Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Brandenburg includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Glenn Meade. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.<
In this riveting international spy thriller, master storyteller Glenn Meade (Snow Wolf ) weaves a complex, fast-paced story. British intelligence agent Joe Volkmann crisscrosses the globe to solve what he thinks is a drug-smuggling operation but soon realizes that he is up against something much more sinister—a plot to establish the Fourth Reich of the Nazi Party, with tentacles reaching from Paraguay to Berlin. Suddenly dark secrets from the past begin spilling out into the present, bringing Europe to the very brink of disaster. Meade shows with chilling clarity how conditions in Nazi Germany bear an eerie resemblance to events unfolding in our world today.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Discuss the significance of the title, Brandenburg. To what does it refer?
2. What drives Joe Volkmann in his relentless pursuit of justice?
3. What accounts for Volkmann’s initial distrust of Erica Kranz? Is that distrust justified? Why or why not?
4. Briefly discuss what you know about the Nazi period in Germany. Volkmann says to Erica, “[N]o people became as brutal as they did during the Nazi period. I simply can’t understand it—how your countrymen could let it all happen.” Do you see how this might have been possible? Why or why not?
5. As university students, both Lubsch and Winter claimed to be concerned about “the future of Germany” (p. 211), yet they stood on opposite sides politically. Discuss how political opposites can have a common goal, yet propose radically different solutions to reach that goal. Do you see a similar situation happening in the world today?
6. The elderly former Nazi, Wilhelm Busch, describes a depressed Germany by saying, “Every day there were riots and protests and armed anarchists roaming the streets. No one could find work. . . . And then came the Nazis. They promised prosperity, work, hope. To make Germany great again. Drowning men will grasp at straws, and we Germans then were drowning” (p. 334). In what ways do today’s headlines echo some of the problems plaguing Germany during the rise of Hitler? Can you think of any groups today who feel strongly that they have the perfect solution to the world’s problems?
7. What is the significance of the “pedigree” that all the murder victims had in common? (p. 351) For what reason were they killed?
8. What is the ultimate goal of the neo-Nazi group? Do you think it’s true that the German people will rally behind them, as Grinzing claims? (p. 431) Why or why not?
9. It has been said that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Review the description of the Nazis offered by Grinzing (p. 433). Have you ever heard the Nazis described in this way? In their own estimation, did the Nazis intend to destroy Germany or improve it?
10. What sorts of unrest do you see happening around the world today? Do you think that a destabilized country leaves itself open to a takeover by anyone who claims to have the answers? Discuss.
11. What was the purpose of assigning Kefir Ozalid to assassinate Chancellor Dollman? What effect did the neo-Nazis hope this information would have on the German people when it became public?
12. Do you hear today of immigrants being blamed for society’s ills? If so, what do you think the solution might be?
13. While planning their approach to Kaalberg, Volkmann tells Lubsch, “If we make it up the mountain, Schmeltz is mine” (p. 441). Why does he say this? Discuss the role of revenge and whether you think it will truly satisfy Volkmann.
14. Toward the end of the book, speaking of the neo-Nazis, the man called Raul says, “You know the Western democracies can’t sustain their problems. Immigration. Unemployment. Recession. They’re already crumbling. It’s only a question of time before we try again” (p. 478). Do you think he is correct? Why or why not?
15. What did you think of the ending of Brandenburg? Did it surprise you?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. If you know an older person who remembers World War II and the Nazi era, invite him or her to join your discussion.
2. For an overview, watch an introductory documentary about Nazism, such as Episode 1 of The Nazis: A Warning from History, available online at http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/the-nazis-awarning-from-history/.
3. Discuss some actions that ordinary people can take to ensure that something like the Holocaust never happens again.
A Conversation with Glenn Meade
1. How were you inspired to write Brandenburg?
Some years ago I was in Garmisch in southern Germany writing a newspaper article for the Times—about the mysterious disappearance of huge amounts of Nazi gold bullion at the end of World War II—when I met an elderly former SS man who told me an incredible wartime story.
As a young recruit he was stationed in Vienna in 1941. One night he and his comrades were given secret orders to proceed to Vienna’s old Central Cemetery, where they were to completely destroy a section of the graveyard—raze it to the ground with bulldozers and earth-moving equipment, obliterating all trace of the graves in that part of the cemetery.
The “secret” behind the reason for the SS destruction inspired me to write the book.
The bulldozed area of the graveyard actually held the grave of a woman named Geli Raubal—Adolf Hitler’s niece, with whom he had a close relationship—and who died in mysterious circumstances just before Hitler came to power. (Rumors circulated at the time that Geli Raubal was actually murdered, on Hitler’s orders, because she was pregnant with his child, or had already given birth.)
This “secret”—that Hitler may have had his niece killed in order to hide the fact that she had fathered a child by him, a child who survived and might be still living today—formed the central “mystery” that must be uncovered in Brandenburg. It also has a chilling significance in today’s world, in which Europe is once again being ravaged by neo-Nazi groups that are looking for a leader to rally around. I
t’s historical fact that Hitler personally gave the order in 1941 for the grave in Vienna to be destroyed—some believed it was to frustrate any subsequent autopsy that might reveal that his niece was pregnant or had given birth. To this day, the ravaged section of the cemetery still exists—it remains a barren patch of land, the gravestones long obliterated.
2. Many of the social conditions of pre–World War II Germany—high unemployment, a weak economy, the “immigrant question”—sound disturbingly familiar. What do you think is the likelihood that another Nazi-like entity could rise to power in the twenty-first century?
History often has a habit of repeating itself, so never say never. When I met with Germany’s national intelligence organization during the research for the book, several officers I spoke with privately expressed their grave concerns about the neo-Nazi groups that are still on the rise in Germany. They continue to simmer dangerously in the background since their resurgence in Europe in the 1960s and ’70s. And it’s not just a European phenomenon—Russia, Eastern Europe, the U.S. all have the problem. I believe it will worsen worldwide with these groups attracting even more followers among the disaffected as economic conditions and unemployment deteriorate.
3. Did you have a favorite character or scene in Brandenburg? If so, which one, and why?
That’s a difficult one. Like a good parent, I love all my “children” equally. But some characters or scenes will always stand out in the author’s mind. I may have a slight fondness for Joe Volkmann and Rudi Hernandez, but for different reasons. Volkmann because he’s complex, and Hernandez because he’s not.
Scene? The one where Volkmann and Erica learn the true identity of the mystery woman in the photograph taken in the 1930s. It’s a real shock, an enigma revealed, and all the more enjoyable to write because it’s based on a real character and a true revelation.
4. How long did it take you to research and write Brandenburg?
About a year, which involved several trips to Germany, where I met a bunch of shaven-headed neo-Nazis in Berlin—one of the scariest experiences I’ve ever had because of the absolute ease with which they boasted about their acts of violence, their hatred of immigrants, and their denial of the Holocaust. It ranks up there with meeting hard-line Al Qaeda supporters in Istanbul, while researching another book of mine, Resurrection Day. They were both chilling, sobering experiences, and served to remind me of the potential danger we all face from such fanatics.
5. What is your research process? How do you know when to stop researching and start writing?
I read as much as I can on the subject and visit any important locations that will feature in the book. Research is hard work but fun—you’re constantly discovering facts and details that may be of use to you in the writing. I usually take along a video camera and record images of the locations I will use in the book. They help jog my memory when I’m writing.
I’ve got most of the research done before I start the writing process—but in truth, you’re often still discovering interesting morsels of research until right before you hand in the manuscript to your editor.
6. Were there any surprises for you in the writing of this novel? Did you uncover any startling facts or glimpses of history that were new to you?
Discovering the central “secret” behind Brandenburg was a big revelation to me. I hadn’t known a lot about Hitler’s private life, or about Geli Raubal.
It was a shock that was all the more disturbing when I visited Vienna’s old Central Cemetery and saw the ruined plot where Hitler’s niece was buried.
7. How have readers responded to Brandenburg?
Pretty well; it certainly generated a lot of mail. One of the surprising things about it is that my German publisher declined to publish the book at first, fearing German sensitivity about the subject matter. Only when they had successfully published several other of my books did they decide to take the risk. It became a bestseller in Germany.
8. If readers take away one primary message from Brandenburg, what do you hope it will be?
That old cliché, learn from the past. The Nazi period was truly horrific—probably the most evil and brutal episode in human history. The same conditions that caused fascism’s rise could well happen again; neo-Nazism has been on a definite rise in the last decades. I hope it helps even in a small way to remind readers that we must never allow that part of our history to repeat itself.
9. Brandenburg remains suspenseful all the way to the end. Is there a sequel?
History also has a habit of repeating itself where authors are concerned. So you never know.
10. What advice would you offer to a novice fiction writer?
Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Don’t just read a book or see a movie once—do it twice or more. The first time should be for pleasure; the second and subsequent times for craft. Study how writers achieve the effect they want to achieve on the page, and try to do the same kind of thing in your own writing, if not better.
11. Many of your books deal with historical themes. What attracts you to writing about historical events?
An interest in history since I was a kid—I was always a daydreamer, constantly taking myself off to other worlds, where I imagined myself existing. I guess it’s still a trait, and I still daydream, except now I’m lucky enough to make a living from it.
12. What book are you working on now?
The question no writer likes to answer . . . in case a wicked spell is cast upon his work. Let’s just say it borrows elements from my other works, and there’s certainly a historical element, but it’s more contemporary, and set in the U.S. and Europe.