My father was unable to find an answer himself. He had lost his father at the age of five. The pictures in our photo albums showed a laughing young man who seemed to be constantly surrounded by people, someone who could look earnest and decided at times, too. But, for me, he was just a picture in black and white, a signature in a book. One day my father met a former colleague of my grandfather—a man who was with him on this last flight of the Hindenburg. And he told us something that came as a surprise to all of us: my grandfather wanted a divorce from my grandmother! For the first time, I formed an impression of him as a human being.
Then my father started to show me my grandfather’s diary and his last letter. I felt feverish: what a man, what a life! I could not stop thinking about him—and the events he had witnessed. Seven years ago, I started correspondence with Patrick Russell, a Zeppelin expert (facesofthehindenburg.blogspot), who knew some facts about my grandfather that I had ignored. He told me that my grandfather had testified before the US Commerce Department’s Board of Inquiry into the Hindenburg fire, and he sent me the record.
I knew it would not be easy to write about it because I did not want it to be just my grandfather’s story; I wanted to depict an era—the unique era between the world wars—the Zeppelin era. I wanted to write about men and women who truly existed. I wanted the story to be as authentic as possible and, at the same time, I wanted it to be a novel. Luckily, I got hold of a diary written during the world tour of the ORION, the American yacht on which my grandfather sailed before his time as an airship navigator. Together with his own diary, his letters and documents as a Zeppelin navigator, and our family photos, I could see him at last. Finally, I could start writing.