Mem­oir

Country Life Every Week - - Books -

An Aus­tro-ger­man as an English­man

Imre von Maltzahn (Austin Ma­cauley, £29.99)

THE PRIV­I­LEGE (or bur­den) of mixed Euro­pean parent­age is al­ways a chal­lenge. In the case of Imre von Maltzahn, the com­bi­na­tion of a Prus­sian Pomera­nian and An­glo-saxon her­itage has of­fered a life­long op­por­tu­nity to com­pare differing points of view and com­pet­ing per­spec­tives. Thanks to a brief so­journ in Carinthia dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, a cer­tain Aus­trian di­men­sion also en­tered his life, hence the oxy­moronic ti­tle ‘Aus­tro-ger­man’. But the Maltzahns, as this book makes abun­dantly clear, have very deep Ger­manic roots, re­mote from the more flex­i­ble, easy-go­ing multi-na­tional and multi-con­fes­sional world that the Hab­s­burgs be­queathed to cen­tral Europe.

For­tu­nately for Mr Maltzahn, given that this was the 1940s, his grand­mother, Mil­li­cent, was a de­scen­dant of Gertrude Jekyll and ar­ranged for him to set­tle in Eng­land and be ed­u­cated at Gor­don­stoun. Na­tional Ser­vice in the Mid­dle­sex Reg­i­ment fol­lowed by forestry and his English wife in­her­it­ing a mod­est but pretty es­tate at Shel­swell in Ox­ford­shire fur­nished the es­sen­tial foundations of a happy ru­ral life.

The book charts the au­thor’s life through events be­tween 1938 and 2014. These are in­ter­spersed with re­lent­less opin­ions on ev­ery­thing from EU farm­ing sub­si­dies to the re­or­gan­i­sa­tion of Bri­tish in­fantry reg­i­ments in a re­cent De­fence Re­view. The full drama­tis per­sonae of con­tem­po­rary Bri­tish pol­i­tics are given cameo roles along with mi­nor Con­ti­nen­tal politi­cians and the Vatican. Brexit is pre­dicted, an­a­lysed and dis­patched with log­i­cal and re­morse­less ar­gu­ment.

In the process, we are of­fered views on forestry man­age­ment, par­lia­men­tary democ­racy, the Mid­dle East and the crit­i­cal role of Rus­sia in or­der­ing the geopo­lit­i­cal world.

Mr Maltzahn quotes the late Crown Prince Otto von Hab­s­burg: ‘He who knows where he comes from, knows where he is go­ing, for he knows where he is.’ It is an in­escapable theme of this book that his­tory is ig­nored at one’s peril. In the 21st cen­tury, as one chal­lenge emerges af­ter another to the post-cold War in­ter­na­tional or­der, Mr Maltzahn is un­tir­ing in point­ing out the his­tor­i­cal prece­dents and the in­valu­able les­sons they of­fer.

Another leit­mo­tif of the book, one that will no doubt res­onate with the ap­proval of all COUN­TRY LIFE read­ers, is the im­per­a­tive need to ‘value our coun­try­side’. He notes how most of the po­lit­i­cal class in the UK has lost any ‘real con­nec­tion’ with the land. Com­ing from a landown­ing fam­ily that once en­joyed sig­nif­i­cant es­tates in Sile­sia and Pomera­nia, he is keen to illuminate the dan­ger­ous parochial­ism of ur­ban elites. Some of the most pen­e­trat­ing mo­ments in the book re­count first-hand in­sights into the ‘eter­nal con­flict’ be­tween valu­able farm­land and ur­ban sprawl. Richard Bas­sett

Shel­swell House be­fore it was re­stored by the von Maltzahns

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