Harald Braun

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Author: Harald Braun
Title: Deutschland umsonst reloaded. Zu Fuß und ohne Geld unterwegs [Germany for free reloaded]
Time: 2011
Destination: Germany
Length: 3 monts
Type: mostly walking

the failed sacrilege

[Note: I don’t think there’s an English edition of this book.]

The story: HB is a German journalist who fancies the iconic 1980s travel book “Deutschland umsonst” written by Michael Holzach, in which the author goes on a long, moneyless walk through Germany. HB comes up with his own version of this idea, but with a twist: he wants to publish live updates of his journey on social media, thus increasing his chances of getting support from people along the way. He sets out in May, takes his dog along, and they walk for about three months. So far, so good.

the apologies

The book is horrible. HB spends a lot of time explaining his decisions, or even apologizing for them: why he chose to go on this adventure. How he is not just “copying” Holzach. Why he often hitches rides and doesn’t just walk on foot. Why he sometimes stays over at places of people he already knows from before. Why he keeps a bank card in his backpack.

The thing is: this is HB’s adventure, and if his decisions make sense to him, that’s fine. I want to be able to understand them from the story itself, not because he explicitly explains everything to me. The whole book reminded me of Rob Lilwall and his constant apologizing. I hated it.

the bad writing

I rarely mention literary style on this blog, because I think it’s hard to talk about when we’re comparing writers from different epochs and different cultural (and linguistic) backgrounds. For example, I have never read Marco Polo in the Provençal original (and even that was not written by himself), so I can’t really say anything about his literary style.

That being said, this book was just badly written. As much as I hated Paulo Coelho, at least his writing was smooth (again, I only read a translation). But HB did a very sloppy job here. There is an instance where he has to patiently wait for a meal, which he describes as a “triumph of the will” (p.141). Another time he worries about the possibility of rain, which he calls an “inferno” (p.167).

the ignorance

And then there’s the instances where HB is just being outright ignorant. For example, one time he muses about the differences between himself and people who are really, actually destitute. In order to be more like them, he says, he would have to “decline mentally as well, lose my self-confidence” (p.183). Really?

He apparently doesn’t even understand Holzach: “Did he [Holzach] really have absolutely no sense of humor?” he wonders at one point (p.247). I found myself wondering if he had ever read him.

the verdict

I think it’s easy to see this book as “sacrilegious” towards Holzach’s legacy. I wouldn’t go that far. Anyone is free to walk around moneyless and write books about it. Sure, using the exact same title as the original means setting the bar pretty high for oneself, but even this didn’t bother me that much.

The problem here is quite simple: it’s a bad book.


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