In 1996, in the middle of watching an ill-tempered football match between England and Germany, Philip Oltermann's parents tell him that they are going to leave their home city of Hamburg behind and move to London.
A number of worrying questions arise. How will English schoolboys take to a lanky sixteen-year-old German? How do they think and do things differently? Are there values that English and German people share? And what is the secret of the famed British humour?
In search of answers, Keeping Up with the Germans interweaves memoir and history to look at ten historical encounters between English and German people from the last 200 years: political summits and football matches, chance meetings between poets and film stars, terrorists and philosophers. Helmut Kohl tries to explain German cuisine to the Iron Lady, Theodor Adorno clashes with A. J. Ayer over jazz, the Mini plays catch-up with the Volkswagen Beetle, Dada artist Kurt Schwitters rediscovers German Romanticism in the Lake District, and Joe Strummer has an unlikely brush with the Baader-Meinhof gang.
What emerges is nothing less than an alternative national story for the two countries: not one marked by military conflict and diplomatic hostility, but by influences, dialogues and comical misunderstandings.