Why does the doctor of the Würzburg Clinic write historical thrillers

Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen could be seated at the round bistro table on the left. The Würzburg Theaterstraße was cobblestone. And instead of SUVs and electric buses, the buggies roared. Can. Alexander Minning laughs and raises his arms in an almost apologetic gesture. History and stories fascinate him. “I can put myself in the past pretty well,” says the 54-year-old. Immerse yourself in another world, at the end of the 19th century, where his books were placed. The university clinic, his job, the present – it’s all far away.

Alexander Minning is deputy director of Clinical II at the University Clinic of Würzburg and a gastroenterologist. He writes crime novels for compensation. “When you work in a clinic like this, you take a lot home with you.” Some might go to the gym to stop working after work, mess with the car or paint pictures. “I compose and write stories.”

He studied history first – then medicine

Writing is a hobby and a passion for him – but “maybe also a way to cope with stress”. After work, he does not sit in front of the TV, but on the laptop. Often for hours. And almost every evening.

Born in Munich, Meining first studied history in the state capital, then discovered his interest in medicine while doing community service and secured a place at the university. After 15 years as a physician and later as a senior physician, he moved to the University Hospital in Ulm as a professor. In 2019 he came to Lower Franconia with his partner and son. The top Bavarian says he feels at home here. Professionally and confidentially.

Separation is important to him. He is in the clinic from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Only then does he immerse himself in his other world, in his stories. As an author, he tries to “let his actual working life run out”. He doesn’t use patients as inspiration, and he doesn’t play out the procedure in clinics. “It’s not about treating my work in the clinic into books – it’s more about doing something completely different.”

Meining’s “Mord im Ringpark” will be released in mid-September. It is the first book published under his real name. He has already published two e-books under a pseudonym. Originally, he wanted to stick to the nickname out of fear that he would otherwise not be “taken seriously” as a doctor. The nickname was intended to emphasize the clear boundary between “my real job and my hobby,” Minning says. “But then I said to myself, why is it harmful if I write side books?”

“It’s not about treating my work in the clinic into books – it’s more about doing something completely different.”

Professor Alexander Meining, gastroenterologist and crime writer in Würzburg

He doesn’t want to hide. But don’t give false impressions either: writing is free time, not a part-time job. He wants to donate his author’s fees to the Foundation for the Promotion of Cancer Research at the University of Würzburg. Only: Why would a gastroenterologist ever become a crime writer?

The 54-year-old meditates, slowly stirring the sugar into his cappuccino. He shrugs his shoulders a little. “You just have these scenes in your head.” Writing is nothing more than “trying to describe these pictures”. Pictures from Würzburg about 130 years ago.

At the time, Swedish horticultural architect and urban gardener Jöns Persson Lindahl was supposed to design the rink garden. His plans were celebrated internationally, but there was resistance and criticism in Würzburg. In 1887, Lyndall shot himself in a latrine in Ringpark – and the Meining crime story begins with exactly this scene.

Real people and events form the framework for imagination

However, not by suicide, but by murder. “I said to myself, ‘If you shoot yourself, you shouldn’t do it in the outside house,'” Minning says. The idea was there and “you can build a story on that”. He reads historical backgrounds, researches, studies ancient plans and maps. In his books, real people and events form the framework for fiction. Minning’s brown eyes sparkled. That’s what it excites: imagining and inventing stories about the past.

The protagonist, a young official in the Bavarian Ministry of the Interior, is sent to Würzburg to solve the murder. Stubborn and ambitious, the Inquisitor quickly reached his frontiers in the province of Lower Franconia and had to deal with the Würzburg Gendarmerie and the Theosophists, a group of esotericists. “But in the end it turned out to be very different from what was expected.”

“It’s obviously very inspiring to be able to see the original sites.”

Professor Alexander Meining, gastroenterologist and crime writer in Würzburg

He needs about half a year to write a novel “If All Goes Right”. His movie “Murder in the Ringpark” is now available as of September 14. Five more volumes were planned about the Munich Detective and some were already written. “At some point it almost becomes an addiction,” Meining says. “When you’re in a story, make the most of every free minute.” There is hardly any time for hobbies other than cycling.

Meining cycles to work, rides a race bike in his spare time, and rides on vacation. You can think well on the go, and a daily walk with the dog through the Ringpark is a kind of creative process. “Of course it is a great inspiration to be able to see the original sites,” says the doctor as he rides his bike.

From the café in the city center, walk through the Residenz in the direction of the courtroom on Ottostrasse. Meining points to a small building on the right that now sells baked goods. “This was an outbuilding at the time.” This is where his book begins, as horticultural engineer Lindahl died.

In the Würzburg Ringpark, in the countryside, the best ideas

The Monument to the Swedes are only a few hundred meters away. An inconspicuous black pillar in the countryside. Minning loves to come here. “When there is a plot problem or inconsistency, that’s when the best ideas come to you.”

The 54-year-old pulls out a book carefully wrapped in tin foil. The first version of his crime novel. He is proud. When patients ask him about it, does his world suddenly collide? “I don’t know exactly how I’m going to respond,” Meining says. “I think you should say clearly: I’m here now because I’m a doctor – but I’m glad you liked the book.”

“Mord im Ringpark” will be published on 14 September 2022 by Gmeiner Verlag, 216 pages, €12; An e-book at an introductory price of €4.99 until September 30.

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