By Christiane Oelrich
Sherlock Holmes and his arch enemy Moriarty clutch at each other’s throats above the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland, before they relinquish their grip and break into laughter. Not bad for a couple of export and sales managers.
The German Sherlock Holmes Society is on a pilgrimage to the location of the fictional deaths of the lead characters in Arthur Conan Doyle’s story The Last Problem.
The group naturally sports Victorian attire and accessories, from tweed deerstalker hats to magnifying glasses and briar pipes, to enhance the obsession they held since childhood.
“It’s fascinating to tread in the footsteps of such a historic figure,” says Olaf Maurer, 50, the society’s president and chief portrayer of Holmes, and who stands an impressive 2 metres tall.
As a boy, the export manager from the southern German city of Ludwigshafen had an keen interest in police forensics. Then Maurer discovered Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes among the required reading at school: “From that point on, I was hooked.”
This year is special though. The society members came to lay a wreath at the hallowed site at Meiringen, 100 kilometres south of Zurich, to commemorate 130 years since the appearance of the detective’s first case.
The exact birth date of the Sherlock Holmes stories is unknown. But A Study in Scarlet appeared in the magazine Beeton’s Christmas Annual at some time in November 1887.
Maurer found an ideal Dr Watson in his 41-year-old sidekick Stephan Wailersbacher, also over 2 metres tall. As well as wearing sewed knickerbockers, the financial accountant sometimes dons a tartan kilt. It’s not in the books, but Watson was a Scot, he notes.
He is staunchly loyal to his role model and doesn’t like to see him misrepresented: “Watson is portrayed in movies as a buffoon, but he was a doctor after all,” he protests.
However, three years before his death in 1930, Doyle himself in an interview described Watson as the detective’s “rather stupid friend.”
The society’s members in Meiringen include the Gluecklich family. Computer technician Nicole, 36, tailored much of the three closets of period costume they have in their Victorian-styled home.
Her mother Inge portrays Sherlock’s landlady Mrs. Hudson, and Nicole’s wife Silvia, a 36-year-old publishing house employee from Basel, cuts a dashing figure either as a policewoman or a lady with a hat.
Like most diehard fans, the group collects anything related to their hero, like first editions or pertinant Victoriana. Maurer has an original reprint of the 1887 Beeton’s magazine, and has just started a “collection of thimbles.” At Wailersbacher’s home a picture of Queen Victoria hangs over the living room door.
But there’s no high drama without a worthy villain. Thankfully, newcomer Uwe Roedel, 51, from the eastern German state of Saxony, came to Meiringen as Moriarty. He first discovered Doyle’s stories in the former East Germany, where the books were available on the black market.
Meanwhile, a schism has appeared in the ranks of the ‘Sherlockians’ about how the beloved characters are depicted. Roedel likes the popular BBC television remake, which since 2010 has shown Holmes and Watson at work in modern London. But for Victorian purists, the only debate is who was the best Holmes in the genre’s traditional, pre-Benedict Cumberbatch era.
Most fans seem to agree that British actor Jeremy Brett played the part to perfection in the 80s and 90s. And that the 2010 movie Sherlock Holmes and the Dinosaur was the worst ever feature-length offering in the Sherlock universe.
Next May, German fans will gather again at the “SherloCon” festival in the city of Saarbruecken. There will be a frenzy of costumes, talks and Sherlock pursuits, such as last year’s ‘quote bingo’ competition, which drew on the total of 56 short stories and four novels.
“The curious thing is how many people around the world are fervently convinced that these are living human beings,” Doyle said in 1927, recalling how he received countless letters addressed to Holmes asking for his autograph.
In fact, Doyle had had enough by the third novel and around two dozen short stories. So he decided to let his protagonist plummet to his death at the Reichenbach Falls, which he had visited while hiking.
But under pressure from both fans and money problems, he later resurrected Holmes in a further series of stories and a fourth novel.
In a twist the author would have appreciated, the investigative genius is more alive than ever for modern diehard Sherlock devotees. -DPA
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