Sep 29 2012

Baedeker’s Back

“Tut, Tut! Miss Lucy!” Eleanor Lavish cries in E.M Forster’s A Room with a View, “I hope we shall soon emancipate you from your Baedeker.” Lavish confiscates the innocent Lucy Honeychurch’s guide to Italy, perhaps leading her to look for a cicerone in other places, such as in the young George Emerson.

Baedeker travel guides were first published in Germany in 1830 by Karl Baedeker, whose sons and grandsons later took over the business, continuing the trusted voice that led Europeans into unknown lands. Baedeker’s were not the earliest guidebooks, in fact, John Murray’s Handbooks served as a prototype for them, but they soon became Europe’s favorite chaperon.

To “baedeker” eventually became a synonym for “to travel,” and when, in the spring of 1942, Germany began a series of attacks on particularly picturesque English towns, the siege became known as the “Baedeker Blitz” because it was thought that the targeted cities were picked from Baedeker’s guide to Britain. Baedeker’s had by then come up with the star system (introduced in 1846), assigning a number of stars to cities not to be missed. Those assigned two or more star’s in Baedeker’s Britain were bombed. The British responded by bombing Leipzig in 1943, destroying much of the Baedeker publishing house.

For those of you who thought Baedeker guides were a thing of the past, think again. This historic line of guide books was relaunched in 2005 in Germany, and are now available not only in the United States, but at your local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

While the appearance has changed since the first solid red Baedekers (there is now a blue stripe across the top and a nice full color photo of each destination on the cover), these guides are still crammed full of information, both practical and interesting. Each guide contains a Facts section, which includes a generous amount of literary and cultural history, politics, and geographic information; a Basics section, which keeps you up to date on accommodation, language, literature, etiquette, and food; there is a small section on suggested Tours, and a large alphabetical listing of Sights, complete with color photographs and stunning fold-outs, such as one of the Saga Museum in Iceland that actually made my co-worker Natasha squeal. In addition, each guide comes with a great city or country map tucked into its protective plastic cover.

Come check out our new selection of Baedekers at Booksmith, covering destinations from Paris to Sri Lanka. With our new Globe Corner Travel Annex at Booksmith crammed full of travel books and maps, you’ll never have to be emancipated from your favorite guidebook.

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