Grandzilla is the result of my desire to celebrate older women and my fascination with the German student movement. Women, especially older women are written out of history. We need look no further than Wikipedia which hosts 15 million biographies in English but only 17% are about women. Yet what amazing, complex lives women live, and I wondered what it would be like to tell the story of a woman who had been shaped, indeed embittered, by her involvement in historical events. And so Tillie Barnard, aka Grandzilla, was born.
Several years ago Bernhard Schink’s The Reader brought home to me the anguish of the post-war generation of German youth whose parents allowed National Socialism to flourish. As elsewhere, the late ’60s were tumultuous in West Germany. But also uniquely so in West Berlin. Its inhabitants dwelt in a divided city with a concrete wall that cut its heart in two, Axel Springer’s media empire vilified the students, and ex-Nazis controlled the university system. Toxic, baby.
Benno Ohnesorg’s murder shocked West Germany and caused the German student movement to explode. 2nd June, 1967: a protest against the Shah of Iran’s visit to West Berlin turned deadly when a police detective shot the 28 year-old student. In Grandzilla’s fictional world, Benno’s death sets in motion the events that blow Tillie Barnard’s life apart. Fifty years later she’s still recovering when the Berlin Bad Old Days catch up with her again when Cousin Dawn, the ‘retired’ terrorist shows up on her doorstep to reconcile.
After the fall of the wall decades later, Stasi documents revealed the shooter, Karl Heinz-Kurras, was an East German agent. Benno had never been to a protest before. His wife was pregnant with their first child.