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