Why do forests, castles, fairy tales and legends exercise such a fascination over the German mind? In this second episode of The German Saga, historian Christopher Clark explores what makes Germans tick.
On the emotion scale forests are pretty much at the top. Germans’ infatuation with trees goes back a long way. The Roman historian Tacitus described Germania as a land of endless forest. The legionaries were puzzled by the lack of temples and even more so by the mystical role ascribed to glades and trees. Even today Germany remains a nation of tree lovers, with oaks and chestnuts proudly marking the center of many a village.
The World of Fairy Tales
Forests play a central part in many German fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel or Little Red Riding Hood. After Luther’s Bible, the Grimm brothers’ famous Children’s and Household Tales is surely the most prominent and familiar example of Germany’s literary cultural legacy. These tales are embedded in German tradition and have enriched the childhoods of many the world over.
Christopher Clark’s journey takes him along the Rhine. For thousands of years the Rhine has been a vital trade route. Pilgrims and armies were also familiar with the waterway. But it was a long time before anyone posed the question “Why is the Rhine so beautiful?” In times past the sight of the Loreley Rock or the Binger Loch was associated more with dangerous currents, rapids and shallows than with romanticism. Christopher Clark also takes time to explore the Germans’ intense romance with soccer. The statistics speak for themselves: some six and a half million Germans are members of over 27,000 football clubs.
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