Austria & Switzerland Book Reviews

Looking for a good read on Switzerland & Austria? Interested in Austrian and Swiss culture, language and history or thinking of visiting the countries on business or vacation?

Soccerphile reviews some of our favourite books on Austria & Switzerland.

Reviews of guide books for Austria & Switzerland

Lonely Planet: Austria

Lonely Planet Guide To South Africa: Buy this book from Amazon.

Anthony Haywood

Lonely Planet

ISBN: 174104670X
440 pp

Lonely Planet Austria is the fifth edition of the travel Bible's guide to this Alpine country, completely revised, and with a new author's name on the cover.

Released in May 2008 with perfect timing ahead of the Euro 2008 European football championships taking place in Austria and next-door neighbour Switzerland. The book opens with the now standard "Highlights" section with colour photos and suggestions for places to visit and new updates include a new "Walking" chapter, if you don't have a hiking guide such as Lonely Planet's Walking in the Alps or Kevin Reynolds' Walking in the Alps: A Comprehensive Guide to Walking and Trekking Throughout the Alps, with twelve suggested walks for people of all ages and fitness levels.

The book covers the main cities in Austria well, especially Vienna, and many off-the-beaten track places also get a mention as does travelling green with tips to reduce the ecological impact of your travels. The transport information is excellent, and all the travel basics are what we have come to expect from LP. My only caveat, as ever, is with the maps, which still remain hard to decipher, especially in the dark.

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Rough Guide: Austria

Rob Humphreys

Rough Guides

ISBN: 184353455X
694 pp

The Rough Guide to Austria, with over 600 pages, is one of the most comprehensive and visually pleasing guides to the country on the market. The first twenty pages or so of the book are virtually all color photos and maps, which serve as a concise and graphic appetizer for the main text. And it is the informed and readable text, which marks this book out from the competition.

There's a 100-page guide to Vienna for starters, 25 pages on Austria's convoluted history including a helpful family tree of the Hapsburgs to help you sort out your Leopolds and Josefs and Marias and the boxed texts on such famous Austrians as Gustav Mahler, Adolf Hitler and Mozart are usually a page in length. The maps are clear and use large print and the only reason not to buy this book is the publishling date of 2004. Maybe wait for the new edition and get that.

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Lonely Planet: Switzerland

Damien Simonis

Lonely Planet

ISBN: 1740597621
364 pp

Lonely Planet Switzerland is now in its fifth edition and I road-tested this book on a recent quick trip around that delightful country and am very glad I did so. First of all the book stood up well to the rigours of being pushed into and out of a crammed rucksack over a dozen or more times a day. The travel information is concise and, on the whole, accurate, though I recommend suppplementing this book with the excellent free tourist information from Swiss tourist offices, which are mostly situated near or inside the main train stations, as the descriptions tend to gloss over the main sights of interest pretty quickly.

The Bern Historical Museum and its fascinating Einstein exhibition, for example, gets less than 90 words and didn't make me really "have to go there," I did, and it was superb. The write-up doesn't mention the excellent Museum cafe either. On the whole, though, the authors provide enough information to introduce each place of interest, probably knowing that their readers are going to receive a handful of tourist brochures as they step through the door. Adequate for quick one or two-day stops, but something more substantial will be needed for longer stays.

The book covers Switzerland in 12 regional chapters as well as Liechtenstein. I found the layout in black and grey a little dull but the book was fine for my 10 day rail trip to the major cities.

Jane Heaton

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Rough Guide: Switzerland

Matthew Teller

Rough Guides

ISBN: 1843536684
629 pp

The third edition of the Rough Guide to Switzerland is a recommended buy for first-time and indeed repeat visitors to this most intriguing of European destinations. There's a wealth of information here on Switzerland's rich history, fantastic legends and culinary idiosyncrasies. The maps and color photographs are excellent and the level of informed detail will have you eagerly dipping time and again in to the guide's well set out pages. I tried many of the recommended restaurants, bars and cafes suggested in the book and rarely left thinking the write-up was anything less than spot on. I enjoyed a relaxing drink in the Reitschule in Bern, (disregard the rabble outside as the book suggests), enjoyed hearty English-style food and good ale in Lions in Zurich and was presented with the largest plate of French fries I have ever seen, in one of the dives, rightly described as such, at the northern end of Nierderdorfstrasse, also in Zurich.

The guide has lengthy sections on Switzerland's history, contemporary architecture and Alpine flora and fauna at the back, which were of interest to read on the train or bus...and oh yes, the travel advice was pretty reliable, too. All in all, this is a great value book to browse in the evening while planning the next day's sightseeing or partying.

John Banerjee

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Insight Guides Germany: Buy this book from Amazon.

Insight Guides: Germany

Insight Guides

ISBN: 9812348050
406 pp

Insight Guides are published in association with the Discovery Channel so are, as may be expected, pretty hot on visual stimulation. Lavish color photographs on virtually every page make the the Insight Guide to Germany a real pleasure to look at. The commentary is very readable and the writers show a thorough knowledge of German history and culture. The maps, though few, are very clear, with a useful road map and a Berlin subway map on the inside covers.
However, the Insight Guide to Germany is somewhat limited in the practical information it gives. The travel sections are hidden at the back and are not too easy to get around. It's great to leaf through, makes an ideal coffee table souvenir of your travels, would be a great accompaniment on a package tour - but you couldn't effectively plan an entire independent trip with it.
The Insight Guide to Germany is more a work of art rather than a solid practical planning resource. It's up to you to decide which you need.

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Frommer's Germany 2004: Buy this book from Amazon.

Frommer's Germany 2004

Darwin Porter, Danforth Prince

ISBN: 1628873124
696 pp

This is the latest guide from Frommer's. Unlike many guides, these are updated annually and are genuinely comprehensive. Frommer's Germany 2004 features lovely color photos—the baroque architecture, quaint villages, medieval towns, modern cities, timbered houses, vineyards, and beer gardens that are Germany in all its glory.
There are sections on"The Best of Germany," "Planning Your Trip to Germany," "Berlin," "Munich," "The Romantic Road," and much more. "The Best of Germany" section alone is worth the cost of the book. A concise section on the German language, German history, and detailed maps make this an excellent companion on your next trip to the land of the 2006 World Cup. Highly recommended.

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Germany For Dummies: Buy this text from Amazon

Germany for Dummies

Donald Olson

ISBN: 0764554786
480 pp

Like all of the "Dummies" books, this book's selling point is its ease of use. A junior-high school student would be able to navigate his or her way through the Teutonic heartland with this guide in hand. With its simple format, Germany for Dummies features five great itineraries, the best shopping and nightlife in Berlin, a guide to German food, a list of ten great German museums, an insider's guide to the best Bavarian castles, events such as the Oktoberfest in Munich and Berlin Film Festival, and more.

Also, like all Dummies guides, Germany For Dummies includes: simple pre-travel planning tips, what to hit and what to skip, restaurants and hotels for all budgets, and pages and pages of maps. You can't go wrong.

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Insight Guides Bavaria: Buy this book from Amazon.

Insight Guides: Bavaria Pocket Guide

Insight Guides

ISBN: 9812345698
100 pp

Bavaria is one of Germany's most impressive areas of natural beauty, so it particularly benefits from the 'Insight Guide' treatment. The guide is as much a photo album with extensive commentary as a conventional guidebook, and as such makes for a great advertisement for Bavaria as a holiday destination. You'll probably never tire of leafing through page after page of stunning pictures.
There is a section devoted to suggested itineraries. Bavaria Pocket Guide is clearly aimed at the better-off, or package tour, traveller. There are also useful pullout maps of Bavaria and of the centers of the province's cities.

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Lonely Planet - Berlin: Buy this book from Amazon.

Lonely Planet: Berlin City Guide

Andrea Schulte-Peevers and Tom Parkinson

Lonely Planet

ISBN: 174059472X
334 pp

Tight as a rucksack, Lonely Planet's Berlin City Guide (republished Aug. 2004) caters to a multitude of tastes on varying budgets, providing relevant information on locations, decor, characteristics, quirks, prices, dos and don't-dos, and how to say it in German. Each section is generously peppered with useful blue text boxes containing extra - often eye-opening - information. Two full-color sections offer dynamic and varied images, and the maps are in color detail too. As a Lonely Planet guide, possible criticism relating to lack of depth is not really warranted: reading it will give the traveller background adequate for informed conversation; it contains plenty enough searchwords for the still-curious to look up on Google; and, with economy of size and price, it succeeds in covering all bases relating to getting a good taste of life in Berlin. Whether culture vulture or party animal, this is a guide that will get messed up quickly!

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Lonely Planet - Munich and Bavaria: Buy this book from Amazon.

Lonely Planet: Munich & Bavaria

Andrea Schulte-Peevers

Lonely Planet

ISBN: 1740595289
312 pp

Bavaria is Germany's most visited region with its enchanting mix of medieval architecture and magnificent mountains, so it's well worth slipping a copy of Lonely Planet's Guide To Munich & Bavaria into your lederhosen for its excellent travel and entertainment tips. It's slightly disappointing that the city information for Munich, Regensburg and Nuremberg et al is basically the same as you'll find in the main Lonely Planet Germany Guide but there's plenty of new insights on outdoor activities such as skiing, hiking and beer drinking as well as a section on Salzburg in Austria to make this another valuable addition to the Lonely Planet series of world travel guides.

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Insight Guides Berlin: Buy this book from Amazon.

Insight Guides: Berlin

Insight Guides

ISBN: 1585731463
350 pp

A lot of effort goes into making Insight Guides look attractive, and in terms of the photographs they are easily the best guidebooks to Germany on the market.
The Insight Guide to Berlin weighs in at a massive 350 pages, compared to only 400 for the whole of the Insight Guide to Germany, which illustrates the wealth of detail supplied. There are commentaries and photographs of virtually everything there is to see and do in Berlin, and is, in terms of history and what to see and do, one of the most thorough city guides available.
The Insight Guides focus on the up-market and armchair traveller (they are produced jointly with the Discovery Channel). This means they may lack sufficient practical information for the independent backpacker. A guaranteed joy to leaf through, though.

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Charming Small Hotel Guides: Buy this book from Amazon.

Charming Small Hotel Guides: Germany

Andrew Duncan (Editor)

ISBN: 1872576985
224 pp

The key to this book is in the title, only hotels and guest houses that are considered both "small" and "charming" enough by the editors are included in this list of over 360 entries that cover the country. The book divides Germany into five regions: northern, eastern, central, western and southern with a short introduction for each region, and then the list of hotels and guest houses arranged in alphabetical order by town. Some entries have a full page with photo and later in each section there are text-only entries. Each small hotel has a fact box with the main details for contact information (no email or web site, so be prepared to telephone or fax), prices, meals and facilities. If you are looking for something different from your stay in Germany, this book is a useful resource offering personal recommendations. Neither are the authors afraid to criticize on occasion anything considered remotely 'bland'.

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Lonely Planet German Phrasebook: Buy this book from Amazon.

Lonely Planet: German Phrasebook

Lonely Planet

ISBN: 1864501537
256 pp

Unless you're fluent in German, it seems like some kind of phrasebook would be a wise investment if you're going to Germany. The Lonely Planet German phrasebook is very, very complete, I couldn't think of a single thing I would be likely to want to say which wasn't in there. Everything's in there from 'I can't eat for philosophical reasons' to 'You have a beautiful body' or 'Before this goes any further, I must be upfront, I'm an accountant'. But seriously, this fits an awful lot of very useful German into a very small space for a very small price, and it's not difficult to find the phrase you're looking for. There are also interesting asides like tongue-twisters, comic misunderstandings, a table manners guide, and of course there's a good two-way dictionary at the back. On the back cover they point out: "Three travellers walk into a Biergarten. One has a map, one has a Swiss army knife, and one has a copy of this phrasebook. Guess who gets served first!" They're right. Buy this book. Or go to France.

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Rough Guide German Dictionary Phrasebook: Buy this book from Amazon.

Rough Guide: Dictionary Phrasebook


ISBN: 1858286107
256 pp

Undoubtedly Rough Guide's German: Dictionary Phrasebook is a useful addition to your pocket on any business or leisure travel to Germany, but I must admit to a few problems working out the pronunciation guide at the beginning of the book. That aside, this handy, compact book can help to guide you through the most essential language situations you are likely to encounter on your travels in Germany. Arranged in two main English-German and German-English sections following the introductory sections on grammar, pronunciation and numbers etc., keywords and phrases are presented alphabetically, interspersed with useful cultural and travel information. If you are going to make an effort with the language, this handy little book comes well recommended.

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Rapid German: Buy this audio CD from Amazon.

Rapid German: 200+ Essential Words and Phrases Anchored into Your Long Term Memory with Great Music: v. 1

earworms Publishing Ltd

ISBN: 190544303X
20 pp

A new approach and a scientifically proven phenomenon using the same brain function that causes us to repeat catchy tunes (earworms) all day. Mimicking the way children learn just by listening, the German words and phrases are repeated gently to groovy music. As well as being a bit of fun, the music acts as a carrier, anchoring the sounds of the words into long-term memory and with minimal concentration. The powerful effect music can have on memory has been used by advertisers for years in the form of annoyingly memorable jingles and sound bites, but the educational potential of this phenomenon however, has remained largely untapped. The new Rapid German audio CD (or MP3) download can be listened to anywhere and everywhere: while stuck in traffic, at the gym, while jogging or even on the plane to Germany, so English fans cheering on their team in Frankfurt, Cologne and (hopefully) Berlin can now order more than just a beer.

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Wicked German: Buy this book from Amazon.

Wicked German For The Traveler

Howard Tomb

ISBN: 1563052946
64 pp

Not really a phrasebook more a satire on Germany and the Germans, Wicked German For The Traveler is part of a series of pocket phrase books covering the major languages. Thematically based in seven major sections - entertainment, transport, accommodation etc., this short book is, depending on your mindset regarding the subject matter, either hilariously funny or puerile tripe. I seriously doubt the phrases presented would cut much ice with your average native speaker, mind you. Take your pick from such gems as: "You have an unconscious wish that I eat your sauerkraut," and "The aftertaste is reminiscent of ballbearings" which come with German and phonetic transliteration.

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Lonely Planet French Phrasebook: Buy this book from Amazon

French: Lonely Planet Phrasebook

Lonely Planet

ISBN: 1-86450-152-9
256 pp

Tres petite and very useful. French: Lonely Planet Phrasebook punches well above its weight. Measuring only 5.6 x 3.7 x 0.6 inches, this is a book that will literally fit into your front pocket. It is broken into eight sections: an Introduction, Tools, Practical, Social, Food, Safe Travel, Dictionaries, and an Index.

The Introduction and Tools sections go over the basics: where French is spoken, pronunciation, numbers, money, and more. The Practical section then moves on to crossing the border, accomodation, shopping, banking, sightseeing, etc. The next section is Social--and includes the all important vocabulary necessary for romance. There are then sections on Food and Safe Travel before the book ends with a useful Dictionary and Index.

For size and cost and usability, good value.

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When in Germany, Do As The Germans Do: Buy this book from Amazon.

When In Germany, Do As The Germans Do

Hyde Flippo

ISBN: 0844225533
124 pp

When In Germany, Do As The Germans Do is a fun and informative read. The slim volume opens with a quiz on German life to see how much we really know about Germany, Germans, their culture and ways of doing things. The results can be surprising and the book does much to destroy some of the preconceptions and stereotypes about the Germans. There are over 90 one-to-two page entries on subjects grouped in categories: ranging from arts and culture to education, food and drink, religion to social issues and attitudes. Some of the nuggets of knowledge concerning German life are: it is considered a mark of efficiency to leave work on time in Germany without doing overtime, German water is perfectly drinkable but no-one would ask for it in a restaurant, and the German driving test requires 12 hours of theory!

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Making Friends With Hitler: Buy this book from Amazon.

Making Friends With Hitler: Lord Londonderry and the Roots of Appeasement

Ian Kershaw

Allen Lane (Penguin)

ISBN: 0713997176
512 pp

This is a great read for anyone with an interest in World War II and pre-war British aristocracy in general. Having said that, if like me you don't know your Ribbentrops from your Rauschnings you can still get a lot out of it. The author Ian Kershaw is one of the foremost UK experts on Nazi Germany, and a fairly prolific publisher on the subject. Kershaw's style is, as usual, very readable for what is essentially a history book. He has the knack for writing serious books seriously, but not seeming to. Not to say that this book is entertainment. Far from it. It is more tragedy than comedy. The hardback copy looks like quite a hefty tome, but is not really all that long. The main body of the text is under 350 pages, with the notes etc. at the end taking up more than 100 pages.

Making Friends With Hitler centers around supposed Hitler-loving closet Nazi, the British aristocrat Lord Londonderry. After it became clear appeasement was not going to divert war, Londonderry was vilified, and most people came to believe he was an out and out Nazi. After Kershaw's analysis it's pretty obvious that although he was clearly a racist snob, most of his social class was at that time. He was more of a gullible fool desperate to avoid a bloody war than an actual Nazi. My feeling after reading the book was more of feeling sorry for a man who was the wrong guy at the wrong time, rather than believing Londonderry would have actually approved of Hitler if he'd really known what was going on.

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A Concise History of Germany: Buy this book on Amazon.

A Concise History of Germany

Mary Fulbrook

Cambridge University Press

ISBN: 0521540712 (paperback)
277 pp
ISBN: 0521833205 (hardback)

Mary Fullbrook's 'A Concise History of Germany' steers the reader safely yet entertainingly through approximately 2000 years of German history. The style is very accessible, and would work for long haul reading on the beach or just as something to dip into occasionally. It starts off with a look at where Germany came from, the problems with defining Germany, the roots of the national identity, then brings the threads together for the majority of the book which is focused on the period from 1500 onwards - the ages of confessionalism, absolutism and industrialisation, unification, Bismarck, the Weimar Republic, Hitler's Germany, the post war division and finally the modern day. The book covers all the big events that usually fill history books, but always with an eye to the causes, the consequences and the socio-political changes through Germany's history. There are plenty of entertaining photographs and illustrations, look out for the peasant wedding photo. Overall, it makes for an epic tale of a nation often strong but never sure of itself, a truly engrossing read. I would definitely recommend it to anyone.

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