Research, research...

In 2001 an elderly gentleman called Karl Schirok knocked on my door in Sangerhausen, Germany and asked for some help with buying some tickets for Madame Tussauds in London. Karl was in his eighties and I was curious to know what his interest in England was. He told me that he had been a prisoner of war in the UK from 1944 to 1947 and that he still had contacts there with a family for whom he had worked on their farm. He told me of his ‘English Christmas’, when he was invited to spend Christmas 1946 with the family. It was a lovely story of friendship that made me start to think. So many of these stories are now disappearing along with the generation that created them. How sad and indeed wrong, that these memories should die.

I started at the point of the English Christmas and my plot grew in both directions from there. Normandy was fascinating to research. I started from an RAF aerial photo taken on 5 June 1944, noticed the machine gun position and decided to find out what happened to it. I searched regimental records, government documents, etc. The timing, the Typhoons, the Hampshires, etc. is to the best of our knowledge as it happened. If there is any inaccuracy, put it down to researched artistic licence – it might well have happened.

I have lived in a part of the old ‘East Germany’ since 1999 and during that time I have talked at great length with hundreds of my friends about life in the DDR but just as with Karl’s generation, they are aging and their memories will also die with them. Karl’s visit started the wheels turning in my brain to the point that I wanted to write a book that would contain some of the facts, but mainly the feelings and moods of these times.

Naturally, all characters in the book are fictional but most of the facts are based on solid research e.g. The DDR border: I have spent hundreds of hours reading books, surfing the internet and talking to friends gaining small pieces of information here and there. I have visited ‘Grenze’ museums and walked the remnants of the old border that still exist– the one at Teistungen three times. I have interviewed three former border guards. It builds up a picture and also a feeling; most importantly the feeling. I have stood in a padded Stasi cell in Erfurt; to stand there is to wonder just what man is capable of doing to man. I have tried to communicate that feeling in Franz / Brunhilde. I felt that Brunhilde was the best way to illustrate the Stasi and its way of thinking and its modus operandi. They were indeed fanatics, usually self-deluded by their power into believing in the perfection of their state. However from what I have learnt, they certainly enjoyed their special privileges and the intoxication of power.

This was the bridge that gave me the escape idea. This one was erected in Teistungen in 1969. Before that, there were many temporary structures, like Franz's.

The question was how to bind this all together and from that came the ‘Eternal Triangle’ idea of the farmer’s daughter, her husband and the POW. This gave the personal interest from which came the facts of the time 1944 to 1964. Franz and Angela is a story where we can all see a bit of ourselves somewhere. I wanted to show that there is indeed someone for everyone out there somewhere.  We have all experienced betrayal of some sort, some will have had shocking experiences, but we have all had our happy times. Maybe some of us have also kept dark childhood secrets. Will Franz and Angela ever find true happiness? I hope so.

We all know a Gerald of a sort; maybe the lad in us would have liked some of his experiences, maybe in our fantasies we do – he certainly lives life to the full. Maybe most lady readers would want to kill him; you will have to read the book to see if he gets his due reward. I found Brunhilde a most interesting character, an ageless paradox, the socialist snob with a measure of sadism running through her veins. We will see a lot more of her in the future because there will be a sequel to Escape from Babylon. Certain matters are still to be resolved.

I have had no end of help from many friends in the preparation of the manuscript, they are all mentioned in the thanks section of the book, but I would like to specially mention my sister, Dianne Clifford and two old (they are the same age as me) school friends, Olivia Bastable and Pip Brown; they are brutally honest with me and I am forever grateful.

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The right of Chris Woolgrove to be identified as the author of this work (historical novel "Escape from Babylon") and as the owner of its intellectual property has been asserted by him in accordance with current European law. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, facsimile, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers. 

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