Life Imitates Art? Asks CAY RADEMACHER

Written by Cay Rademacher

Imagine yourself renovating your long-unused basement, removing old walls, digging through decades-old rubble – and suddenly you held a bronze head in your hand, damaged, but still ... a piece of art. Modern Art. 1920s. You start some historical research, and very soon you discover that this wonderful head once stood in a museum. That is: before the Nazis banished, looted and destroyed it, when they came to power in 1933. Or so everybody thought until now. But suddenly this vanished piece of art reappears in your basement. And you ask yourself: How the hell has this bronze head made it from a Berlin museum through the Nazi-terror and the Second World War into the rubble under my house?

Reads like a plot of a historical crime novel? Well, indeed, Oberinspektor Frank Stave’s third case in war-torn Hamburg begins more or less like this: once famous works of art were discovered by pure chance in the ruins of a bombed storehouse near the harbour. And the Inspector asks himself: How could this be?

But in fact all three Frank Stave novels had their origins in history: So there really had been half a dozen portraits in the style of the “Neue Sachlichkeit”, all created in the 1920s and which disappeared in the 1930s, which suddenly came back to light during some construction work a couple of years ago. And, just like Stave, historians have since discovered that the destiny of these pieces had been very, very strange...

Stave, in searching the ruins stumbles over the remains of a body next to these art works. A dead man whom no one seems to care for, not even Stave's colleagues at the Hamburg police. Or some people at the Hamburg police headquarters would very much prefer not to investigate this particular murder at all. As Stave will learn the hard way, if you just bury the ghosts of the past under enough rubble, the villains of yesterday will start a second career tomorrow.

And there are suddenly so many career opportunities just around the corner, only three years after the lost war because Hamburg – and all of West-Germany – is at a turning point in the early summer of 1948. There is a new currency in the making. The British and American-backed and soon-to-be-famous “Deutsche Mark” will be introduced. And this fateful event has nothing to do with the nearly virtual financial transactions of our days. The US Government had printed the new money in the States, and in June 1948 truckloads, no shiploads full of brand new bills  were secretly brought into occupied Germany by the Western Allies. Or perhaps not so secretly. Stave, his hands already full with the investigation of an unknown dead man and lost art, suddenly has to hunt a forger. A forger, who imitates the new Deutsche Mark even before it is introduced in Germany.

Is this pure fiction? Actually no, in 1948 there was a Deutsche Mark forger working in Hamburg, who smuggled the new fake currency onto the Black Market before the Allies could introduce the real stuff on the real market. But why forge a currency with which you can't buy anything, because this damned currency doesn't even exist? Well, Stave learns this, too. The hard way.


  The Forger by Cay Rademacher, published by Arcadia, £8.99 (Translator: Peter Millar)

Cay Rademacher

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