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
    Apr 2007, 448 pages

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Print Excerpt

"Not possible," the colonel said." Use that queer aftershave you bought for yourself."

Before leaving Biermeier looked over the transmitter once more and fiddled with some tiny wires at the back of the microphone while Rosenharte held his arms up and looked out on the veranda. "Remember to press the button at the side once you see her," he said. "It’s easily forgotten." Just before six Rosenharte dressed, checked himself in the mirror and then left the hotel. He crossed the Piazza dell’Unità feeling the heat of the day still pulse from the stones beneath him and noticing the wheel of swifts in the sky. Did the Stasi know? Had they faked the letters from Annalise Schering to expose his great lie? No, no one in the GDR could possibly know that she had killed herself fifteen years before; that he was as likely to find her at the end of Molo IV that evening as Greta Garbo. He saw Annalise now, as he walked. The little apartment in Brussels on a winter’s evening, he picking his way through the plants and the clutter of holiday trophies, finding her in the bath surrounded by candles and roses, her head resting on one arm lying along the side of the tub. Dead. Bloodied water. Vodka bottle. Pills. Needle of the overheated stereo clicking round the centre of Mahler’s Fifth. His feelings then, as now, were guilt and a kind of horror at the operatic bathos of her death scene.  Annalise always overdid things, that was for sure. He passed through a series of parallel streets that led down to the sea, and reached Via Machiavelli where he paused, mopped his forehead and unstuck the back and front of his shirt from his skin. He set off again, never obviously glancing back, and made for the deserted quays where the big-hearted seaport opened its arms to the steamers of another century. There he looked at his watch – he was early – and, laying his jacket across the back of a bench, sat down to smoke a cigarette and stare across the flat calm of the Gulf of Trieste. Some way out to sea a ship lay at anchor, the only point of reference in the haze that had been building up through the long, hot afternoon. As he absently tried to determine where sea and sky met, it came to him that he had reached the edge of the void that separated East and West, a decorous no man’s land of grand cafes and squares that looked like ballrooms, which was every bit as treacherous as the killing zone between the two Germanys. Konrad would relish the ambiguity of Trieste, a frontier town that tried to forget the communist world at its back; and he’d shake with laughter at the idea of his brother’s tryst with a dead woman. Rosenharte allowed himself a quick, rueful smile, as though his brother was sitting on the bench beside him. It had the effect of briefly lessening his agitation but then he thought of his twin’s plight as the Stasi’s hostage. To ensure his cooperation and that he wouldn’t defect, they were holding Konrad in prison. For good measure, they’d taken his wife Else in for questioning and placed Konnie’s two boys in the care of the state. He wondered what Konrad would do in his situation and knew his brother would proceed with all caution and wait to see how things unfolded. There were always openings, he had said once. Even in the GDR no situation was ever hopeless.

He took a last drag on the cigarette and flicked it across the paving stones into the sea. A fish rose to the butt then darted away beneath the oily film of the harbor water. From the rear of the opera house behind him came the sound of a soprano warming up for the evening’s performance. Rosenharte turned and listened with his head cocked and recognized Violetta’s part from the first act of La Traviata.  He looked up to the mountains that pressed Trieste to the sea and noticed columns of white cloud quite distinct from the haze that veiled the city. His attention moved to a German-speaking couple, stout and sunburnt, who were sitting on a bench not far away swinging their legs like happy children. Stasi officers? He thought not: too well fed, too content. Austrian tourists, most likely. He watched them openly and the woman smiled back with a hint of admiration in her eyes. Then he rose and, hooking the jacket over his shoulder, he walked past, nodding to them both.

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

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