Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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How our choices become our stories

It’s an extra special gift when I can be in Europe at all, and when a trip coincides with the history and story of my novel, The Munich Girl, it’s an added blessing.

An interview I had with the writers’ blog It’s Write Now helped me reflect and delve back into the atmosphere of the book and its story, as the scenes in which it unfolds are appearing around me once again in real life.

What originally inspired you to craft a story about a portrait that turns into a journey to uncover World War II secrets?

My original intent was (and remained) to explore more about the lives of everyday Germans during World War II. When life led me to information about Eva Braun, it opened up whole new questions, particularly because she came from a background of everyday Germans – not what many would expect to be Hitler’s choice at all. When the question: “What if you had known Eva Braun, but hadn’t known the role she played in his life?” arose, the story’s momentum became unstoppable for me. A number of people actually did have this experience with her, didn’t find out the truth of her situation until after her death, because she was required to remain an invisible secret in Hitler’s life. That way, he could sustain the adulation he received through the myth that “his bride was Germany”.

The whole fact of Eva Braun as a character naturally brings a range of response. That includes those who connect, even empathize with her, those who connect with the story but struggle with connecting with her, and those who absolutely don’t want to connect with her, who object to her being there at all. I’ve been astonished when readers who I might not expect to easily relate to her – those whose families experienced huge losses during the Holocaust, for example – actually have a lot of empathy for what she reveals as a character. One editor asked early in the book’s process, “How are you going to get people past the fact it’s her?” I knew I wasn’t. Readers are either willing to go that distance or they’re not. It’s never been my intent to redeem her in any way, but rather for her to act as a motif for the self-suppression and repression that are still rampant in many lives. For me, she also represents that we are a mixture of strengths and character deficiencies, and we make a meaningful life through the choices we make in relation to those.

The experiences of Germany through this period is really told through the characters that the readers meet during the book. How you breathe life into these characters?

The dynamic that each of the three women in the book experience, of never feeling that she can be fully herself – of having to choose between things, based on others’ views of her, is conditioning that overshadowed my own life for a long time. Today, I know that I experience my own power of choice more deeply as a result of the process of letting myself explore a potentially controversial or volatile subject like Hitler’s mistress in as neutral a way as possible, to see what sort of larger picture might emerge as this story unfolded for me.

You really are tackling a controversial or volatile subject in ‘The Munich Girl’. What did you want to give readers who were brave enough to explore this subject with you?

Initially, it was to give a glimpse into the experience of Germans during the war, and show how varied it was. Though they lived in a very dangerous place they could not necessarily escape, many Germans took risks to help and protect others, but many of these stories got lost once they were seen as part of the “losing enemy” country. Within the first year of writing, I also began to accept that the goal, to the best of my ability, was to convey themes that the story was suggesting. These include that any good we seek to do will always have an enduring effect, sometimes for successive generations. Another is that it is our willingness to build what is good, together, that is the legacy of love that always outlasts war, destruction, and violence.

What line do you feel best sums up ‘The Munich Girl’?

“Sometimes, we must outlast even what seems worse than we have imagined because we believe in the things that are good. So that there can be good things again.”

Find the whole interview at:

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Preview: Cover and Excerpt from The Munich Girl

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The Munich Girl:

A Novel of the Legacies That Outlast War

Here is an excerpt from the book.

I’m delighted with the way cover artist / book designer Marina Dutzmann Kirsch has captured the mood and atmosphere of the story. 

The following scene is set in the vicinity of Berchtesgaden in Bavaria and I’m grateful to illustrate it with images from David Campbell of http://www.gbctours.com.

The post also features a few of Eva’s Braun’s photographs from the place and period.

 

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Photo: David Campbell / http://www.GBCTours.com

Excerpt from The Munich Girl:

For my extra day of freedom, I planned to linger over breakfast at a table with a sunny view of the mountains. But the dining room was a frenetic symphony of clinking and clattering when I arrived and the maitre d’ stuck me in a dark corner.

I had just poured my coffee when a young male voice shrilled, “Fräulein Peggy Adler?” from the entrance.

I turned as he reached my table in a handful of long strides. He wore the stiff uniform of Hitler’s Leibstandarte: dark tunic, breeches, tall boots, and rounded helmet. All that was missing was the rifle customarily slung over the shoulder.

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Photo: David Campbell

“Come with me, please.”

Terror struck so hard, I couldn’t speak—not even to ask where. Especially not that. It seemed incriminating. At last, I stammered, “I-I—”

“You have been requested for an interview,” he said.

What kind of interview? I still couldn’t find words to ask. Should I get my stenographer’s pad? Or was this about questioning me?

“We have a car waiting outside.” His tone was threaded with impatience, as though I were already taking too long, being too slow to understand. I’m surprised he didn’t check his watch, tap his foot. His face had a youthful softness. He was perhaps 19 or 20. I thought of my brother, Peter.

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Photo: David Campbell

I noticed a waiter at the neighboring table and glanced at my unfinished cup of coffee, as though it might offer some possibility of reprieve—he would insist I stay, since I hadn’t finished.

He also seemed uneasy around the guard as he said, “No trouble, Madam. We will keep your table for you.”

But would I return to it?

Then I remembered my co-workers, and Erich, and blanched with fear as cold as the sweat that rose instantly on my neck. Hadn’t I been careful enough, yesterday? Had I said too much? Had someone besides Eva been listening, or had my cohorts from the Foreign Office somehow been found out?

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From Eva Braun photo albums National Archives

My mind raced to the worst of all possibilities—they’d been apprehended. I refused to let that thought take root, claimed my mind back from it the way I try to rescue my breath from panic each night in the air-raid shelter back in Berlin.

Appear unfazed and cooperative. I’d heard this tactic from Erich and others in the Resistance. If stopped by the Gestapo, or called in for any reason, seem slightly surprised, untroubled, and entirely willing to comply.

I reached to gather my things. I had only my purse, and the book I’d brought along. “Will we be going far?” I found courage to ask.

“It is right nearby.”

When we reached the car, his brisk movements included a snap of his heels as he opened the door for me. Clearly, he wasn’t going to manhandle me like a suspected criminal. Not yet. EB pix Germany and more 400

I clambered into the back, toward the middle, and closer, of the two bench-like seats. The mammoth Mercedes had as many huge tires as a delivery truck. Its convertible top was down, and bright sun blinded my eyes.

The young uniform joined the driver in front. The car exited the Platterhof parking lot, made a hard left, and rolled down a sharp incline, though only a short distance.

Goering’s house was somewhere off to the right, hidden by trees. I’d learned recently that beneath us was a burgeoning network of tunnels and bunkers under construction, a subterranean complex that those who dwelt above ground might not even know was there. Perhaps it would open up suddenly and swallow us all. EB pix Germany and more 301

The car blocked the narrow road when it stopped at a guardhouse barely big enough for one person to stand inside. Behind it was the Hotel Türkenhof where Aunt Paula and I had once stayed. It looked to be in use as barracks of some kind. Is that where they were taking me?

The uniform turned and said, “Your papers, please.”

I had them ready in anticipation of this, though I’d already gone through all the rigmarole of admission to the Führer Zone two days ago.

He took them, got out, and strode to the guard shack.

EB pix Germany and more 507I’d been taken in for questioning once before, after I’d accompanied Jewish children to England as an escort with the Kindertransport. A petty Nazi bureaucrat summoned me because of my dual citizenship. I’d dressed conservatively in a simple cotton print skirt that hinted at a dirndl’s lines, and a borrowed white blouse tied loosely at the throat so the top half of my décolletage was visible, while the rest remained virtuously concealed.

During my inquisitor’s first burst of questions, I’d offered simple answers with a demeanor of complicit meekness. Finally, I’d evoked tears by imagining the inevitable fate of that Jewish child I’d seen pulled back through the train window into her father’s arms. “Can’t you imagine how thankful I am that Germany is my birthplace?” I nearly shouted at him. “That my mother is so faithful?”

More advice from those in the Resistance: act indignant, insulted even, at the very dishonor of being suspected of disloyalty.

“There are many spies,” he said. “Dual citizenship makes an excellent cover.”

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Photo: David Campbell

It does, indeed, my thoughts concurred.

“How can you even suggest such disgrace?” I tried to sound hurt. “When my British blood is disgrace enough, for me?”

Then I’d covered my face in the refuge—and strategy—of sobs. It had been over-dramatic, but I wanted to leave no doubt in his mind. I used my best high German for these impassioned declarations. Once I saw he was softening, I lapsed into the Schwäbisch dialect I’d detected in his own speech, thanking God for my ear for nuance and language.

The inquisitor turned almost paternal, even invited me for coffee. I’d had to pretend disappointment, say I was expected home to help Mutti.

“You are the kind of maid who will assure the Fatherland’s triumph!” he’d avowed, like the final line of some Wagnerian drama.

“Whatever you do, use the language of the current view, and mold it to your needs,” Erich had advised me before I’d accompanied those Jewish children to safety.

It was the only way to deal with these fools. These very dangerous fools.

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Click on image at the left for more information about

The Munich Girl:

A Novel of the Legacies That Outlast War

To join the book’s mailing list, email: info@phyllisring.com.

Find more about The Munich Girl: A Novel of the Legacies That Outlast War at;
http://www.amazon.com/Munich-Girl-Novel-Legacies-Outlast/dp/0996546987/