A Tramp Abroad: Observations of a Former Expat and Frequent Traveler in German-speaking Europe


As I find myself rediscovering many aspects of daily life in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, I can’t help but think of Mark Twain, who wrote so masterfully about his travels in Germany and Europe in A Tramp Abroad (1880, translated into German as “Bummel durch Europa,” including his essay on “The Awful German Language”). As I was zooming along the autobahn in my leased Peugeot the other day, the same thoughts entered my mind that occur to me when I motor across the vast deserts of the American West: How did people do this before there were cars, trains, planes, and the Internet?

Mark Twain’s mode of travel was certainly much slower, giving him a lot of time to contemplate the culture and sights he was experiencing. Mr. Clemens wrote with paper and pen. I’m writing on my laptop. He exaggerated and invented things at times. I may also exaggerate for effect, but I’ll try not to invent. Like me, Twain in A Tramp Abroad is no longer seeing Europe for the first time. “[A Tramp Abroad] has not the fresh frolicsomeness of the Innocents Abroad; it is Europe revisited, and seen through eyes saddened by much experience of tables d’hôte, old masters, and traveling Americans…” – William Dean Howells in The Atlantic.

That said, here are some of my own observations and rediscoveries, colored by long experience. Continue reading

Mark Twain in Berlin: Back a book!

Mark Twain traveled the world and wrote about it in several of his books. When I went to Hawaii, I learned that Twain had long ago beat me to it, back when the Hawaiian Islands were still better known as the Sandwich Islands. I also knew he had been to Europe and Germany, but I didn’t really know about his time in Berlin, along with his family.

Recently I wrote a review of a book about the Berlin Wall produced by Eva Schweitzer’s Berlinica publishing house. Now Dr. Schweitzer has announced a new book about an interesting but little known topic: Mark Twain in Berlin in the early 1890s. In an unusual twist for publishing, she is inviting potential readers to help fund the book, with an intended publication date of June 2012.

But first, let’s look at a bit of obscure history concerning America’s most famous humorist author. Continue reading

The Death of the German Language

The reports of its death are premature

Lately, the Germans have had more important things to worry about than the death of their language. But once they have dealt with the collapse of the euro and the resignation of their flaky President Köhler, they’ll get back to worrying about the demise of German, one of their favorite things to worry about.

As I wrote in my book, The German Way, it is no accident that the term “angst” comes to us from German. Worrying is a national pastime in Germany. Next to soccer (Fußball), worrying is the number one German pastime. To be sure, there are sometimes truly serious things to worry about. I think the endangered euro falls into that category, since it also has to do with European unity, the EU and all that. (By the way, Angela, you really could be more of a cheerleader for European unity.)

When it comes to their native tongue, Germans are terribly conflicted. On the one hand, they take immense pride in what a difficult language Deutsch is, almost daring foreigners to learn it. Continue reading