Today marks the 25th anniversary of what is considered the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is an auspicious occasion for which I should have been in Berlin itself right now, instead of on the island of Fuerteventura without a passport. But that’s another story. Or probably will be one day.
My debut full length novel – A Table In Berlin – exists only because the Wall existed. And, although that’s an over-simplification, the final scene of the novel takes place in a near empty restaurant (22 Kantstrasse if you want to go there now, although it is no longer serving Greek food) on this very night, twenty five years ago, as rivers of Berliners flowed towards the Brandenburg Gate after hearing rumours.
I had been in West and East Berlin two years earlier. Brought up during what some might call the heyday of Cold War thrillers, it was impossible for me not to treat East Berlin as some giant theme park. I was fascinated. I’d never seen bullet-scarred buildings. And I’m not talking about one here and there. It was like walking around in a mammoth film set. I walked for hours, in all the sort of places I dare say I might have been advised not to go. All a bit juvenile, I’m sure, with me safe in the knowledge that I would be popping back across the wall come night time, heading back to the bright lights of the West. I thought I was quite the young man of mystery in those days but my stress levels soon went off the scale when the police took an interest! That’s probably another story, too.
I returned to Berlin (no West or East any more) in 1996. It was one huge building site. Or that’s how I remember it. I’m ashamed to say that I missed the stark drama of how it had been. Missed it because I didn’t have to live it, obviously. Clearly, today, it is one incredible capital city. It’s impossible to even say Berlin without instantly feeling the weight of history.
If I was a thriller writer – and I’m not, A Table In Berlin is not a thriller, though it has a lot of intrigue – I could not avoid the pull of divided Berlin. As I said, it’s easy to be so flippant when viewed from the outside. But in the next post I want to talk briefly about a man who did live the life there and did determine to escape. Without having known about him, the character of Christian Bauer would not have existed.
So, you see, you need to live a little before you can write a little!