Business in Milan with my Italian publisher, Marco Tropea Editore, afforded me a timely opportunity to take a train into Bavaria.
I’m working on a new novel set in Munich and Berlin during the Second World War. For detail and realism, I need to experience a place. Reading books, listening to on-line lectures, and watching videos are no substitute for trudging through a city, absorbing through my pores the buildings and people and language, the smell of wurst and rich taste of Augustiner beer and slant of light through chestnut trees.
Munich is a lovely city in which to practice the writerly art of osmosis. Its buildings rollick through the ages, from the Romanesque Peterskirche to the neo-Baroque Justizpalast to the modern skyscraper Hypo-Haus. In the center of town, the Marienplatz bustles with a heterogeneous mix of people. It’s easy to get around because of the dazzling array of public transportation choices: the bus, the tram, the S-bahn, and the U-bahn–all very efficient.
In this world of dialectic, dichotomy, and duality, where there is beauty, there is found ugliness, and where there is light, comes the darkness. Lovely Munich’s history harbors astonishing cruelty. Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp and the deadly prototype for all others, lies twenty kilometers outside of town.
A story set in Germany during this time necessarily references concentration camps. Germans seem to agree. When I joined a tour to Dachau, which had been a munitions factory during the First World War, Tom the Welsh tour guide commented, “Germans study what happened here, they face it honestly. I regularly see school classes.”
Indeed, I spied a group of young people who looked like high school students. They listened carefully to their teacher, a bespectacled woman who spoke with a fierce thoughtfulness that elicited from them a corresponding intensity of focus.