Thursday, 5 June 2014

The German Connection

It's a long time since I studied German, but I really enjoyed the country's literature, and A and S Levels introduced me to writers like Friedrich Durrenmatt, a playwright who also wrote several excellent, shortish crime novels, and whose book The Pledge was turned into an excellent film starring Jack Nicholson. Durrenmatt was Swiss, so there was no chance to pay homage to him on my recent visit to Berlin, but in wandering around the area outside the city, I had the chance to visit Wannsee, a pleasant place by the water's edge, where Kleist's grave, and the story of his short and tragic life were to be found.

A short rail journey from Wannsee is Potsdam, about which all I knew was that it hosted the Potsdam Conference (in the mock-Tudor mansion pictured just above the shot of the impressive Sans Souci Park). In fact, Potsdam is a terrific town, full of dramatic architecture and an ideal spot for sight-seeing boat trips It's another of those places that have been utterly transformed by reunification.

I'd heard of Spandau only as the site of the prison where Rudolf Hess was incarcerated for so many years. I had no idea that it's actually a gorgeous old town on the outskirts of Berlin,, with a charm that has survived war and much else. The imposing Renaissance fortress, the Citadel, looks as though it might have housed Hess, but in fact it didn't. Again, it is being cared for and developed as a tourist centre with the efficiency that is, just as the stereotypes suggest, so often to be found in Germany. You get the feeling that if a modern Freeman Wills Crofts were writing in Germany, he might be able justifiably to write an alibi murder mystery that depended on the very frequent trains running precisely to time. Another thing I never knew was that Spandau was the base of a thriving film industry. The posters on display in the museum in the Citadel suggested that Edgar Wallace was a particular favourite...

The story that I'm writing with a Berlin setting is, admittedly, rather dark. But overall, I was left with the strong feeling that Berlin, dramatically changed as it is since my last visit, is a fun city, more appealing than many capitals. I found the trip quite inspirational. All I need to do now is turn the ideas that I gained on my trip into a story that does the city justice...

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