My dear Bessie

In times when everybody had a pen and pencil and using a computer or chatting online seemed unthinkable or only possible in the mind of some people living way ahead of their time or writing science fiction, letters were the only way to stay in touch with the people your care about. Letters which took days or weeks to reach their recipient, especially during the Second World War, when people struggled to find out if their relatives or loved ones were okay.

„I could hug you till you dropped!“
Chris to Bessie, 21 February 1944

The letters in „My dear Bessie“ compiled by Simon Garfield tell a love story no author could possible imagine in a more touching way that never gets kitschy. A love story which unfolds between Chris Barker and Bessie Moore only because Chris, who stationed at the Libyan coast, decided to write a letter to Bessie who worked at the Post office and attended the same training course as Chris. During the war, Bessie worked as a morse interpreter and despite the fact that she was dating another man (till the relationship ended), kept up the correspondence with Chris – a very platonic one.

„You are as precious to me as life itself, for it goes on and on.“
Bessie to Chris, 14 December 1944

Chris‘ letter from September 1943 changed not only their way of writing but in the end their whole lives. As time went by, they wrote more and more letters of which 500 survived. The book contains the most heartwarming ones as Simon Garfield writes in his introduction. Together with the afterword by Bernard Baker, their son, and Irena Barker, their granddaughter, the wonderful letters are understandable within their historical context and tell the whole story of this love of a lifetime.

MyDearBessie

Simon Garfield: My dear Bessie, Canongate Books, about 7 £.

Advertisements

Sherlocked – the convention

Where shall I start writing about an weekend that was stuffed with such a variety of experiences that still are not sorted in my mind – probably never will?

At the beginning there was this series on telly I fell in love with a couple of years ago. BBC’s „Sherlock“ is a treat not only because of the extraordinary professionals that are dealing with bringing a modern Sherlock Holmes to life in our modern times. But it brings fans and crew together in a way that is fascinating and heartwarming at the same time.

Excited and scared at the same time
So when Sherlock the official convention was announced earlier this year, it soon was clear that fans started planning their trip to London – fans from all over the world. And when it finally was time to walk into ExCel, the exhibition and convention centre in London for registration and picking up some items, I – being a totally con newbie – was excited, thrilled and a bit scared. Excited and thrilled because I would finally meet Benedict Cumberbatch in real life, scared because I totally had no clue how not to behave like a idiot and not to fall over while waiting in the queue for my first photoshoot with a man I adore both as a brilliant actor and as a human being. When it was my turn to walk the few steps in front of the camera, I was totally calm and relaxed just because I looked at him while waiting. And although it was only a matter of a few seconds, I obviously managed to say „Good morning, so nice to meet you finally“. Obviously because Benedict looked at me (I mean those eyes!!) and saying „How are you? Nice to meet you, too“ (that voice!!) he put his hand on my shoulder. Seconds later, the camera has fixed that moment forever, Benedict answered my „Thank you, have a nice day“ with a „Have a nice day, too. Take care“ and it was my turn to grab my pic, stroll outside, meet my best friends and other fans who smiled at me who had survived her first BenMoment ever.

A smile at the end of a long day
When I met Benedict for a second shoot inside the 221B Baker Street set, it was almost the end of a long day. He, sitting in Sherlock’s chair, looking tired, gave me a smile. „How are you?“ „Tired, but fine. Has been a long day.“ „Yes“, he answered and while I desperately tried not to fall off or into John’s chair, I realised Benedict murmured something like „Take care, the chair is very low“. Only seconds later I crawled out of the chair, hoping not to fall over my own feet and straight in front of Benedict’s shoes. „Thank you and all the best for you“, I stumbled, looking for seconds straight into his eyes, eyes that brightened (seemed that my voice was still functioning) while Benedict gave me a lovely smile „Aw.That’s very nice. Thank you. Take care“ and I was out of the set again.

I have no idea how others went through these moments, how it was for them meeting Benedict and all the other actors. I found Benedict as lovely, nice, charming and polite as I ever thought he would be. And I respect him even more considering the fact that he must have met hundreds of fans in only one hour, maybe a thousand when the day came to an end. A day where I saw him on stage for a Q&A with fans and introducing a screening of Scandal in Belgravia that wrapped up my day, where he was funny, cheeky and a joy to watch and listen to.

Andrew’s yellow chucks
But there was a con world beyond Benedict, too. And it was thrilling and exciting meeting lots of the other actors. One of my highlights was Andrew Scott’s photoshoot and him signing my pic later. It seems he was really enjoying his time, looking straight at me when I walked over to him for the photoshoot, smiling and giggling as if he was meeting and old friend. A bright smile welcomed me later when it was my turn for getting Andrew’s autograph. „You left me a crying mess after ‚Pride‘,“ I said, causing him to look baffled at me. „But it’s all fine now that you are wearing yellow chucks.“ „Yaaah, chucks are cool, aren’t they?“ Andrew laughed out loud, smiled while he was handing my pic over.

Lars Mikkelsen who made me feel even more tiny at my photoshoot, seemed pleased and smiled when I said „The Team“ hooked me. Una Stubbs greeted me with open arms and made me feel as we could have tea together instantly. Louise Brealey hugged me, asked when I was returning to Germany, ordered nice weather when she learned I had another day in London for strolling round the city (thx, btw, it worked perfectly) and left me with another warm hug, saying „Meet you on Twitter“.

Besides photoshoots and signing, I attended talks with Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, Lars Mikkelsen and Andrew Scott, watched a special effect show with Danny Hargreaves and unfortunately missed others. But I met lovely people literally from all over the world. People who were funny, kind, intelligent, interested in such a variety of things and very polite in ignoring my English. People who were friendly enough recognising me behind my Twitter account and started a chat and whom I hopefully will meet again online and in RL. People who are sharing the same love for a fandom which is able to communicate with quotes alone and which hopefully will stay a kind and friendly one.

Yes, this weekend was packed with a huge schedule and it was exhausting. But is was definitely worth it.

What Alan Turing was looking for at Ebermannstadt

It is not a peculiarity of our times that the NSA – America’s National Security Agency – wants to know everything, even in the most distant places of our planet. And Ticom (Target Intelligence Commitee), NSA’s predecessor, wanted just the same.

In the Second World War the future of the free world also depended on their spy work and therefore it isn’t surprising at all that Ticom of course knew about the activities at Feuerstein Castle near Ebermannstadt, in the northern part of Bavaria, Germany. Activities which were peculiar and mysterious at the same time. NSA documents which cover that part of history are only known to the public since 2009. They prove the fact that the British mathematician Alan Turing was on his way to Ebermannstadt in the last months of WW II. According to that documents German physician Oskar Vierling worked within the castle. The building which never has been a castle, was masked as a hospital – including the sign of the Red Cross on its roof – but was in fact a laboratory run by the Wehrmacht and the German Foreign Office. Up to 250 people worked in Feuerstein Castle on encryption, radio links and on the improvement of the encryption machine SZ 42.  Vierling who in 1941 established  the company that today still bears his name, worked on signals that should control torpedoes and set mines on fire.

On April 16th 1945, some three weeks before Nazi Germany surrendered on May 8th, Ticom secret agents arrived at Feuerstein Castle. The American and British experts on news and communication technique were hitchhiking all the way through Germany till they arrived in Upper Franconia. The last part up to the castle itself, they walked. They hoped to find German encryption devices there, not because they hoped to use it for themselves. „It was much more important that these devices were not lost to the Russians,“ Rudolf Staritz, a tech expert on news, says.

„Turing wasn’t able to breach Vierling’s messages.“

Alan Turing came across Vierling much earlier. Turing who at that time was breaking German messages at Bletchley Park, the central site of the United Kingdom’s Government Code and Cypher School known for its efficiency and its brilliant minds. But the messages which went to and from Feuerstein Castle and the German town of Hannover on a regular bases, remained a mystery even to genius Turing. „Turing wasn’t able to breach Vierling’s messages. So he wanted to go to Feuerstein and find out what was going on there for himself,“ Staritz says. The NSA documents don’t reveal, however, how long Alan Turing stayed at Feuerstein Castle in the spring of 1945. That the brilliant codebreaker was actually there, experts consider as a fact. „There are lots of legends when it comes to Turing’s life. But we can take it for granted that he was in Ebermannstadt,“ Jochan Viehoff says. He is Head of Nixdorf Museum in the German town Paderborn.

It seems that after the war, in April 1945, Vierling soon attached himself to the new situation – according to Ticom report dated May 1st 1945: „When Vierling and some of his colleagues were found, they were very eager to talk about their work and agreed to help rebuilding the lab and the parts of the project, so they could go on with their work.“ The secret agents assumed that Vierling hoped to continue his work within his laboratory at Feuerstein Castle after the end of Nazi regime. But the cooperation terminated when allies‘ superiors on August 16th 1945 ordered Vierling’s arrest. The agents removed all interiors and research results from Feuerstein. Staritz doesn’t believe they used it for their own research. „The Americans technically were much superior compared to the Germans.“

More about Alan Turing on this blog click here.
Learn more about Alan Turing here.

The German version of this article was originally published in Fränkischer Tag on January 22nd 2015.
The author, Christoph Hägele, kindly granted the permission to translate it.

Quick look at a huge book

If you stumbled across Alan Turing because of the film „The Imitation Game“ starring Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role, you may be aware of Andrew Hodges‘ biography „The Enigma“ – the basis of Graham Moore’s Oscar awarded screenplay.

A much deeper inside look at Alan Turing’s work which helped breaking the German enigma code, shortened the Second World War by at least two years and saved millions of lives, you should read the huge book „Alan Turing – His work and impact“ by S. Barry Cooper and Jan van Leewen. Yes, there are lots of mathematical theories, even formulas (something very awful for people like me unable to cope with numbers) but the more than 870 pages, accompanied by indexes and bibliographies are worth reading, browsing through essays about and from Alan.

„He was a genius: he was ‚a Wonder of the world‘.
Bernards Richards about Alan Turing

One essay that strikes me most  – besides the ones by Alan himself which offer a look inside the brain of a man a colleague described as „a Wonder of the world“ – is the piece „Why Turing cracked the Enigma code and the Germans did not“ by Klaus Schmeh. The German computer scientist explains that Germans were unable to bring their cryptographers together to find a possible weakness in the Enigma code itself. Despite the fact that German experts were aware of a possible breach, Britain’s success in breaking Enigma was only revealed in the 1970s when details about the codebreaker’s work at Bletchley Park became public.

„Alan Turing – His work and impact“ may not be an easy read. But it is worth every try.

S.Barry Cooper, Jan van Leeuwen: Alan Turing – His work an impact, Elsevier, £ 53 can be ordered here.

Foto: pb

Foto: pb

„The Sherlockian“ for – Sherlockians

It’s all about diaries. At least the missing one (or a collection of papers) of Arthur Conan Doyle’s that inspired many Sherlockians for years. And it obviously inspired Graham Moore, the script author of the film „The Imitation Game“  to write the lovely novel „The Sherlockian“. As you may guess from the title: it really is a story that only true Sherlock Holmes-fans will appreciate.

Harold White is a brand new member of the Baker Street Irregulars in New York and bursting with pride and excitement when he joins other members for a meeting. While he suddenly finds himself dealing with the murder of the leading Holmes scholar, he is sure to find the answers to that case in London.

In the London of the 1890/1900s, Arthur Conan Doyle has to deal with fans who wouldn’t accept that the author has killed Sherlock Holmes by throwing him into the Reichenbach Falls.

Arthur Conan Doyle curled his brow tightly and thought only of murder. „I’m going to kill him,“ her muttered.

The story switches with every new chapter between modern times and the past and while you sometimes are about to either throw away the book or go straight to the next chapter because you just want to know what Doyle or Harold will do next. But of course you just go on reading simply because this book has hooked you from the beginning. At least if you are a Sherlockian.

Sherlockian

Cover of „The Sherlockian“ Foto: pb

Graham Moore: The Sherlockian, Hachette, 6,10€/ £8,40

Alan Turing – the codebreaker

It was a secret world behind the Victorian facade of the house in Bletchley Park some 70 kilometres Northwest of London. At the beginning of the second World War the British government realised that it would be essential to decode the messages of Nazi Germany to win the war. But all messages were encrypted with the help of Enigma machines – codes that everybody believed were unbreakable. At Bletchley Park analytics from all over Britain were gathered, sworn to secrecy and set to shifts 24 hours a day – a work that would be useless at the end of every day when the Germans changed their codes.

Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) in a trailer of "The Imitation Game". Screenshot: pb

Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) in a trailer of „The Imitation Game“. Screenshot: pb

 

„The Imitation Game“ which hits German cinemas at January 22nd celebrates and focuses on codebreaker Alan Turing, the unsung hero who helped to win the war for the allies. It is believed today that he shortened the war for about two years and saved millions of lives. Alan Turing (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) is one of the first experts in Bletchley Park. Born in 1912, he has just finished his studies in Cambridge and is „an odd duck“ according to his mother and colleagues. In his job interview right at the beginning of the film he calls himself one of the best mathematicians in the world, a genius who somehow lives in his own world but he discovers that Enigma can only be beaten by another machine. A machine –  the Turing bombe as it is called later –  that would work without interruptions and which he is eager to build against all odds. Only after Alan discovers by chance that some words will appear in every German message he and his colleagues are able to reduce the unbelievable numbers of possible codes so that the bombe is finally able to do its work. It’s an irony of history that the arrogant greeting „Heil Hitler“ – „Hail to Hitler“ helps the allies to win the war because these words are in fact hidden in every message.

But the life of the codebreakers at Bletchley Park isn’t to get easier at all. It is Alan who knowing that homosexuality is illegal tries to hide his biggest secret and protect his privacy while – at least in the film – is suspected to be a Russian spy. After World War II he isn’t celebrated as a war hero but sentenced to chemical castration to „heal“ his homosexuality. But the oestrogens not only caused growing breasts but left Alan unable to concentrate on his beloved work and he killed himself in 1954.

His work which is the basis of the modern computer technique and the internet was classified till 1970s. Queen Elizabeth granted Alan an Royal pardon on December 24th 2013 after the British Parliament refused to pardon Alan in 2011, even after former Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologized 2009 on behalf of the British government: „I am very proud to say: we’re sorry. You deserved so much better.“

Read my review of the film here.

The German version of this blog entry was first published in Fränkischer Tag and on infranken.de.

Sherlock Holmes and London

Given the fact that Sherlock Holmes is one of best known fictional character not only in Britain where he is part of the national heritage but worldwide, it is not astonishing that there are whole libraries filled with all sort of books about the only consulting detective. So you have to look very carefully on any new one, if you don’t want to be disappointed.

The book cover Foto: pb

The book cover Foto: pb

„The man who never lived and who will never die“ isn’t just another book about Sherlock Holmes. Although it is accompanying the exhibition in the Museum of London which is still open till April 12th, it totally stands on its own feet. Alex Werner who compiled the book, throws a very different light on Arthur Conan Doyle’s figure, setting him in his surroundings while explaing that he only can exist within London. The city as some critics say is besides Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson the third main figure in all stories. And so the book pays tribute to that by showing lots of historic pictures of London while explaining the historical background not only of the original Conan canon but of all adaptions throughout the years – no  matter if you are watching a film situated in Victorian or contemporary London.

The articles are well written and stuffed with all information a Sherlock Holmes fan needs to know. And he will also need this book which will be a treat long after the exhibition is gone.

Alex Werner, Sherlock Holmes – The man who never lived and will never die, Ebury Press, about 20£/ 20€.

Sherlock Chronicles – a wonderful treat for a fan

Sherlock Chronicles. Photo: pb

Sherlock Chronicles. Photo: pb

You think you do know everything about BBC’s Sherlock? Think twice, dive into the wonderful book „Sherlock Chronicles“ written by Steve Tribe and take a stroll from the very beginning (or even before the beginning itself) to the latest episode so far.

The book is stuffed with all kind of information any Sherlockian needs to know. There are deleted scenes-scripts, behind the scenes pictures and interviews with cast and crew members. But was makes this book outstanding compared to other Sherlock fan books is the reference to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories. „Holmes from Holmes“, as the writer names it, shows quotes from the canon and how and where Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat used them in one of the episodes. You will always find it baffling to read and realise again how modern Sherlock Holmes is and always has been – and how brilliant all episodes of „Sherlock“ are, how carefully they are arranged and how deep their connection to Doyle is.

„Sherlock Chronicles“ is a must have book for every fan and a wonderful gift for a Sherlockian dear to your heart.

Steve Tribe: Sherlock Chronicles. BBC books, Penguin Random House, about 16 £/ 22 €.

A tribute to a true hero

With anniversaries of both World Wars, it seems we are flooded with documentaries, books and radio plays. And even despite the fact that this topic is a very important one, people could be bored getting another film situated in the Second World War.

„The Imitation Game“ is not just another film about one of the darkest periods in European history. It is a tribute to the true hero Alan Turing who helped breaking the German enigma code, win the war for the allies and saved thousands of lives. But it’s also a tragedy. Alan, who people always looked at as somehow different, awkward and not of this world, lived the life of a man who always was true to himself. He deeply cared for his work as a mathematician, dived into solving any problem and was – for all we learn from the people who knew him –  a very warm hearted man who happened to be gay in a time when homosexuality was illegal.

„You need me more than I need you.“ Alan Turing in his job interview

TIG_OFTrailer_23_ 2014-07-21 16:22:34

Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing – from a trailer of „The Imitation Game“. Screenshot: pb

Director Morten Tyldum’s film is all you want to have in a really good movie: it is heartwarming, funny, heartbreaking, sad and thrilling. And it is a story about Alan Turing (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), a man who loyally served his country, lived with all the secrets about his work at Bletchley Park during the war but instead of celebrating him as a war hero and giving him all the honour a country could give, was prosecuted for his sexuality, treated with oestrogens, intending to free him of his homosexuality. And if this wasn’t enough he was considered being unreliable of keeping secrets and was refused to continue his cryptographic work for the British Government Communications Headquarters.

Benedict Cumberbatch performs the role of his life. His Alan is vulnerable, arrogant, funny and he always does and says what he thinks is right at this special moment. And even if he doesn’t say anything, you know exactly what is going on in his mind – you just have to look to realise what only a brilliant actor is able to do: telling a whole story with a tiny movement within his face. The scenes with Keira Knightley who is Joan Clarke, a fellow mathematician and cryptanalysis who was in a relationship with Alan and still cared very deeply for him till his death and even afterwards, are far away from any kitsch film makers could squeeze into them.

„The Imitation Game“ is the must see film of this winter. It deserves all the awards the film industry has to offer.

—-

More about Alan Turing:

Andrew Hodges: The Enigma – the biography the film is based on. Read my review here.

Sinclair McKay: The Secret Life of Bletchley Park

Alan M. Turing: Centenary Edition

Official page of The Imitation Game

Bletchley Park

Bletchley Park Podcast – Apple users click here.

TIG_HuffPo15

Not weird, not stupid, but happy

Two people fall in love  and decide to marry. Isn’t that a most lovely thing to announce in an old fashioned way by an ad in a newspaper? Those who don’t feel happy for the couple must lack feelings at all.

Benedict Cumberbatch did exactly that – rumours know that he previously talked to his soon to be mother in law – and fits all the speculations fans have about a man who isn’t only one of the best actors of his generation. Benedict is as humble and polite, funny and intelligent as a perfect human being could be. At least this is what fans get to know from interviews or even from meeting him in real life. Is  it really such a surprise that he inspires his fans in so many ways and is adored for being the man he is?

No, it isn’t. And no, you don’t have to understand it. But why don’t you just accept that the Cumbercollective loves and adores Benedict Cumberbatch? That his fans are not weird, nor stupid? But people who are very friendly, kind and connected all over the world? And no: we are not Cumberbitches for heaven’s sake. It’s more than two years ago. Of course I know that this word is used to get more clicks on a webpage. But this doesn’t mean that it is okay to use it. It only proves the fact that there are journalists out there who are so arrogant in their struggle to stay above all things, trying not to get emotionally engaged, that they find fans‘ reaction nothing more than ridiculous.

If you read my blog on a regular basis (Hi, reader!) or are following me on Twitter (Hi follower!), you know that I am a journalist myself. I do believe that it is important to get facts right, to stay neutral, to get all the information you can get on the topic you’re writing about, even when you have to face a deadline. But I will never understand why some journalists think that they are something special, that they want to teach their readers right from wrong. And why they are laughing at fans.

Maybe it’s because I’m only working at a local newspaper, in a town where people recognise me in the supermarket and will tell me straight in the face what they hate about my last article. Or what they liked.

Maybe it’s because I’m part of the Cumbercollective. And I am proud of it.