My special guest today is Phyllis Edgerly Ring. We’re
chatting about her historical fiction novel, The Munich Girl: A Novel of the Legacies that Outlast War.
in New Hampshire and returns as often as she can to her childhood home in
Germany. She has studied plant sciences and ecology, worked as a nurse, been a
magazine writer and editor, taught English to kindergartners in China, coordinated
programming at a Baha’I conference center, and serves as workshop facilitator
and coach for others’ writing projects.
novel, Snow Fence Road, and the
inspirational nonfiction, Life at First
Sight: Finding the Divine in the Details. She is co-author, with Ron
Tomanio and Diane Iverson, of With Thine
Own Eyes: Why Imitate the Past When We Can Investigate Reality?, an
exploration of how to achieve balance between the material and spiritual
aspects of life.
Dahlberg, grew up eating dinner under her father’s war-trophy portrait of Eva
Braun. Fifty years after the war, she discovers what he never did—that her
mother and Hitler’s mistress were friends. Plunged into the world of the
“ordinary” Munich girl who was her mother’s confidante—and a tyrant’s
lover—Anna uncovers long-buried secrets and unknown reaches of her heart, to
reveal the enduring power of love in the legacies that always outlast war.
my very first friends and Germany made a deep impression on my heart when my
family lived there in the 1960s. I wanted to understand more about Germany’s
experience during the war. Shortly after I decided this, I received a copy of
British/German writer Angela Lambert’s biography of Eva Braun. Then a
combination of still somewhat baffling circumstances led to my owning the
portrait of Eva that features in the story. You never know where a decision
will lead. At the time, I was simply looking to learn and understand, not
necessarily write a book. I certainly never imagined that the pathway of my
discoveries about Germany would follow the life of Hitler’s companion.
Munich Girl: A Novel of the Legacies that Outlast War:
For my extra day of
freedom, I planned to linger over breakfast at a table with a sunny view of the
mountains. But the dining room was a frenetic symphony of clinking and
clattering when I arrived and the maitre d’ stuck me in a dark corner.
I had just poured my coffee
when a young male voice shrilled, “Fräulein Peggy Adler?” from the entrance.
I turned as he reached my
table in a handful of long strides. He wore the stiff uniform of Hitler’s
Leibstandarte: dark tunic, breeches, tall boots, and rounded helmet. All that
was missing was the rifle customarily slung over the shoulder.
“Come with me, please.”
Terror struck so hard, I
couldn’t speak—not even to ask where. Especially not that. It seemed
incriminating. At last, I stammered, “I-I—”
“You have been requested
for an interview,” he said.
What kind of interview? I still couldn’t find words to ask.
Should I get my stenographer’s pad? Or was this about questioning me?
“We have a car waiting
outside.” His tone was threaded with impatience, as though I were already
taking too long, being too slow to understand. I’m surprised he didn’t check
his watch, tap his foot. His face had a youthful softness. He was perhaps 19 or
20. I thought of my brother, Peter.
I noticed a waiter at the
neighboring table and glanced at my unfinished cup of coffee, as though it
might offer some possibility of reprieve—he would insist I stay, since I hadn’t
He also seemed uneasy
around the guard as he said, “No trouble, Madam. We will keep your table for
But would I return to it?
Then I remembered my
co-workers, and Erich, and blanched with fear as cold as the sweat that rose
instantly on my neck. Hadn’t I been careful enough, yesterday? Had I said too
much? Had someone besides Eva been listening, or had my cohorts from the
Foreign Office somehow been found out?
My mind raced to the worst
of all possibilities—they’d been apprehended. I refused to let that thought
take root, claimed my mind back from it the way I try to rescue my breath from
panic each night in the air-raid shelter back in Berlin.
Appear unfazed and
heard this tactic from Erich and others in the Resistance. If stopped by the
Gestapo, or called in for any reason, seem slightly surprised, untroubled, and
entirely willing to comply.
I reached to gather my
things. I had only my purse, and the book I’d brought along. “Will we be going
far?” I found courage to ask.
“It is right nearby.”
When we reached the car,
his brisk movements included a snap of his heels as he opened the door for me.
Clearly, he wasn’t going to manhandle me like a suspected criminal. Not yet.
I clambered into the back,
toward the middle, and closer, of the two bench-like seats. The mammoth
Mercedes had as many huge tires as a delivery truck. Its convertible top was
down, and bright sun blinded my eyes.
The young uniform joined
the driver in front. The car exited the Platterhof parking lot, made a hard
left, and rolled down a sharp incline, though only a short distance.
Goering’s house was
somewhere off to the right, hidden by trees. I’d learned recently that beneath
us was a burgeoning network of tunnels and bunkers under construction, a
subterranean complex that those who dwelt above ground might not even know was
there. Perhaps it would open up suddenly and swallow us all.
The car blocked the narrow
road when it stopped at a guardhouse barely big enough for one person to stand
inside. Behind it was the Hotel Türkenhof where Aunt Paula and I had once
stayed. It looked to be in use as barracks of some kind. Is that where they were
The uniform turned and
said, “Your papers, please.”
I had them ready in
anticipation of this, though I’d already gone through all the rigmarole of
admission to the Führer Zone two days ago.
He took them, got out, and
strode to the guard shack.
I’d been taken in for
questioning once before, after I’d accompanied Jewish children to England as an
escort with the Kindertransport. A petty Nazi bureaucrat summoned me because of
my dual citizenship. I’d dressed conservatively in a simple cotton print skirt
that hinted at a dirndl’s lines, and a borrowed white blouse tied loosely at
the throat so the top half of my décolletage was visible, while the rest
remained virtuously concealed.
During my inquisitor’s
first burst of questions, I’d offered simple answers with a demeanor of
complicit meekness. Finally, I’d evoked tears by imagining the inevitable fate
of that Jewish child I’d seen pulled back through the train window into her
father’s arms. “Can’t you imagine how thankful I am that Germany is my birthplace?”
I nearly shouted at him. “That my mother is so faithful?”
More advice from those in
the Resistance: act indignant, insulted even, at the very dishonor of being
suspected of disloyalty.
“There are many spies,” he
said. “Dual citizenship makes an excellent cover.”
It does, indeed, my thoughts concurred.
“How can you even suggest
such disgrace?” I tried to sound hurt. “When my British blood is disgrace
enough, for me?”
Then I’d covered my face in
the refuge—and strategy—of sobs. It had been over-dramatic, but I wanted to
leave no doubt in his mind. I used my best high German for these impassioned
declarations. Once I saw he was softening, I lapsed into the Schwäbisch dialect
I’d detected in his own speech, thanking God for my ear for nuance and language.
The inquisitor turned
almost paternal, even invited me for coffee. I’d had to pretend disappointment,
say I was expected home to help Mutti.
“You are the kind of maid
who will assure the Fatherland’s triumph!” he’d avowed, like the final line of
some Wagnerian drama.
“Whatever you do, use the
language of the current view, and mold it to your needs,” Erich had advised me
before I’d accompanied those Jewish children to safety.
It was the only way to deal
with these fools. These very dangerous fools.
be a memoir-style reflection about where this novel has led me. Nothing about
it is what I would ever have imagined or predicted on my writing path, and
there are experiences I’ve had in the course of this book’s coming together
that I’m probably never going to be able to understand, let alone explain. One
of the most personally stunning was a phone call I received while staying in
Germany that neither the person on the other end, nor I had initiated – twice
in a row! She was someone with whom I was glad to connect in relation to my research,
and she had a delightfully philosophical view about “connections” being made in
such a way.
first published my writing, when I was in my late 20s. But I recognize now that
I was a writer all along.
like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to
and my pleasure. When I have a project of my own I want to advance, I go to a
very public place on a set schedule in order to either generate the pages or
work on revising what’s already been captured down. Typically, my best energy
for any of that is from very early morning until late morning or early
afternoon. Once I realized this, I also recognized that I have always,
essentially, been a “morning person.” I love the start of the day, and love to give
it to myself and my work. My life as a writer also stays fresh through my
involvement in accompanying others in their writing projects, both as editor
and what I like to think of as “doula.”
the experience of passing through the world of the story again and again until
it comes whole. It’s so entirely absorbing with fiction-writing that I couldn’t
let myself do it until our kids were grown, because I knew it required the
level of attention I’d want to never deny our children. My writing “style” is
to write all over the place in a work, not the least bit chronologically, until
I can begin to feel the themes that are uniting the various pieces, and then it
all becomes more beginning-middle-end in an ordered flow.
exactly what I wanted to! Isn’t that what most of us most truly want? I suppose
I wanted to be a story crafter of some kind, as I was always creating worlds
and stories of some type in my play.
privileges is hearing from readers with their thoughts and reflections about
the book. They can contact me at email@example.com.
Thanks very much for this opportunity.