Das Doppelte Lottchen, in English Lottie and Lisa, is the original story by Erich Kästner on which the well-known film The Parent Trap is based. I read this book after seeing a production of Emil and the Detectives at the National Theatre over Christmas and deciding to seek out more of Erich Kästner's fantastic literature. Even though I loved the book Emil and the Detectives as a child, I was very pleasantly surprised by just how much I enjoyed Das Doppelte Lottchen. Whilst obviously a children's book, the story was so comfortably written that I couldn't put it down. In fact, as I was reading it in the original German, it was a great feeling to whiz through the book desperate to continue with the story. Kästner's writing is incredibly witty and the portrayal of the two girls, who look so alike and yet are so different in their tastes and habits and personalities, is exceptional. I really felt that I got to know Lotte and Luise and was desperately hoping that they would be reunited with each other and their parents. Of course, there were a couple of points which made the idea of twins swapping unnoticed just a bit questionable, not least because one had grown up in Munich and one in Vienna – I'm not sure they would have been able to disguise their accents! But this point aside, the story itself is a heart-warming tale of the strength and determination of children and the way in which actually, sometimes, they do know better than their parents. I had no idea until recently that Erich Kästner had written this book and that's where The Parent Trap came from, and that made me realise how important it is to read and be aware of literature from around the world, both as children and as adults. Emil and the Detectives ended up on my shelf because my mum had had it when she was a child, but I am not sure I know anyone else who has read it other than my sister, and my friends in Germany. However, I firmly believe that this story and all of Erich Kästner's books should be more readily available and more widely promoted in England. It is essential that we embrace these fantastic contributions from other cultures and that we all work together to ensure that children all over the world can read stories such as this beautiful account of two sisters who just want to be together and reunite their parents so they can be a family once more.
Daniela Krien's novel Someday We'll Tell Each Other Everything deals with a young teenager's struggle to come to terms with the collapse of the GRD, her feelings for her boyfriend Johannes, and her love for neighbouring farmer Henner. Maria has only known life in the GDR – life which is portrayed as being tough, full of hard manual labour and disadvantaged compared to that of the West. Her parents are divorced and her father has moved to the Soviet Union, and her mother has never really been happy away from her home town. Maria moves out to live with her boyfriend, but we witness her struggle to fit in with his family too as the men laugh at her for being too weak to work on the farm and the women despair at her inability to cook properly. We discover as the story progresses that Maria has also refused to take the state initiation ceremony, meaning that she does not in fact seem to fit in comfortably with any part of her world at all.
In the beginning, Maria believes she loves her boyfriend Johannes. He is not cut out for life on the farm either, and is desperate to get out of the village once the wall comes down. By that time, however, Maria has got to know Henner, the alcoholic farmer who lives nearby and is somewhat of a recluse. Despite the age gap of over 20 years, after they meet in the field one day and Henner brushes his hand over her breasts and between her legs, they realise there is a chemistry between them that scares and intrigues them both. It is not long before they end up having sex and this leads to an affair. At first Maria is torn up with guilt but at some point she settles into a sort of routine where she sees Henner a couple of times a week after school. In the meantime, since the fall of the wall and the influx of western products into the East, Johannes has become obsessed with photography and no longer notices her except through his lens, so he is incapable of noticing any changes in her behaviour or appearance.
The most remarkable thing about the love shared by Henner and Maria is that they are both able to be themselves when they are alone together. It is obvious that they love each other for who they are. Henner has had his share of misery in life and his somewhat brutish behaviour and dependence on alcohol is not popular in the town. Maria finds herself cooking and cleaning for and generally looking after Henner, whilst experiencing a sexual awakening unlike that which she has ever known before. Ironically, the deeper she falls in love with Henner and the more she grows up, the more Maria is accepted and appreciated by Johannes' family. Inside, however, she is determined to leave the farm and move in with Henner, regardless of the reaction of those around them.
In a state where secrecy and lies, denouncement and death, hiding and betrayal were rife, Maria becomes accustomed to not telling the truth and to hiding her affair. Her thoughts about truth and secrecy are very thought provoking:
"The fear of being discovered has given way to a realisation that the truth doesn't always come to light. It makes me wonder what else goes on in secret that I'll never find out about."
It is clear that there is a lot going on in the world behind closed doors that maybe people never find out. Maria resolves to reveal the truth, however, but Henner dies abruptly before she gets the chance. He had been unsure about them bringing the affair to light as he didn't want Maria to be shunned in society too, and the implication (whilst never revealed) is that he killed himself to set her free. I do not believe she ever was free, however – her love for Henner was so strong that she would never have truly got over him. Following Henner's death, Maria followed Johannes to Leipzig where he was to study photography. She already knew that she did not love him, yet with no school leaving certificate and few other prospects, she remained tied to a man whom she did not love and who only had eyes for his camera. Maybe the truth would not have come to light, at least not immediately, and maybe Maria had indeed been spared the humiliation of giving herself up to an older man and renouncing those who had given her a home and a new life. However, I believe Maria would never have truly been happy with Johannes, having experienced true love with Henner, and the wall coming down would not really set her free, only push her into a new trap, from which there may well never be an escape.