The concept behind the novel…
Adapted from the Author’s Note at the back of my novel…..
Why did I write the novel LOVE, GUDRUN ENSSLIN?
Following completion of my first novel, RUDE BOY, it occurred to me it was impossible to switch on the television or radio (or log onto a news website) without being confronted by the twin phenomena of celebrity and terrorism – the unfortunate dual motif of our era. Thus, I determined to fuse these two aspects of modern life into a single cohesive narrative and thereby arrive at a definitive zeitgeist ‘novel of our times’.
The decision to utilise the Baader Meinhof Gang and their terrorist reign in West Germany (1968-1972) as a backdrop to the events in the novel seemed to me to be particularly apposite. Not only do the politics motivating the group carry resonance in today’s global capitalist post-Cold War era (where profit and celebrity often appear to be the only things Western society now values) but the Gang represents the first flowering (in Europe at least) of a ruthless militaristic approach to propagating one’s political ideology through small, highly organised terrorist ‘cells’– something of a template for the terrorists of today.
I spent four years researching the Baader Meinhof Gang. Only after completing this essential groundwork did I begin writing the narrative. For a time I had an assortment of left-wing terrorist websites saved onto my work computer! I half expected a knock on the door from MI5! Thankfully, that never came!
Baader Meinhof Gang / Red Army Faction – what’s the story?
Andreas Baader and Gudrun Ensslin – the lead figures within the Baader Meinhof Gang – were the world’s first ‘celebrity terrorists’; admired by West Germany’s student youth as much for their ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ media persona as for their radical left-wing politics. In addition to being revolutionary comrades, the charismatic Baader and highly arresting Ensslin were lovers – fuelling a further Romanticism surrounding the group that served only to enhance their appeal among the rebellious ’68 generation.
The Baader Meinhof Gang began on a small scale – Ensslin and Baader (along with two comrades) fire-bombing two Frankfurt department stores and (later) hurling Molotov cocktails through the windows of local government administrative offices. Following a period of expansion, recruitment and reorganisation, the Gang (now known to themselves as the Red Army Faction) travelled to Jordan to train with the PLO (during which time their ‘training’ included a practical course in ‘how to rob banks’). On their return to West Germany, the Gang was a very different animal – it now constituted a fully-fledged terror group prepared to wage war on the imperialist/capitalist/fascist State enemy in its own back yard. There followed a succession of bank heists, raids on military weapons stores and a series of shoot-outs with police in which people from both sides were killed. The violence culminated in an orgy of killing and destruction during the month of May 1972. Between 11th-24th May 1972, the Baader Meinhof Gang/Red Army Faction set off no fewer than ten bombs (a further three failing to detonate) at prominent locations throughout West Germany – leaving 17 US military personnel dead, a further five wounded, five West German policemen injured and 17 clerical workers injured. After such an intensive period of mayhem and destruction, the State authorities quickly rounded up Baader Meinhof’s key players (Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin and Ulrike Meinhof) the following month. Andreas Baader’s arrest – at a protracted early morning siege at a suburban garage in Frankfurt – was screened live on West German television. As Baader emerged from the wrecked building on a stretcher, his ‘shades’ still jauntily in place and his spirit as defiantly nonchalant as ever, the notion of the ‘celebrity terrorist’ was forever entrenched in the media psyche.
Gudrun Ensslin – what was her role?
The Baader Meinhof Gang was something of a misnomer. If anything, Ensslin Baader would have been more appropriate. Gudrun Ensslin was the brains, driving force and true energy behind the Red Army Faction. Gudrun was born on 15th August 1940 in the small village of Bartholomä in Baden-Württemburg, Germany. The fourth of seven children, she was a pastor’s daughter. She joined the Protestant Girls’ Club, became its group leader, and hosted Bible study classes. Fiercely intelligent and academically gifted, Gudrun achieved consistently good exam grades and won a scholarship to study at the German National Academic Foundation. She also studied at the University of Tübingen – and, for a year at the age of eighteen, she even attended Warren High School in Pennsylvania, USA (from which she graduated) as part of a school exchange programme. At Tübingen she studied educational theory and German and English Literature – gaining the equivalent of a primary school professional teaching qualification. Gudrun married a fellow Tübingen student, Bernward Vesper. She and Vesper went to West Berlin, enrolled at the Free University and began campaign work for the SDP (German Social Democratic Party). They also had a son, Felix. In 1967 Gudrun met Andreas – and everything changed. Together they became a left-wing revolutionary version of Bonnie & Clyde. Gudrun promptly left both her husband and son and joined Andreas in firebombing department stores in protest against the ‘inherent fascism of the modern consumer society.’ The action earned the pair a three-year prison sentence. Released on parole, they decided not to complete their sentences – and promptly went on the run. When Andreas was recaptured, Gudrun was the mastermind behind the infamous operation to spring him from the Dahlem Institut – the action that compelled Ulrike Meinhof to join the group; Ulrike’s complicity in Baader’s escape forcing her to also opt for a life outside the law. By the time the lead figures in the first generation of Baader Meinhof were arrested – following the May 1972 ‘month of Hell’ of multiple bombings and assassinations – Gudrun, Andreas and the Red Army Faction were (and remain) globally notorious.
LOVE, GUDRUN ENSSLIN: BAADER MEINHOF TIMELINE (1967 – 1972):
Gudrun Ensslin meets Andreas Baader at a party and leaves her husband and son to become his lover
2nd April 1968:
Gudrun and Andreas firebomb two Frankfurt department stores with two associates
31st October 1968:
Gudrun and Andreas are sentenced to three years in prison
13th June 1969:
Released on parole, Gudrun and Andreas hang out in Frankfurt – raising funds and planning ‘actions’
Gudrun and Andreas go on the run – electing not to return to prison and instead resurfacing in Paris
The lovers return to West Germany and accept temporary lodging in the Berlin apartment of prominent left-wing journalist, Ulrike Meinhof. They lodge with Ulrike for two weeks.
Molotov cocktails are thrown through the windows of the Länder administrative offices in Berlin in the first official ‘action’. Andreas is subsequently recaptured and sent to Tegel prison to complete his sentence for the original Frankfurt department store firebombing.
14th May 1970:
Andreas is sprung from the Dahlem Institut by Gudrun, Ulrike and others in a daring raid. The RAF (Rote Armee Fraktion – Red Army Faction) is officially formed. Journalist/sympathiser Ulrike Meinhof joins the Gang and is officially on the run. Ulrike’s film, Bambule, is banned from release.
2nd June 1970:
The first RAF communiqué is released.
8th – 22nd June 1970:
The RAF travels to Jordan to train with the PLO; ‘training’ includes a practical course in robbing banks.
9th August 1970:
The RAF resurfaces in Berlin – actively recruiting new members and planning bank raids to raise much-needed funds.
29th September 1970:
Four simultaneous bank raids are undertaken by the RAF in Berlin.
The Munsterlager military arsenal is raided for weaponry. Guns are also purchased from Al Fatah contacts.
15th January 1971:
The RAF raids two banks in Kassel.
15th July 1971:
RAF member Petra Schelm is killed by police in Hamburg.
25th September 1971:
Two policemen are shot and wounded by RAF members Holger Meins and Margrit Schiller as they approach the Gang members’ car on the autobahn.
22nd October 1971:
A policeman is killed in a shootout with the RAF in Hamburg.
22nd December 1971:
A policeman is shot dead during an RAF bank raid in Kaiserslautern. Ingeborg Barz is allegedly one of the bank robbers.
21st February 1972:
Eight RAF members wearing carnival masks raid the Ludwigshafen Mortgage & Exchange Bank. One of the raiders – Ingeborg Barz – subsequently phones home and tells her mother she wishes to leave the Baader Meinhof Gang. She is never seen alive again. (In July 1973 Ingeborg’s decomposed body is found at the side of an autobahn on the outskirts of Munich).
2nd March 1972:
RAF member Tommy Weisbecker is shot dead by police in Augsberg.
11th May 1972:
The RAF explodes three pipe bombs at the HQ of the US 5th Army Corps in the IG Farben building in Frankfurt. 13 GI’s and a Lieutenant Colonel are killed.
12th May 1972:
Two RAF bombs explode in the police HQ in Augsberg; five police officers are injured. A larger RAF bomb detonates in the car park of the BKA office in Munich; 60 cars are destroyed.
15th May 1972:
An RAF car bomb cripples the wife of intended target Judge Buddenburg in Karlsruhe.
19th May 1972:
Two RAF bombs explode (a further three fail to detonate) at the Axel Springer building in Hamburg; 17 clerical staff are injured.
24th May 1972:
Two RAF car bombs detonate within 15 seconds of each other at the US Army’s European HQ in Heidelberg; a Captain and two Sergeants are killed and five GI’s are wounded.
1st June 1972:
Andreas Baader is arrested live on German television during an early morning siege at a suburban garage in Frankfurt.
7th June 1972:
Gudrun Ensslin is arrested in a clothing boutique in Hamburg whilst attempting to buy a new disguise.
15th June 1972:
Ulrike Meinhof is arrested after a ‘schili’ sympathiser informs the authorities of her whereabouts. (The informant later attempted to use his reward money to pay for Ulrike’s legal defence).
Author’s Note on Love, Gudrun Ensslin:
Given the contentious nature of the themes of my book – and the fact that the real events depicted in the novel remain raw in the memory of a generation – I think it is appropriate to add a brief note regarding the concept behind this work of fiction.
One element of the novel I fear may be misunderstood is its central message. Whilst this is indeed a novel that has been written out of a sense of anger and dismay at the greed and irresponsibility of the finance industry (and global bankers in particular) it should be stated that this is A NOVEL and not a hate tract that endorses or encourages the terrorist response of shooting people and/or bombing buildings. Rather, LOVE, GUDRUN ENSSLIN is a book written in the hope of emphasising our common humanity – and in recognition of the fact that it is most often when our common humanity is negated or denied that conflict, hatred and exploitation sadly arise.
I feel it is important to state that this novel has been written in the spirit of encouraging a greater understanding among all peoples rather than fanning the flames of discord and division. Whilst it is a work of art – and hence not intended to be overtly didactic – I retain a hope that it may in some small measure prompt reflection on the notion that a readiness among all peoples to set aside our perceived ideological and political differences (along with a willingness to abandon the destructive pursuit of profit at the expense of both wider society and the environment) is the only realistic hope of creating a fairer society for all and attaining further progress towards a true civilisation. My hope is simply that the novel proves to be both a thought-provoking and entertaining read that captures the spirit of our troubled age as dysfunctional democracies struggle to contain the runaway train of capitalism’s dystopian decline.
A percentage of author’s profits from Love, Gudrun Ensslin will be donated to the Celia Hammond Animal Trust – an animal protection/rescue charity in London.