Hidden Depths by Ally Rose by Ally Rose - Read Online



A fast-paced psychological thriller that explores the explosive consequences of child abuse. On New Year's Eve, 2004, a woman awakens from a coma. She has been unconscious for 12 years since being viciously attacked by a lake. Nobody knows who or why she was assaulted but as the plot unravels it transpires the events of that night are linked to things that happened before the fall of the Berlin Wall. In East Germany in the spring of 1989, 14-year-old Felix Waltz had escaped from a life of abuse at the notorious Stasi youth prison, Torgau. He found a safe haven and went into hiding, leaving a tormented past behind. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification, Felix had the chance to live a normal life with his uncle and aunt - until one of Torgau's abusive wardens turned up, threatening his new-found security and happiness. Felix turned vigilante to confront his past, resorting to murder, and his crimes remain hidden for 12 years. In 2005, Hanne Drais, a criminal psychologist working within a Berlin police team, is one of those involved in reopening the case of Felix's victims. Hanne discovers the truth behind the lies and finds her destiny with Felix is interwoven with the past, their paths indelibly linked and fated again to collide. The law of the land versus the law of revenge? The answer is often subjective and unclear, but it is never an easy choice....
Published: Accent Press on
ISBN: 9781681465463
List price: $3.99
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Hidden Depths - Ally Rose

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Part One

Chapter One: 31st December 2004

THE PROSPECT OF WORKING on New Year’s Eve when others are free to go out and celebrate or simply welcome the incoming year at home isn’t the most appealing of options. At St Engel’s hospital in Berlin, the night shift on the coma ward on the last night of the year turned out to be quite a lively affair.

Twelve years in a coma in intensive care, attached to a monitor, meant that Lotte Holler was the longest patient in residence. Home was a small room where a few family photos adorned a bedside dresser and fresh flowers gave a bit of colour to a white, clinical space overlooking a school playground that often echoed to the sound of energetic children. Except for the grey flecks that peppered her dark hair, Lotte, now aged 41, showed few signs of the laughter lines or wrinkles that would normally be found on someone her age.

Lotte had arrived in a blaze of publicity, the victim of a violent attack on a bleak winter’s night who had been left to die of hypothermia on the banks of an icy lake. A passing dog walker had found her, barely alive. The crime remained unsolved and the culprit was apparently still at large due to lack of evidence. The victim, although she had survived, could not be questioned and the investigation was eventually filed as a cold case entitled the ‘Lady of the Lake’. Lotte remained in a coma, although MRI scans showed brain activity that the doctors attributed to the presence of her devoted younger sister, Julia, who was convinced Lotte could hear her but was unable to respond.

Julia visited regularly and did everything she could to stimulate her sister’s mind. She read to her daily, chatted about trivia and recalled their shared childhood memories. She had always looked up to the elder sister who had played a protective role after their mother ran off with her lover and severed all contact. Their father had had a stroke soon after, forcing Lotte to leave school, find a job and look after the family financially, becoming a substitute mother for the young Julia. He never fully recovered from his stroke and died a few years later, leaving his daughters only a rented apartment and each another for comfort. It seemed for the next few years that life was looking up – but then Lotte was attacked.

Julia was in the ward corridor getting a coffee from the dispenser when she recognised the man in a white coat passing by.

‘Dr Roth, could I have a word?’ she said.

Dr Jonas Roth, a tall, middle-aged man with a bulbous nose and rugged face, stopped and turned around. He was often waylaid by the slender woman now standing in front of him. Although he was usually busy he always stopped to talk to Julia, reminding himself it wasn’t only the coma patients who suffered: their family members experienced a waking trauma. Also, he had an unspoken attraction to Julia and thought she was pretty and feminine with her intense, chocolate-brown eyes.

‘Frau Kessler… How can I help?’

‘You’ll never guess… I saw on the news today that a man in America has just woken up after 19 years in a coma, just like that, and he’s completely normal. Said he’d been listening to his wife all the time.’ Hope and excitement was evident in her voice.

‘Really?’ Dr Roth said, wondering if it was true.

‘My sister can hear me… she’ll wake up someday as if nothing has happened,’ insisted Julia.

‘Anything is possible,’ he replied, unconvincingly.

‘I don’t suppose you’ve had any news yet about any funding for an operation?’

‘Brain implants are still in the pioneering stages of surgery,’ the doctor began. He noticed Julia frowning with disappointment and softened his voice. ‘No, I haven’t any updates for you but I’m sure your presence here really does help your sister.’ He put his arm briefly on her shoulder. ‘I must go… Happy New Year.’

‘And to you, doctor,’ said Julia, and returned to her sister’s room.

Dr Roth continued along the corridor to the ward office. He popped his head round the door. ‘I’m off now. See you next year,’ he said to his colleagues.

Martin and Lena were the two nurses on duty on the ward.

‘All right for some,’ Martin joked.

‘Bye, Jonas,’ Lena replied warmly, watching him go. Recently single, the thought of going out to her local bar and bumping into her ex-boyfriend wasn’t appealing, which is why she’d volunteered for the New Year’s Eve shift. Martin on the other hand, liked to party. Sulking at first when his name appeared on the duty rota, he perked up when he discovered he’d be working with Lena.

‘Just going to turn Lotte Holler,’ Lena told him. ‘I won’t be long.’

Julia knew Lena and Martin – in fact she knew all the doctors and nurses on Lotte’s ward by name. Over the years she had grown to trust the staff and enjoyed her daily chats with them.

Lena knocked and entered. ‘I need to turn Lotte, her last one for today. Are you staying to see the New Year in with Lotte?’ she asked Julia, who shook her head. ‘I’m taking my sons to midnight mass.’

‘Oh, that’s nice.’ Lena knew Julia lit a daily candle for her sister but didn’t want to be drawn into a theological discussion and diverted the conversation away, asking instead, ‘How old did you say your sons were?’

‘Eleven and nine,’ Julia replied, looking at her watch. ‘I’d better go, got to pick my boys up, their father doesn’t like driving in Berlin during the winter.’

‘Hasn’t he heard of the underground railway, the U-Bahn?’

‘My ex-husband doesn’t go out of his way to help me,’ Julia confided. ‘Thank you, Lena. Happy New Year... you’ll call me if there’s any change.’

Lena smiled and nodded. ‘Happy New Year to you.’

Julia repeated her good wishes to Martin as she passed him in the corridor. Martin went into Lotte’s room to find Lena.

‘You done?’ Martin asked.

‘Just about. You know, Julia’s been saying for 12 years, Call me if there’s any change and we never call her. She just refuses to give up hope.’

Martin nodded in agreement. ‘Hopelessly devoted. They must have been close.’

‘Shame the police never caught the psycho who put Lotte in here,’ Lena commented.

‘It had to be a man,’ Martin said. ‘Unless he was a madman and it was some kind of random attack, he must have known her. The thing that interests me is the motive. What were the circumstances to provoke such an attack?’

‘You’ve been watching too many episodes of Tatort.’

‘I know… Hey, it’s time we saw in the New Year,’ Martin announced.

Towards midnight with just minimal patient surveillance duties to carry out throughout the night, Martin and Lena felt free to relax. They put some tinsel around their starched white uniforms to add a little festive colour and switched on the television in their office.

The news was, unsurprisingly, still dominated by the tragic scenes coming from Banda Aceh and the carnage and aftermath of the tsunami in Asia less than a week ago.

‘No! Please! I can’t think about all those kids lost in the tsunami, not tonight,’

Martin groaned. ‘How about we listen to the radio?’

Lena nodded and Martin switched on the stereo and fiddled with the channels. A broadcast of Bizet’s opera Carmen and the aria ‘Toreador’ came on.

Martin clapped his hands. ‘I love this, it’s from Carmen. I was in kindergarten when I first heard it. I had hair then. The years, where did they all go?’

‘Let’s ask Lotte Holler,’ Lena said in a deadpan voice, fully aware that irony had its place on a coma ward.

Martin turned up the volume, put his hands above his head and made mock bull charges at Lena, singing loudly and encouraging Lena to join in and dance with him out in the corridors. The song resonated along the corridors and throughout the ward.

Allons! En garde! Allons! Allons! Ah! Toreador, en garde! Toreador, Toreador! Et songe bien, oui songe bien en combattant, qu’un oeil noir te regarde, et que l’amour t’attend. Toreador, l’amour, l’amour t’attend .’

Lotte Holler heard the song and opened her eyes.

Chapter Two: Awakenings

LOTTE HOLLER LOOKED AROUND her small room. Her vision was a bit blurry but it soon cleared enough for her to see white clinical walls, the bunch of fresh flowers by her bedside and a photo of herself and Julia. A rhythmic beat from a heart monitor was audible despite the volume of the music coming from the corridor. Looking down, tubes were attached from her chest to the monitor. What was going on, what was she doing here?

Panic set in as she started to remember. The last time she heard this music was when a masked man had taken her at gunpoint to a lake outside Berlin, made her strip to her underwear in the cold night air and dance to this song. Where was this man now? Was he keeping her captive in this room and coming back any second?

She tried to get out of bed but her muscles felt heavy and slow. Lotte began to shiver, recalling the icy night. She had the feeling she knew the man behind the balaclava mask, whose cold eyes had gazed down on her. Was her memory playing tricks, hadn’t she asked for his mercy and forgiveness? He knew her and he was taking revenge… The fog in her mind began to clear.

The music grew louder. ‘Toreador, en garde! Toreador, Toreador!’

Her attacker had ordered her to dance to this exact song, stripping her of her dignity, so she had danced. Biting her lip, she had tried not to cry as the dancing warmed the chill in her bones. The last thing she recalled before being hit on the head and falling unconscious to the freezing ground was worrying for the safety of the unborn baby she was carrying.

The music transported Lotte back to that horrific night.

Toreador, l’amour, l’amour t’attend…

‘NO! Turn off that song!’ Lotte screamed. ‘Help! Julia, help me,’ she yelled, her voice surprisingly strong after such a long period without use.

Martin and Lena stopped dancing in the corridor and raced to Lotte’s room.

‘She’s awake!’ Martin gasped.

‘Lotte! It’s OK, you’re safe, you’re in hospital,’ Lena told her. ‘Martin. Call the night doctor, Jonas, anyone… and turn off that bloody music.’

Martin quickly disappeared down the corridor.

‘Turn it off!’ Lotte cried.

Instinctively she began caressing her lower abdomen.

‘My baby… my baby,’ she cried.

In another part of Berlin, Julia and her sons were just arriving home around midnight to a backdrop of fireworks ushering in the New Year. A plethora of colours lit up the night sky as her mobile vibrated in her pocket. It was Lena calling with the amazing news that Lotte had woken up and was asking for her. Julia burst into tears, throwing her arms into the air in the middle of the snow-covered street and sinking to her knees.

‘Mutti!’ Frank and Tomas helped their mother to her feet and she hugged them tightly.

‘It’s a miracle!’ she proclaimed. ‘Your Aunt Lotte has come out of her coma. We need to go to her right away.’

‘Mutti… Tante Lotte doesn’t know us and it might freak her out if she meets us now.’ Frank spoke with a wisdom and thoughtfulness beyond his 11 years. ‘We’ll go to papa’s, eh Tomas?’

Julia smiled at Frank. She could discuss most things with her eldest son even though he was at an awkward age, his hormones showing signs of puberty and a few spots appearing on his forehead. In contrast, Tomas was a young nine-year-old and still her baby. Frank nudged his brother to respond to his question but Tomas just shrugged his shoulders and played with the snow.

The miracle Julia had hoped for for so long had finally happened. She couldn’t wait to see her sister and wanted to drive like a tornado but she thought of her sons and stayed impatiently within the speed limit, detouring back to their father Jurgen’s flat, where less than an hour ago she’d collected the boys. Jurgen and Julia had divorced a few years ago after growing apart during 10 years of marriage. He had felt the burden of Lotte’s coma hanging over the family like the sword of Damocles but tonight he was truly glad for Julia, who looked visibly lighter than she had in a long time. Lotte’s subsequent recovery would be pivotal in lifting the weight of responsibility from her shoulders.

At the hospital, an exuberant Jonas Roth had returned as soon as he got the news. Martin spoke excitedly, explaining the sequence of events that had precipitated Lotte’s arousal. ‘Lena’s with Lotte and she hasn’t stopped talking, it’s incredible!’ Martin informed him. ‘Her sister’s on her way.’

‘I’d better see the patient before Frau Kessler arrives and do a few tests before unplugging her monitor. It seems Frau Kessler’s faith was justified!’ said Dr Roth.

‘Julia will be over the moon,’ Martin replied. The doctor patted Martin on the back. ‘Thanks to the opera Carmen, we all are.’

It seemed an eternity waiting for her to arrive. Dr Roth was overjoyed when Julia appeared and rushed along the corridor to greet him. Smiling warmly he quite forgot himself and took her hands in his, then reprimanded himself for dropping his usual professional standards. Julia did not recoil. It was comforting to have his large hands envelop hers in a brief, shared and very poignant moment.

‘Frau Kessler, I know you’ve waited so long for this moment but please, just a few minutes longer.’

Julia was so ecstatic she wanted to run along the corridor and take her sister in her arms but contained herself enough to comply. Dr Roth could see she was in a conflicting state of euphoria and anxiety, overwhelmed by it all. He was careful to speak in a soft and sensitive manner and be extra cautious in the way he delivered any information.

‘Just to tell you a few things,’ he began. ‘We’ll need to do more tests but for now, her heartbeat is normal and she’s breathing well and the good news is she’s no longer in a comatose state. Lotte’s awake and very obviously cognisant.’

Julia was pleased but still anxious. ‘She won’t fall back into a coma, will she?’

‘I don’t have all the answers to such a phenomenon as has been witnessed here tonight. But I promise you we’ll do our best to see she gets the finest treatment possible regarding physiotherapy, diet, psychotherapy or whatever she needs to make a good recovery,’ Dr Roth told her.

‘What can I do to help?’ Julia asked.

‘You said she was listening to you all this time and you were probably right,’ he said. ‘May I suggest that at the moment you answer any of her inevitable questions on a ‘need to know’ basis? Don’t volunteer any information that might shock her, but don’t lie to her. You know, the police will have to be informed because her case will be re-opened, but I won’t let the police interview Lotte until she’s ready.’

Julia frowned. ‘Must the police be told? I don’t want Lotte to be some freak in the news. They didn’t find her attacker back then and they won’t find him now.’

‘I’d be breaking the law if I didn’t inform the police. I’ll do my best to keep the media circus away and make enquiries into compensation for your sister.’

‘Thank you, doctor. Sorry to rush you, but is that all for now?’

Dr Roth smiled, understanding her impatience. ‘It is.’

Julia galloped down the corridor and burst into her sister’s room. ‘Lotte,’ she cried.

‘Julia!’ Lotte responded, attempting to raise her arms, weak from the years of inactivity, into the shape of a hug.

Tentatively, Julia held her sister in her arms. Lena wiped her own tears and made a discreet exit from the room, leaving the sisters to their poignant and long-awaited reunion. Lotte was now unattached to a monitor and although vocal, she was speaking as if she’d just awoken up from a deep sleep. Julia helped her take frequent sips of water to lubricate her dry throat because Lotte simply didn’t want to stop talking and was highly animated.

‘There was a man, he attacked me.’ Lotte’s voice resonated a palpable fear.

‘You’re safe now,’ Julia said, softly. ‘You’re in hospital and I’m here.’

‘And my baby? You know I’m seven weeks pregnant. Is the baby OK?’

Julia remembered Dr Roth’s words of wisdom: don’t lie. ‘Lotte… I’m sorry, you lost the baby.’

Lotte let out an anguished howl and began to sob. Julia held her sister close until her breathing returned to normal.

‘I’ve been here every day, talking to you,’ said Julia. ‘Did you hear me, could you understand anything I was saying?’

Lotte nodded. ‘I heard your voice. It just sounded as if you were rambling on.’

Julia laughed. ‘Poor you, listening to my ramblings. You were a captive audience.’

Lotte smiled, which brought a mixture of tears and pleasure to Julia’s eyes as she remembered mannerisms she’d long forgotten.

‘Why are you crying? I’m the one in hospital,’ Lotte asked.

Julia smiled and wiped her eyes thinking that Lotte didn’t realise she had just woken up from a coma.

Lotte stared at her. Julia looked different from the last time she’d seen her. At first she couldn’t fathom what exactly it was but then she realised Julia looked older. Quite a lot older. ‘What’s happened to you?’ she asked, bluntly. ‘Being married to Jurgen has aged you.’

‘Lotte, Jurgen and I are divorced.’

‘What? You never told me. But you only married recently, I don’t understand.’

Julia hesitated. ‘I told you while you were sleeping.’

‘I never liked Jurgen anyway, he was far too old for you. He was just a substitute father.’ Then it dawned on her. ‘What do you mean, you told me while I was sleeping?’

‘Lotte, I don’t think you realise you’ve been in a coma.’

‘A coma?’

Julia nodded. ‘You suffered blows to the head followed by severe hypothermia.’

Lotte still didn’t ask how long she’d been in a coma. Instead the colour rushed to her cheeks as rage against her attacker took hold.

‘That bastard! My attacker knew me, I know he did.’

Julia was dumbfounded. ‘No!’

‘When I worked at that place for unruly kids, he was one of the kids. He said he’d got rid of other wardens the same way, in the lake, and now it was my turn.’

‘You’ve got to tell the police,’ Julia insisted.

‘I’m not telling the police I worked at Torgau! I told you that when the Berlin Wall came down and Germany reunited, it was a social stigma to admit working there. Julia, you haven’t told anyone, have you?’

‘Of course not. But the police will ask because they’ll have to re-open your case.’

Lotte was curious. ‘Have I been in the news then?’

‘Not for a while.’

Lotte noticed Julia’s reticence. ‘There’s something you’re not telling me? What are keeping from me? You and me, we don’t have secrets. Come on, out with it.’

‘You’ve been in a coma.’

Lotte frowned. ‘Yes, you said. Julia, how long have I been in a coma?’

It was all happening too quickly for Julia. She wasn’t ready to tell the truth, yet it was impossible to lie. Terrified how her sister would take it, Julia took Lotte in her arms again.

‘I’m so sorry, my darling. Lotte, you’ve been in a coma for 12 years.’

‘NO!’ howled Lotte, and her cries could be heard throughout the ward.

Chapter Three: 1989. The Boy

THE MOON OVER THE lake at Motzen in East Germany on a clear and crisp November night was a few days short of being full, yet still offered sweet temptation to be outside under the stars.

Fourteen-year-old Felix was restless. It was 6.30 p.m. and moonlight was shining through the window of his hideaway, brightening up his dimly lit, microcosmic world: a storage room high in the rafters of an old, aircraft hangar. His eyesight had adjusted well to nocturnal habits since his arrival at the lake in the spring. Felix felt the night belonged to him. No one noticed him when he went out for a nightly run, after which he would take a rowing boat out onto the lake, whatever the weather. He enjoyed the rocking movement of the boat whilst listening to the sounds of the rippling water and the owls hooting under the stars.

Motzen Lake was roughly an hour south of Berlin, in a verdant, agricultural area. It was one of the many lakes in the area with a large expanse of water, an ideal oasis for aquatic sports and outdoor activities, with dense woodlands surrounding the picturesque lake interspersed with bicycle and rambling nature trails.

If he did go out in the day, Felix avoided the areas near the campsites during the summer because they were risky for someone who didn’t want to be noticed. As instructed, he wore a dark wig and a baseball hat to hide his fair hair and his real age, 14. He limited his time outside to just a few hours in the middle of the day when the sun was at its hottest and most visitors would be in the shade.

But now summer had turned to autumn and tranquillity had returned to the lake, in stark contrast to the political unrest taking place in the Eastern Bloc countries during the summer of 1989. Under President Gorbachev’s glasnost policies, demonstrations for political reform had grown and its domino effect was the gradual toppling of what the West called the Iron Curtain. In Hungary, Czechoslavakia and Poland the borders were open and East Germany was cracking under the pressure. In East Berlin in October, over 100,000 demonstrators walked in protest and the East German President, Erich Honeker resigned due to ill health and was replaced by Egon Krenz.

Felix kept up to date with these events as they unfolded by listening to a small radio in his room. The antenna on the roof of the hangar could pick up West German radio, and Western news gave a clearer, uncensored picture of unfolding events in the East. As optimism grew, things were changing.

Felix’s uncle and aunt, Klaus and Ingrid Felker, were careful to keep him safe and live a life of subterfuge, knowing only too well the pitfalls and the punitive consequences should their deception be uncovered. After all, some ordinary folk in East Germany were informing on their families, friends and neighbours for the ‘good’ of the Communist party and eavesdropping was worse in small towns than cities as people were more exposed and couldn’t disappear into the crowd. Conversations could be twisted and personal circumstances discovered by watching and listening. No one knew who was a Stasi informant, but you instinctively knew whispering voices led to betrayal.

Klaus and Ingrid were a childless couple in their late 30s, all attempts in their 20, happy years together having failed to produce an offspring. Tests had shown there was no medical reason why they couldn’t conceive: it was simply a case of unexplained infertility. After much disappointment they had accepted their family would consist of just the two of them and made the most of their life together.

Klaus, a tall man with a thick head of hair and a protruding chest, was a little more rotund these days though he was strong and active. He liked to pat his belly and say to his wife, ‘Look what your fine cooking has done to me!’ Ingrid, a tall and slender woman of subtle beauty, would throw back her hair and point to the flecks of grey in her long, fair locks. ‘And look what you’ve done to me!’

Klaus preceded his brother Bernd by two years and a sister, Maria, had come along five years later. Klaus had always worked in the boatyard for his father Werner, and when he died 15 years ago Klaus had taken over the reigns of the family business. Gisela, Klaus’s widowed mother, then moved with Maria to the island of Rugen on the Baltic Sea.

The land around the cottage had a small garden leading to a tiny beach and boatyard where Klaus, who was often dressed in blue overalls, worked fixing up fishing and rowing boats and hiring out pleasure boats during the tourist season. There was an old aircraft hangar set back from the waterside and everyone called it ‘Das Kino’. It was used as a cinema at weekends for the townsfolk and tourists. Ingrid ran a café next to Das Kino, which she combined with selling flowers at local markets. Life was busy.

Younger brother Bernd was on the committee of a town council just outside East Berlin. His political job of functionaire in the Communist party came with certain privileges such as ‘vouchers’ to spend in special, Western-style shops. He dressed in a suit and a tie and his wife Ute, dressed in smart Western clothes. They both enjoyed the perks of the job, especially driving in the comfort of a Western car rather than the ubiquitous, under-performing, East German car, the Trabant. Their teenage daughters, Anna and Heidi, were fashion-conscious and also disliked wearing the outdated clothing that was predominant in a country known for its anti-consumerism.

It would have been easy for petty jealousies to spoil things between the brothers but Bernd didn’t resent Klaus for owning the land at Motzen and Klaus didn’t resent Bernd for his perks. The brothers were close despite their different lifestyles.

When Felix turned up at the lake in the spring of 1989, Klaus and Ingrid thought long and hard about their actions and anticipated that Bernd would be at risk of repercussions if a family member was found to be hiding a runaway. They came to the conclusion it was best not to compromise anyone but themselves and to safeguard Felix at all costs. Thus Bernd was not told and he never suspected Felix was in hiding in Das Kino – a far safer place than for him to live with his aunt and uncle, at risk from spying eyes.

Pacing in his room and mumbling in the silence of his mind, Felix counted three paces to the sink and three paces back to his bed. He muttered, constantly berating himself. He began rubbing his hands, quickening the speed as he did so, and before long his palms started to tingle with pain from the friction. The last part of this ritual was to scrub his hands with carbolic soap, which he always carried with him, but no matter how much he scrubbed away he never ever felt clean.

Once his panic had abated, Felix could no longer contain his feelings of cabin fever. He grabbed his rucksack and climbed down the spiral staircase and out into the moonlight. He ran along the pathway at the side of the lake with a torch to guide him. He was unafraid. Tonight, as he often did, he detoured into the village and climbed over a familiar gate, happy to be back in his grandmother Gertrude’s garden. He would sit and look at the dark and empty house where once there was light and laughter, imagining the aromas coming from her kitchen. Gertrude had been a good cook, and used vegetables from her garden to create a variety of delicious dishes. Felix and his twin sister Susanne had loved coming to stay at Motzen on extended visits. But as he remembered his grandmother, or Oma , an unpleasant memory filtered through. The final time he had stayed in Motzen was when Gertrude died. After the funeral, his mother, Sofie, had had a bitter argument with her sister Ingrid and then dragged Felix and Susanne away. They had never returned to Motzen after that, and Klaus and Ingrid never visited them again in Berlin. Felix used to ask his mother why they couldn’t go back to the lake but she just said, ‘One day. Not now.’ Without really understanding why, he accepted her explanation and after a while stopped asking.

Things went from bad to worse for his family after that. His parents separated and his father, Jakob, continued in a drunken, downward spiral until luck abandoned him not only at the bottom of a glass but in the depths of a river whilst attempting to escape to the West. A few years later, Sofie was knocked down by a speeding cyclist on a busy East Berlin street, sustaining serious head injuries. She never recovered consciousness.

The twins were 12 when their mother died. East German authorities tended to view those who attempted to escape to the West as traitors to the Socialist State. Jakob Waltz was a traitor and also a drunk, therefore his children were tarnished by his genes and guilty by association and were punished in their father’s place. Without consulting the two bereft young twins, or bothering to contact any of their relatives and thereby reflecting the cruelty of the system, the social services declared Felix and Susanne orphans and therefore wards of the state. In East Germany at this time, orphans and disruptive youths were often sent to institutions where abuse was rife and punishments were inflicted by staff without mercy or moral conscience.

So it was that in 1987 Felix and Susanne ended up in an institution called Torgau, approximately two hours south of Berlin on the outskirts of Dresden. Its reputation meant it was only ever mentioned in undertones and the only way out for anyone to escape was to risk their lives by jumping into the swirling River Elbe, far below.

For two years Felix and Susanne suffered mental, physical and sexual abuse in this notorious institution, a place totally lacking in humanity and empathy. The perpetrators of these crimes went unchallenged by the authorities or their colleagues because abuse was conspiratorial and hidden. They grew to believe they were invincible and there would be no retribution for their heinous crimes, no price to pay. The children who were unfortunate enough to be put in Torgau were out of sight and out of mind to the rest of the world and were later given the name the weggesperrt , which meant the forgotten children.

Felix left Gertrude’s garden and made his way slowly out of the village. As he walked along the main street it seemed every house in the village was in a party mood. It was late but many lights were on with music playing amidst the sound of laughter. It wasn’t normally like this so he felt bemused and wondered what was going on.

Felix headed back to the lake and at the water’s edge stripped to his swimming trunks, wading out to waist high with a bar of carbolic soap in his hand. The coldness of the water was bearable. At Torgau, punishments were handed out indiscriminately for trivial and minor offences. He’d sometimes been made to stand knee-deep in a darkened cellar for hours on end, or hosed with icy water in a slippery, cobbled courtyard whilst the wardens looked on in amusement. The cold water held no fears for him as the urge to feel clean now overwhelmed him.

Felix found it difficult to stop washing himself repeatedly, even though his excessive daily scrubbing had left him with dry skin that resembled eczema, especially on his hands. Despite the pain it caused, his obsessive washing was