What would they talk about Bernie Gunther, Gereon Rath and Richard Oppenheimer? From one of his criminal cases in the Berlin rogue of the late 20s? Or of his bosses in the Alex, the mythical police station of the convulsive and fascinating capital in the Germany of the Weimar Republic? Perhaps they would comment on the political situation in that increasingly tense Berlin where they continue to increase the followers of those Nazis that they still do not take too seriously but that they will end up marking their careers and their lives, the source of two police novels that allow them to immerse themselves in a sinister, fascinating and, at times, with shocking parallels with today.
In any case, they would almost certainly coincide in one of those bars near the police station where everyone liked, at the end of the shift, a beer and a Schnapps sometimes accompanied by a greasy sausage.
This imagined scene makes it possible Philip Kerr with his posthumous gift: one (at least for now) Bernie Gunther’s latest novel, the cynical, unbelieving but complete detective who with his wanderings during and after World War II has captivated millions of readers around the world. Because Metropolis is not another Bernie novel. It is the origin of everything, a prequel that puts us the protagonist of Kerr’s 14 thrilling novels at the beginning, in Berlin in 1928, when Bernie Gunther is still a young detective who has just entered the headquarters homicide brigade from the police station reputed throughout Europe for its modern criminal techniques and located in the central Alexanderplatz square, Alex for Berliners.
A beginning that gives the perfect excuse for reread all Kerr novels again. But also to investigate other authors who have placed their characters in the same place and moment of history and with whom, through their eyes, they describe a time that until today many have failed to decipher at all.
While with Bernie Gunther the reader quickly jumps to the Nazi era and World War II, with Gereon Rath, the protagonist of the German police series Volker Kutscher who It has also inspired the Babylon Berlin series, one remains trapped in those last throes of the “happy 20s” and the beginning of the sinister decade of the 30s. Through the seven novels in the original German for now – four have been translated into Spanish, by Editions B— Kutscher describes a Germany that does not know or does not want to see the Nazi threat.
Gereon Rath is, like the Berlin of his day, a charming but somewhat corrupt cop, enough that Kutscher, a historian specializing in Berlin in the 20s and 30s in which he deploys his fictional characters, has an excuse to describe in great detail the rogue life of the time and, above all, the Ringvereine , the mafia gangs that ruled the underworld – and also a good part of the surface – of the Berlin of the Weimar Republic.
Unlike Bernie Gunther, Rath is not a Berlin crib. He was born in Cologne and his father, a former police commissioner, is a close friend of the city’s mayor, Konrad Adenauer, which will end up being the first chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (1949-63). Adenauer is not the only real character that appears on the pages of Kutscher. So are the leaders of Rath – and Bernie and Oppenheimer – Bernhard Weiss, the first Jew who managed to lead the police in the German capital and who modernized his practices, and Ernst Gennat, the buddha, one of the most famous criminologists in Germany. Both also have a prominent role in Metropolis and are a reference in the novels of Commissioner Oppenheimer.
Kutscher’s novels feature an extra nothing negligible: Charlotte Charly Ritter, Gereon’s girlfriend who works as a stenotypist at Alex but is a better detective than many of his male colleagues. Through this character, Kutscher revalued the female character often forgotten or too stereotyped in the black novel of this era (and others), even by the beloved Philip Kerr. Charly, yes It’s Berliner to the marrow, She is not a female vase, nor a victim or client of the detective. He is a key character that serves Kutscher to relate the progressive relegation of women, so free in the 20s, to the three Ks promoted by the Third Reich: Kinder, Küche, Kirche (children, kitchen and church).
The Nazis also ended Richard Oppenheimer’s career. The protagonist of the novels by also German Harald Gilbers is presented to us for the first time (Slang) in the summer of 1944, in that Berlin where everyone already senses Nazi defeat but where they continue to exercise tyrannical power and terrorize the population. Oppenheimer is the most curious character because he is the perhaps most surprising and at times unlikely: a former Jewish commissioner who began working on that same Alex where Bernie Gunther and Gereon Rath also passed but from which he was expelled, like all Jews, including the Director Weiss, when the Nazis came to power. He barely survives, saved by the hair – although under the constant threat of deportation – for being married to an Aryan woman. To his surprise, he is recruited, secretly and by force, by the same Nazis he hates and who would want to end him to investigate the case of a possible serial killer, a fact that does not match the perfect image of happy Germany and without crimes that the Nazis want to present.
With Oppenheimer we live the throes of the Third Reich and the fall of Berlin -in Endzeit, the fourth novel of the saga published so far, in German by the Knaur publishing house, although in April the fifth will come out, Hungerwinter– through someone who is both a victim of the Nazis, as a Jew, but also an enemy of the liberating forces who suspect him because they see him as a German who has survived the war, a problem that Bernie also deals with Gunther in much of his novels.