Archivakte - Synopsis
Archivakte - Synopsis
WHEN AND WHERE - ( Settings and Background ).
The year is 1994, and the entire novel is intended to take place during the first ten days of November of that year. The setting is Berlin, where a city and its people are preparing to mark the fifth anniversary of the demise of the Berlin Wall, and of the German reunification that consequently followed.
Celebrations and festivities have been planned by the city authorities, including live music, parades and fireworks around the city centre, scheduled for the evening of the 9th. It is on this night that the story is designed to reach its conclusion.
The first biting winds of Winter have arrived.
The novel will also incorporate numerous ' flashbacks ', which will take the reader back seventeen years to the summer of 1977. These will provide much of the background to the main story, but will also hopefully serve to give an insight into the reasons and motivations behind the main character and his actions.
I am hoping that with the use of these journeys back in time, I can open up new avenues in the main plot, and offer clues as to how it may twist and turn.
WHO - ( The main characters ).
A ' supporting cast ' will all have significant roles to play in the plot, but there are two main characters around whom the story will revolve.
Oskar Schulze is in his mid forties.
As a younger man he'd been clever, confident, compassionate and decisively pro-active in his attempts to defy the authority of the East German regime.
Involved in numerous operations to smuggle escapees across to the West, he was eventually arrested. An extended term of incarceration in the notorious Stasi prison 'Hohenschonhausen' followed, during which time his spirit was broken and the attributes of his personality were blunted.
In 1994, he is an embittered shadow of his former self, searching for answers but also in search of retribution. However, lacking the confident and decisive qualities he once possessed, Oskar no longer feels entirely in control as he attempts to bring some kind of closure to his past.
Having relied on two old friends in Berlin to provide him with a lead for his search, his initial trust of people rapidly turns to distrust, as he realises it was his naive faith in others that led to his downfall in the first place, many years before.
Ulrich Lichtmann is an ex-Stasi officer, now in his sixties and of declining health.
Much like Oskar, he is a man plagued somewhat by his past, but for very different reasons.
Whilst on the face of it, he remains unrepentant for the service he dilligently gave to the regime, there is an increasing awareness subconsciously of the suffering he has caused. With both his physical and mental health on a downward spiral, these doubts appear to him in the form of occasional, strange visions.
Enveloped by this subconscious confusion, Ulrich takes a different attitude to his past at every turn. Prone to verbal outbursts, he sometimes insists that Stasi activities were part of a righteous cause and that the GDR was always beyond reproach. At other times he takes the line of " following orders just like anybody else ", and on some occasions denies any involvement or connection with the Stasi whatsoever.
A Socialist rather than a Communist at heart, Ulrich is plainly appalled by what he sees around him in post-Wall Berlin, and takes every opportunity to deride its new Capitalist principles.
WHAT - ( The Plot )
Oskar Schulze is returning to the capital from his home city of Leipzig for the first time in over a decade, and certainly for the first time since the fall of the Wall.
His reasons for returning in that first week of November '94 are, unlike hundreds of others, nothing to do with the upcoming fifth anniversary celebrations. He visits with the intention of finding and reading the file that was kept on him by the Stasi during the seventies, as these have now been made accessible to the public. But also, with the help of contacts who are living in the city, he manages to track down the officer who oversaw his interrogation and subsequent tortures at 'Hohenschonhausen'.
Not really clear on what his actions will be on discovering this officer, Oskar comes into contact with several other characters all equally intent on inflicting some kind of retribution on the same person. One of these other characters is a keyholder of 'Hohenschonhausen', now a museum open to the public.
Lured into participating in their seemingly sinister plans, he becomes aware of a loss of control of the situation. Oskar realises that far from being the instigator that he liked to think of himself as being, he has merely been brought to Berlin to be a part of somebody elses revenge plan.
In order to justify to himself his presence in the city, a place he once vowed never to set eyes on ever again, he pursues his other reason for returning. Persevering in tracing the file kept on him by the Stasi, he eventually finds it in the form of Archivakte 217028.
Revealed before his eyes are details of his younger life in the GDR, such details that couldn't possibly have been known. As he delves further, he discovers the identities of those that informed on him.
The picture changes dramatically. It now dawns on Oskar that his past, rather than consisting of enemies and friends, consisted of enemies and even greater enemies.
Meanwhile on the retribution front, matters become more complicated when it becomes apparent that it is not all one-sided. To many who served the regime and still live in Berlin, the Stasi is not necessarily in their eyes a ' dead dog '. Having been shunned and shut out from many aspects of society since reunification, ex-members have formed pocket movements that are scattered across the city. Ulrich Lichtmann is a part of one such movement, although due to his deteriorating health, his involvement is largely passive.
One way or another, a city's unhappy post-war history is far from buried.
( Beyond this, the storyline is a little sketchy at the moment. But above is the main outline of the plot, and I would like to think that much of the rest of it will take shape as it is written. )
WHY AND HOW - ( Research )
I would not claim to be a fully qualified academic on the subject of the former German Democratic Republic.
However, I do feel that research is a vitally important element of this novel. I have become fascinated by the history of East Germany, ever since I travelled to Berlin in January 2005.
The time of year ( freezing cold! ), plus the location of my hotel being in Eastern Berlin, both helped to give me a fleeting sense of how things were before November 1989. Alexanderplatz, a vast open square surrounded by communist-grey concrete blocks certainly gave me a feel for it.
Since then, I have read extensively on the subjects of the Berlin Wall, the Stasi, and the GDR regime. Both in books and also on the internet. I intend to continue this kind of research as I write the story.
I am also hoping to return to Berlin at some point over the coming months, although financial constraints will decide whether that actually happens!
Obviously one of the main themes is Revenge, however I don't intend this to be the overriding aspect of the novel, believing as I do that this is well-trodden territory.
It will equally explore Trust and Betrayal - Which is the greater enemy? Someone distant who inflicts harm upon you? Or someone closer to you who betrays your trust?
Another theme running throughout this book will be the comparisons of " Life before the Wall fell " and " Life after the Wall fell. " Opinion is divided amongst those who experienced both over whether things have changed that much, i.e the quality of people's lives.
The 'flashbacks' will be key to this particular theme. I hope to portray a symbolic contrast/comparison between the cold onset of winter in a vast open-plan and " free " city, as opposed to the flashbacks which are set during a hot and humid summer, and much of which will be set within the confines of 'Hohenschonhausen'.
Claustrophobia versus Agoraphobia, if you like.
I posted two parts of a story under this title on this site back in 2007. I have since discovered ( much to my annoyance and embarrassment ) that the word " Archivakte " doesn't exist as such in the German language. At least not as one word. However, during my research, I have seen photos of old Stasi files, which clearly have this word marked on the covers in bold letters, followed by a number.
So for the time being, I am sticking with this title. If it has to change at a later date, then so be it.
Your comments will be much appreciated.
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