Keeping Up with the Germans: A search for common ground with Britain

Philip Oltermann attempts to fathom why Britain and Germany, two nations that seem so closely connected, continue to misunderstand one another.

Keeping Up with the Germans
Philip Oltermann
Faber and Faber 
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Of the many cruel reverses suffered by the England football team at the hands of the Germans, one of the worst was their defeat in the semi-finals of the 1996 European Championship.

As the distraught England fans left Wembley stadium, the parents of Philip Oltermann, a 16-year-old watching the game in the suburbs of Hamburg, broke some disturbing news to their son: the family were moving to England.

And they say the Germans have no sense of humour. Or at least the English do. Oltermann's Keeping Up with the Germans is an attempt to fathom why two nations that seem so closely connected continue to misunderstand one another.

In a witty dissection of his native and adoptive lands, Oltermann illustrates the earnest Germanic attempt to understand the English and the utter indifference of the latter to such attempts.

In the end, Oltermann cracks the English sense of humour enough to take an Englishwoman as his wife, but as to the rest, it might be concluded when it comes to the English and the Germans, a Tibetan monk and a Mexican drug baron might have more in common.