Sometimes I leave Berlin and explore other cities in Germany! Here’s the old town in Frankfurt am Main, Germany’s financial capital.
This month, I wholeheartedly recommend Thomas Harding’s Hanns and Rudolf. In a unique double-biographical style, Harding contrasts the decisions and destinies of Hanns Alexander, a German Jew who had fled to England and served as a Lieutenant in the British Army, and the man he would track down in 1945: Rudolf Höss, the Commandant of Auschwitz. A truly astonishing read which is gripping from first to last page.
Did you know Berlin tried to build and open a new airport a few years ago? Well, it’s still not opened, and is now already way too small! I spotted this discarded bit of the ill-fated Berlin-Brandenburg Airport looking rather forlorn in the Friedenau neighbourhood…far from its intended location next to Schönefeld.
Georg Elster was a master craftsman living in the village of Königsbronn, who travelled to Munich in 1938 in order to attend the annual commemoration of the ‘Beerhall Putsch’ uprising of November 8th, 1923. There he confirmed his notion that concealing a bomb in a pillar behind the speaker’s podium would be the surefire means to assassinate the leadership of the Nazi Party. The carpenter and clockmaker returned to the city in August 1939, and spent over 30 nights concealed inside the Bürgerbräukeller tavern before he was satisfied with the concealment of his time bomb, set to detonate at 9.20pm on November 8th. Unbeknownst to Elser, Hitler had decided to cancel his appearance at the tavern, since war with Poland had already broken out – he relented, but instead on the planned two-hour ceremony beginning at 8.30, he determined to be present from 8 until 9. Bad weather necessitated that Hitler would return to Berlin by train inside of by plane, and he hurriedly completed his address at 9.07, departing alongside his entourage: Joseph Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler, Rudolf Hess, and other high-ranking Nazis. Almost all of the audience had left the building by the time the bomb exploded, thirteen minutes after Hitler left the podium. Elser was taken into custody that evening, transferred to the Gestapo HQ in Berlin and later to the Sachsenhausen and Dachau Concentration Camps. He was murdered by the Nazis on April 9th, 1945.
Berlin is a very flat city, but did you know that Berlin has a hill? And there’s an artificial waterfall running down it, which gets turned off in winter to stop the pipes freezing! But in the summer, it’s on and the sight and sound of running water from the top of Viktoriapark in the middle of the city is something to be savoured.
This month, a wholehearted double recommendation for you: Simon Winder’s Germania and Danubia, packed with anecdotes and revelations, by an author with a clear fondness for the many idiosyncrasies and oddities of Germany and Austria – and by one who shows that they’re not so very different to Britain, after all…!
Dutch citizen, Willem Arondeus was gay man, painter, novelist and art historian, who did all he could to impede the Nazis in their occupation of Holland. He authored periodicals calling upon fellow artists and workers to commit acts of civil disobedience and to resist the occupiers wherever possible. Alongside others, including the lesbian musician Frieda Belinfante and Stedelijk Museum curator Willem Sandberg, Arondeus began to prepare false documents for Dutch Jews, allowing them to conceal their true identity. When the Nazis started closing in on the plot, Arondeus duped guards on duty at the Amsterdam Public Records Office and bombed the building, destroying countless files. He was among a dozen resistance fighters shot within a week of the attack, and in his last known words (a letter from prison as he awaited execution) he implored: ‘Let it be known that homosexuals are not cowards.’
I would like to recommend the movie, ‘The Invisibles’ by Claus Raefle from 2017. It’s a part documentary, part dramatisation film that depicts the fates of some of the approximately 7000 Jewish Germans who went into hiding in Berlin during WWII. Footage of interviews with four of the survivors is intercut with dramatic re-enactments to tell a remarkable story of courage and tenacity.