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Girl in the CellarThe Natascha Kampusch Story
By Allan Hall
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Allan Hall
All right reserved.
A Difficult Childhood
Vienna. A city of romance, of suspense, of intrigue, history and glory. The imperial heart of the Habsburgs, the setting for Graham Greene's masterly post-war thriller The Third Man, the city of the not-so-blue Danube, Strauss waltzes and cream cakes that seem to make one put weight on simply by staring at them. It lures visitors from all over the world throughout the year and hosts important global organisations, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency and various UN bodies. These are what the visitor knows, the grand buildings of times past are what they see; the boiled beef and Sacher Torte cakes are what they eat. There was never a reason to spoil a holiday with a walk to the dismal 22nd district, where Vienna becomes less of a grande dame and more a pockmarked old hag.
The area is now called Donaustadt (Danube town), in a bid by the city authorities to sever the sinkhole housing estates and decrepit industrial areas from their old reputation, but a name change alone cannot lift the miasma of despair that hangs over much of this area. Tower blocks where up to 25 per cent of the inhabitants are jobless, public areas where addicts shoot up and drunks brawl, fall over, fight again and fall asleep, menacing half-lit walkways of tenements where predators offer drugs or sex or both--these were not what theaverage visitor to Vienna wanted to put on the itinerary. But the 22nd district is on the must-see map now, destined to become a magnet for ghouls, crime enthusiasts and the merely curious. Like the 'grassy knoll' in Dallas, where conspiracy theorists put the second gunman involved in the assassination of JFK, or the underpass in Paris where Princess Diana died, it generates its own aura for a world spellbound by what happened to a little girl who grew up here. Taxis regularly come to the Rennbahnweg estate and pull up outside apartment block No. 38, that houses flat No. 18. The driver winds down the window and points, and his passengers stare, following his finger as it traces an arc in the sky towards the seventhfloor. Sometimes they just click a camera; sometimes they step outside to sniff the air, clamber back inside and are gone, their curiosity sated. Now they can tell their friends, when poring over the holiday snaps, 'That's where she lived, you know.'
This is the touchstone of victimhood, the place where Natascha Kampusch was born on 17 February 1988 and grew up to fulfil her peculiar, unique appointment with history.
Her home was part of one of the huge social housing blocks built by the left-wing government of Vienna in the post-war reconstruction years. The building has more than 2,400 apartments and 8,000 residents. The area she ended up in, by contrast, was designed as a garden suburb for the city's well-to-do.
The story of Natascha could begin with the Brothers Grimm formula of 'Once upon a time', because, once upon a time, life was good for her father and mother. Ludwig Koch, a 24-year-old master baker--thrifty, industrious, solid, respectable--fell in love with attractive divorcee Brigitta Sirny, 29, mother to two daughters. The year was 1980 and Ludwig's business was expanding.
Things are very different now. Eight and a half years of coping with the catastrophic loss of his daughter and of his businesses--he had at one time a string of bakeries on the go--have taken their toll on Ludwig.
He drinks too much, and he seems both confused and saddened by the events of August 2006: overjoyed at an outcome he never dreamed of, while bitter at what he can see is an industry forming around his beloved Natascha--something which, like the forces which stripped him of love and work, he has no control over.
The relationship with Natascha's mother fell apart long before she was taken from their lives, but he has flashes of nostalgia, Kodak moments of tenderness for the woman he once loved. He told the authors in an exclusive interview:
I was never married to Natascha's mother. We were together about 13 years, and we lived together for
between seven and eight years. I can't remember exactly, but it was about that long. We met through a mutual friend, who introduced us to each other and it just went from there. We got on really well at the start and we had a business together--she came to work in the bakery. It was a joint decision to have a baby. She was planned and wanted by both of us. It was our dream to have a family, although Natascha's mother already had two children of her own.
My daughter was born in the Goettlicher Heiland hospital on the Hernalser Hauptstrasse. It was a wonderful moment. I can't remember how long the birth lasted, I think it was for four or five hours. I remember that before I'd been really happy about the pregnancy as the baby was a real planned and wanted thing, but I had been certain I would have a son. I had told everyone I would have a son and made bets, and when we found that it was a girl I was genuinely shocked, but when I held her in my arms for the first time my heart just melted. I knew I would not have changed her for the world. She was just perfect in every way. I was there for the birth, which I suppose for blokes of my generation is a bit different.
We called her Natascha because of my father, also called Ludwig. He had survived five years in a Russian jail after being captured by the Soviets in the war, and when he came back we would always joke about the Russian women, and I called her Natascha for him. I always loved the name anyway.
Excerpted from Girl in the Cellar by Allan Hall Copyright © 2007 by Allan Hall. Excerpted by permission.
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