Brush up your German

Posted on 19th May 2021 by simonbeattie

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about language guides, and so thought I’d share another one I find particularly fascinating:

This is the first edition of a book published by the Head of Modern Languages at Shrewsbury School in 1939: ‘Conversations about the New Germany—on and off parade’ (dust-jacket). The illustrations are by Phyllis Ward.

‘Since the original Brush Up Your German appeared eight years ago some 50,000 copies of it have been sold.  But much has happened in those eight years—National Socialism for one thing, and “Greater” Germany for another.  So Herr Meyer and his charming wife Ilse go back to see just what has happened …  Matters are slightly complicated by the fact that Herr Meyer has a non-Aryan great-aunt somewhere up the family tree.  But this, like all the other troubles which beset the family, is smoothed over, and the Meyers glide over the Autobahnen, rush along in the “Flying Frankfurter” [an express train], … or go and buy a wood-pulp suit as jauntily as ever.’

‘Grundy’s little book highlights and gently mocks much that was troubling about contemporary German life.  However, the humorous tone means that Grundy always stops short of straightforward condemnation, and instead depicts Germans under Nazism as ordinary people too busy getting on with their own lives to be inclined to question the wisdom of their leaders.  While Frau Meyer represents naive credulity, Herr Meyer openly dislikes much of Nazism …  They are aware of the dangers of open criticism, and, when it comes to it, Meyer is content to joke about banning Jews from public swimming pools.  As the couple sail back, the band play Deutschland über alles and the Horst-Wessel hymn (also known as Die Fahne hoch, the Nazi party anthem and joint national anthem alongside the first verse of Deutschland über alles between 1933 and 1945).  The book ends as “Both the people standing on the quayside and the passengers raise their arms.  Involuntarily Herr and Frau M. follow suit’ (Nicola McLelland, German through English Eyes, 2015; see pp. 270–4 for a fuller discussion).

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2 responses to “Brush up your German”

  1. Oh Simon – you’ve beaten me to it. I must now read your blog. I bought that one plus some of the others and am fascinated. Rothermere – Daily Mail – Dent (published first and only Fascist newspaper in 1929)- Grundy himself. All the authors who wrote the Brush Up series are fascinating in their un-Englishness but look what they produced. I’m in Croatia now until autumn and meant to do a write of these books.

    All best and hope work goes well. I love your pictures of endpapers and similar.

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