European studies blog

Exploring Europe at the British Library

Introduction

Discover the British Library's extensive collections from continental Europe and read news and views on European culture and affairs from our subject experts and occasional guest contributors. Read more

27 September 2021

Angela Merkel - a leadership in books

Last weekend’s German Federal election marked the beginning of the end of Angela Merkel’s 16 years in office as Chancellor. Although she will remain in a caretaker role while the German political parties negotiate to form a ruling coalition, once agreement is reached she will stand down and retire from active political life. As the first woman and the first politician from the former German Democratic Republic in the role, Merkel has been the subject of great interest and many books. The following is an overview of some of the many that the British Library has acquired over the years.

Book cover with a photo of Angela Merkel at a press conference

Angela Merkel, In unruhiger Zeit: Reden und Aufsätze aus drei Jahren deutscher Einheit (Düsseldorf, 1994) YA.1995.a.651

Merkel first arrived on our shelves in 1994 via a collection of her speeches and essays, In unruhiger Zeit (‘In Unsettled Times’). The book bears witness to her swift rise in politics: she only became politically active in late 1989, joined the Christian Democratic Union party (CDU) the following summer, and was appointed Minister for Women and Young People in the newly-united German government in 1991. As the journalist Fides Krause-Brewe says in her introductory essay, Merkel’s was “a career that only a revolution could produce”. The first ‘political biography’ of Merkel in the BL, by Wolfgang Stock, followed in 2000.

By 2005 we had acquired two more biographies and a book based on interviews with Merkel herself, Mein Weg (‘My Path’). After Merkel became Chancellor that year there was naturally an explosion of interest and publications. A theme often highlighted was the fact of Merkel being a woman, sometimes contrasted with male election rivals such as Gerhard Schröder (2005) and Peer Steinbrück (2013). Merkel is also sometimes compared to other women in positions of power and to contemporary female heads of state, for example in Patricia Lessnerkraus’s Merkel, Macht, Politik (‘Merkel, Power, Politics’).

Cover of a book about Merkel for young readers

Clare Throp, Angela Merkel (London, 2014) YKL.2014.a.394

As one of the world’s most powerful women, Merkel is often depicted as a role model. She features as one of the ‘Extraordinary Women’ in an educational series aimed at 9-11 year olds, and Joyce Marie Mushaben’s Becoming Madam Chancellor is “dedicated to girls everywhere looking for positive political role models”. Two of Merkel’s political nicknames show how such role models are still needed. Her mentor, former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, called her his ‘Mädchen’ (‘girl’), despite the fact that Merkel was a professional woman in her mid-30s with a doctorate in quantum chemistry. A 2001 study of her background and her rise in the CDU was titled Das Mädchen und die Macht (‘The Girl and Power’). In recent years she has often been referred to as ‘Mutti’ (‘mum’), a title perhaps affectionately meant but which can also be read as patronising: it’s hard to imagine a male politician being referred to by equivalent masculine terms.

Merkel’s GDR background has also been subject to much study and speculation. In a ‘collective biography’ from 2010 Michael Lühmann compares her with two other politicians from the East, Matthias Platzeck and Wolfgang Thierse. He defines all three as ‘Wendepolitiker’ – figures who only became active in politics around the time the Berlin Wall fell but who quickly became familiar and influential in the years that followed. Meanwhile Ralf Georg Reuth and Günther Lachmann go in search of Merkel’s GDR life in Das erste Leben der Angela M. (‘The First Life of Angela M.’). The famously reticent Merkel once said of this period “People know hardly anything about 35 years of my life”, but it is well known that her father was a Lutheran pastor, and her own faith is the focus of a study by Volker Resing, Angela Merkel, die Protestantin (‘Angela Merkel, the Protestant’). Resing later edited a collection of speeches given by Merkel at national church meetings, shedding further light on her beliefs and how they influence her politics.

Die Protestantin

Volker Resing, Angela Merkel, die Protestantin: ein Portät (Leipzig, [2009])  YF.2012.a.8103

The majority of our holdings about Merkel are in German, but of course she also attracted international attention. We have a biography in French from 2006, but our earliest English-language work, rather surprisingly, dates from as late as 2013, and was written in the context of the 2008 financial crisis and its lasting negative effects in the Eurozone. In the same year a biography by Stefan Kornelius was translated into English, with an additional chapter for a UK audience entitled ‘The British Problem’. The problems in the Eurozone also form the background to Nicolas Barotte’s François & Angela, a study of the relationship between Merkel and French President François Hollande during the period. Despite the affectionate relationship implied by the cover photograph, Barotte highlights the tensions and disagreements between the two, calling them a “couple in crisis”.

Book cover with a photo of Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel YF.2016.a.15938

Nicolas Barotte, François et Angela: Hollande contre Merkel: histoire secrète d'un couple en crise (Paris, [2015])

Although the Eurozone crisis and then Merkel’s welcoming of Syrian refugees to Germany in 2015 did considerable damage to her popularity at home, most of the publications we hold about her appear even-handed in their allocation of praise or blame. One of the exceptions is a study by Gertrud Köhler, a fierce critic of Merkel. Its title Die Patin (‘The Godmother’) with its mafia overtones gives an idea of Köhler’s opinion. Her latest book on Merkel is described as a ‘requiem’, and claims that Merkel’s leadership has weakened Germany. Another critical voice is Dirk Kurbjuweit, editor of news magazine Der Spiegel whose book Alternativlos (‘No Alternative’ – a term Merkel used to defend her handling of the Eurozone crisis) accuses her of failing to rise to the challenges of office, preferring a reactive to a proactive approach when faced with problems.

Despite this, Merkel’s approval rating in Germany is high as she leaves office, and in a YouGov poll this summer she was rated the most popular world leader by voters in six countries. Furthermore, a sense of affection for the former chancellor in Germany is reflected in the success of the ‘cosy crime novel’, Miss Merkel, by David Safier, which has Merkel retiring to a rural village near her childhood home and solving a murder mystery. And a limited edition commemorative Merkel teddy bear swiftly sold out this year.

Book cover with a cartoon of Angela Merkel and a pug

David Safier, Miss Merkel: Mord in der Uckermark (Hamburg, 2020) On order

No doubt we will continue to acquire books in coming years about Angela Merkel, her time in office, and her legacy (a collection of her major speeches is on order – and dare we hope for her memoirs?), building on our collections about perhaps the most significant figure in recent German and European history.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

References/Further reading

Wolfgang Stock, Angela Merkel: eine politische Biographie (Munich, 2000.) YA.2002.a.21061

Mein Weg: Angela Merkel im Gespräch mit Hugo Müller-Vogg (Hamburg, 2004) YF.2005.a.8655

Marcus Maurer [et al.], Schröder gegen Merkel: Wahrnehmung und Wirkung des TV-Duells 2005 im Ost-West-Vergleich (Wiesbaden, 2007) YF.2008.a.4259

Janis Eitner, Macht Macht männlich? Das Bild von Angela Merkel und Gerhard Schröder in der deutschen Tagespresse (Marburg, 2007) YF.2009.a.11222

Merkel gegen Steinbrück : Analysen zum TV-Duell vor der Bundestagswahl 2013 ed. byThorsten Faas, Jürgen Maier, Michaela Maier (Wiesbaden, 2017) YF.2019.a.6423

Florence Absolu, Les femmes politiques dans la presse: mythèmes, biographèmes et archétype : les représentations genrées de Ségolène Royal et Angela Merkel dans la presse française et allemande pendant leurs campagnes électorales = Politikerinnen in der Presse: Mytheme, Biographeme und Archetyp : Die gender-betonte Darstellung von Angela Merkel und Ségolène Royal in den deutschen und französischen Printmedien während ihrer Wahlkampagnen (Würzburg, 2014) YF.2015.a.3012

Regina Richter, Angela Merkel und andere kluge Frauen : Selbst- und Fremdbilder von Frauen in politischen Spitzenpositionen (Saarbrücken, 2007) YF.2010.a.3328

Joyce Marie Mushaben, Becoming Madam Chancellor: Angela Merkel and the Berlin Republic (Cambridge, 2017) YC.2018.a.511

Evelyn Roll, Das Mädchen und die Macht: Angela Merkels demokratischer Aufbruch (Berlin, 2001) YA.2002.a.38421

Michael Lühmann, Der Osten im Westen, oder, Wie viel DDR steckt in Angela Merkel, Matthias Platzeck und Wolfgang Thierse? Versuch einer Kollektivbiographie (Stuttgart, 2010) YF.2011.a.25124

Ralf Georg Reuth & Günther Lachmann, Das erste Leben der Angela M. 2nd ed. (Munich, 2013) YF.2016.a.1155

Angela Merkel, Daran glaube ich: christliche Standpunkte, ed. By Volker Resing (Leipzig, [2013?]) YF.2017.a.14480

Baudouin Bollaert, Angela Merkel (Monaco, 2006) YF.2008.a.25729

Alan Crawford & Tony Czuczka, Angela Merkel: a chancellorship forged in crisis (Chichester, 2013) YC.2013.a.12600

Stefan Kornelius, Angela Merkel: the chancellor and her world, translated by Anthea Bell and Christopher Moncrieff (Richmond, Surrey, 2013) YC.2014.a.7686. Original German edition: Angela Merkel : die Kanzlerin und ihre Welt (Hamburg, 2013) YF.2015.a.20431

Gertrud Höhler, Die Patin: wie Angela Merkel Deutschland umbaut, 2nd ed. (Zurich, 2012) YF.2014.a.8445

Gertrud Höhler, Angela Merkel: das Requiem (Berlin, 2020) Awaiting shelfmark

Dirk Kurbjuweit, Alternativlos: Merkel, die Deutschen und das Ende der Politik (Munich, 2014) YF.2015.a.3659.

Angela Merkel, Die grossen Reden, ed. Caroline Draeger (Munich, 2021) On order

Gerd Langguth, Angela Merkel. 2nd ed. (Munich, 2005) YF.2006.a.16958

Matthew Qvortrup, Angela Merkel: Europe’s most influential leader, Expanded and updated edition. (London, 2017) YK.2018.a.1175

24 September 2021

‘Ill scratches the bear’, an endangered proverbial species

To coincide with the British Library's exhibition Paddington: The Story of a Bear, we've put together a series of blog posts about a few other bears (fictional and real) from the collections.

Eleanor O’Kane in her collection of medieval Spanish proverbs musters 21 dogs, 19 wolves, nine lions and one lonely bear.

Felipe Maldonado in his compilation of printed Spanish proverb books of the early modern period has captured 23 dogs, 14 wolves, two lions and no bears

The Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs has tamed 176 dogs, 40 wolves, nine lions and a magnificent 23 bears.

Now, I’ve not been very careful with my sums, and the actual data can be misleading, but it’s very interesting to me that the order of the beasts is the same in all three sources.

Bear with bees and bee hives from Harley 3448, f.10v

Bear with bees and bee hives, Harley 3448, f.10v

You might recognize some English bears:

Like a bear to an honey-pot
As cross as a bear with a sore head
To sell the bear’s skin before one has caught the bear
Call the bear ‘uncle’ till you are safe across the bridge (‘an excellent Turkish proverb’, according to the Times Weekly of 1912)

But what of their solitary Spanish cousin?

The proverb occurs in the Poema de Alfonso Onceno (Epic of Alfonso XI). He reigned 1312-50, and the Poema was probably written by some tame court poet for propaganda purposes. It was never finished, which suggests that the poet wrote until the patronage was cut off at the king’s death.

First page of ‘Poema de Alfonso Onceno’ 

First page of ‘Poema de Alfonso Onceno’. Source: Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes 

Picture the scene: the year is 1350. Alfonso (Castile) is fighting Yusuf I (Granada) allied with Abu al-Hasan Ali ibn Othman (Morocco) for Gibraltar. The siege was dragging on, and the Granadan and Moroccan leaders were considering a settlement involving the surrender of castles and tribute. We are at their council of war:

Este rey luego provemos
Que dexe aquesta guerra
Mensageros le enbiemos,
Que salga de nuestra tierra.
E diga que le daremos
Buenos castillos fronteros.
La costa la pagaremos
En doblas e en dineros …
Apeonados estan
E de fanbre muy cuytados
Ayna se bençeran
E nos seremos honrrados.

Fablo el rey de Granada
E dixo: ‘Mal rasca el oso’ (Janer stanzas 2372-77)

Let us test this king immediately
To abandon this war;
Let us send him messengers
That he leave our land;
And tell him we will give him
Good frontier castles.
We will pay him tribute
In doubloons and dinars.
They are impoverished
And stricken with hunger;
They will be soon defeated
And we will be honoured.
The king of Granada spoke
And said: ‘Ill scratches the bear’.

Translated by Barry Taylor

He continues at length, and Yusuf I and Abu al-Hasan Ali ibn Othman change tack.

I’m sure ‘Ill scratches the bear’ refers to a bear scratching his back on a tree. I suppose it means something like ‘You’re barking up the wrong tree’.

As I say, it’s unique in Old Spanish. It could conceivably reflect an Arabic proverb. And it needn’t be an existing proverb but a newly minted coinage.

But all bears are precious, especially to the paremiologist.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections

References:

Eleanor S. O’Kane, Refranes y frases proverbiales españolas de la Edad Media (Madrid, 1959) X.900/4431.

Felipe C. R. Maldonado, Refranero clásico español (Madrid, 1970) X19/7679

F. P. Wilson, Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs (Oxford 1970) X.981/1907.

‘Poema de Alfonso Onceno’, ed. F. Janer in Poetas castellanos anteriores al s. XV (Madrid, 1864) 12232.f.1/57. Available online

More bear-themed posts from the European Studies blog:

British Intellectuals and Russian Bears

Bears of Bern – Fictional and Real

Paddington exhibition banner

14 September 2021

700 years of Dante at the British Library

Today, 14 September 2021, we mark the 700th anniversary of the death of Italian poet Dante Alighieri. His main work, the Divine Comedy, is widely considered one of the most important works of literature. His vision still informs our idea of afterlife: how Hell, Purgatory and Paradise look like. His poetry still moves and inspires.

The British Library holds outstanding Dante collections, dating from the Middle Ages right up to the present day, which you can find out about in the following video made especially to celebrate this anniversary. The video has been made by European and American Collections in collaboration with Western Heritage Collections.


This video offers the rare opportunity to look at the circulation of one work of literature across seven centuries. Nothing survives in Dante’s own hand. The manuscripts of the Divine Comedy are, for this reason, even more important. The invention of printing shows how Dante was very popular in the 15th and 16th centuries in Italy, and his limited fortune during the Baroque and Enlightenment eras.

The Romantic era, the Risorgimento and the Italian unification sparked a new and increased interest in Dante as national poet. The Divine Comedy was acknowledged as the greatest work of poetry in Italian and became the subject of studies in Italian schools and universities. Translations started to become popular outside of Italy (we have editions of the Divine Comedy in about 40 different languages in our catalogue) and Dante studies became a subject in itself.

Plate by Amos Nattini depicting purgatory

Amos Nattini, Purgatorio, Canto XXVIII

Dante became popular in the mass media: for example, the first Italian feature length movie, commissioned in 1911 for the 50th anniversary of Italian unification, was inspired by the Divine Comedy and titled Inferno.

The political importance of the Divine Comedy is shown by the number of editions published in the 20th century, many directly sponsored by the Italian government.

Two of them are shown in the video. La Divina Commedia novamente illustrata da artisti italiani a cura di Vittorio Alinari (Firenze, 1902-3; 11420.k.11.) is the first. This lavish edition includes works of 59 young artists who had won a contest to produce new illustrations for the Divine Comedy. Two of them, Duilio Cambellotti and Alberto Martini, both in their early twenties at the time of the competition, distinguished themselves with a work of great graphical interest that shows their Symbolist style and anticipates the development of Art Nouveau.

Illustration by Duilio Cambellotti depicting Inferno

Duilio Cambellotti, Inferno, Canto X

The second work that I show is La Divina Commedia / illustrazioni di Dalì ([1963-64], awaiting shelfmark). On the occasion of this anniversary the British Library had the opportunity to acquire a precious edition of the Divine Comedy illustrated by the Spanish painter Salvador Dalì. This edition was commissioned on the 700th anniversary of Dante’s birth, in 1965. The painter took nine years to complete this work. In this collection of 100 watercolour woodcuts, Dalì adds elements of his iconic and unique imagination to Dante’s vision: desolate landscapes, crutches, spiders, figures with drawers.

Watercolour woodcut by Salvador Dalì depicting purgatory

Salvador Dalì, Purgatorio, Canto I

We couldn’t include them all in the video, but here are some other remarkable editions:

La Divina Commedia. Illustrazione su cento cartoline eseguita da artisti fiorentini, ideata e diretta dall’ingegnere Attilio Razzolini. (Milano, [1902, 03]). 11421.e.23. This is a collection of 100 postcards, one for each canto, in Gothic revival style. Each of them is decorated with miniatures by the illustrator.

La Divina Commedia, with plates by Amos E. Nattini. (Turin, [1923-41]). Cup.652.c.

La divina commedia. Introduzioni ai canti, di Natalino Sapegno. Disegni a colori di Antony de Witt. (Firenze, 1964). L.R.413.w.37.

Interested in learning more on Dante? Join us tonight for the online event Dante in the British Library: Hell, Purgatory and Heaven (Tuesday 14 September 2021, 19:30 - 20:30).

Valentina Mirabella, Curator, Romance Collections