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Questions on Gulags, Sponge Baths and Losing Your Mind

May 27, 2014

christophI welcome once again my friend Christoph Fischer, who writes some of the loveliest family stories I’ve ever read. He first came to my attention when a mutual friend of ours took note of our similar Central European backgrounds and thought we should get to know one another. I’m so glad she did. I loved his Three Nations Trilogy, historical fiction inspired by his own complicated family stories – ones of war and displacement and love. Conflict, faith and collective shame. They are spectacular.

Now Christoph has set his sights on another kind of family drama. One more contemporary, but just as harrowing. He tackles Alzheimer’s disease and the resulting challenges and revelations that a family is faced with when watching a loved one slip away memory by memory.

But let’s not get our hankies out just yet.

Christoph, despite his penchant for writing engrossing dramas, has a fantastic sense of humor. Neither of us wanted to do the typical author interview about what motivated him to write about dementia or war or death, blah, blah, blah. I want to know what really makes Christoph tick and I figure the way to do that is to set up a WORST CASE SCENARIO interview.

easter bunny monster

Now for those of you who are thinking “That’s not funny young lady!” And thanks for calling me “young lady,” I ask you to keep an open mind.

Humor has pulled me through some of my darkest hours. Sometimes over broken glass, mind you. So, Christoph and I present to you the ultimate politically incorrect and horribly insensitive interview about the worst possible things that can happen in life, and hopefully, how to make them a little brighter.

First of all, Christoph, welcome. I hate that you live all the way in England and that we can’t do this over a glass of wine and a plate of vegetarian sauerbraten. As you know, I have a few questions for you, and truly can’t wait to hear your answers. Are you ready?

Christoph: I am a teetotaler, so it would not be wine. I would love to spend a day in the kitchen with you and recreate all of those Slavic dishes, though, stuffing ourselves and who knows? Maybe getting drunk with Slivovitz after all. But, yes, I am ready – hit me.

Me: Describe your ideal day in a gulag – as an inmate, not a guard.

Christoph: The guards have just given me the big bunk in the room – the guy who used to get preferential treatment from them (for fixing the odd sexual encounter) mysteriously froze to death last night. They don’t even know why he was outside. They found him soon after he didn’t show for the morning rapport. I was already sleeping in his bunk last night. I get to keep his coat, too. A great start to a winter’s day. I stay inside reading Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn novels while the others are busy shoveling snow. In the evening I play chess with a guy from Lithuania. He is good and it is a tough game but he knows when to back down and to lose gracefully. I don’t like the guards and they don’t like me, but I trade in secrets and nobody can afford to get on the wrong side of me. I am lazy and I love my privileges. I could get used to this life here.

gulag blog gulag

Me: Mass grave or lost at sea?

Christoph: Mass grave. There is safety by numbers. And who knows, maybe a bunch of us are still alive and can share a last cigarette or joke? I’d hate to be bitten by a shark while I am drowning.


Me: If you absolutely had to choose a method of torture for your worst enemy and could not pardon them under any circumstances (I say this because I know how innately kind you are and that you’d probably forgive and forget), what would it be?

Christoph: I have been binge-watching “DEXTER” of late so I have a pretty violent imagination. Slicing of all kinds seems very effective and the blood makes for a great dramatic effect. Having said that, the gore is a bit unimaginative. I am a big fan of Sartre’s “Hell” and being locked in a room with my busy body neighbour would drive me absolutely insane. So now I am thinking sleep deprivation combined with heavy metal music and finger nails on a chalk board etc. Dehydration and slow freezing on the side…

gulag blog torture

Me: Assume you’re in hospice and could select one person – alive or dead – to administer your daily sponge bath, who would that be? I’d want it with Steve McQueen and rough.

Christoph: Darn you, you got there first. Ok, well if Steve is already taken then Bradley Cooper will have to be my second best, unless it has to be someone really old. Then I would try Tony Curtis.

gulag blog tony

Me: You’ve just died and find yourself in hell of all places. What do you suppose you’d find most surprising about eternal damnation? Any benefits?

Christoph: I won’t be surprised to find myself there. I have been warned all of my life and have plenty of friends waiting for me. The club of clergy, politicians and misguided do-gooders should be an interesting corner of hell. I am sure that I’ll be surprised by the number of great people (with naughty secrets maybe) who are here and whom I always wanted to meet. Since we are here for eternity, I will know I will get around to speaking to them.

smoking gustav

Me: What if you had to drive cross-country (meaning America-sized country, not one of these small Euro numbers) with an angry neo-Nazi who loves to lecture you about his strong opinions. You are not allowed to yell at, insult or contradict him. But you are allowed to be passive-aggressive. What would you do?

Christoph: I’d hope that my off key singing of Barbara Streisand songs or reciting of explicit gay adult stories may be retaliation enough.

gulag barbra sings

Christoph, that was a great interview! If there is anyone with whom I’d want to be stuck in a gulag, it would be you. Thanks so much for coming by. And please, Coldsters, have a go at Christoph’s new novel, Time To Let Go.

Time to Let Go

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Christoph Fischer was born in Germany, near the Austrian border, as the son of a Sudeten-German

father and a Bavarian mother. Not a full local in the eyes and ears of his peers he developed an

ambiguous sense of belonging and home in Bavaria. He moved to Hamburg in pursuit of his studies

and to lead a life of literary indulgence. After a few years he moved on to the UK where he now lives

in a small hamlet, not far from Bath. He and his partner have three Labradoodles to complete their


Christoph worked for the British Film Institute, in Libraries, Museums and for an airline.. ‘The Luck of

The Weissensteiners’ was published in November 2012; ‘Sebastian’ in May 2013 and The Black Eagle

Inn in October 2013. He has written several other novels which are in the later stages of editing and







  1. Thanks Victoria, this was great fun. Next time I am stuck in a mass grave I make sure I call you 🙂

  2. Great interview. He does have a terrific sense of humor indeed!

  3. I’ll bring the cigs, Christoph and we can, in our remaining moments, take up a fun and nasty habit together.

  4. Perfect, those are the best habits 😉

  5. I had company and a very busy weekend but I had bookmarked this as I knew it was a MUST read. Where do I begin… my oh so politically incorrect friends! This amazing gift to bring light into utter darkness should be bottled and marketed ! I love the idea of who you both are and how well you communicate, it gives me the greatest hope for humanity at large; and if you ever did find yourselves in the Gulag I would bring cake and the required nail file inside it .

  6. And you know what, Catalina, I bet it would be a great tasting cake, too. Thanks for introducing us. I feel like we’re all old friends 🙂

    • I am floored! I did not realize that I was ….” He first came to my attention when a mutual friend of ours took note of our similar Central European backgrounds and thought we should get to know one another. I’m so glad she did” I was…. How cool is THAT? when I read that I thought perhaps you meant Wanda! Two people I admire so much ! As far as the cake goes, I am actually a lousy baker (great cook) but I would find a fine patisserie to concoct a magnificent cake.

  7. Christina Carson permalink

    Ah, what a breath of fresh air, you Victoria and this irreverent interview. What good fun. Thanks!

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