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Do you speak German, o Readers?

Now, Italian is my native language – and I find it beautiful. Also, as you can probably guess, I love English very much. I also like French and Spanish.

German… not so much.

And I tried, you know. Back in my previous life, when I worked in the timber trade (no, really) I used to do business in Austria, and travelled there rather frequently – and, because not all sawmills are in Vienna where English is widely spoken, I needed some basic German.

As I said, I tried: I found a tutor, and under her guidance absorbed the basics quickly enough. Soon I was able to complain about the quality of larch wood, ask directions and mostly understand the answer, bargain prices, book a hotel room, explain to a lorry driver how to get from the motorway to my warehouse… Just enough to go by, for the most part – and, with some effort, I could puzzle together the synopsis in an opera programme.

Only… I never liked it.

As a rule, I love languages. I love learning how they work, how they reflect a mindset and a history, and as soon as I have enough of the basics, start trying to tell stories, to read… But not with German. What can I say? I don’t like the hard sounds, the convoluted construction with the verb at the end, the twenty-letter composite words you are supposed to figure out on your own, the haphazard gender*…

Even reading something I already know in Italian or English – my favourite language-learning strategy – didn’t work. I’ll agree that Schiller’s Briefe über Dom Karlos were perhaps the wrong choice – but even the abridged and simplified version of Peter Schlemihls wundersame Geschichte (that is, The Miraculous Story of Peter Schlemihl), lies in some shelf or other, abandoned after a few pages of unrewarding effort.

Then I left behind the timber trade, and my dismal attempts at learning German went with it, without the least trace of regret. After all, I can honestly say that I have tried, and thoroughly dislike the stiff, convoluted thing – and, since I have no use for it, that’s that.

Or, that was that until yesterday. Yesterday, As I researched possibilities for Tom Walsingham‘s Book 3, I came across bibliographical perfection, in the form of a very detailed account of something I’ve been very curious about. So far my inquiries on the subject had been rather on the lackadaisical side, and also rather fruitless. Yesterday I bent my back to it in earnest – and lo! There is this entire book, published in 1902, but available on Amazon for a reasonable price… Perfect, isn’t it?

Oh yes, perfect – but for the small fact that Karl Stählin’s Der Kampf Um Schottland Und Die Gesandtschaftsreise** Sir Francis Walsinghams Im Jahre 1583 is in German.

So far I can find no trace of a translation in any language, and I’m also slightly doubtful about the size of the thing – because I find the book variously described as counting either 48 or 170 pages, as a dissertation, a part of a wider work, or a self-contained volume, published either in Leipzig or Dresden… I incline to think that Stählin added a good deal to his dissertation, and then published the larger work – in the same year – but still.

Still, no matter how many pages, I can’t read the book – and now, for the first time in my life, I’m left to bitterly regret that I gave up on learning German. Oh, I’ll buy Der Kampf fur Schottland all the same, and try to grope my way through the fog of twenty-letter words and where-the-devil-is-the-verb sentences – and then I’ll cry defeat, and enlist some German-speaking friend for help, and… And all the time I’ll wail to myself: why, why, oh why didn’t I try a little harder with my German? 

Unless one of you, o Readers, should know of a translation? I’d be eternally grateful!


* I don’t remember who asked what can you expect from a language that deems a young girl neutral, while a turnip is female… J.K. Jerome, perhaps? Nizza & Morbelli?

** See that? Gesandtschaftsreise. Eighteen letters. Means “diplomatic mission”.