Maik Schurkus Eifelromane

Exciting Eifel novel published - "The Eifel Robbers" by Maik Schurkus

A young man sits in a dungeon waiting to be executed. It is Reinhard who, along with his brother, joined one of the robber gangs that made the Eifel unsafe around 1800. From now on, notorious guys like “der Fetzer” and Carl Heckmann are their belligerent companions. Ever since they were instigated to rob a church by a shady stranger, the devil himself seems to have a hand in their robberies.

The author Maik Schurkus creates an exciting, detailed story about the robbers in the Eifel around 1800. From Aachen to Cologne, he incorporates actual locations and trial files from the time into the story.

Eifel novel robber creatures

Author interview with Maik Schurkus

With your new novel “The Eifel Robbers” you deal with part of our West German regional history. What attracts you to the topic of robbers in the late 18th century?

When we talk about organized crime today, it is often assumed that it is an “imported” problem, something linked to the mafia or so-called “clan crime”. It is also about “hot spots” and problem areas in the big cities. The Eifel as a “hotspot” for criminal acts only appears in humorous crime novels. In a historical dimension, however, the places and perpetrator cultures are completely different. For me, looking at history helps to evaluate the causes and connections differently. What is interesting is that crime is often romanticized when it becomes distant in time. The “funny robbers” of the 18th century can therefore be found primarily in children's theater - I wanted to counter this with a story that, although it remains entirely in keeping with the understanding of the time, has something to say about our current understanding of organized perpetrators.

What role did the presence of the French in the affected border area play in connection with the gang activities?

After the French Revolution, the Rhineland became a “disputed zone” and a region where different legal areas overlapped. After the consolidation of the French state under the consulate and later under Napoleon, a new legal understanding took hold in the Rhineland overnight - in the truest sense of the word - as it now belonged to France. The Constitutio Criminalis Carolina was replaced by the Code Civil, which meant: from torture to investigation, from manhunt to manhunt, from embarrassing interrogation to questioning of witnesses. With Anton Keil there was for the first time a “chief investigator” with a specialist area who ultimately put an end to the gang system. His role in the introduction of modern criminology was never sufficiently appreciated on (later again) German soil because the Prussians considered him a “French bully”. He plays an important role in my novel - albeit as an adversary of the robbers.

Is the literary Reinhard a robber par excellence, or is he different from his contemporaries?

There were basically two types of robbers back then, similar to today's organized criminals: those who became criminals out of greed, a thirst for adventure and a sociopathic disposition, and those who “slid” into crime. Reinhard belongs to the latter: the circumstances of the time, the hardship in the shadow of war and the threat of being drafted into the military lead him to become a gang member. But above all there is the bond with his brother. He first comes “among the robbers”. Such family or friendship ties are often found in the robber gangs of that time. From the court files of the real robbers you can see that many were very thoughtful about their path into crime - of course also in order to make the courts more lenient. In this respect, Reinhard is a typical robber. He is a victim (of time) and a perpetrator in one.

Maik Schurkus author

How exactly did you work to create such a detailed, literary protagonist?

The late 18th century was the origin of many literary genres that we still know today, one of which is the “life confession” or the account of a person whose life did not follow the norms of the time. This literary form was inspired by the Protestant-pietistic tradition: those who have stumbled come before the community, describe their failed path in life and thus plead for readmission into the circle of the “righteous”. We still know this today from American courtroom films. So I had some literary examples from the time, such as “Diary of an Opium Eater,” one of the first addiction biographies. The novel therefore functions as a plea to the readership, or in other words: the readers take the place of a jury. So for me the question was: How would a person who hopes for acquittal and forgiveness present themselves? Everyone has to decide for themselves whether they believe him or not.

What role does the “Eifel” region play for you as a location?

I have a long family connection to the Eifel. I was born and grew up in Cologne, so the Eifel was always a popular excursion destination for us. When I was a child, we encountered the tragic traces of the past there, such as the bullet holes in the facades of houses from the Second World War.

During my research for a historical crime novel that took place in the Hunsrück, I came across the Eifel robber gangs. In contrast to Schinderhannes, this story was unknown to me. I found the idea that what I now experience as a leisure activity - the Eifel forests - attractive, which were once “dreams of fear”. As a traveler you could be happy that you crossed it safely. On a quiet day I walked through the open-air museum in Kommern. There is a short stretch through a forest before you get to the next farms. I was traveling there alone and on this way I got a strong impression of what it meant to have been traveling in 1790 and the figure of Reinhard came to mind.

Will Reinhard manage to fend off the threat of betrayal?

Reinhard comes from a time with a strong religious influence. For him it is therefore a matter of saving both the body and the soul; and of course he is afraid for his brother - he is asked by Anton Keil to become a traitor himself in order to stop his beloved brother from doing any further actions and to save his soul. But his brother would probably never forgive him for that. How should he decide? He doesn't notice that the only friend he had in the band of robbers has long since made a decision that could be fatal for everyone.

The interview was conducted by Christian Leeck. Machine translated from German.
Wuppertal, November 2023.

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