David Blackbourn

David Blackbourn’s books include The Conquest of Nature: Water, Landscape and the Making of Modern Germany.

Princes, Counts and Racists: Weimar

David Blackbourn, 19 May 2016

In March 1932​, Thomas Mann visited Weimar in central Germany. For the last thirty years of the 18th century, this modestly sized town was home to Goethe, Schiller, Herder and Wieland, but by the 1930s it had become a hotbed of the radical right. ‘The admixture of Hitlerism and Goethe affects one strangely,’ Mann wrote in ‘Meine Goethereise’. ‘Of course,...

He speaks too loud: Brecht

David Blackbourn, 3 July 2014

In​ his Svendborg Poems, written in exile in Denmark in the 1930s, Brecht wrote: ‘In the dark times/Will there also be singing? Yes, there will also be singing/About the dark times.’ His life was shaped by these dark times. He came of age during the First World War, became a successful writer in the years before Hitler’s rise to power, spent 16 years as an...

Great Man: Humboldt

David Blackbourn, 16 June 2011

Alexander von Humboldt was once called the last man who knew everything, the last generalist before an age of specialisation definitively set in. His work ranged across geography, geology, mineralogy, botany, zoology, climatology, chemistry, astronomy, demography, ethnography and political economy. When he died in 1859, at the age of 89, he enjoyed cult status as a scientific hero and genius....

In the Opposite Direction: Enzensberger

David Blackbourn, 25 March 2010

Poet, essayist, political commentator, dramatist for radio and stage, influential editor and publisher, Hans Magnus Enzensberger is one of Germany’s leading public intellectuals. He belongs to the same generation as Günter Grass and Jürgen Habermas, although he has been less bien pensant, less predictable, than either. His early poetry, lyric verse with a strong political...

Black Legends: Prussia

David Blackbourn, 16 November 2006

Too much history can be bad for you. ‘The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living’ – that was Marx’s famous comment on France in 1848. When Nietzsche elaborated on the same idea in one of his ‘untimely meditations’, he had Germany in mind, the Prussia-writ-large created under the auspices of Bismarck. We have...

Not So Special: Imitating Germany

Richard J. Evans, 7 March 2024

The Weimar Republic was a ‘great crossroads of modernism’, where cultural innovators from many countries mingled, experimented and lived in defiance of convention. All this was destroyed when the Nazis...

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Imagined Soil: The German War on Nature

Neal Ascherson, 6 April 2006

‘All history is the history of unintended consequences, but that is especially true when we are trying to untangle humanity’s relationship with the natural environment,’ David...

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