Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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The secret life of an ordinary Munich girl

“They called her ‘stupid cow’, though she was smart enough to capture the man she loved when everyone—he, most of all—said he’d never marry.

Considered insignificant by those around Hitler, she was one of the Third Reich’s best-kept secrets and filmed the private lives of many notorious Nazis.

Eva Braun paid a big price for the name ‘Hitler’. And in the end, it was hers only for a day, and now, no one ever calls her ‘Eva Hitler’.

Her life with the Führer mirrors Germany’s: He first seduced, then neglected and abandoned them. Finally, he led them into the jaws of destruction.”

EvaWith these words, Anna Dahlberg begins an exploration of Hitler’s infamous mistress and her friendship with Anna’s mother in my novel, The Munich Girl.

Seventy-three years ago this month, Eva Braun’s world, and life, were coming to their end as Germany succumbed to defeat and ruin. From a bunker under Berlin, she wrote her final letters, to her younger sister, Gretl, and longtime friend Herta Ostermayr Schneider.

She writes to Herta of preparing to die, and bewilderment at how things are ending, for Germany. “Greetings to all my friends. I’m dying as I have lived. It’s not difficult for me. You know that.”

On this same day, she chose an action whose significance would only be revealed later, during the war crimes trials in Nuremberg. In testimony there, a high-ranking German officer credited her with ensuring that one of Hitler’s last desperate orders had come to him, on April 22, rather than to someone who would actually carry them out.

As a result, the lives of about 35,000 Allied prisoners of war were saved. Among them were likely two relatives of mine, and a whole lot of those who were the loved ones of tens of thousands of people.

When writing fiction that includes elements of history, accuracy must always trump creative possibilities. It’s been suggested to me several times that Eva Braun’s “character” in the story might be conveyed through letters. However, her very last letter, to her younger sister, Gretl, asked that most of her correspondence be destroyed, and the remaining small amount hidden. It has yet to surface, and those who’ve tried to track it down doubt it ever will.

So, any story true to Eva Braun’s consistently private personality must reference only the handful of pieces of her correspondence that are still in existence.

And seek, as so many stories do, to find the story of a life between the lines.

Book clubs and groups who are interested in adding The Munich Girl to their schedule are welcome to inquire about discounts on book pricing.

I also love visiting with book groups via skype or, where possible, in person.

Learn more by emailing info@phyllisring.com.

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/

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Leaps ahead of thinking

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Bernhard Kretschmar’s “Tram”, part of collection of art cache recently uncovered in Munich.

 

I am often, in my writing, great leaps ahead of where I am in my thinking …

~ Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet

This insight is one of the things I love most about creative process.The author shares it in a book that’s a longtime favorite of mine, the first of her Crosswicks Journal works.

I experienced a serendipitous example of what she describes while researching my current novel during a visit to Munich. A portrait of Eva Braun is a key element in the book’s story — a real portrait with a 1936 framer’s label on the back that says “Promenade Platz 7, Muenchen (Munich)”, together with an August date. I’d tried for some time to locate this address without success and figured that whatever building had been there on that day was long gone since the bombing damage from the war.

Spontaneously one afternoon, my ever-patient husband asked whether I’d like to go see the Hotel Bayerischer Hof, one of Munich’s historic hotels. It just so happened that a scene set there had “arrived” on the page that very week, not that I’d told him anything about that.

It was still a bit of a surprise to me, as these often are. It had also somehow “connected itself” with a scene in that framer’s shop whose address I couldn’t find.

When we reached the Bayerischer Hof, I looked up and saw a street sign that said: “Promenade Platz” And there, on a stone building directly across from the hotel, was a blue address sign with the number 7 — !

munichgirl_card_frontBut more, the setting outside it – a long, slender park between it and hotel – was exactly what I had “visualized” as I’d imagined the framer’s shop. So were the two sets of tram tracks on either side of it. Although I hadn’t yet known where Promenade Platz was, the scene that includes it had already taken shape on the page – and here it was right before me, just as my inner eye had seen it. Yet it wasn’t until that scene had been captured down that – without trying – I was led to discover exactly where that address is.

I also learned that day during a tour of the hotel that its dining salon/lounge, where my writing’s process had just sketched a new scene – a huge, elegant space with a beautiful stained-glass dome overhead — is the only part of that massive hotel to survive bombing damage in the war.

These sorts of impromptu research discoveries leave me speechless. Indeed, in creative process, as L’Engle describes, mind lags far behind, like the slowest hiker on the climb.

Find more about The Munich Girl at:

http://www.amazon.com/Munich-Girl-Novel-Legacies-Outlast/dp/0996546987/


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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/


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The long trail of The Munich Girl

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Photo provided by Ed Fusco

I’ve twice donned a pair of white cotton gloves and pored over Eva Braun’s nearly three dozen photograph albums at the National Archives.

Each visit had its own rhythm and pace. The first, in the spring of 2010, was a kind of mad-rush count-down to get through them all before the Archives’ five o’clock closing time. This involved leaving at least 15-20 extra minutes on each end for passing through security, checking in or out, and depositing or retrieving my belongings from a locker.

I couldn’t take so much as my own pencil into the resource room where her albums are housed in several piles of volumes hard-bound in dark blue. Overwhelmed as I encountered them for the first time, I was attempting to encompass 33 years of one life in the equivalent of two afternoons.

EB pix Germany and more 191Years of reading and research later, including interviews with some of those who met the subject of my search, my approach on the second visit was more like forensics. I was watching, amidst those several dozen books of her photos, most arranged quite haphazardly with little attention to chronological order, for patterns and connections that form a larger picture.

There are many photos whose settings and significance I could spot more readily, based on who was present, clues in the background of interiors and landscapes, even the clothes people were wearing.

But it was that most-elusive quarry that I was watching for — the evidence of the emotional side of things.

I couldn’t help but zero in on the externals on my first visit, when I felt time rushing past me so quickly as each album opened on an unknown world. EB pix Germany and more 197

By the time I made the second visit, the years that I’ve spent following the trail of this life, as my novel’s protagonist does, have led somewhere deeper. In much the way I can with photos of those whom I know, I can tell when a day was a joy, or a strain; when a smile was a spontaneous response, or a tight, forced mask.

“May I always stay this way” one typewritten caption proclaims of her 18- or 19-year-old self, who had already met her famous lover, 23 years her senior. She is sitting outside over coffee with friends on what was likely a lovely day in Munich.

Her expression seems guileless, innocent. Those who remember her from this time call her vivacious and effervescent.

In time, a kind of golden-cage captivity muted that, some have observed – and she, herself, kept the tightest lock on that cage, denying her own freedom and possibilities. EB pix Germany and more 382

Seven years onto this trail, I troll these hundreds of images again where many are now stored on my computer, watching for the signs of where the shifts came.

Watching for those large and little junctures at which a life was repeatedly bartered away in the shadow of another, to the detriment of its self.

Phyllis Edgerly Ring’s forthcoming The Munich Girl, A Novel of the Legacies That Outlast War, follows a similar trail when its protagonist discovers that her mother had a secret friendship with Hitler’s mistress, Eva Braun.

Find more from the book’s research trail at:

https://www.pinterest.com/phyllisedgerlyr/along-the-research-trail-of-an-ordinary-girl/

Find more about The Munich Girl at:

http://www.amazon.com/Munich-Girl-Novel-Legacies-Outlast/dp/0996546987/


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Beneath and between the facts

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Photo: Suzanne Birdsall-Stone

As I’ve been pondering the power and effectiveness of wholeness in healing, and in living, I find these words of writer Ian Lawton’s instructive:

“Your body’s wisdom is instinct. Your heart’s wisdom is emotion. Your mind’s wisdom is knowledge. Your higher self’s wisdom is intuition. Intuition works with, beneath and between the facts.”

I’ve appreciated his Soulseeds blog for some time now. He describes there how the multiple kinds of knowing with which we’re endowed work most effectively when they are used together.

He notes: “Being informed is necessary. Being intelligent is helpful. Being wise is essential. Wisdom is a deft combination of multiple intelligences.

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Photo: Suzanne Birdsall-Stone

“IQ is head smart. Emotional intelligence (EQ) understands the feelings behind facts. This is heart smart. Spiritual intelligence (SQ) is the mind’s meaning maker. It connects IQ and EQ by discerning what is significant and why. This is where moral intelligence comes from, as well as a sense of purpose. Another name for SQ is wisdom. Wisdom is street smart. It has its own way of knowing that combines all your years of experience and marshals the best team of feelings, skills and knowledge for each occasion.”

I encourage reading the rest of this post, and exploring the resource of Ian’s thoughtful blog at: http://www.soulseeds.com/grapevine/2012/06/from-knowledge-to-wisdom/

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Photo: Suzanne Birdsall-Stone

My reflections on these topics that Ian points to are also complemented by thoughts from a favorite catalyst of deep discourse, writer Christine DeLorey:

“… people have been talking about a great ‘awakening’ for a very long time now, but few envisaged the gut-level emotional route it would take to evolve as a species. We have often equated spirituality with the mind and consciousness – our electrical masculine energy – but maligned and ignored our magnetic feminine energy, without which we cannot be whole. The strategy of ‘divide and conquer’ starts right there!

“And as we seek balance and peace, the ‘wholeness’ dynamic is changing now, and we see how this inner battle between our masculine and feminine is reflected in all of our outer wars and atrocities.

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Photo: Suzanne Birdsall-Stone

“The war on women begins with the suppression of emotion, the feminine energy within all of us. Self-expression is our greatest power, but it depends on our ability to FEEL as well as think. Everything in life moves and grows through its ability to communicate – to take reality in – and respond outwardly to it.”

Although it is in subtle ways (and what else could it be?) my forthcoming book, The Munich Girl: A novel of the legacies that outlast war, is steeped directly in these realities.

Find more about The Munich Girl at:

http://www.amazon.com/Munich-Girl-Novel-Legacies-Outlast/dp/0996546987/

 

 

 

 


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Why The Munich Girl?

EvaAlong the path of my forthcoming book, The Munich Girl, a novel about the many kinds of legacies that outlast war, there’s one question I’m asked more than any other:

What led me to write a book about Hitler’s mistress (and eventual wife), Eva Braun?

It reminds me of what so many asked after the war, after her death, when the role she had played finally came to light:

“Why her, just an ordinary Munich girl?”

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Wisdom House, Litchfield, CT, Photo: Suzanne Birdsall-Stone

I had a chance to ponder both of these questions further during this summer’s conference of the International Women’s Writing Guild at a welcoming retreat center in Connecticut called Wisdom House. After nearly 40 years of memberships in various organizations, the IWWG remains my stand-out favorite.

IWWG is a wonderful network that fosters the personal and professional empowerment of women through writing. While it has nurtured an impressive record of success and achievement for its members in the publishing world, it has always aimed for both excellence and personal transformation. It especially values “an inner ability to perceive the subtle interconnections between people, events, and emotions”. If you’re a woman and a writer, check out: http://www.iwwg.org.

In a wonderful memoir workshop led by Maureen Murdock, whose book, The Heroine’s Journey (among several of hers) has shed important light on my path, I reflected on that Eva Braun question. I also recognized that my next book is likely to be a memoir about the sometimes uncanny, even mystical process that has led to my writing about her, and about Germany during the war. 51-UcjX4oTL._SX315_BO1,204,203,200_

For a workshop activity that was designed to reveal more about me as a “character” of my own story, I wrote: “When I watched the films of Eva Braun, I would be moved into depths I could not understand. I was left feeling like a child who didn’t want to pull herself away from play or a remarkable new discovery.

“I wanted to visit with her over coffee, be in the presence of those expressions I saw shape her face as I watched the films in silence — feel that unmistakable lightness that she communicated in those scenes without sound. And, I wanted to better understand the struggle and despair I heard quite unmistakably in the pages of her diary. I was fascinated that she had found her way toward an audacity that could tease, even scold, someone like that tyrant she loved, even as she also seemed to give up her entire life because of him.

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“Who knows which of her unnamed roles was really the more significant, in her time? The buffer she sometimes provided for others around him? The diffuser of tension she so often was, or the soother of circumstances that others undoubtedly came to rely on during the self-will-run-riot mania of a self-appointed despot?

“She seems such an emblem of what so many women do, have done, throughout the ages. Not able to enact their own potential in a direct and visible way, they must resort to doing so from the invisible sidelines and background.”

In Eva Braun’s case, that invisibility lasted the entire 16 years she spent with Hitler.

EB pix Germany and more 679Ironically, because she was considered so insignificant, she was allowed to film the visual evidence that proved — though he publicly protested to the contrary — that the Führer did, indeed, have a private life.

One he never would have had without her.

A question that still lingers for me is, did she?

Find more about The Munich Girl: A Novel of the Legacies That Outlast War here:

http://www.amazon.com/Munich-Girl-Novel-Legacies-Outlast/dp/0996546987/

To join the book’s mailing list for news about its release and related events, email: info@phyllisring.com


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Author of wild, unpredictable circumstance: my dad

2005 China Slide Show 001Eight years after my father’s death, a memory of him blooms as faithfully each June as the flowers erupting all around.

Days after his death, I was lamenting the achingly empty rooms of his house when something pulled my attention to his back garden.

The brilliance waiting there nearly bowled me over — I remember literally gasping to get my breath back. Every bush, shrub, and bulb he’d ever planted seemed to be in bloom at once, ecstatic testimony to the indomitable nature of life itself.

That indefatigable blooming brought to mind the last bit of gardening we’d done together the year before. Dad had a little strip of land on which he planted impatiens each year. That June, I’d spied two trays of them on his patio and realized that, since he could barely walk any longer, there was no way he could plant them. September 2007 225

We were quite a team that day, “helped” by his ever-eager miniature schnauzer, Patsy, namesake of the saint on whose day she was born. Dad churned up the soil with a long-handled trowel while I followed, nestling the little plants into place. It had just rained so the job was messy, the mosquitoes thick, and Patsy a determined quality-control inspector (i.e. right in my face) as I hunkered over those beds.

I knew the task was one of the very last things we’d do together.

Year by year, I discover the many intangibles my father helped bring to bloom. The day of my UMass graduation, he pulled the car to the side of the road on a rise that overlooks Amherst (he was inclined to try and execute things with a flourish), turned around to where I sat in back, and announced: “You graduated. And you did well. But most important is that you kept going. You didn’t give up. In time, you’ll value that more than anything else.” 11010530_988410544523863_8454246950852480917_n

This June’s new bloom is the next book that will take wing soon, the one on which I’ve been working since right after I met his eyes and watched him take his last breath that June day in 2007. As steeped as The Munich Girl is in Germany and World War II, he unquestionably had something to do with the wild combination of unpredictable circumstances that steered me headlong into it. (Wild combinations of unpredictable circumstances were one of his hallmarks, too.)

And yes, yet again, he was absolutely right about the value of perseverance, whose importance always becomes more visible in the light of time.

IMG_7118Thinking about plants and growth, I’m reminded of an instance in which ‘Abdu’l-Bahá counseled someone who’d experienced the loss of a loved one that while the pain of physical separation remains for those left behind, for the one who dies, it’s as though a wise and kind gardener has transplanted a struggling plant to a wider, more welcoming place where it can reach a whole new level of growth.

Many things in life, as well as death, bring that home to us each day.

Bloom on, Dad. And thanks for that reminder, much more useful than my degree ever was.

coverthumbFrom Life at First Sight: Finding the Divine in the Details.

More about the book at:

http://www.amazon.com/Life-First-Sight-Finding-Details/dp/1931847673/ref=pd_sim_b_1?ie=UTF8&refRID=1FYGVM9S5BGBZH2TJHR4