Flight from Berlin

Free Flight from Berlin by David John

Book: Flight from Berlin by David John Read Free Book Online
Authors: David John
freedom. I had work at the UFA studios; friends I’d meet in the cafés on the Ku’damm. It was a great life. Look at the city now . . . The only atmosphere left is fear. Everyone’s afraid. Even those golden pheasants over there will worry over what their children say about them on Jungvolk evenings . . . There is a shadow over everything.’
    He looked at Denham, his face suddenly animated. Speaking in German, he said, ‘Didn’t we meet at a poetry reading in Mainz last year?’
    Denham waited for him to elaborate, but he said nothing more. ‘I don’t think so,’ he said, pulling a dubious face. ‘Not sure I’ve ever been to Mainz.’ He knocked back his champagne.
    Friedl continued to watch him for a moment, but a light seemed to go out in his face, and his eyes drifted to the windows.
    They waited until the Party men and their families had heaped their plates; then he and Denham helped themselves to smoked ham, black bread, pâté, and pickles, and Friedl asked him what was new in Harlem and who was recording on which label, revealing an obsessive’s knowledge of jazz that petered out after about 1934. He listened keenly as Denham told him of Count Basie’s new tenor sax, and Benny Goodman’s move to Chicago.
    ‘Believe it or not,’ Friedl said, ‘something like the old life may return to Berlin for the duration of the Games. All part of this relaxed image they want to present while the city is full of foreigners. The police will tolerate jazz, and the Jews will get a break.’
    A waiter refilled their glasses. They toasted each other, and Denham regarded his new friend with a mixture of respect and concern.
    Friedl explained that nothing was being left to chance with the movie, Olympia, and with a blank-cheque budget from the Propaganda Ministry, they had more than forty cameras ready for every contingency. Any shots that could be filmed beforehand had been. ‘I’ve been on set at the stadium for a month,’ he said. ‘She films everything .’
    ‘She . . . ?’ Denham wasn’t sure why he felt surprised. ‘You work for Leni Riefenstahl?’
    ‘Yes.’ Friedl gave him a quizzical look, as if unaware of the opprobrium and awe that attached to the woman’s name in equal measure. Denham had seen Triumph of the Will and remembered being dazed with disgust and admiration. It was an astonishing work, casting Hitler as a nation’s Messiah, glowing with a monochrome aura. The bastard had literally given her a cast of thousands.
    ‘Well then,’ Denham said, buttering a slice of bread, ‘what stories going round would you care to share with a discreet reporter?’
    Friedl munched slowly on an apple. ‘None that wouldn’t get me into trouble . . .’
    ‘So you do have a story.’
    ‘I didn’t say that.’
    ‘Come on. If it’s the one about the German lady high jumper who might be a man, I’ve heard it.’
    ‘No . . .’ Friedl shifted in his seat. ‘It’s about the Jewish athletes, the ones who trained for the German team . . .’ He turned again, to make sure they weren’t being overheard. The Party men and their wives were taking second helpings, but the boy was nowhere to be seen. ‘Sorry, but if I tell you, they’ll trace it back to me . . .’
    This was a familiar situation for Denham, and he seldom felt proud of himself when he had to use the old hacks’ tricks.
    ‘Look, if it’s a story that damages the Nazis, the world needs to hear it. Don’t you agree?’
    ‘Yes, but—’
    ‘These people aren’t your friends, Friedl. If you keep quiet you’re sort of helping them . . . aren’t you?’
    Friedl fell silent. Denham waited.
    ‘Do I have your word you’ll protect my name?’
    ‘Naturally,’ Denham said.
    ‘The Jewish athletes in the Olympic Games . . . ,’ he began, and started again. ‘The Reich Sports Office had to allow some Jews to try for the German team; otherwise the IOC would have removed the Games from Germany . . . or countries would have

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