It was just seven years after the end of the Second World War and anti-German feeling was still running high in Oxford, not least among some sections of the University. In December 1952 that astonishing and wonderful old man Konrad Adenauer (1876-1967), then aged 76 and the Chancellor of West Germany, made his first state visit abroad — to Great Britain. He met Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the dying King George VI in Buckingham Palace.

Then he took a trip to Oxford and visited Balliol — where his nephew Hans had been an undergraduate — and New College. He was also scheduled to visit Oriel, but here unpleasantness set in: a group of students at the gates became so abusive that the police directed the official cars through Canterbury Gate and into Christ Church instead, where, of course, there was no official welcome for him. An undergraduate showed him Gladstone’s rooms and pointed out the statue of Dean Liddell, the father of the real-life Alice in Wonderland. He began to explain that the Deanery Garden was at the centre of an important English children’s book when Adenauer suddenly stopped and smiled, quite unruffled by the demonstration he had witnessed, and astonished everyone present, British and German alike, by reeling off long quotations from the book.

The undergraduate wrote later: “Dr Adenauer stopped, turned and, putting his hand on my shoulder and with a twinkle of triumph and delight in his eye, started quoting to me from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in German.”

I learned all this from Adenauer: The Father of the New Germany, by Charles Williams (Little, Brown and Company, 2000) which I have at last embarked on after living with it, unopened on my shelf, for ten years or so. At 538 pages, excluding notes and index, I found reading it was quite an undertaking —and so, by way of light relief and by complete coincidence, I was last week also reading The Alice Behind Wonderland, by Simon Winchester, just released by OUP.

Several times a year, it seems, someone somewhere writes a book about Alice (last year there was that film too) but this one makes more than most of the ‘affair’ Alice is said to have had with Prince Leopold, fourth son of Queen Victoria, an undergraduate at Christ Church, who went on to become the Duke of Albany in 1881. Interestingly, I learned that Alice called her second son Leopold (and the prince was his godfather), and Leopold called his daughter Alice.

Perhaps, as well as being able to quote chunks from Wonderland, Adenauer would have known something about Leopold’s successors, though their history is not in Winchester’s book. His son, aged 16, became ruler of Saxe Coburg Gotha and later fought on the German side in the First World War. He was deprived of his British dukedom under the Titles Deprivation Act of 1919. Leopold’s grandson also fought for Germany in the Second World War.

Certainly Adenauer, who had just re-established Germany as a sovereign state and set it on its way to becoming the economic powerhouse of Europe, would have known about the history of the hand-written manuscript copy of Alice’s Adventures Underground (as the book was originally called). The author Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) gave it to Alice. She eventually sold it at Sotheby’s in the 1920s for £15,400 to help pay taxes following her husband’s death. It went to the US, but after the Second World War it was brought back to England and presented to the Archbishop of Canterbury “as an expression of thanks to a noble people who held Hitler at bay for a long period single-handed”. Now it is on display at the British Museum.