Secrets of Small Town Germany

Ludwigsfelde18 Pechpfuhl
Ludwigsfelde Pechpfuhl, By Lienhard Schulz (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Book review: The Scholl Case
by Anja Reich-Osang, translated by Imogen Taylor

In the last days of 2011, Brigitte Scholl, the wife of a former mayor of the small town of Ludwigsfelde to the south of Berlin, is found murdered in the forest. Shortly after, suspicion falls on her husband Heinrich Scholl, and he’s eventually convicted of the crime. I lived in Berlin at the time, but my German wasn’t very good then so I didn’t read the German newspapers and I don’t remember the case. But I know the strength of the small town mentality of the many little suburbs of Brandenburg surrounding Berlin, and I can only imagine what a shock it was for a former long-serving mayor to be involved in something like that. Intrigue!

The couple both have a plethora of skeletons in their closets, and these all come tumbling out to scandalous effect. Journalist Anja Reich-Osang traces their pasts, from their very different childhoods in the same small town in East Germany, including Heinrich’s horrible family and Brigitte’s family tragedies, to their marriage of convenience, Brigitte’s domineering and demanding personality, Heinrich’s career path and their eventual digressions from their marriage. Small town politics, extramarital affairs, Berlin’s future famous gay mayor Klaus Wowereit, Thai prostitutes, East Berlin circuses, some unsettling and weird stories from the past – there’s plenty of dramatic stuff here to wrap a reader up in this case.

I was interested in the story and it was well-told; neatly, understandably organized; and obviously thoroughly researched. But it often felt like a recitation of facts, so it does come across somewhat dry. There was no commentary from the author (aside from a brief introduction where she writes a little about her work on the book) and this would normally be fine – it’s true crime journalism, readers are more often interested in the reality and facts of what happened, not necessarily in a writer’s opinion.

But it needed something more – some detailed outside commentary, like insight into public perception, or further interviews with Heinrich. There was a surface amount of this and it helped, but I still felt like I was reading a straightforward summary of case facts. I got the impression that the conviction was very quick and easy, I would’ve liked to hear more of the defense, including Heinrich’s for himself.

But maybe that was the point, to let the bare facts of the case speak for themselves and the reader can form their own opinion. It’s still a pretty good read, and offers some great perspective into small-town German life pre-and post-reunification, if it does leave you feeling a little down about how some families actually live and treat one another.

The Scholl Case: The Deadly End of a Marriage
by Anja Reich-Osang, translated from the German by Imogen Taylor
published by Text Publishing on October 3, 2016 (Australia and New Zealand)
December 29, 2016 (UK)
May 9, 2017 (USA)

I received an advance ebook copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for review.

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