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Experience the fall of Berlin Wall at Frankfurt Book Fair

From political memoirs and fictional tales to true escape stories, photo chronicles and graphic novels, many of them are showcased at the Frankfurt Book Fair, the publishing industry's biggest gathering held annually in western Germany.

books Updated: Oct 09, 2014 18:23 IST
berlin wall,books on berlin wall,books on cold war

Bestselling British author Ken Follett says it's a happy coincidence that his epic new Cold War novel hit bookstores weeks before the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

"It didn't strike me until about a year ago when I was discussing the promotion of the book with my German publishers," he said on the opening day of the Frankfurt Book Fair Wednesday.

"And they said 'Did you know, there's going to be a really, really big party in Berlin on November 9 next year?'," the 65-year-old, whose 30 books have sold more than 150 million copies, told reporters.

Kicking off in 1961, Edge of Eternity, the concluding part of Follett's Century Trilogy, charts world-changing events through the eyes of five families, including JFK's assassination, the US civil rights movement and the Berlin Wall being torn down on November 9, 1989.

The novel, which is topping bestseller lists after its launch mid-September, is among a slew of books throwing the spotlight on the quarter-century milestone.

From political memoirs and fictional tales to true escape stories, photo chronicles and graphic novels, many of them are showcased at the fair, the publishing industry's biggest gathering held annually in western Germany.

Also read: Light installation to mark 25 years of Berlin Wall fall

Although the works are diverse, they have been inspired by the tumultuous events leading to Germany's 1990 reunification. They seek to shed new light on them, or simply to look back and remember.

Crushed by democratic means
The Leipzig Affair by first-time novelist Fiona Rintoul, which comes out on November 10, is set in the city that became the centre of East Germany's snowballing peaceful protest movement.

It begins in 1985 with a young linguist, Magda, desperate to flee to the West when she meets Scottish university student Robert, and ends after the Wall has gone with his return to Leipzig in search of answers.

Rintoul, 50, said the characters were fictional but the setting had been inspired by her own experience as one of a smattering of foreign students at Leipzig University in 1986.

"Pretty much the first word I learnt when I got to East Germany was Stasi," she told AFP in a telephone interview, referring to the communist regime's feared secret police.

The fall of the Wall still captures imaginations because it drew a line once and for all under the end of World War II, she said.

Scotland's independence vote last month also prompted parallels with the end of East Germany, albeit on a much lesser scale, as the yes campaign became a grass roots movement, the Glasgow-based writer said.

"In the same kind of way it was crushed by democratic means."

Story-telling about life behind the Iron Curtain still inspires German authors too.

Also read: Berlin Wall graffiti

The novel Kruso by Lutz Seiler about the demise of the former German Democratic Republic won the German Book Prize this week, the award's third winner to deal with the subject.

"But they are quite different novels and show a need over and over for another perspective. Everything has simply not yet been told and all fathomed out," said Johanna Links of publishers Ch. Links Verlag.

The Berlin-based publishing house was set up by her father Christoph Links on the very day that East German censorship ended a few weeks after the Wall fell.

It has been pleased with demand so far for one of its new books Zweite Heimat (Second Home) by Markus Decker outlining the stories of former West Germans who, for various reasons, moved to the former East after reunification, Links said.

For the 25th anniversary, it has also brought out Herbst der Entscheidung (Autum of Decision), a comic book for older teenagers and adults about a 17-year-old youth who doesn't want to join the East German army.

Never violate history
Meanwhile a 1982 East German Trabant car whose bodywork has been artistically painted with scenes from German cities is an eye-catching draw at the book fair stand of a self-publishing platform, epubli.

It has invited people to write about their personal experiences around the end of the Berlin Wall for inclusion in a book and e-book.

The around 30 entries so far have included the story of a former Stasi snitch, his unmasking after the end of communism and how that impacted his later professional life.

Follett meanwhile said he enjoyed the freedom of portraying fictional characters in his novel but had his work checked by experts to ensure historical accuracy.

"I never violate history," he said.

Watching events unfold on TV at his London home nearly 25 years ago, he said he had felt hopeful but doubted the Wall's fall would really herald change.

"The only people who really understood were Germans," he said.

"Germans, I think, knew that this was the end of Communism. But the rest of us kind of hoped it might be, but we didn't really believe it."

First Published: Oct 09, 2014 17:17 IST