“ Author: Roger Boyes / Format: Paperback / Genre: Travel Writing /Title: To Prussia with Love / ISBN 13: 9781849531252 / ISBN 10: 1849531252 / 320 Pages / Book is published 2011-04-07 by Summersdale Publishers / Alternative title: To Prussia with Love: Misadventures in Rural East Germany / Alternative ISBN 10: 1849531250 „
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Alarm bells should have sounded when I picked up Roger Boyes's "To Prussia with Love" in a bookstore and I thought to myself "this sounds a bit contrived". Call me naïve but when I browse the travel writing section in Waterstones, I tend to believe that those books are based on the writers' real life experiences. Not so, it seems; at least not if this book is anything to go by.
It all starts off quite reasonably. Boyes is a British journalist living in Berlin and submitting stories about German life to his editor back in Blighty; rather fortuitously, just as he's yearning to do something different with his life, his German interior designer girlfriend informs him that she's inherited a country house, not, as he hopes in rural Italy, but in Brandenburg ( in eastern Germany to most people these days but, as luck would have it for those looking for a catchy title for a book, it used to go by the name of Prussia). It should come as no surprise to learn that the house turns out to be only barely standing and surrounded by an urban jungle. It's too big for Roger and Lena to live in and, besides, they'd still need to have an income so a plan is hatched: to turn the schloss into a British themed bed and breakfast. Just imagine what humorous situations could arise from such a scheme!
Unsurprisingly the locals are indifferent at best although someone is clearly out to sabotage the scheme and it appears that the mayor's office might be a good place to start looking. Harry, a colleague of Roger's who has an endless stream of ideas, supplies their first employee, a teenage relative who has been in trouble with the police back home and who needs something to keep him on the straight and narrow; not until the young delinquent arrives on the door step do Roger and Lena find out he's West Indian, a fact that's likely to create a stir in the backwater of Alt Globnitz. Hoping in one fell swoop to improve relations with the locals and secure some funding for the fostering of Anglo German friendship from the British ambassador's office, a cricket match is organised between the Brits and the Germans to take place on a former Russian minefield. Will Roger and Lena's plans go up in smoke?
If you believe this nonsense you'll believe anything. Seriously, the OED will remove the word gullible from the dictionary and replace it with your name. Alt-Globnitz? Now I've heard some amusing place names (better still, I swear Hungarian train station announcers start their announcements with the words "Semi boner") but Alt-Globnitz didn't sound right; and when Boyes says that it's twinned with Hastings and Dunkirk (both the sites of two humiliating defeats for the English) you know that you're having your leg pulled. So I Googled it. Alt-Globnitz is a complete invention, a fiction; just like the rest of this tale. Quite why the publisher has chosen to market it as travel writing is beyond me. Perhaps the combined facts that it's horribly predictable, depicts grossly stereotypical characters and isn't that funny might explain it. Even labelling the book as a farce does nothing to hide the fact that this is far-fetched nonsense.
I laughed infrequently and cringed a whole lot more, and only afterwards when I bothered to do some more Googling did I learn the truth. The book originally came out in Germany with the aim of entertaining Germans. So when Boyes is so depressed at ending up with a country pile in Prussia it's because he's encouraging those in what was West Germany to look down on the Ostis, who as we are repeatedly reminded are lazy, suspicious, scaredy-cats (when someone plants rats in the attic the Ossi workmen immediately down tools). If that's not funny enough you can always laugh at the crazy Englishmen with their weird games, or their eccentric aristocrats who populate the embassy. Of course, since the book is marketed in the travel writing genre, the subtleties (or not) are lost.
I don't need Germans to tell me what is so funny about English people (or rather I don't need an English man to make up what he believes Germans find funny), especially if it's as poorly observed as this. Maybe if Boyes had been a bit more subtle in his caricatures and situations this could have been a better read. I did learn one thing of note: according to Boyes East German workmen stop at noon on Wednesdays to eat cake, they call this a "Bergfest" because after the uphill climb to Wednesday lunch it's all downhill to the weekend. It's a nice story but I don't trust Boyes anymore: I'll go and Google it.