‘He muddled through that winter, keeping his head down, working nights, taking sick leave, all the while continuing to try to do his best, and clever enough to realize his best was only serving the Nazis. It was then, he knew, his horizons began to narrow, when he began measuring his days against the least he could do to get through them. The shambles of those months made him realize he was a man with few convictions in life, and he found himself with little or no desire or willingness to fight for the few he had. That realization was horrifying to him. He held to the need to keep working to pay for Carolin’s treatment as a justification to stay on the job, but as her condition worsened, and as the work became increasingly surreal in the juxtaposition of formal procedure, extreme violence, and breathtaking political chicanery, he took steadily to drink.
What it all meant to Reinhardt, he realized more and more, was that he had no reason to do any of the things he did anymore. In the first war, he was a young man. Told to fight for the Kaiser, and for Germany, he did so to the best of his abilities, which in the end were considerable, and, truth be told, he had never been as alive as during those days of iron and mud. He would never be younger, never be fitter, one of the elite. But in reality he fought for Brauer, and Meissner, and all the others who shared the hardships of that war, and the riotous peace that followed. All those men from different walks of life, professions, persuasions, and convictions. Lives like threads that came together in one place and time to form one particular pattern of experiences, a unique combination shared by no one else. This time around, he had nothing and no one to fight for, and no one to fight alongside. No one to guard his back, as he once guarded theirs, and so he skulked through this war, keeping his head down, staying in the shadows.‘
Gregor Reinhardt is a German intelligence officer, a former Berlin detective chased out of the police by the Nazis. Haunted by what he has seen, tortured by recurring nightmares, wearing the uniform of an army he despises, he has ever fewer reasons to live.
But it was not always that way…
Reinhardt was 16 when the First World War began. By 1916, he was fighting on the Eastern Front, and then in 1917 as a stormtrooper – one of the elite – in France. Awarded the Iron Cross, his war came to an end in the bottom of an English trench in September 1918 when he was wounded and almost lost his leg. After the war, when he had recuperated, he became a policeman, and eventually one of the top detectives in the Berlin police force.
He ran foul, though, of the rising power of the Nazis. Unwilling to join the Party, resisting transfer to the Gestapo, his career began to descend into drink and morbid introspection, and a succession of ever more meaningless and pointless duties until, at last, an offer comes to rejoin the Army, and he became an officer in the Abwehr – military intelligence. With the start of the Second World War, he was posted to Norway, then to France, to Yugoslavia, to North Africa, and back to Yugoslavia, which is where The Man From Berlin finds him.
So who is he…?
Son, soldier, husband, father, friend, policeman, patriot… He is a man formed by his times. He is a man much like any other. Sometimes strong, sometimes weak. Sometimes able to do the right thing, and sometimes too scared to. Sometimes shaped by events, sometimes able to shape them to him. Sometimes introspective to the point of paralysis, but with the sense to see past the veil of illusion and propaganda that has been pulled across his time, and thus perfectly aware how his inactivity and fear make him complicit in the spiral of chaos around him.
Where his character came from…? Now, that’s another story. I hope to use this page to explore some of the themes of the books and tease out what each of them means to Reinhardt in particular, and his times more generally. Reinhardt’s story is a trilogy, set during and just after the war, with each novel revolving around, or based upon, a theme–redemption, in The Man From Berlin, resistance in The Pale House, and reconciliation in the third novel.
A man of his times…?
War-time is a time that brings out extremes. Reinhardt’s story is a thread woven into a tapestry of a continent in upheaval. He goes through those times initially just trying to keep his head above water and survive, but he changes. It’s impossible not to. In writing Reinhardt and his times, I wanted to make people interested in those changes, interested in the consequences of those changes, and to make people believe Reinhardt has something to bring to the table, so to say. In short, I needed to make Reinhardt somebody people could care about, and having him simply survive is not enough.
Above all, what I wanted to do in creating and writing Reinhardt was to make people think that he could be you. An ordinary man in extraordinary times, still trying to behave and believe in what makes sense, but so painfully aware of his own fears and limitations, and still knowing what is right and what is wrong. If you give someone like that an opportunity to do something, be someone, what would he do?
What would you do…?