The Stadtmuseum Berlin has made me very very happy by posting a short video that shows what you would’ve seen if you’d traveled on the S–bahn through Berlin from the Jannowitzbrücke station to Bahnhof Zoo in 1947. Old photographs are blended in at the right moment of the journey, with captions in German.
It’s a great way to see what progress the city had made just 2 years after the end of World War II. The streets look swept clean, trees have been planted here and there, but in places — especially between the Bellevue and Tiergarten stations, the city is a wasteland.
This is a fascinating look at a moment in Berlin’s postwar history.
My debut novel set in postwar Germany is out in the US and Canada — finally! If you’re more into audiobooks, here’s the link to a sneak excerpt of the US version (The German Heiress, read by Lisa Flanagan)— and the UK version (Finding Clara, read by Honeysuckle Weeks). Which do you like better?
The German Heiress is now available in a whole lot of places: I’ve been getting photos of it at grocery stories in different parts of the US if you crave a physical book during the lockdown. Otherwise, it’s also available (as is Finding Clara) in ebook and audio. Hope you enjoy!
I’ll be doing more regular posts soon, but the last 6 weeks or so have been utterly crazy. Stay safe and healthy!
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!
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.
This is a quick one to take my hat off to former US serviceman Geoff Walden’s website Third Reich in Ruins. Geoff’s father had taken so many photos while in the US Army after World War II that Geoff (thankfully) decided to share them with the world, identifying where the photos were taken and when, if he could. He’s added to the collection himself with some nice “then and now” photos – like the ones I linked to for Berlin — which show places like the Reichstag or the Zoo Bunker before, during or after the war. The site has been running for almost 20 years, so there’s a lot of great information to dig through for war/postwar buffs.