as “The Germans’ Greatest Moments” (I enjoyed reading the commentary at the LEO online dictionary about how to translate “Sternstunde”.  Perhaps “Sidereal Moments” would be better? ;))  Knopp is a journalist/historian who has had a long string of successful television documentaries in Germany, in addition to several books (many of which have made it into English).  From its description, I see that this book celebrates German achievements such as the mass production and availability of  aspirin (Bayer is a German company), the introduction of health insurance, etc.  In all, one hundred events are chronicled, finishing up with the 2007 Academy Award given to the film “The Lives of Others” (also available at Amazon UK, CA and DE).  

As the description on the book’s Amazon page makes clear, only positive events are chronicled in this particular book.  I assure you Knopp cannot be accused of being a glorifier of German history — he’s also published books with titles such as Hitler’s Henchmen and The SS: A Warning from History.

When I saw that this book is tops in the German history category at, I realized that I’ve been seeing quite a bit more of this type of thing — celebrations of Germany — over the last few years.  I know some commentators have noted that Germany’s hosting of the 2006 World Cup — the Sommermärchen, or Summer Fairy Tale, as it’s called by Germans — may have marked a turning point in the German people’s perception of itself.  I lived here in neighboring Austria — with lots of German television — during that World Cup and I can say without a doubt that it was a very positive experience in which the Germans took great pride.

Anne Frank, Anne Frank Tagebuch.  This is, as you no doubt guessed, Anne Frank’s Diary (also at Amazon UK and CA.)  

I think you all know about this book!  Have you read it lately?  If you read it many years ago in school, you should know that the later editions might have material that you didn’t originally see, so it’s worth a fresh look.

I don’t think there is any kind of external factor — such as a film — pushing this book’s popularity right now in Germany, so I’m guessing it’s probably always among the top few in the German history category at

[UPDATE: I think it’s important to point out that, while I can understand why the book might appear in the “German History” category at — in addition to other categories, I would hope –, Anne Frank actually kept this diary while living in Holland and writing in Dutch, her family having fled Germany.]

And finally, Richard von Weizsäcker, Der Weg zur Einheit.  This book, the title of which translates to “The Road to Unity”, is Richard von Weizsäcker’s political memoir.  Weizsäcker served as the President (head of state) of Germany from 1984 to 1994, a decade which included the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) and the re-unification of the two Germanies (West and East) into a single Federal Republic of Germany (1990).  In their description of the book, the editors point out that Weizsäcker belongs to that ever-diminishing group which they describe as the “last veterans who saw the most important moments of recent German history with their own eyes” (my translation.)

Weiszäcker was 12 years old when Hitler took power in 1933, he served in the German army during the Second World War and later became an influential CDU politician, culminating in his two terms as president.  So he has indeed seen a lot of German history with his own eyes, and I’m sure his memoir therefore makes for good reading.  Unfortunately, it appears to be available only in German.

So there you have it, the three most popular German History books at Amazon’s Germany site.  The first celebrates German accomplishments, of which we know there are many.  The second represents tragedy and remembrance.  The third, I imagine, shines a light on both the awful and the promising notes of 20th Century German history.

Keep reading!


Bill Dawson

Guest post at German History Blog?

Dear Readers,

I will be on vacation from about 18 November to 10 December 2009, so during that time I expect my content here at the blog will be a bit on the light side.

Are you interested in submitting a potential guest post to me for consideration?  If it fits good with the subject matter of this blog, I would love to schedule it for posting during my vacation time.

It doesn’t have to be totally history-related.  For example, with Christmas coming up it could be something about German or Austrian Christmas traditions.

If you have a topic idea, feel free to e-mail me or post a comment here. In case you want to e-mail, I’ll obscure my e-mail address here a bit to avoid e-mail address harvesters: it’s my name (“bill”) at the name of this domain, which as you know is “germanhistoryblog” dot com.

Until next time,

Bill Dawson

P.S. Quid pro quo, of course: by having a guest post here, you get an opportunity to promote your own sites or interests.  The guest post would of course include a blip about you, wherein you can put links to other sites.  E.g.,
This is a guest post from Bill Dawson, who writes regularly about topics concerning German History.  Given the upcoming anniversary, he is spending a lot of time particularly on the topic of the Fall of the Berlin Wall.  [etc…]

Happy Austrian National Holiday 2009!

Bundespräsident Heinz Fischer welcomes visitors to his offices at the Hofburg in Vienna, 26 Oct 2009.

Bundespräsident Heinz Fischer welcomes visitors to his offices at the Hofburg in Vienna, 26 Oct 2009.

Today, the 26th of October 2009, is the Austrian National Holiday (Nationalfeiertag).  The holiday falls each year on the 26th of October and celebrates one of the founding documents of the Second Austrian Republic, an article of the Austrian constitution which declares and codifies Austria’s neutrality.

As Federal President Heinz Fischer said today in his speech at Vienna’s Heldenplatz:

With the passing of the article of the constitution concerning Austrian Neutrality in October 1955, Austria bound itself to not use war as an instrument of politics, to not join military alliances and to disallow foreign countries to have military bases on its soil.

As is tradition, the Federal President (Bundespräsident) will speak to the nation tonight at 19:48 Vienna Time (18:48 GMT). The replay will be available online at 20:00 (19:00). Unfortunately — and it pains me to say this — the Austrian public television network, the ORF, has a very poor website. It’s impossible to find a link to where the speech will be available online. I wanted to provide it for all of you who were ready and willing to practice your German! I may come by later and update this post with the proper link.

Here’s last year’s speech. Watch at least the first few seconds to hear part of the Austrian National Anthem and to see the beautiful Hofburg at night:

Until next post!

Bill Dawson

Shepherd_The_Austrians_CoverP.S. One of my favorite books concerning Austrian History covers the idea of Austrian neutrality and how it came about. The book is Gordon Brook-Shepherd’s The Austrians: A Thousand-Year Odyssey. (That link is for, but it’s also available from, and

Gordon Brook-Shepherd is not a professional historian, per se, and therefore his writing is very approachable and enjoyable.  I like to refer to him as a “gentleman historian”. I highly recommend his book as a general history of Austria, particularly if you are not looking for a history from the academic perspective.

  • Fall of the Berlin Wall – 20th Anniversary – links for 22 Oct 2009

    Fall of the Berlin Wall – 20th Anniversary – links for 22 Oct 2009

    Here are links for 22 October 2009 concerning that very important moment in German History (and world history), the fall of the Berlin Wall.

    If you missed them, consider reviewing other recent entries containing Berlin Wall / GDR links. And don’t forget the Berlin Wall Resources page.

    • At CNET News, Tim Leberecht praises the Berlin Twitter Wall. I tweeted to #fotw, did you? :)
    • Marcus Walker of the Wall Street Journal Online addresses the doubts about which reporter elicited the history-changing response from Günter Schabowski at the press conference (see lead photo of this blog post) on 09 November 1989. Today’s video (see below) shows this press conference and gives you the background of what I’m talking about. Was it, in fact, Italian reporter Riccardo Ehrman? He received Germany’s highest honor for doing so, but a West German reporter is claiming it was he, not Ehrman, who opened the Berlin Wall. A fight for journalistic honor!

    Today’s video is another in the Guardian’s series, “Berlin Wall: 20 Years On.” Unfortunately, the Guardian does not provide any embed code for this video, so you will actually have to visit that link to see it. This part — part four — of the series recalls 09 November 1989 itself. It includes a bit of trivia that I think a lot of people don’t know about: Günter Schabowski‘s mistaken belief — which he uttered aloud at a press conference — that the checkpoints were to be opened immediately. This was not, in fact, what the East German government had intended.

    The transcript of Schabowski’s screw up can be seen at this PDF link from The critical part:

    Schabowski: (um…)(reads:) “Permanent exit is possible via all GDR border crossings to the FRG. These changes replace the temporary practice of issuing [travel] authorizations through GDR consulates and permanent exit with a GDR personal identity card via third countries.”
    (Looks up) (um) I cannot answer the question about passports at this point.
    (Looks questioningly at Labs and Banaschak.) That is also a technical question. I don’t know, the passports have to … so that everyone has a passport, they first have to be distributed. But we want to…

    Banaschak: The substance of the announcement is decisive…

    Schabowski: … is the …

    Question: When does it come into effect?

    Schabowski: (Looks through his papers…) That comes into effect, according to my information, immediately, without delay (looking through his papers further).

    Labs: (quietly) …without delay.

    Beil: (quietly) That has to be decided by the Council of Ministers.

    Question: (…Many voices…) You only said the FRG, is the regulation also valid for West Berlin?

    Schabowski: (reading aloud quickly) “As the Press Office of the Ministry … the Council of Ministers decided that until the Volkskammer implements a corresponding law, this transition regulation will be in effect.”

    And that, as they say, was that.

    Until next time,

    Bill Dawson

    Items for the interim – Stuff I’ve seen while being too busy

    It pains me that I haven’t updated GHB since last Wednesday, and I probably won’t again until the weekend.  The reason is because I got a rush job for German-to-English translation of some very, very dense and difficult German.  It concerns psychological research and it’s just simply brutal.  Here’s a single sentence to give you an idea.  Yes, this is just one sentence:

    Darüber hinaus deutet Vieles darauf hin, dass in Aus- und Weiterbildungslehrgängen für Pflegepersonen (im Altenbereich) ein geringes Gewicht auf die Vermittlung von Wissen und die Förderung von Kompetenzen gelegt wird, die es Pflegepersonen ermöglichen, über explizite und implizite Momente des eigenen Wahrnehmens, Erlebens und Denkens, die ihre pflegerische Tätigkeit unmittelbar und häufig unbewusst beeinflussen, in professioneller Art und Weise zu reflektieren.

    I’m not really that good of a translator.  In fact, I’m not a translator in any official capacity at all.  But I accepted the job and it’s moving forward, albeit very slowly; I’m doing it during my evenings, since I have a day job.  It should be finished by Friday.

    So anyway, as I said, it kills me to leave GHB so unattended.  During little breaks in the work, I have surfed around to look at stuff as always, so I just mention a few things here now.

    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

    Last week I tweeted about the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s First Person podcast series.  Since then I’ve taken the time to look around more at the rest of the USHMM’s website, and I’m very impressed with what’s available.  Just one example is their Online Exhibitions page.  Have a look at it.  If you like original source material like oral histories, interviews, documents, film footage and the like, then this is really a place for you to stop by.

    Harvard Law School Library: Nuremberg Trials Project

    According to the introductory page, Harvard has over a million documents related to the trials.  They don’t seem to have scanned many of them yet to make them available online, but there are some from the “Doctors’ Trials”, the trials concerning such experimentation on human subjects.  If you look at their Documents page, you get an example of how the prosecution worked with documents.  The page shows you an original German document, a typed version (still in German), another typed version (now translated to English), and a “Staff Analysis” prepared by the prosecution staff.  I found that interesting.

    European Resistance Archive

    This web site has several videos containing eyewitness testimony of people who resisted fascism throughout Europe.  The videos even contain English subtitles.  I’ve just watched the testimony of Ms Romana Verdel from Carinthia.  Very interesting!

    That’s all for now.  GHB will be back in normal operation soon.  Bis bald!

    Hooliganism I can live with: football in Nazi Vienna.

    Hooliganism I can live with: football in Nazi Vienna.

    I have to be honest with you: I really look down upon soccer (football) hooliganism and I don’t understand the level of hysteria that often occurs at (and, especially, after) soccer matches in parts of Europe and the UK. But I have enjoyed reading about this kind of hooliganism in Vienna during the Nazi era:

    On November 18, 1940, some 52,000 fans jammed into Vienna’s soccer stadium in the Prater for a game between Vienna’s Admira and the German champion Schalke 04. The stadium crowd was unruly and ready for trouble. And trouble, political trouble, there was aplenty, despite a massive display of uniformed and plainclothes police and the presence of an impressive array of Nazi brass led by [Baldur von] Schirach and his wife. Let a German player commit a foul, or worse, get away with it, and fans’ anger exploded into anti-German, even anti-Nazi, expletives. As the [Neues Wiener Tagblatt] noted, the crowd ignored Austrian infractions, or worse, cheered them. It didn’t help that Schalke played a tough, even brutal, brand of football. And when the referee disallowed Admira’s go-ahead goal after the teams were tied 1 to 1, the crowd exploded with soccer war style fury. Fans grew totally out of hand when an Admira forward headed the ball into the net, and the referee called that goal back too and the game ended in a tie.

    Just how serious was the riot? The Gestapo cabled uncertain reports back and forth from Berlin, suggesting that they would need 10,000 police to pick out ringleaders of so large a mob. What’s more, even with the sizable contingent of police on hand that day, nobody was around when so-called hooligans smashed the window of Schirach’s limousine and slashed its tired. Soccer would remain a Gestapo problem for the rest of the war; especially when, seven months later, the Viennese got revenge of a different sort. Before 90,000 fans in Berlin’s stadium Rapid cannonaded Schalke 04 into submission. [p. 182-3]

    That’s from Thomas Weyr’s excellent book, The Setting of the Pearl: Vienna Under Hitler (Amazon US, UK, CA, DE [english]). Weyr later quotes a witness, Kurt Neubauer:

    I was at the Stadium when Admira played Schalke 04 and yelled my head off at the Piefkes. Soccer gave you a chance to protest. [p. 226]

    (Piefke is an Austrian derogatory term used against Germans … to this day!)

    I’m interested in the topic of sport as one of the very, very few forms of public protest available to Germans and Austrians under Nazism. The Austrian expert in this arena, according to the results of my web searches, appears to be the historian Dr. Matthias Marschik. He has an article, Between Manipulation and Resistance: Viennese Football in the Nazi Era, which I’d love to read but appears to be available only after payment.

    The Viennese family into which I married supports the FK Austria Wien football side, as opposed to their bitter rivals, SK Rapid Wien, so I naturally find FK Austria Wien’s history particularly interesting. This is especially so since they were the Vienna side that seems to have suffered the most after the Anschluss by virtue of the fact that they were the team most associated with Jewish people. I found a very interesting article, unfortunately only in German, titled Fußball unterm Hakenkreuz (“Football under the Swastika”). The article’s authorsinterviewed the son of FK Austria Wien’s pre-Anschluss club president, Dr Emanuel Schwarz, himself Jewish. After the Anschluss, Dr Schwarz was, of course, unceremoniously relieved of his duties and he wisely began seeking an exit visa. His replacement as the head of the club, an SA Sturmbannführer, began his new duties by taking away one of Dr Schwarz’s trophies. The Schwarz family managed to get it back after the war.

    According to the article (my translation),

    A large portion of the club’s management had to escape Austria after the Anschluss. Robert Lang, the club manager, escaped to Yugoslavia, but was later captured there by the Nazis and murdered. President Schwarz was able to stay for a short while because he was, for a time, protected by the fact that he married a non-Jew; he stayed in Vienna only to await permission to travel to the USA. As this was not forthcoming, he eventually fled to Bologna, thanks in large part to his contacts within Italian football. With help from the FIFA president Jules Rimet, he received permission to emigrate to France in 1939. He went underground when the Germans invaded France. … The later national team manager Walter Nausch and Karl Geyer left Vienna with their jewish wives.

    Amazingly, the team survived during the Nazi years, but wasn’t very successful, never finishing higher than fourth in the Gauliga Ostmark, as the Austrian league was called during the Nazi era. More amazingly, “FK Austria Wien” appears to be the only institution in the “Ostmark” to have retained the word “Austria” in their name.

    Photo credit: the lead photo in this article shows the inside of Ernst-Happel-Stadion in Vienna. It is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike Generic 2.0 license. Attribution:

    Reflections on one month of German History Buzz

    My first post at German History Buzz appeared on 3 August 2009. As I think back on the site’s first month, a few things come to mind…

    This is fun

    I finally have the outlet that I have wanted for my deep interest in Austrian and German history. I finally have a reason for pulling the old books off the shelves, thumbing through them, making notes, organizing my thoughts and writing about them. I’m not just doing it for fun now; I’m sharing with whomever comes by and has a look. Whether it’s just one visitor or one thousand, someone out there — someday — will probably stumble across what I’ve said and perhaps even make some use of it. That’s more fun than sitting around reading and thinking, “Hmm, this is interesting,” and then doing nothing with the information.

    This is difficult

    Fun though it is, it is often also difficult to write a blog post. Thinking of something and typing it are the two easiest steps. The hard part comes when…

    • … I want to include material from other sources. This typically requires research either on- or offline. When offline, it means moving my head back and forth from the source material, be it a book, newspaper, or what have you. When online, this might mean a lot of switching back and forth between browser windows, copying and pasting, etc.
    • … I want to include one or more photos/images. I’ve chosen a WordPress template that really demands images, as you’ve no doubt noticed. I like the look of it, but it sure does require effort. First I need to find an image; and not just any image, since I will only take one that I may legally use. After finding a legal image, I need to crop and resize it to fit the correct dimensions for the template I’m using. That means saving the image locally, firing up image editing software if it’s not already running, cropping and resizing, re-saving the altered image, uploading it to the blog and copying its URL so I can refer to it.

    It may not sound like a lot, but the time spent on these tasks seems to add up quickly.

    This requires discipline

    As the last section described, the creation of a single blog entry can actually be fairly difficult. Well it’s even more challenging when you want to do it several times per week! This requires discipline. My discipline, like that of others, goes up and down. This is no doubt reflected on the site!

    I or We?

    If you have read a lot here, you may have noticed my inconsistent use of the first person singular and plural. I started off with a lot of “we”, entertaining the idea that some day one or more other people might contribute to the site. Therefore I thought maybe “we” was appropriate. But, in fact, I noticed I felt uncomfortable every time I typed it. So I’ve stopped. New material contains only the first person singular unless there is a particular reason for the plural.

    Traffic is hard to get

    At the one month point, I get less than 20 visits per day to the site. I’m not surprised about that, given the niche quality of the topic and the fact that a blog absolutely needs inbound links from other web sites in order to even have a chance to get a respectable Google page rank. At the moment, just one external site links to me, and Google doesn’t even seem to have noticed it. So it could take a long, long time before I ever — if ever — get traffic to the site. But that’s fine, because just the act of writing about history is fun for me. So I’m going to stick with it no matter what. Of course, more visitors could help with the issue of discipline which I talked about above; a healthy readership certainly provides some motivation. But either way, this site shall remain alive with fresh content coming out on a fairly regular basis.

    A footnote to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact

    stalin_ribbentropToday marks the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, also known as the Nazi-Soviet Pact or the Hitler-Stalin Pact.

    From an old blog that I used to run, I have the following anecdote concerning Molotov and Leopold Figl, the Austrian statesman.  I wrote the blog entry six years ago, in 2003, and based it on an article that I’d read that day in the Austrian daily, Kurier.  Unfortunately I don’t have the original anymore, so I’m trusting my translation from back then.  Here is the excerpt:

    An article concerning the [Moscow] Declaration includes portions of an interview with an Austrian who was present in 1955 during talks — again in Moscow — concerning Austria’s return to independence. This man, Ludwig Steiner, was present when Leopold Figl, who, as Foreign Minister, was part of the Austrian delegation, spoke privately to Russian foreign minister Molotov. Figl had been in a concentration camp from the time of the annexation of Austria in 1938 all the way until the end of the war in 1945. He said to Molotov on that day in 1955,

    “Your name has always made an impression on me. Most of all it made an impression on me when we in the concentration camp had to assemble in the yard at five o’clock in the morning. It was cold and we had to stand there for hours. Suddenly your voice came over the loudspeaker. That was when you had concluded the pact with Hitler-Germany [Hitler-Stalin pact, 1939].”


    Considering that this Austrian delegation of 1955 was in Moscow and that the future of their state was very much at the mercy of the Soviets, this was quite a gutsy thing to say. Steiner, the Austrian who witnessed this, said that he immediately thought “the world was going under,” that Figl’s honesty would ruin Austria’s chances to quickly attain true statehood. But, says Steiner, “Molotov simply said ‘Da, Da’ and turned away.”

    The forgotten ones: Chancellors of the Weimar Republic

    The forgotten ones: Chancellors of the Weimar Republic

    Both English and German Wikipedia articles agree on the list of German chancellors during the Weimar Republic (although, if you look closely enough, they don’t necessarily agree on exact dates.)  As I reviewed the list, I found myself surprised by the fact that I really only recognized the names of six of them.  Here is the full list; the names that “rang a bell” for me are in bold.

    • Philipp Scheidemann
    • Gustav Bauer
    • Hermann Müller
    • Konstantin Fehrenbach
    • Joseph Wirth
    • Wilhelm Cuno
    • Gustav Stresemann
    • Wilhelm Marx
    • Hans Luther
    • Heinrich Brüning
    • Franz von Papen
    • Kurt von Schleicher
    • Adolf Hitler

    And of those six that I recognized, only three of them came to mind as Weimar era chancellors.  Von Papen came to mind because of his role in “negotiating” with Austria leading up to the Anschluss; frankly, I’d forgotten that he was chancellor.  Von Schleicher came to mind because I recalled that he was murdered during the so-called “Night of the Long Knives“.  Hitler came to mind because … well, because he’s Hitler!  I simply hadn’t thought of him as a “Weimar chancellor”, but technically he was (though you might notice that the English page linked-to above does not list him — it seems to me that it should for the period from his election in January 1933 until he unified the offices of Chancellor and President into “Führer” in August 1934.)

    So what of the other three whom I actually recalled as being Weimar chancellors: Scheidemann, Stresemann and Brüning?  Scheidemann no doubt came to mind because he was the one who proclaimed the German Republic:

    Das deutsche Volk hat auf der ganzen Linie gesiegt. Das alte Morsche ist zusammengebrochen … Die Hohenzollern haben abgedankt! Es lebe die deutsche Republik!

    (The German Volk has been completely victorious. The old rot has collapsed. … The Hohenzollerns have abdicated! Long live the German Republic!) [my translation]

    I recalled Stresemann not primarily because of something he did during his chancellorship, but rather for his part as the vigorous negotiator for Germany in the talks that became the Dawes Plan.

    As for Brüning, he came to mind simply as the last “serious” Weimar chancellor before everything, shall we say, went to hell.

    And what of the ones whose names I did not even recognize?  The one that strikes me as most depressing (for having not been remember by me, someone who pretends to know a thing or two about German history!) is Wilhelm Marx.  The man served two terms for a total of more than 1100 days in office, fairly extraordinary for that time.  How can I not have remembered him?  As I review his English Wikipedia page, I see that it could be because Stresemann was still on the scene as his foreign minister during both of those terms.  Stresemann was a very important international figure, perhaps so much so that his legacy outstrips that of his superior during those 1100+ days.  Either that, or I was simply not paying attention in class!

    Photo credits: The lead image for this article is a combination of three photos from the German Federal Archives which are made available under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 Germany license. In the photo are: Gustav Stresemann, Philipp Scheidemann and Gustav Bauer.