Bernie Gunther in Prague Fatale, Chat Five

The psychopathology of the masses is rooted in the psychology of the individual. Carl Jung

On March 16, 1939, Germany invaded Czechoslovakia and Hitler baptized this spoil of aggression and diplomatic duplicity as the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.  Hitler’s 97% Sudetenland Germans support for his Nazi party proved to be a real force for his ambitious plan to appropriate the Czech military, steel and chemical industrial base.  The Munich Agreement, signed on September 30, 1938, remembered by Chamberlain’s claim of “peace for our time”, paved Hitler’s path.

Fast forward to 1941, the beginning of autumn to be exact, and we see a number of chinks in the plan.  The German fighting machine on the Eastern front is in trouble; the once ambivalent British state is supporting the exiled Czechoslovakian government out of London, and with the help of the British, that same exiled government is running a resistance network and wreaking havoc in their former capital and Berlin; and the SS actions toward the Jews in the East is causing the young and impressionable troops severe psychological distress.  Enter General Reinhard Heydrich, the newly ordained Deputy Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, home to the largest Jewish community in Europe.

In August, 1941, Bernie Gunther returns from the front, Belorussia to be exact, with the blessing of Arthur Nebe, his former Berlin Police Commissioner and soon-to-be boss once again.  Gunther says he was sent back in “disgrace”.

He is somewhat resettled in a deprived Berlin, cracking cases back at the Alex, and thinking of suicide every other day.  Gunther finds himself reinvigorated by a trifecta:  a murder investigation of a foreign worker; a chance encounter with a joy lady who has a certain way about her; and the Gestapo’s discovery of the body of a Czech resistance agent.  While on the surface all three events seemed independent of each other, they are somehow bewilderingly related. But, as Gunther begins to investigate that relationship, he is ordered to Prague by Heydrich and, despite his best efforts to decline the invitation, he knew he had to leave Berlin for Prague.

Me:    In Prague we see you, Bernie Gunther, at your investigative best, and your most outspoken and vulnerable.

BG:     If you mean my frank monologue with Heydrich upon my arrival to Jungfern-Breschan’s lower castle, that certainly was my finest moment and by deducing the murderer of his fourth adjutant, yes, I grant you that as well.  But, most vulnerable – what do you have in mind?

Me:    Allow me to go back a few months?  You served on the Eastern front as a SD officer.  By the way, what is the difference between SD and SS?

BG:     Yes, the Reich acronyms.  The SD is the “intelligence” gathering arm of the SS – same group, different levels of criminality.

Me:    “Different levels of criminality” makes a good segue.  Bernie Gunther, the total dehumanization of the civilian population in Belorussia caused you to request a reassignment at great personal risk — imprisonment or worse.

Belorussia, the site of what some say was the first Jewish Holocaust, with 90% of the community being murdered by pistol, became infamous for the brutality visited on the population by the SS.  These officers lined up the Jews in front of ditches dug by the victims themselves, and shot row upon row of them at point-blank range.

BG:     Yes. And what kind of intelligence could I ever have gathered to justify the mass slaughter of civilians?  The many levels of the war effort were never clearer to me.  Or, to put it another way, the war effort masked a deeper, more sinister plan.  I quickly became deeply ashamed to be German.  My entire good-cop career was diminished.  Now, I was working side-by-side criminals who were exempted from prosecution because they were “following orders.”  And, yes, that was the start of my own psychological demise, or my vulnerability as you put it.  It is interesting how the human mind works.  Some things are better left forgotten, aren’t they?

Me:    Nonetheless, you were dogged by self-loathing to the point of preparing to knock yourself off.    You are quoted as saying “the thought of suicide is a real comfort to me:  sometimes it’s the only way I can get through a sleepless night…Once or twice I even laid a couple of folded bath towels under the pillow on my bed and lay down with the firm intent of actually going through with it…I would lie there and stare at the suicide note written on my best paper – bought in Paris… After a while, sometimes I would go to sleep.  Once I awoke from such a terrible, vivid, heart-stopping dream…..”

BG:     Ha-ha.  I bolted up in bed, fired my pistol and, well, “my mother’s walnut Vienna wall clock was never the same.”  She would have rolled over in her grave at my Belorussian experiences, my state of mind at the time, and the ricocheted-off-her-clock bullet.  I can hear her voice now:  ‘Bernhard, smarten-up.’

Me:    It even got to the point where your own co-workers at the Alex were telling you to smarten-up.

BG:     Um.  I was a “real bat in the balls,” as was pointed out by good old Wilhelm Ludtke.  He ordered me to pull myself together.  I guess my state of mind was obvious to those around me.  Christ, you couldn’t even get a decent beer in Berlin in those days.  I would have taken real beer over an order from another Commissioner any day.

Me:    Still, what I like about you at that time is your empathy for yourself and others.  I am thinking of the Fridmann sisters.

BG:     Of course.  I, like many Berliners, had admired the resilience of the Jews.  “To survive as a Jew in Berlin in the autumn of 1941 was to be a person of courage and strength.”  If they could be persons of courage and strength, I hear my mother’s voice again, so could I.  Do you want me to tell the story?

Me:    Yes, I do.

BG:     Food was a real luxury in Berlin at the time.  And securing enough food for the Jews was almost impossible.  I had squirreled away a bag of real coffee I bought in Paris. Real coffee was like gold in 1941 Berlin.  I made an agreement with the Adlon maître d’ to swap the coffee for a sack of canned goods.  To possess canned goods in those days was illegal as all canned food was earmarked for the soldiers at the front.

Me:    And the maître d’ asked a favour of you, did he not?

BG:     Yes, he did.  I would meet with a certain American journalist who wanted to know what really was going on in the East.  I did meet with him, told my story, felt the shame like bile in my gut while doing so, and encouraged him to tell it to the Americans.  He noted that that story would never pass the Nazi censors, nor would the Americans believe it.  What did one say to that?

Me:    OK.  Leaving the Adlon on your way home, the sack of contraband slung over your shoulder, you stumbled on a situation that held the roots of both an elixir to your fragile mental state and maybe one of the most disturbing accounts of your professional life.  Would you agree?

BG:     Elixir, yes, and real beer to boot, but the most disturbing account of my work, I am not sure.  Working for Goering and Heydrich is up there with meeting Eichmann in post-war Germany.   Still, Arianne held her backstory close to her chest for sure.

Arianne Tauber was the “situation”, as you put it, I stumbled on as I hauled the Fridmann sisters’ loot home.

Me:    And real beer?  Explain that bit, will you?

BG:     Arianne worked at a local club frequented by Americans and Nazi minions.  Everything was on offer there at extortionist prices. But, really, the beer was not the point of the Arianne situation, is it?

Me:    Ha-ha!  The interviewee turning interviewer; I like it, Bernie Gunther.  Tell us about Fraulin Tauber?

BG:     Blacked-out Berlin nights were treacherous for everyone but mostly women, many of whom were raped, which is what I thought was happening to her on that dark night.  I intervened and Arienne was grateful.  She added comfort to my life, however briefly.  I liked her way with words.  She called me Parsifal; why, I cannot say.  I called her “angel” and knew why I did so.  She warmed my bed at night, brought me back to life, and smartened me up in a way.  It had been a long time since I felt a non-political kind of feeling.  That is, something other than rage or despair.

Me:    So, she took your mind of your gun.  But, every once and a while, you did wonder about her as a cop would wonder about a suspect.  Is that not right?

BG:     Well, you got me there.  I must admit to having my doubts about her story, but buried them for my own sake.  Am I telling this clearly enough for you?

Me:    Yes, but, your buried suspicions were exhumed in Prague, were they not?  And, to be clear, not the ones you initially held, a point I alluded to earlier in our chat when I suggested that Arianne was one of the most disturbing accounts of your career.  Still, let’s leave that one for the readers to decide, shall we?

BG:     Agreed.

Me:    So, somewhat calmed by the presence of Arianne and the distractions of a murder case, you are all-of-a-sudden summoned to Prague by your favourite Nazi, Reinhardt Heydrich.  I believe you once referred to him as the crown prince of terror.

BG:     Ha-ha, more than once, I want you to know, did I refer to him as the crown prince of terror and more morbid monikers besides.

Me:    You and Arianne packed up, boarded the train, and headed off to Prague like a happily married couple. Tell us, why did the General summons you?

BG:     He needed a personal body guard.  Being in the heart of hostile territory – the Czechs were not happy having their country rolled over by the Nazis – and despite having four adjutants and a full-time driver, Heydrich did not have personal protection and believed his life to be in danger.  I was not surprised and told him that “any number of Czechos must want” him dead.  But, it was not the Czechos who worried him. He had reason to believe that an attempt on his life would be an inside job.  “I want someone around me who understands murder and murderers, and who can handle himself to boot,” he explained.  When I pointed out that the task could be carried out by the Gestapo, he responded “I want someone who is usefully suspicious as opposed to officious.”

Me:    And you stated with full aplomb: “You know that most bodyguards are supposed to care about what happens to their employers, don’t you?”

BG:     Yes, I did.  But it did not dissuade him in the least.  He barreled on like some school master making his point and not really caring if you agreed with him or not.  “You I’ve known for five years.  I know you’re not Himmler’s man….Of course, in many ways you’re a fool…But I have to admit, you’re a clever and resourceful fool.”

Me:    Once again, Bernie Gunther, your talents trapped you.  Did you ever wish you had become a plumber?

BG:     A plumber?  No.  But often I wondered what would have happened had I not caught Gormann back in the day.

Me:    Perhaps your reputation kept you somewhat safe in those precarious assignments.  Did you ever think of it that way?   Working for the top brass and not having to join the club?

BG:     Ah, got it.  Heydrich, nonetheless, was convinced he could make a Nazi of me.  If I ever had a smidgeon of doubt about my “stupid republican opinions”, as the General stated it, that first weekend at his country home solidified a deep commitment in me to hold true to the Weimar ideal.

Me:    Before we shade-in a bit of the intrigue of that first weekend of your new assignment, I do want to remind you of your “price”, as you put it to the General. Really, when one thinks of it, it was not a price in the true sense of a transaction as you were in no position to barter with Heydrich.

BG:     True, you are spot-on there.  But I did have my five minutes of glory, five minutes granted by the General in which I told him exactly what I thought of his government, its politics and its racial policy.  I was equal parts pleased and shit-scared afterward.  Still, I had his ear without interruption. As you put it, I was at my most outspoken, and, after the fact, at my most vulnerable.

Me:    However, in smart order you did get over your timorous state, and I dare say, the night luxuriating in Arianne’s arms at the posh Imperial Hotel in the center of Prague had something to do with your recovery!  Early the next morning you were summoned back to Jungfern-Breschan.  There had been a homicide and your presence was requested immediately. Did you have a fleeting wish that it might have been the “crown prince” himself?

BG:     Oh, yes, I did, but knew immediately after I replaced the telephone in the cradle that he was still very much alive.  It turns out that the deceased was Heydrich’s fourth, and I believe, his youngest adjutant, Captain Albert Kuttner.

Me:    You had already developed a soft spot for him, did you not?

BG:     Very early in the chain of interactions on my first day, Kuttner and I talked.  He admitted to not sleeping well, and instantly I knew the reason why.  A heart wrenching tale he then told of his Eastern front experiences, one that would have caused me more than sleepless nights.

Me:    A heart-wrenching tale?

BG:     The Eastern Jews were not the only ones terrorized and murdered at the whim of the SS.  This was the way of it as he told me:  “We had been burning down Pollack villages for no real reason I could see.  Certainly there was no military necessity in it.  We were just throwing our weight around like brutes.  Some of my men were drunk and nearly all of them were animals.  Anyway, we came across a troop of Polish boy scouts.  The oldest of them couldn’t have been more than sixteen and the youngest perhaps as young as twelve.  And my commanding officer ordered me to put all of them up against a wall and shoot them… Orders are orders, he said, get on with it.”

Me:    And he followed the order?

BG:     Yes.

Me:    Kuttner being homosexual certainly would not have made him feel safe in the present company of SS brass.

BG:     His being warm, in and of itself, would have put him in imminent danger given his position and the professional company he had to keep.  Poor bastard, guilt over following orders and fear of being found out.  What mid-twenties man could have lived with that?

Me:    Did you wonder, then, how many other German Officers, youngsters really, were going through the same ordeal?

BG:     Those who did not turn themselves into killing machines probably went mad in any number of ways.  How many youngsters were subjected to those orders I could not say; most, probably.  But one thing is for sure, the top brass took note of the low morale.  It was where the tire hit the autobahn, as they say; where the shit about the Jews being inferior, their not being really human, fell flat.  It would not be much of a leap to see a row of fathers and sons being mowed down from the bullets in the gun in one’s hand to imagine the humanity of those victims, to imagine your own male family members staring back at you, to imagine the inhumanity of it all.

Me:    The top brass took note of the low morale.  How do you mean?

BG:     Think of the smoke over Birkenau.

Me:    Right.  Sixteen SS top brass were at the Castle that weekend.  Heydrich locked down the estate to facilitate your investigation.  Mystery is the operative word here. Kuttner’s body was found in his locked-from-the-inside room.  The scene and characters are a bit reminiscent of a Christie Poirot novel.

BG:     “A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma,” to quote the fat man from Britain.  A triple threat, a trifecta, as you noted above.  From Heydrich’s bodyguard to his detective, this event, its location, and the potential perpetrators demanded me to be at my best.  The entire scene opened a window on a people’s resistance and the psychopathologies of the SS Elite and its leaders.

Me:    And you were brilliant, if I may say so.  You were at your deductive best, despite the huge deceptions.

BG:     The clever crown prince played me like a Stradivarius.

Me:    Do you know that the original meaning of Parsifal is “pure fool”?

BG:     Ah, I did not know that, but it makes perfect sense all round.  Bernie Gunther, the perfect fool, and still alive.  OK, enough meandering down memory lane.  Let’s wrap this up and share a meal.

Me:    Agreed, Bernie Gunther.  Thank you.


Philip Kerr Speaks about Prague Fatale

It’s a mystery – Q&A Philip Kerr

Originally published in The Economist, Sep 25th 2012, by E.F.

“PRAGUE FATALE” is the latest novel in the Bernie Gunther series by Philip Kerr, a British crime writer. This is the eighth book featuring Bernie, a sardonic Berlin detective with a fondness for cigarettes and women, since he first appeared in 1989. In the books, Mr Kerr skillfully combines noir-crime plots with authentic historical background placing Bernie in volatile times from the 1930s to the cold war.

In “Prague Fatale”, set in wartime Berlin and Prague, Bernie is dropped into his most morally ambiguous case yet. He accepts an invitation to a country-house gathering with Reinhard Heydrich, Hitler’s architect for the final solution (it would be unwise to refuse). During the weekend, one of Heydrich’s adjutants is found murdered. Bernie’s mettle is tested when he must unravel a whodunit involving some of the most savage characters in the Nazi leadership. HBO is in talks to adapt these taut, atmospheric murder mysteries into a TV series.

Mr Kerr spoke to The Economist about Bernie, getting under the skin of Nazi war criminals and his “creative demons”.

“Prague Fatale” is set in the early 1940s—why are you taking a step back in time from some of your previous novels?

I want to keep the books fresh but I have always been interested in Heydrich and his assassination. What I was really interested in was the six months leading up to it. I went to Prague and let history lead me by the hand. I found out where Heydrich’s country house is, it is a semi-ruin and closed to the public. When I saw it I knew this was the story I wanted to write.

How difficult is it to write about such monstrous historical figures and bring them to life?

The hardest thing is to write about people. First and foremost, you have to encounter their humanity. That is the only way you can make them live as characters on the page. It seems to me that we let humanity off the hook when we describe people, such as the SS, as “monsters” and “bestial”. What they did was only too typical of what human beings do. When you realise that people can do that, rather than monsters and beasts, then everything seems much more horrific.

“Prague Fatale” contains some disturbing scenes of torture. How do you research that?

I don’t think there is anything you can do other than use your imagination. I don’t know what that says about me. I do have a kind of morbid way of looking at things but that is the job. It is a sort of “creative demon” that I wouldn’t be without. As a writer you rely on whatever makes you up as a person whether those things are twisted and nasty or otherwise.

Like all your novels, “Prague Fatale” has a meticulous sense of place. Do you always visit the places you write about?

I try to go as often as possible. If I find a historical source that seems to supersede what I find out myself, then I will go with that. However, it is impossible to make yourself an expert on any place in a short period of time. Often, if you know too much, you put it in and it slows the story down, so it is best to rely on your imagination to fill the gaps.

What are the challenges of writing about the same character over such a long series?

There is always a temptation to take things for granted, to get lazy and to presume that the reader knows more than they do. For me, a good thing was to take Gunther out of his own milieu and move him around.

As a writer focusing on such turbulent times do you feel a moral obligation to your readers?

I feel an obligation to try and make comparisons because people forget the lessons of history. It is important to be reminded of the similarities of what happens historically and what happens in the present day.

Why was there a 16-year gap between the third and fourth books?

I was busy writing other books, but I would go away on a tour and someone would ask when I was going to write another Bernie Gunther novel. Time passed and I thought, maybe I should do another and write about him as an older guy. It is always best to do this when people are still asking for it.

Why did you agree to a television adaptation rather than a film franchise?

Lately, I think film has come to reveal its “feet of clay” creatively. The best stuff is now being done on television. I think the context of an hour-long drama gives breathing space that you don’t get in a film. Film has to work in such a short period of time and these books are very atmospheric.

Do you share any character traits with your fictional creation?

I have the same mordant wit and find the same things funny. Fortunately, I am not as haunted as he is but then I don’t have as many skeletons in the closet. I would hope I am not as brutally violent too but you never know how you would behave during a war.

The Backstory to Prague Fatale in Preparation for my Fifth Chat with Bernie Gunther

Bernie Gunther Returns from Belorussia

It was September, 1941.  Bernie Gunther had returned from the front, Belorussia to be exact, with the blessing of Arthur Nebe, his former colleague and the Police Commissioner of Berlin.  He had somewhat resettled in a deprived Berlin, cracking cases back at the Alex, thinking of suicide  every other day, and falling for a joy lady who had a certain way about her.  Then, in the middle of a murder investigation of a foreign worker somehow connected to Czech resistors operating in Berlin, Gunther was summoned to Prague by General Reinhard Heydrich, the Deputy Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, the former nation state of Czechoslovakia.

Diplomatic Duplicity over Czechoslovakia

On March 16, 1939, Germany invaded Czechoslovakia and Hitler baptized this spoil of aggression and diplomatic duplicity as the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.  But the lead up to this hostile take-over was in the planning stages for some time, with Hitler bullying his way through Europe with a freehand and the certain support of the other not-so-great powers, namely Britain.  The Munich Agreement, signed on September 30, 1938, will be remembered by Chamberlain’s claim of “peace for our time.”

Czechoslovakia is Wiped off the Map

The Gröfaz – a mocking name for Hitler meaning “greatest general of all time” – had his eye on Czechoslovakia for its military, steel and chemical industrial base, and its well-trained and equipped army.  With a disingenuous impassioned plea to protect the cultural Germans in the Sudetenland, Hitler set in motion a series of political events fomented by trumped-up cultural grievances among some Germans living there. In fact, over 97% Sudetenland Germans supported the Nazis, and when compared to just fewer than 18% of Germany’s Germans who supported the Party, it proved to be a real force.  Playing off the guilt that some European powers felt over the Versailles Treaty and their uncertainty of the 1919 peace agreement that re-organized the political and cultural map of Europe, and Hitler’s habitually threatening political posturing, he ensured, by encouraging the pro-Nazis in the Sudetenland, to bring the government of Benes to its knees through a series of demands it could never agree to.  Ironically, Benes did capitulate to the extortionists.  However, the grand plan was to remove Benes and his democratically-elected state, and to wipe Czechoslovakia off the map, according to Hitler’s military aspirations.

Resistance Supported by a Government in Exile

But Hitler and his puffed-up minions did not count on the Czechoslovakian resistance.  Not just your ordinary resistance, it was reminiscent of the French movement run out of London.  President Benes, along with Frantisek Moravec, former head of military intelligence, ran the network from their London-based government in exile.  One element of that resistance was known as the Three Kings, made up of Josef Mašín, Václav Morávek, and Josef Balabán.  Enter Reinhard Heydrich, second-to-the-top SS officer, who set up his Prague shop in September of 1941.

Prague Fatale

Prague Fatale, true to Philip Kerr’s brilliant attention to historical detail, opens a window on the people’s resistance and the psychopathologies of the SS Elite and its leaders.  As Jung pointed out, “the psychopathology of the masses is rooted in the psychology of the individual.”   In this gripping tale we see Bernie Gunther at his investigative best, and his most outspoken and vulnerable.

If the Dead Rise Not – lament of Republican Bernie Gunther

In my fourth chat with protagonist, Bernie Gunther, we go back in time to a younger man when I meet him again in If the Dead Rise Not.

He is 36, employed at the Adlon Hotel as the House Detective, and he grieves for the loss of the Republic and all that that entailed for his personal and professional life.  And it is from this grief we begin to more completely understand this courageous, irreverent, mutineer Berliner.

The year is 1934; the month September. The Nazis have just won a major victory with the American public:  they will host the 1936 Summer Games despite their treatment of the German Jewish citizens.  Avery Brundage, notable leader of the American Olympic Organization to become the fifth president of the International Olympic Committee (1952 – 72), is behind the rescinding of the American boycott.  The German Olympic Committee itself is fraught with corruption, only pointing out that the Nazis can be bought off when it comes to their own aggrandizement.

Hitler wasted no time implementing his Aryan agenda. Within weeks of his ascension he introduced the Civil Service Restoration Act, which basically removed all Jews from civil service jobs such as teachers, professors and judges. Shortly thereafter, Jews were forbidden to practice medicine or law.

In the Third Reich there is no room for Republicans.    Bernie Gunther calls himself a Republican.  He laments the loss of the Republic, admits it had its troubles, but reminds anyone needing reminding that it was democratic.

Berlin became known as the “city of excitement and hope.”

The dawn of Weimar culture gripped Berliners; not all Berliners and not most Berliners, but Berlin quickly rose to a place of prestige as the cosmopolitan center of jazz clubs, burlesque, cabaret, music, theatre, and film.  Berlin gave rise to novels still read today, and writers still remembered.  Its tourist trade boomed, calling all comers to enjoy its erotic cinema, sex trade and night clubs catering to all sexual proclivities and fetishes. Berlin became European-famous for its gay and lesbian community, chockablock with night spots, press, and advocates.  Its Parliament was a hare’s breath away from repealing the laws which discriminated against homosexuals – namely Paragraph 175. Nonetheless, the open and fresh attractions nurturing soul and body had its downside: extreme poverty, social dislocation and venereal disease, crime and corruption.  This cacophony gave rise to a nation-wide battle played out on the streets of Berlin:  German tradition verses American modernism.

This was the home of Bernie Gunther when he returned from the Turkish front with his Iron Cross second class in hand.  He was only 21 at that time.  One could say he had, after serving on the WW1 front, a second maturation as he followed and participated in the ripening of his beloved city of Berlin.   When we meet him again his lamentations are made clear and we begin to understand why he solidified his naysayer posture toward the Nazi Regime.

Me:    Bernie Gunther, Philip Kerr opens this story with a quote from the Book of Common Prayer.  It reads:

That I have fought with beasts at Ephesus after the manner of men, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not again?  Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die.

What do you make of it?

BG:     That was a well-presented background on the situation, by the way, even if you missed a few important points.

But to your question, I am not a religious man. Still, the beasts have to refer to the Nazis.

Me:    That was my thinking as well.  But I wonder about the dead.  In the span of one year the Great War ended, a homegrown German revolution erupted, the German Empire collapsed, and the Weimar Republic was born on 11 August 1919.  Weimar lasted only 14 years.  From Monarchy to anarchy to democracy to dictatorship, that was the evolution of the German polity in-between the two great world wars.  So many were dead, Bernie Gunther.

BG:     True enough.  But given the time we are talking about, Kerr was probably thinking of the Republic.  I know I would have.

Me:    This is our fourth conversation, and up to this point, I had never fully appreciated you attachment to the Republic.  What I mean is your laments throughout this chapter in your life are striking and profoundly revealing.  In an encounter with a cop who “pushed your buttons…”

BG:     Pushed my buttons?

Me:    Ah, irritated you beyond self-control.

BG:     You got that right.

Me:    You are quoted as saying you had been ‘irritated at being pushed around yet again, not just by this cadaver-faced cop but by the whole Nazi state. I’d been forced out of my job as a senior detective with KRIPO – a job I had loved – and been made to feel like a pariah because of my adherence to the old Weimar Republic.  The Republic’s faults had been many, it was true, but at least it had been democratic.  And since its collapse, Berlin, the city of my birth, was hardly recognizable.  Previously it had been the most liberal place in the world.  Now it felt like a military parade ground.’

BG:     Being a cop was my real first and true job after the war.  I was good at it.  Unlike a short stint as a bureaucrat – a job I could never tolerate due to its physical and mental restrictions – being a cop allowed a freedom to sum up the situation and act on your instincts until you solved the crime.

Me:    A cop, but more precisely a criminal investigator – your country man Joe May, renowned film producer and director, did not interest you in becoming a traffic cop?

BG:     Ha-ha!  You have done your homework – one of his best working man’s films of the day was Asphalt!  No, no, my superiors had to take me out of uniform in favour of plain clothes once they noticed how the traffic at Potsdammer Platz “pushed my buttons,” to use your expression.

Me:    But why Criminal and not, oh, I don’t know, vice?

BG:     Vice?  My god!  I am not a moralist.  I knew many joy ladies possessing higher social graces than their shameful “betters”.

ME:    What about the homos?

BG:     Why did I not see that question coming?  The homos and the ladies, not to be confused with the dress-ups, they had a good thing going, rich with community rags, night clubs and the like.  In fact, they almost ushered in a new era of what today you call human rights.

No, I was more interested in the criminal element that continued to squeeze the little people.  You might say that I was the ‘Ring-cycle hero and good guy, dragon-slaying as a specialty.’

Me:    So, here you are, Bernie Gunther, a working stiff, happy with his job, living the life side-by-side with the Jews, the homos, the Gypsies, and let’s not forget the multi-partied, multi-denominational newish Republic.  And in a blink of an eye, so it seemed, it all unraveled.  Astounding, it was.  You make a point of saying that the Berlin Police Department, one of the best in the world, had been transformed by the Gestapo in little more than one year.

BG:     What can I say?  It is true.   Except for the part you could have included in your background to help the folks puzzle it out.  The blink-of-an-eye analogy mostly refers to raising Hitler to both head-of-state offices.  But remember that the Communists had had a stronghold in Berlin thanks to the Republicans and their 1922 Treaty of Rapallo with the Russians. The Russians were intent on wooing the Versailles Treaty victim to their side.  And in March of 1926, Joey the Cripp arrives to set up the Nazi shop.   Well, while the magic of the New Berlin mesmerized those who could afford its pleasures and distractions, present company included, the Reds and the Nazis went to war in the streets.

Me:    Point taken, Bernie Gunther.

BG:     It was not until February 1933, when I and over two hundred thousand other Berliners filled the Lustgarten to demonstrate against Hitler, that I realized it was too late.  The great purge at the Alex came shortly thereafter.  In anticipation of that purge – knowing that the new Third Reich law enforcers did not welcome Jews or Republicans or Communists – ‘I quit KRIPO, I left behind a reasonable salary and a pension, not to mention what my father used to call “good prospects.”’

Me:    Then to the Hotel Adlon where you are hired as the House Detective, or to use your words, the carpet creeper, to keep out the thugs, murderers and joy ladies. Only, in those days, the Nazis used that 5-star establishment for their high-level functions.

BG:     Ha-ha – so true!  I liked working for Hedda and Lorenz Adlon. But I made little money and no pension, and I really missed “real” detective work.

Me:    Ah, but thanks to Hedda Adlon, who introduced you to Mrs. Noreen Charalambides, close friend of the proprietress, American playwright and journalist, and Jewess, you were back in the game.

BG:     There are more twists and turns in that story; it is almost like a literary pretzel.  Do you know pretzels?

Me:    Noreen Charalambides arrives from Moscow where one of her plays had been staged, and is intent on reporting to the American people the truth on the Nazi discrimination of the German Jews.  She is infuriated by the fact that Avery Brundage, after his fact-finding mission in Germany, took the wind out of the threatened American boycott of the 1936 Summer Olympics.  Hedda persuaded you to assist her friend on her quest.

BG:     What could I do but say yes to my boss? And Mrs. Charalambides was easy on the eyes, intelligent, and strong-willed.  I like that combination in a woman.

Me:    And during the early course of events, you were forced to go through what was euphemistically called an Aryan transfusion.  Tell us about that?

BG:     See, I was the poor Fritz who never was able to match the man-god stature of other Aryan men, who was a loyal Republican, and had a Jewish girlfriend, Frieda Bamberger. Well we weren’t really an item so to speak, but we had a physical relationship.  I cared for her and wanted to see her safe.  Anyway, to make a long story shorter, I still had contacts, and I might even say former colleagues at the Alex whom I could seek out for advice.  And that is what I did. In the middle of that advice-seeking I learned that someone had denounced me for having a Jewish grandmother.  For god sakes, who didn’t have some sort of Jewish familial connection in a city where the Jews had lived for hundreds of year?  The point was this:  if I intended to start my own business as a Private Investigator, something I sorely wanted to do, I would need licenses from the state. Do you see where this is going?  So, at the Alex I was told of the denunciation and to whom I could engage to fix the historical records – change my grandmother’s name from Adler to Kugler or Ebner, anything but Muller.  Now that is sweet irony, is it not?

Me:    But you could not tell Noreen Charalambides about this, could you?

BG:     No, I could not.  It was shameful, but then I had a lot on my mind during that time and Noreen’s quest proved to be more complex than it originally appeared.

Me:    Can you tell us a bit about the complexity?

BG:     Um, Let’s put it this way – aside from uncovering in the course of Noreen’s quest the corruption of the German Olympic Committee, the not so hidden presence of American big business in the construction of the sites, the use of Jewish labourers on the most dangerous sites and being paid slave wages – take it or leave it was the motto – there was also severe abuse of German Jewish athletes, namely the prize-fighting Jewish Boxers.   If that wasn’t enough of a bag of worms, I, Bernie Gunther, House Detective at the Hotel Adlon was falling for my employer’s friend, Mrs. Noreen Charalambides.  Now is that not complex?

Me:    Indeed, Bernie Gunther.   Mrs. Noreen Charalambides, the woman with whom you were falling in love, becomes your nemesis and your champion in one breath.  Due to her persistence you wind up being incarcerated.

BG:     But all was forgiven.  I did survive the incarceration, and I did start my own business thanks to her support.

Me:    What is most fascinating about this turn of events lies in the close of the tale.  Years later you run into her in, of all places, Havana, Cuba.

BG:     And what a turn of events it was.  Still, that is a story for another time my Canadian friend.  Now, shall we head over to the Adlon for a fine dining experience?

The Bernie-Gunther-in-the-Movies Poll: Who are you voting for?

And the Nominees are…..

Over the past two years Bernie Gunther Forum aficionados have been asking themselves who, which famous actor might play Bernie Gunther on the big screen?

But tallying up the score, the top five nominees are:

Sean Bean

Shaun Mark “Sean” Bean (born 17 April 1959) is an English actor of stage and screen. Bean is known for playing Boromir in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and, previously, British Colonel Richard Sharpe in the ITV television series Sharpe. He is also known for his film work playing such roles as Alec Trevelyan in GoldenEye, Jason Locke in Essex Boys, Odysseus in Troy, Ian Howe in National Treasure and Andy McNab in Bravo Two Zero. Bean has also acted in a number of television productions and character roles such as playing Robert Aske in Henry VIII and Eddard Stark in HBO’s Game of Thrones. He has also performed voice work for computer games, including Martin Septim in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.’

Daniel Craig

Daniel Wroughton Craig (born 2 March 1968) is a British actor best known for playing British secret agent James Bond in a 2006 reboot of the film series and its sequels.  Craig is an alumnus of the National Youth Theatre and graduated from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London and began his career on stage. His early on screen appearances were in the films Elizabeth, The Power of One and A Kid in King Arthur’s Court, and on Sharpe’s Eagle and Zorro in television. His appearances in the British films Love Is the Devil, The Trench and Some Voices attracted the industry’s attention, leading to roles in bigger productions such as Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Road to Perdition, Layer Cake and Munich.’

Russell Crowe

Russell Ira Crowe (born 7 April 1964) is a New Zealand-born Australian actor, film producer, and musician. He came to international attention for his role as the Roman general Maximus Decimus Meridius in the 2000 historical epic film Gladiator, directed by Ridley Scott, for which he won an Academy Award for Best Actor, a Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor, an Empire Award for Best Actor and a London Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor and ten further nominations for best actor. Crowe appeared as the tobacco firm whistle blower Jeffrey Wigand in the 1999 film The Insider, for which he received five awards as best actor and seven nominations in the same category. In 2001, Crowe’s portrayal of mathematician and Nobel Prize winner John F. Nash in the biopic A Beautiful Mind brought him numerous awards, including an BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor category Motion Picture Drama and a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role.’

Alexander Skarsgard

Alexander Johan Hjalmar Skarsgård (born August 25, 1976) is a Swedish actor. He is best known for his roles as vampire Eric Northman on the HBO series True Blood, Meekus in Zoolander and Brad Colbert in the HBO miniseries Generation Kill.’

Stellen Skardgard

Stellan John Skarsgård ‘(born 13 June 1951) is a Swedish actor, best known for his work in English-language films.  Skarsgård started his acting career early. At the age of 21 he already had a great deal of experience in film, TV and stage. Most of his early roles were in Swedish TV (such as Bombi Bitt) and movies. Of Skarsgård’s Swedish film work, he is perhaps best known for his portrayal of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who worked to save Holocaust victims. The movie was filmed in Budapest, in the only Jewish ghetto to survive World War II.’

Now that you know the nominees, which one of these famous male actors would you vote for? Stay tuned!  My poll will be launched in days.  Get ready.

Bernie Gunther in the Movies

Why not?  Who could resist this story being told on the big screen?

For at least fifteen years the film rights to the Bernie Gunther series have been owned by a German film producer that used to be associated the with Babelsberg Studio, the oldest film studio in the world.  Interestingly, this same studio was managed by Goebbels.

Remember him?  The plot gets even more intriguing.

In April of this year, Friday the 13th to be exact, Deadline New York reported that ‘HBO and Playtone partners Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman are in early talks to acquire the Berlin Noir novel series.’  Cool!

Over the past two years Bernie Gunther Forum aficionados have been asking themselves who, which famous actor might play Bernie Gunther on the big screen?  The nominations are as varied as they are surprising.

I am tallying up the score, identifying the top three nominations, and preparing to launch a poll.  Stay tuned!  My poll will be launched in days.  Get ready.  Who would you vote for?

Philip Kerr and Alison Weir shared the podium at a King’s Lynn Festival Literary Dinner

POPULAR history writer Alison Weir and crime specialist Philip Kerr were the speakers at this King’s Lynn Festival event.

Visiting Lynn was a trip down memory lane for Alison Weir who lived in the town as a newly-wed in the early 1970s when she worked at Barclays Bank and subsequently at the DHSS.

She had developed a huge fascination for history and spent all her spare time researching for her books though the first was not published until 1989.

Now she is one of the best-selling historians in Britain having written 16 history books and four historical novels.

She gave a detailed account of her latest historical novel, A Dangerous Inheritance and demonstrated her great interest in history in describing the interwoven story involving Katherine Grey, cousin of Queen Elizabeth I, and Kate Plantaganet, daughter of Richard III.

In contrast Philip Kerr made no mention of his latest book, Prague Fatale, but described himself as “a professional fantasist”.

He said: “I am a writer not a speaker and my books come from the depths of my imagination.

“Anyone can write a book, anyone can get published on line, but not everyone is prepared to do the things publishers want them to do.

“You have to be an introvert to write a book and an extrovert to sell it,” he said. “I no longer want to reach the best seller list – I’m just happy to write books and be printed.”

 By Alison Croose, KING’S LYNN FESTIVAL: Review, originally published Tuesday 24 July 2012


Bernie and Heydrich Reunite in Prague

No shortage of drama, suspense this summer

Prague Fatale by Philip Kerr

It’s September 1941 and Berlin police detective Bernie Gunther is back at his old job after a forced stint on the eastern front with an SS police battalion.

But there is not much serious crime occurring in the capital after his return and Gunther soon gets a new assignment.

He is summoned to Prague by Gen. Reinhard Heydrich, the new Reichsprotector of Nazi-occupied Bohemia and Moravia.

Heydrich thinks someone is trying to poison him. And he wants Gunther, who has reluctantly done the security chief a favour or two before, to be his bodyguard.

But the Berlin officer is distracted from his task when a body is found in a locked bedroom at Heydrich’s headquarters in the Czech countryside.

The list of possible suspects includes a slew of SS and Gestapo officers who are there for a weekend celebration of Heydrich’s appointment. And all of them are quick to complicate Gunther’s task by pointing the finger at each other.

The eighth Gunther novel transports Philip Kerr’s hallmark Berlin noir novels to Nazi-occupied Prague.

The novel is built around historical events and for anyone who doesn’t know Heydrich’s fate, the prologue gives a good indication how the story will turn out.

But it is still entertaining to watch Gunther manoeuvre in another hot spot while openly being disdainful of the Nazi regime.

He is given free rein to interrogate all of the high-ranking party members and clearly enjoys the task, despite also hoping Heydrich will fire him.

The dinner parties and drinking sessions hosted by Heinrich contrast sharply with the widespread rationing and shortages back in wartime Berlin. The party bosses do have their own worries, mainly the Czech partisans.

The ability to run roughshod over Nazis isn’t the only thing lightening Gunther’s mood. There is a new woman in the detective’s life.

If only Gunther were as aware as his fans are about how his relationships usually turn out.

Originally published in

July 22, 2012 By JOANN ALBERSTAT

Is Reality Stranger than Fiction?

Hitler’s favourite Jew…

Originally Posted on July 6, 2012  on, blog of @LawlorDavid, author of TAN

There’s no denying that Adolf Hitler was a spineless beast. He bullied and tormented his fellow citizens and ordered the murder of millions of others before taking the easy way out with a bullet to the brain as justice closed in on him.

Now, an extraordinary letter has surfaced which highlights another side to the Nazi leader…one which is bound to raise a few perplexed eyebrows.

It would appear that when it came to the Jewish people, there was one that Hitler had a soft spot for – Ernst Hess, an officer in Hitler’s unit during World War I. Hess was baptised a Protestant, but his mother was Jewish; under Nazi race laws that made him ‘a full-blooded Jew’ and thus a candidate for liquidation.

He was spared the horror of the Nazi death camps by a personal intervention from ‘the Fuhrer’ himself. Hitler looked back with fondness of his time in the trenches and when Hess made a plea for clemency, his old war comrade relented.

The story, reported in The Daily Mail, was revealed by Hess’s daughter Ursula (86) when a newspaper discovered a letter, sent on the orders of Hitler, insisting that Hess be neither ‘persecuted or deported’.

The letter, signed by Reichsfuhrer of the SS Heinrich Himmler and dated August 27, 1940, states that Hess must be accorded ‘relief and protection as per the Fuhrer’s wishes.’ It further stated that Hess was ‘not to be inopportuned in any way whatsoever.’

Hess was a highly decorated officer, who was twice wounded – once in October, 1914 and again in October, 1916. In the summer of that year he had been temporarily assigned as Hitler’s company commander.

The former officer did well for himself after the war and rose to the position of judge, but with the advent of the Nuremburg Laws he was forced to quit his post.

That same year he was beaten up by Nazi Brown Shirts outside his house. Desperate, he petitioned Hitler, asking that an exception be made for both him and his daughter under the new race laws.In his letter, he wrote: ‘For us it is a kind of spiritual death to now be branded as Jews and exposed to general contempt.’

Hitler obviously had a change of heart because clemency was revoked in June 1941, and ended up a slave labourer, building barracks. His sister was not so lucky and was gassed at Auschwitz.

Hess died in 1983 after a successful post-War career in West Germany, where he became president of the Federal German Railways Authority.

If he had been a worse officer he may have been more profligate with the lives of his troops…who knows, maybe even a certain Austrian Corporal would have been among those lost and the world would have been spared so much suffering.

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