The novel follows Joe Tesla into the tunnels under New York City, since he lives in a Victorian house buried deep underneath Grand Central Station. I started writing it not long after I moved to Berlin a year and a half ago, and for months all I had was the first line “Subway tunnels breathe.”
Every time I rode the subway around Berlin I wondered whose story was hidden in that first line, and over time Joe Tesla appeared. At first, I wrote his story in between stops, thumbing it into my iPhone. I quickly realized that he lived down there full time. Unlike me, he wasn’t passing through. His world was in the in-between spaces that we all ride through without thinking about.
Why was he there? Was he homeless? The more I learned about him, the more I realized that he was just the opposite. He wasn’t in the tunnels because he had nowhere else to go, he was in the tunnels because he couldn’t leave them. If he could overcome that, nowhere in the world would be denied to him. But he can’t.
I’ve visited New York City many times and was always fascinated by the beauty of Grand Central Station with its iconic clock. When I learned that the pillar inside the information booth has a door that leads to a secret room, I knew that it must lead to an elevator that would spirit Joe down to his house.
Joe stayed in the back of my mind while I wrote Innocent Blood with James Rollins, adding a scene or two to Joe’s story while I chased vampires around the world. James, being a former veterinarian who just got a pair of puppies, suggested that Joe have a dog and thus he acquired Edison, Joe’s best friend and his psychiatric service dog. A dog who looked similar to one I saw riding the Berlin subway with his owner.
I found Edison in that train car because I wrote big parts of this book while sitting on a subway seat, watching who got on and off, missing stops because I was too immersed in my story to notice.
The Berlin subway is a great place to writ e a book, because of the ring line that circles the city center. This means that I can board, find a seat, and ride around for hours without ever having to leave the car. Also, there’s no Internet, so I can write in a focused cocoon without any e-distractions. Every time I’m stuck, I pack up my laptop and walk to the subway, ready to ride around until Joe’s next adventure is revealed to me.
It’s no secret that Berlin is my favorite city. After all, I’ve written four Hannah Vogel novels set here. It captured my imagination when I was a teenager here in the 1980s, when the wall was still up, and it’s never let me go.
But don’t take my word for it, come see—either as part of a once in a lifetime tour organized by Shalom Travel where I’ll show people the city that inspires me—or by sitting at home with a bowl of popcorn.
To make that easier, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite movies set in Berlin. I organized them to match Shalom Travel’s tour, but they’re a good introduction to the city in and of themselves.
Day 1: Berlin City Tour
1. Wings of Desire.
Aka Der Himmel Über Berlin (1987), directed by Wim Wenders and starring Bruno Ganz and Peter Falk. This takes you on a gorgeous aerial view of Berlin as you follow an angel who falls in love with a human and gives up his immortality for love. This one I watched when I’d moved back to the states and missed Berlin desperately.
(I couldn’t find a clip that I could embed, so you’ll have to click here to watch it. Sorry!)
2. Berlin: Symphony of a City.
Directed by Walter Ruttman (1927). Warning: this one’s a silent film. It depicts scene after scene of Berlin in the 1920s. Fascinating and gorgeous. I watched this over and over when I wrote “A Trace of Smoke.” (this clips shows the full movie)
Day 2: Remnants of the Third Reich
This one was tough, because there are so many films to choose from.
Since we’re going to Gestapo headquarters, I start with:
Released in 2008 and directed by Bryan Singer and starring Tom Cruise and Bill Nighy because this is where Claus von Stauffenberg died after his involvement in the plot to assassinate Hitler was uncovered.
(sorry about the ad at the beginning. It doesn’t seem fair to make you watch and ad to see a movie ad)
I admit that this one isn’t actually even set during the Third Reich era, but I’m defending it as a choice, because it shows what happens when the Gestapo’s techniques were carried forward into the modern age—the 1980s just before the fall of the Berlin wall:
4. The Lives of Others.
Released in 2006 and directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck and starring Ulrich Mühe, Martina Gedeck, and Sebastian Koch (my actor pick for Boris in A TRACE OF SMOKE).
Day 3: Wannsee
Wannsee is known inside of Berlin as a wonderful beach and place to take your kids in the summer. My high school prom was held on an island in the Wannsee. But outside of Berlin the name is forever linked with the Wannsee Conference—where Nazi leaders met to come up with the Final Solution to the Jewish Question and made plans that would result in the death of millions of Europe’s Jews.
Directed by Frank Pierson and starring Kenneth Branagh and Stanley Tucci and released in 2001.
From 1972, directed by Bob Fosse and starring Liza Minelli and Michael York. This one isn’t directly related to Wannsee, but it shows another world just before it would be systematically destroyed by the Nazis—Germany’s gays.
Day 3: Jewish Berlin
While many films have been made that describe Jewish life and the Holcaust (Schindler’s List, Sophie’s Choice, Life is Beautiful), I couldn’t come up with one that was set in Berlin. If you can think of one, let me know in the comments. In the meantime, I offer up:
This tells the story of Jewish German men married to German women and what happened when they were rounded up for deportation. This one has subtitles, but is worth the extra reading.
8. Judgment at Nuremberg
The next film deals more with the aftermath, (1961) directed by Stanley Kramer and starring Burt Lancaster, Spencer Tracy, and Berlin’s own daughter, Marlene Dietrich.
Day 4: 1936 Olympics
9. Olympia (1938, two parts)
The Nazi Olympics were covered in full in this film directed by Leni Riefenstahl and starring the athletes (including Jesse Owens). If you want to see the whole Olympics, this is the film for you.
(the entire film, part 1)
10. The Jesse Owens Story
Who was the hero of the 1936 Olympics? Jesse Owens. I’m putting The Jesse Owens Story (1984) on my list, even though it’s mostly not set in Berlin. It was directed by Richard Iriving and stars Dorian Harewood. I might switch this out if I really love the upcoming “Jesse and Me.” I couldn’t find this on YouTube, but here’s a half hour documentary that also talks about the problems he faced as a black man after he returned:
(sorry about the ad at the beginning, and the last few minutes become and ad for Ohio State University)
This list was hard to make because there are simply so many cool movies set in Berlin (here’s a list of more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_films_set_in_Berlin).
I’m thinking another list of Top 10 Berlin Thrillers is in order soon!
What movies do you think should be added to this list? Pipe up in the comments below.
Just in time for Halloween, James Rollins and I have a new short story out called BLOOD BROTHERS that follows two brothers joined by more than blood. In the next novel in the Order of the Sanguines series, INNOCENT BLOOD, we’re going to introduce a new Sanguinist named Christian. He was a funny, fascinating, and modern guy–an irritating breath of fresh air for Rhun Korza (we love to torture Rhun).
By the time we finished the novel, we realized that we wanted to know more about Christian and his history, so we looked back to the time when he was born to the blood, when the Summer of Love was turned into a Summer of Death. We hope that you have as much fun spending time with Christian as we did.
What’s his story about? It starts with his brother, Arthur Crane.
As a young reporter, Arthur Crane exposed the secrets behind the Orchid Killer, a cult murderer from the late ’60s whose crimes blackened the end of the Summer of Love. Half a century later, Arthur wakes to find an orchid resting on his pillow: a symbol of death from a killer connected to his estranged younger brother, Christian. To discover the horrifying truth, Arthur will risk all—even his very soul—for Christian may not be the brother that Arthur remembers…
After the story is a sneak peek at the sequel to THE BLOOD GOSPEL–namely INNOCENT BLOOD.
BLOOD BROTHER is an ebook only story right now, but you don’t need a Kindle or Nook to read it. You can download free Amazon viewing software to read it right on your computer (hopefully while looking over your shoulder nervously).
I just got the tour dates for Innocent Blood, the sequel to The Blood Gospel in the Order of the Sanguines series. James Rollins and I will be out signing books at the times and locations below. I hope you can make it out, but if not, you can pre-order a signed copy from the bookstores, too.
Tuesday, December 10, 2013 12:00 p.m., Costco, 1800 Cavitt Court, Folsom, CA 95630-1000.
Tuesday, December 10, 2013 7:00 p.m., Barnes & Noble, 1256 Galleria Boulevard, Roseville, CA 95678.
Wednesday, December 11, 2013 7:00 p.m., Poisoned Pen, 4014 N. Goldwater Blvd. Ste 101, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
If you want to make sure that you will get a copy of INNOCENT BLOOD for this event, click PREORDER or copy and paste the following link into your Internet Web Browser: http://www.poisonedpen.com/?opt=bn&q=h.ts&so=oh&qse=zXc4fU_3NjZ8ZAIdqR0i-w
Thursday, December 12, 2013 6:30 p.m., Murder by the Book, 2342 Bissonnet Street, Houston, TX 77098.
Friday, December 13, 2013 7:00 p.m., Tattered Cover Book Store, 2526 E Colfax Ave, Denver, CO 80206.
Saturday, December 14, 2013 2:00 p.m., Old Firehouse Books at Harmony Library, 4616 S Shields Street, Fort Collins, CO 80526.
Sunday, December 15, 2013 3:00 p.m. , Barnes & Noble, Mira Mesa Market Center, 10775 Westview Parkway, San Diego, CA 92126.
Monday, December 16, 2013 7:00 p.m. , Mysterious Galaxy Book Store, 7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd, San Diego, CA 92111-1040.
A well-read but naive teenage girl visits Dachau. She’s read about the Holocaust for school, and a few survivor accounts on her own (Night by Elie Wiesel, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl), but that doesn’t prepare her for this place. It’s October and everyone is away at Oktoberfest, so the building are abandoned. She’s alone with the cold wind and the ghosts as she steps through the gate which says “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Liberates).
She doesn’t believe in ghosts, but she can’t deny the presence there. It’s not so much evil as grief. Deep, unending grief.
She stands in front of a wall displaying the fabric triangles that prisoners wore on their uniforms–red for political prisoners, green for criminals, yellow for Jews, pink for homosexuals. There are so many categories, and so many who died here. But the pink triangle stops her because her host brother is German and gay. Forty years ago, he might have been sent here.
Yes, that Alaskan girl was me, and that moment stuck with me for years. Eventually I tried to deal with it in fiction when I wrote a one act play about a Jewish man on a train going from Auschwitz to Dachau and a man he meets on the way. They reveal and conceal secrets, both trying to connect and stay alive in this new horrible world they have been thrust into. I converted that play into a short story, and it ended up being my first published work.
I’ve published an ebook version of On the Train to share it with readers. I hope that you can feel that moment, question what you would do, and glimpse that long ago time. I’d love to hear what you think of it.