Today, TeachingBooks.net welcomes author Monika Schröder as she stops by on her blog tour.
My new historical fiction novel, My Brother’s Shadow (FSG, 2011), is set in 1918 in Berlin during the last months of World War One. The book explores how war and the political transition following WWI impacted regular people and children in particular.
I had gained basic information about the situation among German civilians by reading secondary sources, but I wanted to discover more details about daily life in Berlin. I was living in India at the time and couldn’t find any searchable database that would give me access to the original Berlin newspapers of the year 1918. When I contacted the director of the German Newspaper Archive in Berlin, I learned that the digitalization of the Vossische Zeitung, an important liberal paper published in Berlin, had been completed up to 1920. I ordered the digitized newspapers right away and three weeks later I was delighted to receive a package in the mail with the editions of the Vossische Zeitung from October 14, 1918 to January 20, 1919.
I loved reading this old newspaper. The official war report was printed daily on the front page, usually under an upbeat headline. The paper also printed obituaries. Every day numerous black framed notices informed the reader of the death of a young Karl or Friedrich who died “in honor of the fatherland” in France, Russia, or Belgium.
Advertisements were also interesting and revealing. Due to the British blockade of the German harbors, Germany experienced severe food shortages. By 1918 many raw materials like coffee or cocoa were not available and the lack of these products forced Germans to be inventive. Many “ersatz” (replacement) products were advertised. Commercial ads also illustrated the changing roles of women in the war economy following the shortage of men. Traditionally considered the “weaker gender,” women were suddenly drafted to work in ammunition factories, operate streetcars, deliver milk or mail, and move heavy equipment like the woman in the following advertisement.
I was so fascinated by what I had read that the newspaper became an important part in the story. As an apprentice in a print shop of a Berlin newspaper, Moritz, the main character, reads the headlines of the paper he just helped print and thereby informs the readers of the state of affairs in Germany, October 1918. He meets Herr Goldman, a journalist who works for the paper and who ultimately helps Moritz to fulfill his dream of becoming a reporter. When Moritz is sent out to report on an illegal demonstration he sees his mother among the speakers. He witnesses the police disturb the meeting, disperse the crowd and arrest the leaders. What happens to Moritz’s mother? Read My Brother’s Shadow to find out.
Hear Monika Schröder pronounce and speak about her name. Listen now.