Secrets of Small Town Germany

Ludwigsfelde18 Pechpfuhl
Ludwigsfelde Pechpfuhl, By Lienhard Schulz (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Book review: The Scholl Case
by Anja Reich-Osang, translated by Imogen Taylor
(Amazon / Book Depository)

In the last days of 2011, Brigitte Scholl, the wife of a former mayor of the small town of Ludwigsfelde to the south of Berlin, is found murdered in the forest. Shortly after, suspicion falls on her husband Heinrich Scholl, and he’s eventually convicted of the crime. I lived in Berlin at the time, but my German wasn’t very good then so I didn’t read the German newspapers and I don’t remember the case. But I know the strength of the small town mentality of the many little suburbs of Brandenburg surrounding Berlin, and I can only imagine what a shock it was for a former long-serving mayor to be involved in something like that. Intrigue!

The couple both have a plethora of skeletons in their closets, and these all come tumbling out to scandalous effect. Journalist Anja Reich-Osang traces their pasts, from their very different childhoods in the same small town in East Germany, including Heinrich’s horrible family and Brigitte’s family tragedies, to their marriage of convenience, Brigitte’s domineering and demanding personality, Heinrich’s career path and their eventual digressions from their marriage. Small town politics, extramarital affairs, Berlin’s future famous gay mayor Klaus Wowereit, Thai prostitutes, East Berlin circuses, some unsettling and weird stories from the past – there’s plenty of dramatic stuff here to wrap a reader up in this case.

I was interested in the story and it was well-told; neatly, understandably organized; and obviously thoroughly researched. But it often felt like a recitation of facts, so it does come across somewhat dry. There was no commentary from the author (aside from a brief introduction where she writes a little about her work on the book) and this would normally be fine – it’s true crime journalism, readers are more often interested in the reality and facts of what happened, not necessarily in a writer’s opinion.

But it needed something more – some detailed outside commentary, like insight into public perception, or further interviews with Heinrich. There was a surface amount of this and it helped, but I still felt like I was reading a straightforward summary of case facts. I got the impression that the conviction was very quick and easy, I would’ve liked to hear more of the defense, including Heinrich’s for himself.

But maybe that was the point, to let the bare facts of the case speak for themselves and the reader can form their own opinion. It’s still a pretty good read, and offers some great perspective into small-town German life pre-and post-reunification, if it does leave you feeling a little down about how some families actually live and treat one another.

The Scholl Case:
The Deadly End of a Marriage
by Anja Reich-Osang
translated from the German by Imogen Taylor

published by Text Publishing on October 3, 2016 (Australia and New Zealand)
December 29, 2016 (UK)
May 9, 2017 (USA)

Amazon / Book Depository

I received an advance ebook copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for review.

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4 thoughts on “Secrets of Small Town Germany

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  1. Confirmation that I have lost the plot: I am recommending back to you books I got from your blog (“reversemmendation?”). I must have read your review a while ago and then, goldfish-like, forgotten. Your review is as always bang on the money. I did enjoy the book despite the flatness, lack of analysis, in fact for me this was a plus point, too much in-depth stuff over-crowds my head and the flatness seemed to me to reflect what I saw as the soul-less lives they led. I thought both husband and wife were unsympathetic characters. Also what is it with Germans and nude bathing? As a repressed English person I find this terrifying, possibly the most frightening aspect of the entire book. 😜 One of my teen sons on school trip to Berlin was marched, with all his classmates, past a nudist bathing lake. A strange decision by the headmaster in charge I feel. Mind you, it’s the one thing my son remembers about the trip.

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  2. Ok, I love reversemmendation and I need to borrow that from you because I’m constantly coming back to book bloggers and asking if they’ve read this or that when I first got the recommendation from them! That’s too funny!

    I think I was disappointed at the recitation-type tone in this one because I remember the author’s introduction, or first chapter – whatever it was, was written much differently and was quite lovely. I don’t like when the author inserts themselves in a crime narrative necessarily, but I think she had the skill to do a bit more with it. Then again, German isn’t exactly a flowery language and the writing is much more what I would call straightforward than English, so this may just be what comes through in the translation. I did really like learning about the case, and you make a good point that it reflected the flatness and soulless-ness of their lives. Ugh! Both really were unsympathetic which made it an interesting study, and it did seem bred from the stifling atmosphere of that town. Strange lives!

    I wish I could give you an answer about the nude bathing but it perplexes me too. One of the first times I visited Germany I was at Lake Starnberg in Bavaria — absolutely gorgeous place and fascinating history — and I guess parts of the lakeshore are nude only. Of course, wandering around alone and clueless, I stumbled on one. The people were friendly and not at all weird about it despite my being clearly not supposed to be there. And American as I am with all of our sexual morality/censorship baggage, I was HORRIFIED. I didn’t know where to put my eyes. Some were playing volleyball! I tried to act normal as I passed through but I couldn’t believe, it was like an accident scene where I wanted to stare but knew I shouldn’t.

    Oddly enough, I worked for years as an art model, but the clinical setting for that was so different than seeing nudity out in the wild. I’m not at all surprised your son had that as his big memory of Berlin, it’s been a lingering one for me too. And very weird that the headmaster did that, there’s some weird psychology behind that choice that I wouldn’t want to unpack…

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  3. An art model! As in no clothes? Very brave. You are full of surprises. I agree about the start of the Scholl book, it was lyrical in tone with the papers fluttering out the window in a sudden storm, quite different from the rest of the book. As for the Berlin nudist experience, Teen 2 on same trip a couple of years later did not go anywhere near the nudist lake – different group leader. My teens and their classmates are forthright in their views on the headmaster – he later left the school to go to another headship and then left that school abruptly..as you say, best not to unpack further..

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    1. It was a mix, often with clothes for design classes or portraiture but the rest of the time without 🙂 I was young and in good shape, and it was a lot of fun! But as I said, it was mostly clinical, not like running into naked people playing volleyball at the lake, which just triggered all my buried American morality, I guess…haha!

      That does sound better that the headmaster left, yikes…that’s just so weird that it seemed like he purposely wanted them to see it. Ick.

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