I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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Bridges From The Past

Maurice Earls
The Fire: The Bombing of Germany 1940-1945, by Jörg Friedrich, Columbia University Press, 532 pp, £49, ISBN: 978-0231133807 Firestorm: The Bombing of Dresden 1945, (eds) Paul Addison and Jeremy A Crang, Pimlico, 260 pp, £8.99, ISBN: 978184413928x On Christmas Day in the year 800, in a ceremony conducted by the Pope, the German king Charlemagne was crowned emperor. The last western Roman emperor had been deposed 300 years earlier. A thousand years later, in an effort to establish a French empire, Napoleon Bonaparte polished off the remains of Charlemagne’s Holy Roman Empire. Empire is, perhaps, a misleading term for what had long been a contracted, weak and divided entity, possessing little power and posing no threat to the established political order. German society and culture, however, generally impressed observers. In 1748 the Scottish philosopher David Hume wrote: “Germany is undoubtedly a very fine country full of industrious honest people, and were it united it would be the greatest power that ever was in the world.” Hume wasn’t alone in this view. Beautiful towns, a well-tended countryside and a generally high level of comfort had prompted many similar comments. The French, well aware of the political danger a united Germany would pose to them, had a longstanding policy of keeping their eastern neighbour weak. Indeed, this was a central French objective at the time of the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, which ended the Thirty Years War, a hugely destructive conflict fought largely on German soil. England, which had given up on the idea of a continental empire, had a natural interest in a disunited Europe. These long established historical patterns were to have a significant influence on European history in the twentieth century, and indeed their influence is far from spent. In the eighteenth century most German states were not taken very seriously by the major powers. Picturesque spires and a multiplicity of tiny principalities made them little more than interesting places to visit. For the Germans, however, there was always the danger that the great powers might once again require their towns and farms as battlefields. When that last happened, in the seventeenth century, it is estimated that twenty per cent of the civilian population perished. The universal values of the eighteenth century Enlightenment had a natural appeal to this vulnerable people. Many Germans welcomed the arrival of Napoleon as the herald of a new rational and just international…

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