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Reviews: Along the Wall and Watchtowers

"Whether accompanying a sad middle-aged man to Magdeburg in search of a missing mail-order bride or witnessing a bizarre celebration of the old East German Trabant car, August makes a fine guide to the paradoxes of a unified Germany."

"This engaging narrative is Oliver August's story of his recent car journey along the length of the old Iron Curtain ('Stalin's giant garden fence'), from north to south. The writer reflects, reports and uses delightful anecdotes to illustrate the changing shape of Germany's identity since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989."

"August is keen to find the humour in every situation. On the whole, however, there isn't much cause for cheer. August is too intelligent to be suckered by state programmes for redevelopment, or to applaud the conversion of minefields into golf courses. As a piece of reportage, his book is a fascinating slice of history."

"The German nation finds it as hard as ever to love itself. August self-flagellates like everyone else, but with a tinge of cheekiness and energy."

From Library Journal
After ten years, it is easy to forget that Germany was a divided country for more than 40 years. Post-World War II politics determined that Nazi Germany would be divided into two parts: a Western democratic country influenced by the Americans, British, and French and an Eastern Socialist/Communist country influenced by the former Soviet Union. What remains of this artificial divide? German-born and Oxford-educated August, a Times correspondent who has recently received the Anglo-German Foundation Journalism Award, tries to answer this question in an engrossing account of his search for the physical and social remnants of the border that once divided West and East Germany. As August meticulously wends his way down the former frontier, he encounters difficulties in finding the actual border but has no problem reporting on conversations with residents who have lingering doubts about the advantages of unification and the possibility of creating a truly unified Germany. This is a fearless, critical, accurate, and balanced assessment of the complicated political and social situation that will fester despite the elimination of a strong, physical barrier. Highly recommended for all European travel and history collections.

Amazon.co.uk Review
In 1948 Oliver August's father put a suitcase under a pile of cow dung and drove a horse-drawn cart from his house in the German village of Ellrich to a nearby field owned by his family. At the time the short journey, which took him from the Soviet to the British zones of post-war Germany, was casually policed at the time by Soviet guards. A few years later it had become the frontline in the Cold War and, as the frontier between East and West Germany, one of the most fortified borders in the world.

Along the Wall and Watchtowers: A Journey down Germany's Divide takes August on an 800 mile journey down the political faultline that separated his father from his childhood home 10 years after the Berlin Wall came down. Along the way he meets resentful former border guards, recalcitrant family members, uptight hitchhikers and towns that were split in half by the arbitrary frontier that made two countries out of one. "The border was defined not by geography but by people; the people it caged, the people fighting it and the people who controlled it", he concludes. Better at describing how the division affected Germany's past than at analysing what reunification means for its present and future, August provides an entertaining and readable account of a journey in a country most British readers know only through stereotypes. --Gary Younge

A revealing portrait of the reunified Germany told in the form of an entertaining travelogue -- an 800-mile journey along the former Iron Curtain from the Baltic Sea to the Czech border. * In recent German history, borders -- and their expansion -- have been central to the fate of Europe. When the Iron Curtain dissolved ten years ago, the faultline that divided West and East Germany also collapsed. But could the so-called 'anti-fascist protection barrier' (or 'death strip') be erased as easily as a pencil-mark on the map? Curious to find out, Oliver August set off on an 800-mile journey from the Baltic Sea to the Czech border. * In his encounters with former border guards, ex-Stasi members turned insurance salesmen, decollectivized farmers, innkeepers, nudists, car mechanics, engine-drivers, foresters, artists and dreamers, the author reveals with a delightful lightness of touch the hopes, fears and regrets of both 'Wessis' and 'Ossis', and listens to the anxieties of those who feel 'colonized' by the West. * He travels along the Elbe, observing new nature reserves in the old borderlands; visits the unique village republic where for 22 years the inhabitants lived enclosed between two fences; watches the rebuilding of the Bismarck family castle; attends an international gathering of Trabant-owners; explores museums devoted to documenting former life along the border; travels across the dark and sinister Harz mountains which once harboured an underground Nazi concentration camp; and ends his journey in Hof, where minefields have been transformed into golf courses.


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