Munich is home to many writers who foster a very special connection to their city. Our author wants to find out what influence Munich has on their work. First up is Daniel Speck, bestselling author of the novel "Bella Germania".
"This is going to be more of a portrait of Gennaro," says Daniel Speck and grins as we take our seats in the Italian restaurant opposite the Grossmarkthalle. The owner is already approaching us, today wearing a white apron, because he has to work at the stove himself, as his son-in-law fell ill. He welcomes the author and in the same breath asks the photographer Frank what he is doing here. "You always come for pizza on Thursday night, today is only Tuesday!" Apparently, I am the only one who doesn’t know Gennaro Bussone. Yet.
When I asked Daniel Speck if he wanted to show me around his Munich, he not only promptly agreed, but also suggested the perfect meeting place: The row of shops opposite the Grossmarkthalle, which includes the restaurant where we are sitting now. In fact, this neighbourhood plays a significant role in his debut novel Bella Germania, published in 2016. The German-Italian family story begins with fashion designer Julia, whose world is suddenly turned upside down when an unknown man claims to be her grandfather. She learns of the tragic love story between him and the Italian Giulietta – Julia's grandmother. The novel, which spans three generations and incorporates elements of the history of the times, was a huge success and eventually filmed for television.
I ask him, if Gennaro helped with the research. “Indirectly”, says the author. “I once saw a documentary about Gennaro’s family. That inspired me to write the story, but basically, all Italians in Munich have one. It is one source of many”, he says, ordering spaghetti con salsiccia from his friend, while I opt for arrabiata. When the book was finally published, Speck wanted to test whether he succeeded in terms of authenticity. “So, I gave it to him. A few weeks later I got a call in the middle of the night - typical gastronome style - and Gennaro said in his Bavarian accent: “Hey, how did you know? That's my story!” He grins and adds that it was especially funny, because the Italian on the phone sounded like a genuine Bavarian. "Gennaro grew up in this neighbourhood, in the Großmarkthalle, just like Vincenzo in the novel. Once I found that out, I thought: Okay, I did something right.”
A few weeks later I got a call in the middle of the night – typical gastronome style – and Gennaro said in his Bavarian accent: “Hey, how did you know? That's my story!”
The two became friends and from then on, the novel was sold in Gennaro's restaurant. “It wasn’t me who signed the books, it was him,” Speck laughs, nods to the chef, who returns to our table, sits down and immediately proclaims: “A lady just called to book a table for her wedding in a fortnight. In the middle of the Christmas rush. In Italy we know: The first thing you book is the restaurant - two years in advance.” I have to smile, but say nothing. “These are young brides without any experience”, Gennaro says, shaking his head. "Once you've been married two or three times, you know you have to book beforehand. Des konns ja ned sei! - They must be joking"
I almost choke on my water laughing, Frank grins and Daniel gives me a meaningful look: Do you know what I mean? “Now, let's get back to the novel," Gennaro says. “Bella Germania is an authentic book. It reflects our neighbourhood.” And then the restaurateur tells stories from the past. About how he and his friends used to spruce up when they went out as young Italians, always in suits and ties. "We looked like guys from Grease! But things got rough in the school yard," he recalls.
Meanwhile, we were served three plates of steaming hot pasta, Parmesan cheese drizzling over it, tasting like we were sitting south of the Alps. I ask Daniel if he agrees that Munich is the northernmost city of Italy, or whether Munich is overestimating itself with this statement. He contemplates. “There are 700 Italian restaurants in Munich, which, of course, shapes the city”, he starts. “And the way of life is sometimes reminiscent of the Mediterranean, for example the beer garden. This habit of sitting outside and watching.” Architecturally, there is also a lot of the Italian style, and Leopoldstrasse serves as a strolling promenade. I point out that Italians are much better at strolling. “Exactly. The people of Munich would like to be Italian, but they're not," he sums it up.
Daniel explains how important it is for him to consciously go outside to relax. The courage to leave a question unresolved. Here speaks a skilled writer, who trusts his process.
When we have finished eating, the author takes his latest book out of his bag. Terra Mediterranea is a comprehensive non-fiction book that combines the cuisine of the Mediterranean with the stories of passionate cooks from Italy, Tunisia and Palestine. He signs it for Gennaro and presents it to him as a gift. "It's mainly about cultural connections, migration and family stories," he explains to his friend.
After leafing through it, we say goodbye to Gennaro and hop into Daniel's vintage car – an Iso Rivolta, which plays a big role in the novel. Then we drive to the author's home, where Frank and I are invited for coffee. On the way, people keep waving at us, and on the premises of the Grossmarkthalle we are stopped and engaged in a conversation about the fancy car. I ask Daniel how fast the classic car can go, and he replies that the Iso has 300 hp. I'm flabbergasted and he glances at me from the side. "This car is to be taken seriously," he says, and I nod in awe.
In the cosy old-building apartment, we sit down in the kitchen while Frank takes photos. While the portafilter machine is rattling and the panettone is cut, I ask Daniel about his writing routine. “I start my day with meditation and yoga. After that, I read the newspaper here at the table – and then I go to the office, so to speak" he says, gesturing with his hand towards the study. “In the evenings, I try to have a private life. But at the moment I'm writing so intensively that I sit down again later. Then the world is quieter."
He passes me a cup of espresso. It tastes strong, but not bitter, just as it should. I ask him where he thinks you can get the best coffee in Munich. At that moment the postman rings the doorbell, Daniel gets up and calls to me from the hallway: “At Eiscafé Italia! And at Bar Centrale!“ This affinity makes sense, because as a young man the Munich author went to Rome to study film history. He might even have stayed there, but as a foreigner it was hard to get a job in the film industry - so he moved back to Munich, where he was accepted into the screenwriting workshop at the Hochschule für Fernsehen und Film.
I wonder if he feels stuck in his home country: once a Munich resident, always a Munich resident? “I like being here”, he says. “My research often takes me to countries in chaos. What I appreciate here is the cosiness and the peace. I love the proximity to the Isar and often take a one-hour walk after lunch.“ This brings us to chatting about walks in Munich that take you through nature in so many parts of the city and invite you to unwind. Unless, of course, your mind wanders to the text you're working on. Daniel explains how important it is for him to consciously go outside to relax. The courage to leave a question unresolved. Here speaks a skilled writer, who trusts his process.
Frank sits down with us and we drift off into a conversation about origins and migration. Daniel's grandfather, Otto Speck, came to Munich with nothing from Upper Silesia and was eventually taken in by a family here. "My family is marked by stories of flight and loss of home. I always wanted to live in a place where I felt secure. I definitely didn't want to have to leave."
His grandfather, now 96, had a remarkable career despite all the circumstances. He held the chair of special education at the LMU and later became vice-president of the university. For Daniel Speck, he is like a father; after all, his own, a Tunisian, is unknown to him.
I ask him where he feels his roots are and whether he has a sense of home for the North African country. "When I think of my roots, I think of my grandfather," he says clearly and without hesitation. Then he continues to speak, as befits a storyteller. "You also have migration in your back story, don't you Anika?" he finally asks and I nod. Then I have to smile, because: A storyteller is first and foremost a story collector.
More about Daniel Speck and his work can be found here.