In Discussion2I ended up writing a pencil driven story in the afterglow of reading Theodor Storm’s The Great Hall. His story is a piece of sentimental romanticism (possibly with capital letters), into which, even the presenter of The World’s Thousand Best Stories remarks, ‘no realism’ is allowed to intrude.

I heard of Storm nearly a decade ago, on a hotel balcony overlooking the Austrian town of Badhof Gastein. That little tourist spa in the mountains, with its street fountains of hot mineral water, carried for me a whiff of old Imperial Austria, along with that of sulphur. Something in the layout of the town, in the architecture, perhaps in the fact it was predominantly Austrian as opposed to predominantly tourist, held on to a half-imagined, half remembered past. What do I know of Imperial Austria, you might ask. Nothing, would be the answer, save for the photographs I have in a book held on to from my book-selling days; a collection of black and white and sepia images of moustachioed and portly old men in nineteenth century uniforms begin civil to each other while crowds, or regiments look on. None of which I saw in the town itself!

Eigg on my Seascape

Eigg on my Seascape

The balcony looked out between buildings to a sliver of mountainside across which a railway line ran, passing east, through a tunnel, into Yugoslavia. It carried long, mixed trains of carriages and vehicle laden flat cars. The round trip by road would be a huge detour, which meant that loading road traffic onto the flats, and putting their drivers in the coaches saved far more than the rail fares! (So I was told.) I was happy watching the trains pass to and fro, like a z gauge toy, through the pine forest.

Occupying the next balcony along was a tarot-reading German called Marie. From one of the big industrial cities, she was chaperoning her elderly parents. Her father had been a soldier in Hitler’s armies, and, as a radio-technologist based in Norway, had, at the end of the war, been put on a special train to the west. Such specialists were of use to the post-war western allies. He was celebrating his 80th birthday, and was happy to struggle to recall the English he had learnt back in those days.

Marie told me about Storm, the nineteenth century poet, but on return to Britain I could never find any reference to him. So, – as Hans might have said – I was happy to come across one of his short stories in the anthology mentioned above, and to recall my brief German acquaintance of the balconies.

In Storm’s story a grandmother remembers her grandfather building the eponymous hall on the site of a wooded walk, and inspires her grandchildren to contemplate knocking down the hall to reinstate the glade. Storm (1817-1888) would have recognised the scenes in my Austrian book no doubt, as the Europe of his later years began its drift towards a very different sort of re-construction.

The pencil-driven story, by the way, got rubbed out!    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA