Ghosts at a school for girls

The infamous house in a suburb of Berlin. (wikipedia.com)

The infamous house in a suburb of Berlin. (wikipedia.com)

Reading a novel by Robert Harris called Fatherland, published in 1992, about a Berlin detective who gets caught up in crimes, circa 1964, arising from the protection of deep secrets in a Germany that had not lost World War II, I came across this intriguing passage:

He [Det. Xavier March] looked back at the house. His mother, a firm believer in ghosts, had used to tell him that brickwork and plaster soaked up history, stored what they had witnessed like a sponge. Since then March had seen his share of places in which evil had been done, and he did not believe it. There was nothing especially wicked about Am grossen Wannsee 56-58. It was just a businessman’s large mansion, now converted into a girls’ school. So what were the walls absorbing now? Teenage crushes? Geometry lessons? Exam nerves?

Of course, it is the house where Hitler’s underlings planned the final solution. Naturally one’s stomach turns at the thought of children in the house after its previous use. And the house might well be called evil – but not because of its architecture! (A taut novel, its plot unfolds in the days leading up to the celebration of Hitler’s 75th birthday.)

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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2 Responses to Ghosts at a school for girls

  1. echaika says:

    I’m puzzled. How can a memoir written in 1964 recall a Germany that wasn’t defeated in 1945? Or did I misunderstand? I also applaud you for modifying your Chicago accent.

    Like

    • Elaine, it is a novel written in 1992 about events that take place in 1964. The plot has Germany winning the war in 1946 and maintaining a greater Reich whose territory extends east of Moscow, with Britain, France, Italy Spain, Scandinavia and the Balkans forming a trade group dominated by Germany. In this scenario, the Holocaust has not been revealed by Allied troops stumbling upon the concentration camps. It remains as of 1964 a matter of rumor, a story made up by Soviet terrrorists. The U.S. remains hostile to Germany, but a detente policy is being framed. Hitler is still alive, still the Fuhrer. Very chilling. … Clarity would have been served by saying Germany won the war rather than not having lost it.
      I was born in Chicago but moved to D.C. when I was two. No accent!

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