Published to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, The Leipzig Affair is the story of a doomed love affair between a young Scot studying at Leipzig University in 1985 and an East German woman desperate to flee. The Leipzig Affair is out on 10 November 2014 and is available to pre-order from Waterstones.
The version of Marek’s death that Bob has played back to himself most frequently down the years is the one where Marek gets shot in the back. It goes like this:
Marek is walking across the raked sand of the death strip. His stride is loose. His head is held high. He looks confident, like a man who knows where he’s going and what he’s going to do when he gets there. He’s wearing what he was wearing the night Bob first met him at the club in Leipzig: Levi’s and a white cotton shirt. It’s night time. The strip is floodlit. The sky is clear. A half moon casts an eerie glow over the dim-lit buildings of Berlin, Capital of the German Democratic Republic to the east and the lime trees of the Tiergarten to the west.
A guard’s … Read More »
Sometimes fictional characters are not fictional at all. They are clearly based on someone real. Even properly fictional characters usually have some element of a real person in them. The genesis of the character Magda in my novel The Leipzig Affair was an idiosyncratic behavioural detail I observed in a friend of mine whom I met at Leipzig University.
The person in question was a man, not a woman, but I thought his attitude to one aspect of life in the GDR – clothing – was a perfect starting point for the character I wanted Magda to be: bold, defiant and a bit troubled. My friend – we’ll call him “Johann”, with quote marks like in Stasi reports, though that was not his name – made all his own clothes.
East German clothes were a bit of a joke, both among westerners and people from other Ostbloc countries. East German shoes, in particular, were the object of ridicule from Vladivostok to Vienna.
It was a highly sensitive topic for “DDR Bürger”, as the regime relentlessly styled its citizens. I remember the utter shock I felt when I learnt that the West German language assistant at St Andrews University had greeted East German exchange … Read More »
A recent article in Die Zeit about portraits of abandoned buildings in Leipzig prompted me to unearth some photos I took on Leipzig’s Shakespearestraße when I was studying at the Karl Marx University Leipzig back in 1986. The apartment buildings on Shakespearestraße were not abandoned exactly, but I was impressed by their advanced state of dilapidation.
There was something exhilarating about all that prime real estate being rented out at a pittance to old ladies and undesirable artists
For many years, I had several photos of Shakespearestraße pinned to the noticeboard by my desk. To me, they captured the romance of East Germany at that time. Beautiful, turn-of-the-century apartment buildings left gently to rot.
You could argue that was wrong. And it probably was. But to someone from Thatcher’s Britain there was something exhilarating about all that prime real estate being rented out at a pittance to old ladies and undesirable artists.
I discovered the area around Shakespearestraße by chance when I was wandering one day near Tarostraße (named after war photographer Gerda Taro) where I lived in a student residence in a modern building. I had taken a rough path by the railway tracks that led to the Bayerischer Bahnhof. After … Read More »