Das Kindermädchen (The Nanny)
Ullstein, March 2005. 800 pp.
Joachim Vernau, a young lawyer in post-Wall Berlin, seems to have it all – the stripy shirts, the Porsche, a beautiful, blond, high-profile political girlfriend named Sigrun, and the promise of a partnership in Sigrun’s father’s law firm. So what could go wrong?
Well, first an old Ukrainian woman called Olga turns up unannounced to see Utz von Zernikow, Sigrun’s father, and demands that he sign a certain piece of paper. He refuses, and later that day the old woman is found dead in a canal. Then, not long after, a fracas occurs at Joachim’s and Sigrun’s engagement party, when a much younger Ukrainian woman called Milla bursts in, violently attacks and insults Utz in front of the assembled company, and once more demands that he sign a piece of paper which states, we now learn, that a certain named person was his nanny during the war. Utz pretends not to know what all this is about. He had had a nanny, but she had been charged with stealing a little golden cross and executed in late 1944. So why Milla’s irruption – and later escape from a near fatal hit-and-run accident?
Belatedly Joachim, who at this time is also working on a case for the young Aaron von Lehnsfeld, a close family friend of the Zernikows, begins to smell a rat. He gets in touch with a former lover, Marie-Luise, a feisty, highlystrung radical left-wing lawyer with a big mouth. What they find out takes us back to the grimmest hours of German history – and to the scene in the brief but brilliant opening to this book in which a woman is holding a young boy in her arms, dragging him through a shaking house into the cellar while bombs are raining down on Berlin. The question is, what has she seen there?
Das Kindermädchen is a Krimi of unusual originality, with two smart young sleuths, some brilliant psychological aperçus, witty and finely tuned dialogue, and a victim/perpetrator who, as a child, betrayed the one person he loved and has never come to terms with the fact. Here are thrills, a moving study of guilt, and a convincing if somewhat bleak picture of Germany today. This one has been delighting critics and readers alike – a truly gripping read.
Discover the complete website of New Books in German!