I’m no German language expert — far, far from it — but I have been seeing a large response to my posts sharing my experiences learning German. So I’ve decided to start a new “feature” reviewing the German language books I read, which are as much for pleasure as they are for language practice. This will, hopefully, give other learners ideas for books to look for and what they can expect. If you’ve got a favorite book or a book you’re reading now, please share it! I’d really love to get recommendations.
First up, Benjamin von Stuckrad-Barre’s Auch Deutsche unter den Opfern.
About two years ago I was streaming Deutsche Welle’s broadcast from their website and happened on an interview with journalist and author Benjamin von Stuckrad-Barre on the English language show Talking Germany. The show brings on German personalities — actors, writers, politicians, etc. — and they converse about aspects of German culture, news and so on. Stuckrad-Barre was there promoting Auch Deutsche unter den Opfern. I found him charming, witty, and very well spoken. I was interested in what he had to say. And I was shocked a month or so later when a package arrived from Deutsche Welle with three of his books, autographed; I had entered their contest for the episode and apparently won. Nice!
At the time, my German was no where near good enough to read his books. I tried at least three times before I made it, admittedly roughly, through Soloalbum, his debut novel. Since seeing his interview, I’ve been a big fan and followed his political-slash-comedy talkshows. But I really wanted to read Opfern. Let’s call it a challenge.
Auch Deutsche unter den Opfern is a collection of Stuckrad’s articles for various German newspapers and magazines. It’s hard, as a foreigner, to get all the references and all the jokes, but reading these articles gives you a good taste of what people are thinking, what people are saying and what people aren’t saying. Stuckrad’s style is humorous and that’s what I like best about it. As a music fan, perhaps my favorite is his article on record buying where he outlines his month-by-month experiences (Kylie?! Really?!) because unlike the journalism of his interview with Chancellor Angela Merkel or his observations of the Berlin Christmas tree being erected, this story is just a little more personal.
The downside, from a language learning point of view, is that Stuckrad doesn’t write simply. He knows the German language and he writes, what seem to be, complicated sentences that can be difficult to understand. Add to that a seemingly large vocabulary and it’s no wonder it took me two years to find the confidence to attempt to read Opfern.
But for someone looking to learn, it’s a fantastic and entertaining challenge. Maybe I don’t understand every sentence or every nuance but that’s what’s great about reading: I can read it again whenever I want.