Finding Clara, my novel of postwar Germany, has officially launched in all formats in the UK! So so proud readers will finally get to read about the secrets and lies in the ruins of Essen. North American readers have to wait a bit longer, until April 7.
If you want to know more about me and the book, check out my official author website. Thank you!
I was so sad to hear that Clärchens Ballhaus, my favorite place in all of Berlin, has closed down. Every time I was there, it felt like I stepped back in time to the ballrooms of the 1920s and 1930s. Apparently there’s a new owner and it will be open again after renovations, but *not* renovating was kind of Clärchens’ charm. It looked and felt like the real thing, a nightclub from about 100 years ago. It had the peeling plaster and bullet holes in the mirrors to prove it. It offered tango and cha-cha nights. The waiters wore waistcoats. The last time I was in Berlin, I spent several hours in Clärchens’ various rooms stuffing myself with food and drinks and taking pictures. I’m glad, since Clärchens may never look like this again.
I wasn’t sure what happened to Clärchens after World War II until I got my hands on the official history, Berlin tanzt in Clärchens Ballhaus by Marion Kiesow. From 1942, the Ballhaus closed down under the Nazis (dancing was forbidden), and was used by German army staff officers needing somewhere to pour over their maps. Once Germany surrendered they left a lot of paper behind that Clärchens – open again! – turned to its blank white side and used as “tablecloth.”
Soon the Red Army appeared, using Clärchens courtyard for their horses. But on Saturday, July 14, 1945, the Ballhaus finally opened again for the business of dancing and having fun. The building was in bad shape from the bombardments and fighting, but people climbed through the rubble for a chance to dance and drink a thin kind of punch. The man shortage meant every man could dance the night with constantly changing partners.
Though Clärchens was in the new Soviet Sector of occupied Berlin, people from all over the city could go there in the early years after the war. Those were hard years for most, and some people sought their escape in “Bonbons” – drugs in sweets wrappers that were sometimes openly sold table to table.
By the way, there really was a Clärchen – Clara Bühler, the wife of the original owner of the dance hall at Auguststr. 24. After World War I, she ran the place herself, and for the rest of the century, it was known as Clärchens.
I hope it reopens one day, and with its old charm and authenticity.
I’ll be back to normal posts soon, but I can’t resist celebrating the launch of M.L. Huie’s postwar espionage novel Spitfire, out today in the United States. It’s set in 1946 just like my book, so it feels like Spitfire and The German Heiress /Finding Clara are story siblings.
Spitfire is about a female spy and it has Ian Fleming in it too, so I’ve wanted to read it ever since I was lucky enough to meet Michael via a 2020 Debut authors group. Here’s the description from his website:
It’s the day of the London Victory Celebrations 1946. World War II is over, and former spy Livy Nash is celebrating with her third drink before noon. She went to war to kill Nazis. Dropped behind enemy lines as a courier, she quickly became one of the toughest agents in France. But her war ended with betrayal and the execution of the man she loved.
Now, Livy spends her days proofreading a demeaning advice column for little ladies at home, and her nights alone with black market vodka.
But everything changes when she meets the infamous Ian Fleming.
The man who will create the world’s most sophisticated secret agent has an agenda of his own and sends Livy back to France with one task: track down the traitor who killed the only man she ever loved. Livy jumps at the chance, heading back to Paris undercover as a journalist. But the City of Lights is teeming with spies, and Livy quickly learns just how much the game has changed. With enemies on every corner and ever-shifting alliances, she’ll have to learn to fight a new war if she wants to conquer the past.
I just downloaded Spitfire, and as a classic spy novel fan, I’m ridiculously excited to read it. I hope some of you will take a look too. p.s. Book 2 in the Livy Nash series should be coming out later in the year. Congratulations, Michael!
If you’re in the United States and like free stuff, especially stuff related to postwar Germany, head over to Goodreads and enter a chance to win one of 100 advanced reader copies of my debut novel The German Heiress. (It’s called Finding Clara in the UK).
It’s set in the ruins of Essen, Germany in December 1946 at the start of what the Germans call the “Hunger Winter,” one of the hardest on record. It stars Clara, a woman on the run and struggling with her conscience; Jakob, a black marketer determined to get his family through the winter; and Willy, a boy soldier who refuses to believe the war is over.
How does modern Germany present WW2 to school kids? As my kids have gotten older, I’ve wondered at what age they’ll begin to learn about the war and Germany’s responsibility for what it did to so many countries in Europe. I knew that high school-age kids learn about it, but how young can children be and still grasp what happened and why?
My kids haven’t gotten to it in school yet, but last week they had a chance to immerse themselves in the topic in a way they had never done before. Kika, German national TV’s children’s channel, launched a series called Der Krieg und ich (The War and Me) for 8-year-olds and up. Each episode follows a child from a different country as they struggle with their fate before and during the war. The stories come from Germany, Norway, France, Britain, Poland, the USSR and the Czech Republic.
This international focus really impressed me. It seems like the war is largely portrayed inside of national bubbles — the German experience seeming to have little to do with the Russian or British etc experience on a personal level. But the series manages to zoom out to show the war as the link between 7 different but in some ways similar dramas. These are all children. None of what happens is their fault, but they are growing up in a conflict that forces them to make hard and fateful decisions.
My whole family settled onto the sofa to watch the first episodes together. My 9-year-old is especially sensitive, and I watched how she reacted to the show. The first episode focused on Anton, a German boy who desperately wanted to join the Hitler Youth so he could have better clothes and belong to a group of boys who looked like true friends and wanted great things for Germany. He didn’t understand what the group truly stood for until he had to face a choice: betray the family of his Jewish friend, or stand by them, which would endanger his own family.
My 9-year-old is a bright kid, good in school, and very curious about the world. She’s asked about WW2 before, but not in great depth. As she watched Anton’s story, she couldn’t sit still. She climbed onto the back of the sofa, slid to the floor and hid behind it, peeking over the top as she continued to watch. The story scared her. Basically good people like Anton can end up doing bad things. This was only one of the lessons of the show, and it was a hard one to process.
After we turned off the TV, my daughter and I talked through some of these issues. It wasn’t easy. Germany is a very different country than it used to be, and many of its basic values are so different, I had to explain those before my daughter could make sense of what she’d seen. For instance, she wanted to know: why did people think the army and being a soldier was such a good thing? It’s a legitimate question in a basically anti-war country like modern Germany.
We told her that her great grandfathers on her Papa’s side fought for Germany, while her great grandfather on my side fought for the United States and the anti-Nazi Allies. She personally had nothing to do with the war, but as a half-German, she has a responsibility to know what happened and to try to prevent such a thing from happening again. Having the courage to speak out and take risks is hard for everyone, especially children. But Der Krieg und ich has done a good job showing kids struggling with those decisions and their consequences. A great introduction to WW2 that even adults can learn from.