Novel set in Munich and Germany (Flughafen München Franz Josef Strauss)

27th June 2014

Munich Airport by Greg Baxter – novel set in Munich.

Munich airport jpegWhat an interesting concept. A novel set largely in an airport (unless you hate airports, that is, but you may yet be a convert to this rather quaint book). This is Munich Airport to be precise – or to give it its proper name – Flughafen München Franz Josef Strauss. Forty million passengers pass through each year, it is the seventh busiest airport in Europe and twenty-seventh in the world. And it is just over 20 years old. But citing all these facts might lead you to believe this is a novel for geeks. Far from it.

An expat American, living in London, discovers his sister Miriam has died in Berlin. He and his father fly out to the capital to sort the formalities, assisted by Trisha, a consul official. Father and son decide that they would prefer a single hop back to their mutual home Atlanta and decide to fly the body out of Munich Airport. But on the day of departure the airport is fogbound. Planes are neither arriving nor leaving. There is ample time for getting to know the blue and grey airport, its eating areas, its toilets, its other passengers. But it is also a time to reflect on the family from which ‘the man’ (who has no name) has come. He recalls the recent trip he and his father took to kill time whilst waiting for the body to be processed for release, their ultimate goal being to visit Charlemagne (or Karl der Grosse) in Aachen. They drive the Autobahns, they explore places, they co-exist, they stay in hotels, they eat and sleep.

Back, finally, in Berlin, whilst his father takes to his bed, our man has encounters with friends of Miriam; he self harms, he drinks beer, gets drunk frequently, and then comes back to the here and now of the airport. The storyline slides around and occasionally slides off the page, only to reappear and pick up the thread. It’s a stream of conscious meanderings through the life of one family and its members, which inevitably comes back to the parallel universe of this modern, glass encased airport.

It is an interesting style of writing in that it is one long chapter (my copy ran to well over 250 pages). This is awkward when putting the book down for any period because there is no natural break. Therefore, when picking it up again you have to try and remember roughly where you left off. This is disconcerting – you may skip a few paragraphs, you may re-read, but then that feeling of disconnection and displacement is what being in an airport is all about. It doesn’t matter, this long chapter mirrors that suspended experience of being in an airport. It is a beautifully and fluidly rendered novel of ‘family’ and what home means and how familial relationships are so finely tuned, yet ready to ping apart at any moment. It will also give you inspiration when you are next at an airport. Let your imagination wander, and wonder at the backstories all those other souls shambling around the airport might have. It’s an imaginative and creative way to pass time.

And location? If you have been to Munich airport you will recognise it. The author lives in Berlin and it is clear that he knows Germany well. Reading this novel has been an enjoyable way to connect with the country and observe the little quirks that characterise this major economic and political powerhouse.

The cover? I can’t imagine many readers being drawn to this grey, uninspiring and quite dull book jacket – true, it reflects the fog and airport of the content, but it looks more like a technical manual. Let’s hope the next edition is more inspired, eh? Therefore, we just had to use our own photo to pep up this post (no prizes for guessing which airport we were passing through at the time of reading – practising what we preach and all that!). Enjoy.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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