Today I’m talking with T.H.E. Hill, the award-winning author of two novels about Berlin. Hill’s first novel—Voices Under Berlin: The Tale of a Monterey Mary—is ostensibly about an Army Security Agency Russian linguist working the Berlin Spy Tunnel in the mid-1950s, but, according to Wikipedia, it is closer in reality to the mid-1970s. His second novel—The Day Before the Berlin Wall: Could We Have Stopped It?—is based on a “legend” that was still current among U.S. Army soldiers in Berlin in the mid-1970s. According to the legend, we had advance knowledge of the Berlin Wall, and we knew that the East-German troops who were going to build it had been told to halt construction if the Americans were to take aggressive action to stop them.
Hill’s forthcoming new novel—Reunification: A Monterey Mary Returns to Berlin—is also about Berlin.
Novacheck: Why this fascination with Berlin?
Hill: Berlin was the epicenter of the Cold War, and the Cold War and I grew up together. I was born during the Berlin Airlift, and came of age in a U.S. Army uniform inside the confines of the Berlin Wall. Now, Berlin is the capital of the “new,” reunited Germany, and the epicenter of the Eurozone Crisis. It’s a city that captures your imagination and won’t let go.
And it’s not just me. Berlin is the scene of the stories that German authors and screenwriters who are distilling the literary truth of German Reunification. Wolfgang Becker’s Good Bye Lenin, Thomas Brussig’s Am kürzeren Ende der Sonnenallee (On the Shorter End of Sun Avenue), and the Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Picture of 2007, Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others) by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck are all set in Berlin. They are thought provoking, poignant literary and cinematographic treatments of German reunification from the German perspective.
So, while there is lots of competition to tell the story of German Reunificationfrom the German perspective, an American perspective on the reunification of Berlin is sadly lacking. For almost fifty years—from 1945 to 1994—there was a large and vibrant American Community in Berlin. I was once a part of it. It stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the Berliners during the Berlin Airlift, and through the Berlin Wall from rise to fall. It deserves to have a literary resolution to its disappearance. That’s what I hope to do with Reunification.