What Have the Germans Ever Done for Us?: A History of the German Population of Great Britain by Susan Duxbury-Neumann
|What Have the Germans Ever Done for Us?: A History of the German Population of Great Britain by Susan Duxbury-Neumann|
|Reviewer: John Van der Kiste|
|Summary: This takes a long hard incisive look at the love-hate relationship between the British and the Germans which has endured for so long, the impact of German trading and culture on Britain, and provides plenty of food for thought.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 96||Date: August 2017|
The adapted Monty Pythonesque rhetorical question takes some time to provide a full answer, and this slim but useful volume does so very well.
Ms Duxbury-Neumann traces the complicated saga of Anglo-Germanism back to the era between the sixth and eleventh centuries, after Roman withdrawal from Britain, and those who entered the island nation afterwards, the peoples of the mostly Germanic tribes from the Holy Roman Empire. A liberal immigration policy attracted German merchants and others, with many of the latter making an important contribution to British culture. We would be hard-pressed to name a greater, more revolutionary invention than Gutenberg's printing press, and without Gutenberg, Caxton might not have introduced the same device in England. Generations later the portrait painter Holbein, and the musician and composer Handel, established themselves in Britain, as did the merchant banker Baring – one of the ancestors of Diana, Princess of Wales. German pork butchers opened shops in most British towns, thus becoming the godfathers of inexpensive takeaway meals.
In the eighteenth century the monarchy also became Germanised, after the childless Queen Anne was succeeded by the non-English speaking Elector of Hanover as George I. Just over a hundred years later it was left to Queen Victoria's German husband Prince Albert to have arguably as great an influence on the life of the nation as any other individual, with his involvement in everything from improvements in education and working conditions to the Great Exhibition, and also for preventing war between Britain and America as a result of a dispute during the American Civil War.
Though we might think that anti-German feeling was largely as a result of the naval arms race from the late nineteenth century, it had ebbed and flowed since pre-Tudor times, with disputes between British and Hanseatic merchants. Later there was resentment against poor and destitute migrants costing the government money needed elsewhere, hostility towards German street musicians (now we know – they must have introduced busking as well), and resentment of workers in the hospitality industries who were seen as a more diligent labour force than their British counterparts. Yet it was really with the growth of the German navy and fears of British invasion that xenophobia grew, to come to full fruition after the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 (although the author gives the impression that the royal house of Saxe-Coburg Gotha anglicised the name to Windsor before the outbreak of hostilities, not after, and tells us that Emperor William had a deformed right arm – it was his left). Nevertheless, through the ensuing years and particularly after Hitler's rise to power, German refugees, particularly those of Jewish blood, among them the architect Gropius, the historian Pevsner, and most famously the actor Andrew Sachs, found a ready welcome as individuals into Britain. Even since the Second World War the process has continued.
The author draws a line under the matter of post-war recovery issues and the Marshall Plan. It is too soon to give a considered view to the convoluted history of the European Union and Brexit-associated issues. If the title is adapted from Monty Python, the last word comes courtesy of Jeremy Paxman, who observes that the English failed to reinvent themselves while they became poorer, but at least they have the saving grace to laugh at themselves. (Which my A-level masters and examiners at school might have followed with the word 'Discuss').
Our relations with our cousins across the north sea have had more ups and downs than a helicopter, and will doubtless continue to do so. As Emperor William once pointed out, both he and his mother were obstinate people because they had the same English blood in their veins. Did he mean German blood – or are they both the same thing? Whatever - this very informative title takes a long hard incisive look at the love-hate relationship which has endured for so long, and in the process provides us with plenty of food for thought.
If you enjoy this title, you might also find Red Love: The Story of an East German Family by Maxim Leo with its spotlight on life in the old socialist pre-reunification state of interest, likewise Panther Soup: A European Journey in War and Peace by John Gimlette which is primarily a travel book but offers some useful observations on current thinking. For a close examination on relations between the closely-related British and German ruling houses in the nineteenth century, there is my own Queen Victoria and the European Empires by John Van der Kiste\Queen Victoria and the European Empires; and for a biography of one of the leading Anglo-German cultural icons, a study of the eighteenth-century composer, Handel: The Man and His Music by Jonathan Keates.
You can read more book reviews or buy What Have the Germans Ever Done for Us?: A History of the German Population of Great Britain by Susan Duxbury-Neumann at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy What Have the Germans Ever Done for Us?: A History of the German Population of Great Britain by Susan Duxbury-Neumann at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.