On the Spot: Katja Hoyer

 ‘Human nature always remains the same.’

Museum Island with Pergamon Museum and Bode Museum, Berlin. December 1951. German Federal Archives/Wiki Commons.

Why are you a historian of Germany?

I am a confused German trying to make sense of my country’s past and its place in Europe and the world.

What’s the most important lesson history has taught you? 

Human nature always remains the same. 

Which history book has had greatest influence on you?

Ian Kershaw’s biography of Adolf Hitler.

What book in your field should everyone read?

Neil McGregor’s Germany: Memories of a Nation.

Which moment would you most like to go back to?

Napoleon’s conversation with Queen Louise of Prussia at Tilsit.

Which historian has had the greatest influence on you?

Hans-Ulrich Wehler.

Which person in history would you most like to have met? 

‘Which person’ is easy: Otto von Bismarck.
The question is: ‘when’?

How many languages do you have?

My native is German, but I write my shopping lists in English. I have a working knowledge of Russian and Latin. My French needs improvement.

What historical topic have you changed your mind on?

I used to think of the past as a serious and grand place where big things happened. Then I read this on an ancient wall: ‘Chie, I hope your haemorrhoids rub together so much that they hurt worse than they ever have before!’ 

Which genre of history do you like least?

History that points the finger. 

What’s the most exciting field in history today?

Intellectual history. The study of the impact of ideas bears the tantalising thought that we might have some agency over the course of history.

Is there an important historical text you have not read?

Das Kapital

What’s your favourite archive?

The Bundesarchiv.

What’s the best museum?

The Pergamon Museum.

Normans or Anglo-Saxons?

Normans – nothing beats those horses on the Bayeaux Tapestry.

Rome or Athens?

Rome – then, now and all times in between.

Braudel or Gibbon?


Michelangelo or Frida Kahlo?


What is the most common misconception about your field?

That Prussia was evil.

What will future generations judge us most harshly for?

Everything – what we do, say, eat, wear and think. Every generation thinks it knows better than the last.


Katja Hoyer is the author of Blood and Iron: the Rise and Fall of the German Empire 1871-1918 (The History Press, 2021).