The following is an excerpt from 'The Buoyancy of the Craft' by Morelle Smith – a novel about the Swiss
writer and traveller Annemarie Schwarzenbach (published by diehard).
East of Berlin
1933 was a pivotal year for Annemarie. In the first half alone, Lyrische Novelle
was published and she wrote another novel – Flucht nach Oben
. She conceived the idea of Die Sammlung
and helped to organise the contributors, financing and publication of its first issue (then handed it over to Klaus). Her journey to Spain with Marianne Breslauer marked the beginning of her work as a journalist –
later photo-journalist –
reporting from a foreign country. In the next few years she would send articles from various parts of the world to Swiss magazines and newspapers. Within Europe, she reported from Germany, Austria, Poland and the Baltic States. And beyond Europe, especially after the outbreak of war, she would send articles from the USA, from her overland journey to Afghanistan, and from Congo and Morocco.
But 1933 was not just a year of personal success. It began in the poisonous and dangerous atmosphere of Berlin, where she knew she could no longer stay, but would have to leave. After living there and witnessing what was happening, she saw that there was a new force to contend with, negative and destructive. This new dynamic changed her outlook and her sense of purpose. She could no longer live only for herself, for the pursuit of her own desires and her own personal freedom, however vital that still was. From now on in her life, she would be seeking to serve a greater purpose, to find a way of doing something that would serve others, serve a cause, for a way to be committed to freedom in general, to be useful. This question of applying one's skills to be useful to others was the theme in Flucht nach Oben
as it was also the purpose behind setting up Die Sammlung
Staying in Switzerland and living out her mother's dream for her life was never an option. She had successfully completed studies for her D.Phil in History, she had had a crash course in living independently in Berlin, she had started an anti-fascist literary magazine, she had travelled to Spain with a commission to write articles, and she knew she had talents to offer. What to do now and where to go?
The answer came in an invitation to accompany a group of archaeologists who would visit, over a period of six months, various excavation sites stretching from Turkey to Persia. In letters to Claude she wrote about how 'very important' this journey and this work was for her. It would be, she said, her first 'objective' work, something 'concrete' and that it was necessary for her to do something of her own; it would take her away from her close friends who she felt she was becoming too dependent on. She saw it as a positive step in forming her own path. She admitted that part of her wanted to stay in Berlin with her friends, from a deep sense of solidarity with them, and she feared for their safety. She knew they were living 'under the sword of Damocles, the threat of a catastrophic war' but it was the right time for her psychologically to take this opportunity, underlining the writing on the wall, that it was time for her to leave Berlin.
It would also be an excellent opportunity to travel and explore new parts of the world. Travel was in her blood now, after living in Berlin. She had explored German cities and countryside, had made trips to Sweden, and most recently to Spain. Travel, independence and freedom were coiled together in her, the pattern of who she was. To explore distant places, and as part of a group of professionals doing useful work –
this was the next step in her life path. And she would still be writing. She had contacted editors of Swiss magazines such as Zürcher Illustrierte
, Neue Zürcher Zeitung
who would publish the articles she sent them; and another editor had agreed to publish the book she would write about her travels.
She wrote in detail to Claude about her plans. He had hoped they could meet up again over the summer, and that she could visit Claude's family home in France. But with all the arrangements she had to make, as well as having to go to hospital for the removal of her tonsils, there was no time for this, before she left in October. To console him in his disappointment she wrote, shortly before leaving, that 'when I get back from travelling, we will spend lots of time together'.
Claude had envisaged hot summer days relaxing together, with no pressures or time contraints, but Annemarie's life was not like that. Claude saw her off from the train station in Geneva, on the first stage of her journey, to Istanbul. Annemarie was full of the excitement and the nervous anticipation of travel and 'she had already left in spirit' as he wrote in a letter to his mother.
To buy a copy of 'The Buoyancy of the Craft' (£9 including P&P) please contact Morelle Smith on firstname.lastname@example.org
Morelle Smith is a poet and writer