German Alternate History: Part 1 - Older German AH

By Max Sinister

Alternate History always has been somewhat controversial in Germany, because the very topic is:

  1. Frivolous from the PoV of historians*

  2. Looks to much like historical revisionism

  3. Especially the three most popular AH scenarios (what if the Axis powers/Central powers/Confederates had won their big war?) look like a reactionary's dream, which admittedly is a good reason to be somewhat skeptical.

For these reasons, there were only few notable AH books from German-speaking areas between 1945 and 1999.

One of the first (at least, I don't know any older examples) was Otto Basil's "Wenn das der Führer wüßte!" (In English: "The Twilight Men", Meredith Press, 1968) which was published in 1966 and probably set in this year too. In short: The Axis powers won the world war (we get few details, but learn that one nuke was dropped on London) and rule the whole world -- even North and South America. Hitler is still alive, but close to death.

And even decades after the war the Nazis didn't improve: For their experiments in space, enslaved "untermenschen" are used, and when some experiment goes wrong and they have to die, their death cries are broadcast by the media, and any German who doesn't want to listen to it immediately becomes suspicious for being too compassionate. The Nazi belief in esoterical mumbo-jumbo also is more alive than ever - the main viewpoint character who gives us a point of view on the Nazi world is named Albin Totila Höllriegl and works as a radiesthesist, i.e. he uses a kind of plumb bob/siderian pendulum to test whether apartments are "polluted by earth rays" (this may not have an adequate translation, be glad if you never heard of that nonsense). And anyone in this Germany who is neither a complete psycho nor a whackjob who's way too much into esoterics is a drunken obscene lout. Maybe they need the booze to bear this.

One scene was irritating however: At one point, Höllriegl meets an old man on his deathbed - who not only claims he was Jewish (although supposedly all the Jews have been killed off by the Nazis long ago) but also that he was the main responsible man for the rise of the Nazis and their world conquest. It'd be sheer unbelievable if he was telling the truth, as outrageous as his claims are, we are talking about Villain Sue levels here - it'd make more sense if he simply went crazy and now thought he was a self-hating Jew.

Another idea of his was at least odd: "Mutterdeutsch" (mother-German), a German cleaned of all foreign influences, which is used only on a few pages, but very confusing. "Fernmund" (far-mouth) for "telephone" is one of the more obvious words.

Also noteworthy: Basil satirizes some real "intellectuals" who celebrated Hitler and the Nazis before 1945, like Heidegger or Doderer. That's his typical way of a Take That -- just like when he makes the little town of Stadl-Paura the new capital of the former Austria.

At the end, things get even worse: When Hitler dies, Civil War breaks out -- the farmer's alliance "Bundschuh" (referencing the Peasant Wars) and the SA fight the army and SS. The new Führer Ivo Köpfler breaks with the Japanese (just like in that joke with the punchline "Tokyo wants to return to the Reich!"), and soon after, the nukes rain down. Höllriegl, already irradiated, flees to the Arctic, together with the actress Ulla von Eyck. One can see: This book's the last you'd have to suspect of having Nazi sympathies.

The other great AH author in the German-speaking world was Carl Amery -- being a co-founder of the Green Party who was married to a US American woman (with whom he talked either in English or Bavarian, but never in standard German), nobody could suspect him of having the wrong kind of sympathies. In 1974, he created "Das Königsprojekt" (The Royal Project - no English translation yet), which is about the Roman-Catholic church working on a truly long-term project to put a Catholic ruler on the throne of Britain, or at least Scotland. For which they use the only time machine of the world, built by no one lesser than Leonardo da Vinci. More about this book soon, in a detailed review.

In 1975, he'd write the FH/End time story "Der Untergang der Stadt Passau" (The Downfall of the City of Passau), which deserves a honorable mention here. Its content: In 1981, a new Black Death hits Europe (probably, the whole world), leaving only one in 50,000 people alive. In 2013, the plot starts: A new leader, the "Scheff" (phonetic German for "boss/chief"), gathered a bigger community around himself in Passau and tries to keep civilization alive. (Unfortunately, this includes bureaucracy and glitzeria as well.) Other people live in smaller communities like the Rosenheimer or as nomads, like the Hungarians. The plot is centered on a mission of two "Rosnemers" to Passau - the Scheff wants to control their salt. But the two recognize what he plans, which starts their mutual enmity. In 2112, the delayed finale happens: We learn from a chronicle written in Merovingian style that the people from Rosenheim conquered Passau.

Later in 1979, Amery wrote another AH, "An den Feuern der Leyermark" (At the Fires of... guess). During the Prussian-Austrian War, the royal Bavarian army orders some hundred "rifles" from North America. But it turns out that those rifles include the men who fight with them, experienced veterans of the US Civil War. Also, the guns aren't ordinary stuff but a secret project of the Confederacy, which was finished too late to change the ACW's outcome however. These technically far superior adventurers not only help Bavaria (and Austria) to defeat Prussia at Schandau (in German, this gives us a pun, "Schande von Schandau" - that'd be like speaking of the "shame of Shametown"), but also spread radical republican, not to say libertarian thoughts in Germany. They also manage to get support from the population - by selling shares of what they plunder. At the end, Central Europe becomes a federation of republics, a kind of bigger Switzerland. And Bavaria became the titular Leyermark.

One can see: Carl Amery was a high-brow author accepted by the feuilleton, president of the German PEN Center even! So much about AH being for the nerds and proles...

Another honorable mention goes to Ralph Giordano's non-fiction book "Wenn Hitler den Krieg gewonnen hätte: Die Pläne der Nazis nach dem Endsieg" (If Hitler had won the War: The Plans of the Nazis after the Endsieg) from 1989, using mostly the history books by authors Andreas Hillgruber and Klaus Hildebrand as sources. Despite or because of the topic, the book made the bestseller lists of Germany. Anybody who wants to write a "Nazis win WW2" AH and speaks German should not skip this book, definitely.

Besides books like the latter one which write correct history about projects that had been planned in reality, AH is still a taboo in academia. This didn't stop Alexander Demandt (German professor for classical antiquity) from writing a short book (144 pages, available online) involving diverse speculations. Yes, we also have professors like that.

It really has a lot of interesting PoDs and other discussions for us:

  • HR Emperor Maximilian wanted to become pope in 1511! (Especially interesting because he also had Protestant sympathies.)

  • Goethe wanted to emigrate to America - with his great love Lili Schönemann!

  • Friedrich der Weise (Frederick III Elector of Saxony) as HREmperor

  • Mussolini flees to Switzerland 1945

  • Toynbee's AH about Alexander the Great(er), you may know it

  • Discussion about Hannibal not attacking Rome after Cannae.

  • Brutus and Cassius win at Philippi

  • Rome wins at Teutoburg Forest

  • Jesus pardoned by Pilate (Ethiopian Christians see Pilate as a canonized saint, BTW!)

  • Arabs win 718 at Constantinople AND 732 in France

  • No early death of Henry VI (HRE). He wanted to conquer Constantinople - and unite the churches!

  • The peasants win the Bauernkriege (German peasant wars)

  • The Spanish Armada wins in 1588

  • Frederick the Great dies at Mollwitz

  • Frederick William IV becomes emperor 1849. True, he was no Frederick the Great

  • No assassination in Sarajevo. (Moltke warned in 1890 "woe to him who throws a torch into the powderkeg of Europe" but also advocated more armaments)

  • Hitler dies in 1938/39

  • The 20th of July

  • Pericles achieves the panhellenic peace congress in 447 BC

  • Irene + Charlemagne 802

  • Turgot supported by Louis XVI

  • Frederick III has no cancer

  • Tsar Nikolai drops Rasputin

  • Morgenthau plan

  • Ernst Jünger (better known for his militaristic WW1 novel) writes in "Eumeswil" about a history computer that can answer any question about the topic. Only history, no AH, though.

  • Livy about Alexander vs. Rome: Only Papirius Cursor could have stopped him?

  • Churchill wanted to advance from N Italy to Vienna/Budapest/Prague - and Tito agreed!

Discuss this article