On my latest travels, in Germany, I started off in Berlin being suitably umimpressed. This wasn’t my idea of a European capital—it was sort of seedy and overgrown, with a distinct lack of pretty. But the more time I spent, the more it grew on me. By the time I left a week later, I was in a state of being highly inspired, especially by the history and subculture. And then I went on to Leipzig and the ideas kept hitting me. Here are three things that inspired me in Germany and I’m hoping they’ll feature in some future fantasy works:
The Berlin Wall, or the Berliner Mauer, went up in 1961 and came down in 1989, and was symbolic of a divided (and then reunified) country. (It was more than symbolic, of course, but that’s another story. You cannot escape the Wall and the history surrounding it in Berlin. One place where it is still standing is the 1.6 km in what is known as the East Side Gallery, so-called because it is now covered with a variety of art works. Not just that, there is the paved wall trail, as in Postdamer Platz, cutting right across the roads and pavements. If the idea of a wall separating two worlds doesn’t sound like a perfect fantasy setting, what does?!
The Sachsenhausen Museum and Memorial is a former concentration camp in Oranienburg, just outside Berlin. We ended up on a Monday, when the museums are closed, but the rest of the place is open. It has been turned into a memorial site, but visitors can walk around and take a look at the camp and its buildings. Much of the original structures are gone, but you can still see a reconstructed barracks, the kitchens, guard towers, perimeter fence, the “shoe-testing” track, execution trench, guard towers, prisons, and the cremation ovens and other rooms where people were murdered. Admittedly not a particularly inspiring setting, but it would be intriguing to work out a story about escaping from one of these places.
The Stasi Museum—its real name is Museum in der Runden Ecke or Museum in the Round Corner—is located in the former headquarters of the Stasi in the district of Leipzig. A lot of the “original environment” of the offices have been preserved to give visitors a sense of how the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit (Ministry for State Security) worked. The museum speaks of its vast network of “unofficial” staff who spied on citizens, and displays the various methods of doing do. There is also a preserved office, a jail cell and various other exhibits related to the functioning of the Stasi. A paranoid security organization that spies on innocent people—you can just see the possibilities there, can’t you?
Oh well, the best laid plans. Time will tell what comes of these…