Philip Oltermann


8 December 2010

The Engagement in the Hindu Kush

Those who should hear, they hear no more,Destroyed is the army that went to war,With thirteen thousand their trek began,Only one came back from Afghanistan. These lines weren’t written by Andrew Motion or Carol Ann Duffy but by the 19th-century German novelist and poet Theodor Fontane. Between 1855 and 1859 he was the Prussian ministry’s foreign correspondent in London: he found himself increasingly frustrated by the local fondness for drinking and dancing (‘Music, as many have pointed out, is England’s Achilles heel’) and the class system (‘England and Germany relate to one another like form and content’).