There’s nothing to beat being in a place you love. When that can’t be, reading a novel set in a place you love is an acceptable substitute – and that’s exactly the role that Bernd Köstering’s crime trilogy set in Weimar will play in the next few months. Crime? In Weimar – that bastion of German culture and refinement? Yes, indeedy. A particularly heinous crime, I may add. Someone is stealing treasured artefacts from Goethe’s house in the Frauenplan.
Not the showy pieces – items that wouldn’t be missed by the casual visitor. Nevertheless the experts pick up on the crime immediately. There are no clues on site, suggesting that the thief is well aware of the security gaps. And he can strike with impunity .. He graduates from Goethe’s main house to his summer house (pictured on the book jacket). Items even go missing from the Goethe Museum in Frankfurt on Main. As his confidence grows, so does the size of the items he pilfers. Cue panic in officialdom. This story must not hit the press before the crime is resolved. It’s 1999 and Weimar is the European City of Culture. A city’s reputation and the nation’s heritage is at stake.
The criminal, however, sends clues in the form of quotes from Goethe’s oeuvre. The mayor calls in a professor and renowned Goethe expert Hendrik Wilmut to unravel the puzzle. What follows is not just a promenade through the city of Weimar but also through the life, friendships, enmities and works of the city’s most famous inhabitant. Wilmut develops the theory that the thief believes himself to be Goethe reincarnated and that helps him close in. As he does, however, the game changes. A quotation from Goethe’s very sinister Erl-King heralds an abduction. Suddenly it’s a matter of life and death.
The chase leads us through the landmarks of the city,
from the White Swan restaurant, literally next door to Goethe’s house, where the investigating team meet for some very cozy lunches
via the church of Saint Peter and Paul, where Herder, Goethe’s onetime friend and mentor, preached
to the dramatic finale in the Fürstengruft, where Goethe lies next to Schiller.
The identity of the criminal isn’t particularly difficult to spot – given the obvious mental issues involved. Neither is the writing sparkling (though that might be because this was the first novel I’ve read in German for 20 years). It was a case of location, location, location for me. Everywhere Wilmut went, every restaurant, every dish on the menu was identifiable. Of course, it helped that I was actually in Weimar at the time of reading. It meant that I could use Köstering’s novel like an off-beat tour guide. Which I did, in style, in one of these:
I also ate a rather unique dish in The White Swan:
The declaration of love turned out to be a love poem from Goethe to Charlotte von Stein. Sweet and delicious, just like the berry omelette!
I wonder what delights await when I read the second in the trilogy, Goetheglut? Should I wrangle myself another trip to Weimar before I do?