Excerpt from Brandenburg Gate by Henry Porter, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Brandenburg Gate

by Henry Porter

Brandenburg Gate
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2006, 448 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2007, 448 pages

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1
Edge of the Void

The man in the straw hat dogged his footsteps from the first, keeping his distance, yet never bothering to hide himself. Rosenharte saw him loitering outside the hotel when he checked in, then at the conference centre and later sitting at a cafe in Piazza dell’Unità, a mournful fellow with a washed-out face, who wore the hat unconvincingly on the back of his head as though he’d just won it in a shooting gallery. At times he got so close that Rosenharte could see the ventilation holes in the side of the hat and a mark on the narrow brim. He wanted to be seen – that much was clear – and once or twice Rosenharte thought he was going to approach, but then he seemed to decide against it and darted away into a side street.

He wondered if the man was the visible part of the Stasi’s surveillance operation in Trieste, put on his tail to remind him of their presence. Though he didn’t need it; they had made it clear to him that the city would be saturated with officers. Everything he did would be watched.

Perhaps the man was being fielded by a Western agency as some kind of ploy to draw out the Stasi surveillance. But that didn’t make sense either. If the Americans or British were watching – which surely they were – they would know about the Stasi and include them in their calculations. Eventually he concluded that the straw hat was a detail, a side issue to something far more menacing.

He ignored the man and threw himself into the conference on the rise of artistic conscience in the late Renaissance, a theme that had drawn 150 academics from all over Europe. Between lectures and discussion groups, Dr Rudi Rosenharte explored the streets of the hot, carefree city that was so beautifully drenched in summer light. He took himself to the bars around the main square for cognac and espresso and watched the passing parade, marvelling at the unbelievable fullness and plenty of Italian life and – naturally – at the women. Even now his eyes were not dead to their charms, or to the contrast with life in East Germany where beauty was scorned as a bourgeois obsession and you couldn’t buy a lemon from one month to the next.

Yet never for a moment did he forget that he had been brought to Trieste to rendezvous with an old lover – a lover who he knew had been dead for the best part of fifteen years but who the Stasi believed was alive.

On his third day in Trieste she made contact. Inside an envelope containing the daily conference bulletin was a handwritten note from Annalise Schering, which instructed him to walk unaccompanied to the end of "Molo IV" – Pier Number Four – in the Old Port, where she would be waiting in the early evening with chilled champagne. There was much to admire about the letter: the handwriting was perfect, the romantic urgency of the sentiments just right and the location exactly the sort of desolate, neglected place Annalise would have chosen. It was as if the authors had bottled and preserved her essence. He read it several times before using the house phone in the hotel lobby to call Colonel Biermeier of the Stasi Main Directorate for Foreign Intelligence, the HVA, who was running the operation in Trieste. Biermeier came to his hotel room to examine the letter just after three that afternoon.

"It’s an obvious fake," Rosenharte insisted to the back of Biermeier’s head as he read it on the little balcony. "It’s a trap. They’re trying to trick us. We should go back and forget the whole thing." The colonel shook his head and turned to him, his unhealthy white face and brilliantined dark-grey hair shining in the sunlight. He blew out his cheeks and flapped the front of his jacket against the heat. Rosenharte wasn’t in the least fooled by these diversionary tactics. He returned a steady gaze, purposefully expelling the anxiety in his mind. Every pore of Biermeier leaked the Stasi odor, and Rosenharte briefly wondered how he had carried out so many operations in the West without being apprehended. "No, Comrade Doktor, this is no fake. The handwriting matches our samples exactly. We will go ahead as Brigadier-General Schwarzmeer has ordered."

Excerpted from The Brandenberg Gate, (c) 2006 Henry Porter. Reproduced with permission of Grove Atlantic. All rights reserved.

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