The Second World War is over, and there is nothing left for Luisa and her husband, Hans. But then, the tide turns: the young woman is crowned Miss Würzburg. However, happiness does not last long.
Even the propaganda of the recently published novel “Miss Würzburg” (Gmeiner Verlag, 313 pages) arouses the curiosity of more. Writer Eva-Maria Bast (“Würzburg Secrets”) deals with the changing life of Elsie Schiebur of Würzburg, who recently passed away at the age of 94. In an interview, the author explains why residents outside Würzburg should also read the book and whether Elsie Schiebur still has the opportunity to read her printed story.
QUESTION: Elsie Schibor lived through the history of Würzburg in all its ups and downs, spoke about her experience many times, and was the first Miss Würzburg. How did you come to make her the main character in your new novel?
Eva Maria Bast: I learned about Ms. Sheppur through a Main-Post article and found her story really interesting. All my historical novels are inspired by events that have already happened and I am always on the lookout for diaries and eyewitness reports. My first epic, The Story of the Lunar Years, was inspired by my family’s life and my grandmother’s writings. Then I visited Mrs. Shipur and showed me her diary. I was in love. You lent them to me, I accept them with great reverence. I read and thought: This must be a novel. I hadn’t already planned to write a book about it. I just wanted to get to know her.
The novel is partly fiction, but the underlying structure is based on real events. How is the writing process different from purely fantasy novels?
Bast: In all of my historical novels—in other words, in most of my books, because I haven’t written crime novels for a long time—there is an underlying historical framework that also sparks imagination. I am very meticulous, researching everything, even the day of the week and the weather. I read old press reports and records and the book “Miss Würzburg” Roland Flade “The Hope that grew from the rubble” and “The future that grew from the rubble” were of course an inexhaustible resource for me. Then comes the imagination in this basic structure. In the case of Frau Schiborr’s book or my autobiography of Mata Hari or Alice von Battenberg, this is of course less fiction than in books where I also completely invent the characters. But even then, it’s just that I’m not completely free of the characters. Obviously: a young man in 1914 wouldn’t have said to his friend “Hey, dude, that’s totally insane, man!”
Can you give examples of dummy items?
Bast: For example, the opening scene in which Ilse appears – in my novel her name is Luise and letters to me Mrs. Schiborr also fell to Luise – under the magnolia in Kaisergärtchen. The confrontation with Albin afterwards in the rubble is essentially fictitious. There was an albino in her life, but she did not meet him when she was prospecting for Madonna. However, this story is true. I knew it because I researched it in my book The Würzburg Secrets in 2014. In fact, the man who dug Madonna with the baby shovel is Rudolph Edwin Kohn. He did not experience the severe air raid on Würzburg on March 16, 1945, he was in the lead. When he found out, next to him was worried about his parents. He vowed to return the Madonna statue if his parents were still alive. His parents were still alive, he kept his word and more: in the first four years after the attack he excavated 32 sculptures of the Madonna from the rubble and brought them back together with the master sculptor George Schneider. One of these Madonna is Madonna who now stands at Blasiusgasse 9 and appears in the novel. In all my novels, including this one, I ultimately guide the reader as to what is artificial and what is real.
I spent quite a bit of time discussing and talking to Elsie Schebour for the book. How did you experience contact with the recently deceased?
Bast: So enriching! What a woman! A lady in every inch! When I met her, she had just suffered the severe blows of fate. Her husband was in the hospital with corona, he was not in good health and died shortly thereafter. Mrs. Shipur’s health was not good either. However, she was always perfectly groomed with painted nails and a hairstyle. She had a lot of pride. She was carrying a cane, and as soon as she came down the stairs in front of me, she gave me a mischievous smile and said, “I have to walk with a cane now. But I chose one with a sparkle.”
“She kept writing to me that the book was a ray of hope and that the knowledge that it had just been written gave her energy and comfort.”
Author Eva Maria Bast on Elsie Schebour
Elsie Shibor was a well-known figure locally. What else makes your life interesting for readers outside the Würzburg region?
Bast: She was a symbol of hope, like German beauty queen, Susan Eriksen, who wove her story into the book. The fantasy is: the two have never met. Susan’s true story. Through her, she was able to emphasize even more the amount that Mrs. Schebor and Susan Eriksen gave to women in post-war Germany. Something that Ayn Borda also contributed to, by including patterns in her magazines and allowing women to sew elegant dresses from old curtains. It gave so much hope! Of course, appearances are not important. But in reality they are. We know it from ourselves, how much better we feel when we let go of ourselves, when we love our own reflection. This has a lot to do with dignity, and this is how Ms. Shipur experienced in the last phase of her life, even if she did poorly. This is why nail polish and glitter canes were so important and anything but secondary.
Does Elsie Shibor still have a chance to read her story?
Bast: Yes, I sent it to her during the setup process. She was very excited. Reading cost her her strength and at the same time gave her a lot of strength. She kept writing to me that the book was a ray of hope and that the knowledge that it had just been written gave her energy and comfort. When he came out, she was already in the hospital. But she managed to squeeze him again. This means a lot to me.