About Krank:

A Tale of Time Travel ...

It is November 11th, 2009. Ainsley Giddings steps aboard the ferry to Ward's Island. A forties-something psychotherapist on a self-imposed writing retreat, she has sublet a cottage for a year in which to think and write and clear her mind of Dan, her former lover.

Berlin playwright Bertolt Brecht, astonished at being restored to life, is on that same ferry boat. Having died in 1956, his heyday was in Berlin in the 1930s, an anti-fascist playwright whose provocative musicals like The Threepenny Opera and The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, made him a 'person of significance' to the emerging Nazi party. Suddenly, he has been brought back — given a second chance at life.

The stranger and Ainsley strike up a conversation and she discovers that not only is he unsure of that day's date, but of the year as well. Fascinating and unsettling.

Their acquaintance develops into a bizarre and eccentric love affair. But mixed in with the affair are island airport politics and eventually a civic uprising in downtown Toronto — in effect, the G-20 — which provokes a brutal repression by the police. This reminds Brecht of the 1930s resistance against Fascism in Berlin, especially when he is caught in the sweep by cops and thrown into a temporary jail with hundreds of others.

Ainsley's exertions at translating modern life to Brecht while trying to remain resolutely apolitical lead to their escape to Berlin where time takes another weird half-twist around these two mismatched lovers.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Lessons on Democracy from Berlin's Nazi Ghosts (The Toronto Star) ...

This column was written by Edward Greenspon, Sunday, August 4/2013 I’m just back from a week in the capital of Nazi Germany. At least it felt that way. I had been to Berlin many times before between 1985 and 1991, first as a student and then as a journalist. On my early visits, a voice would whisper incessantly in my ear, “What did he do during the war?” Once, while covering a news event, a German journalist inquired of me, “Greenspon, is that a Jewish name?” I hesitated. It’s not the kind of question that sits easily in the Germany of your mind. I got to know a couple named Harry and Erika. He spoke some French, learned as a PoW in a French coal mine after he was thrown into the front lines at 16. It wasn’t impossible to imagine Harry, too, as a victim of irresistible and insane forces. The dominant theme of the day for a working journalist was the East-West missile buildup. Berlin, an end-of-the-line western enclave in the Communist east, served as the pointy end of the Cold War. When the geopolitical ground shifted on Nov. 9, 1989, I was in Moscow, making me probably one of the last westerners to learn the Berlin Wall had fallen. I made it back to Berlin in the run-up to a particularly festive December and returned several more times as the two Germanys reunited. On my last visit, I wrote of post-unification Berlin’s struggle for a new identity. “No longer the city of Le Carré. No longer the faceoff circle between East and West. No longer the last outpost of freedom. Four decades of clichés, of comprehension, rendered meaningless in an instant.” How would Berlin, shorn of prefixes East and West, redefine itself? Two decades slipped by. The Berlin I encountered this time was a funky, self-assured place. I stayed in the Mitte, a quarter bursting its seams with a lively street life. The Berlin of the present is an effervescent city. But the Berlin of the past, particularly the Nazi past, has bubbled back to the surface. Cold War Berlin had little, besides its division, to say about its 12-year plunge into infamy. The new Berlin has aggressively addressed the catalogue of horrors Germany inflicted on the world, particularly the Jewish people. Extraordinary exhibits at the Topography of Terror, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews, the Jewish Museum and elsewhere invite deep reflection. As the Italian Holocaust writer Primo Levi is cited in the entrance hall at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews: “It happened, therefore it can happen again; this is the core of what we have to say.” I was particularly struck by the lessons to be drawn from 1933 and 1934, when the Nazis were not yet at full swagger. Arguably, as the depths of their hatreds quickly surfaced, they could have been tripped up by foreign pressures and a modicum of domestic spine. But elite opinion and statecraft took the passive course of hoping the accidental chancellor would fall to his own excesses. When he didn’t, foreign powers sought to mollify rather than confront him. How wrong they were. The Nazis went after the Communists and Social Democrats first, creating the Dachau concentration camp as early as March 1933. Trade unionists, the mentally handicapped, the Roma and the Jews, especially the Jews, would follow in short order. The infamous Aryan law “permanently retiring” Jews from the public service — meaning firing them and voiding their pensions — was passed in 1933, followed by measures against Jewish lawyers and doctors. An edifice of state terror unique in its efficiency was constructed brick-by-brick while the people “Heiled” and an economically distracted world with little affection of its own for the Jewish people looked away. Berlin reminds us that democracy is a precious and a complex garden that requires constant care. It consists of much, much more than free and fair elections. It is everything that happens afterward: constitutional solidity, rule of law, an independent judiciary, checks and balances, a free press, protection of human rights, particularly for minorities. Democracy is not meant to be the most efficient of systems. It is meant to disperse power through multiple points, preventing too much of a good thing residing at any given time in too few hands. Inefficiency is aggravating and costly, but too much efficiency, an open invitation to abuses of power, is also cause for concern. Societies that chip away at human rights and democratic principles, as with Russia today, must be confronted and challenged. Opposition and dissent must be respected. We owe it to history to call out concentrations of power — political and economic — and even minor incursions on the normal course checks and balances. None of this because something awful is necessarily afoot. Rather because totalitarianism rarely starts out total. Berlin is testament that it must be confronted before it can become whole. Edward Greenspon is vice-president, strategic investments, at the Star. egreenspon@thestar.ca Edward Greenspon is vice-president, strategic investments, at the Star.