By the time the book is launched – tomorrow (December 4) at two o’clock in the Deer Park Public Library in Toronto – only the author will have read the book properly, without skipping. Therefore, he is the only person qualified to do it justice. (Forget the publisher, editor and proofreader who each has a special interest to defend.) The author can state, so far without fear of contradiction, that no one has ever conveyed the essence of the Weimar republic as vividly, as succinctly, as fairly, and with as much originality, wit and ingenuity as he has.
Which is not to say that there are no regrettable gaps: he does not seem to be interested in the successive political crises that rocked the republic, nor in economics, science and technology. (Admittedly, he does present a somewhat perfunctory anecdote about Einstein.) But he does deal with Hitler, even though the main action takes place in 1927 when Hitler was only a marginal figure. One of his most inventive chapters, Putsching with Putzi, deals with Hitler’s attempt in Munich in 1923 to take over the government. It is written in the form of a synopsis of a comic operetta.
The word “ingenuity” has been used. The construction of the contemporary framework, to intrigue the reader, was particularly ingenious. A young Canadian banker visiting Frankfurt – Bankfurt, as it is sometimes called – on a business trip, becomes fascinated with an enterprise that had nothing to do with him.
It was also ingenious to bring in Goethe, who had a great deal to do with the Weimar republic. Weimar, his life-long residence, was chosen as the place where the republican constitution was written in 1919. Goethe was to give his posthumous imprimatur to it. He was an icon, born in Frankfurt to boot, who stood for the best that Germany could achieve.
Similarly, it was a master stroke to have the story revolve around the centenary of Beethoven’s death. Goethe and Beethoven are an unbeatable combination.
The author often conveys a sense of his characters by taking an off-center, mildly irreverent approach towards them. He catches Goethe taking credit for poems he had not written and he celebrates Beethoven by having a lock of his hair stolen, and inventing a little detective story about it, giving us the re-assuring news that Beethoven, certain rumours notwithstanding, did not have syphilis.
To give us a lively impression of the daunting, stone-faced, monocled Reichswehr general, Hans von Seeckt, we meet an ex-girlfriend. We learn that the venerable Field Marshall Paul von Hindenburg, a monarchist elected president of the republic in 1925, collected kitschy madonnas. He turned out to be its gravedigger. One of the Kaiser’s elderly sisters, an admirable lady who secretly sided with the English during WW1, made the society pages in 1927 by marrying a Russian adventurer thirty five years younger than she.
Occasionally the author gets his effects by being perfectly straightforward. Thomas Mann and Richard Strauss appear at the end in a revealing chapter specially devoted to them.
Curiosities are presented not to pursue trivia but with the serious intention to convey the spirit of the times. It is assumed that the reader is aware of the horrors that followed the collapse of the republic.
A final word about the three main characters. They were chosen with extraordinary perceptiveness because their personalities touched the root of the period. Hanni Geisel was open to everything that was new. Her lover, the journalist Erwin Herzberg, was among the first to be serious about popular culture. And the courageous lawyer, Hermann Geisel, exposed the lethal forces undermining the republic.
This time you may judge the book by its cover – the lovely Louise Brooks who played Lulu in the film Pandora’s Box.
She had an affair with Charlie Chaplin.
A series of videos about the Weimar Republic and The Weimar Triangle have been posted at YouTube.