In this post, Melanie Dobson talks about the trip that inspired her new novel Hidden Among the Stars, a time-slip novel about hidden treasure, a castle, and ordinary people who resisted evil in their own extraordinary way.
Backpacking across Europe—that’s how my husband and I decided to celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary. I hadn’t intended it to be a research trip, but hours after we arrived in the ancient Austrian village of Hallstatt, a storybook town curled up between a rugged alp and a pristine mountain lake, the idea for Hidden Among the Stars was born.
The patio from our inn, a 15th-century Gasthof, overlooked Lake Hallstatt, and the alpine water below plunged more than four hundred feet between the fortress of mountains and woods. As I sipped coffee on our sliver of porch, these quiet waters seemed to whisper to me—there’s a story here that needs to be told.
As Jon and I wandered the cobblestone lanes of Hallstatt, we began to learn the history of this region. Near the end of World War II, as Nazi officials fled south, they hid all sorts of items in nearby salt mines, castles, and lakes. Because of Lake Hallstatt’s depth and the many hiding places in the underwater caves, forests, and shifting sands, divers have continued finding Nazi artifacts for the past seventy years. Some believe there might be a treasure trove hidden far below a scuba diver’s range.
In 1945, fleeing Nazis dumped multiple crates into the nearby Lake Toplitz. While some believe those wooden chests contained missing gold reserves, the only crates that have been reported as found in Toplitz’s deep waters were filled with millions in counterfeit banknotes, money printed long ago to disrupt the British economy.
This legend about lost treasure ignited my imagination. What if the Nazis had dumped crates into Lake Hallstatt as well? If so, were they still there, or had someone already salvaged and hidden them away?
This inkling was just a spark at first, but as Jon and I climbed the hillside to Hallstatt’s old cemetery, I saw spires of an abandoned castle across the lake, hidden partially by trees. And the tiny flame in my mind began to blaze with possibilities.
Intrigued, Jon accompanied me across the lake in an electric boat, and the rusty turrets, boarded windows, and wooden boathouse only fueled my curiosity. Did anyone live here during the war? And had the Nazis hidden any of their stolen gold on the estate?
Tucked away under a canopy of stars, I began writing in my journal that night, hoping that one day a novel would emerge from the ashes of this castle’s story. As the years passed—and access to online material grew—I was able to find out more about Hallstatt’s castle. During World War II, I learned, the estate was used as a Hitler Youth camp, but my imagination had to fill in many missing gaps about what happened there after Austria was annexed into Nazi Germany. And what happened to the gold reserve—if the legend was true—that Nazis officers might have hidden nearby.
Set in a fictional castle, Hidden Among the Stars is a time-slip mystery about treasure lost along the shores of Lake Hallstatt, but the story is more than just a treasure hunt. I won’t tell you whether or not my characters find what they’re looking for, but I can tell you that both my historical and contemporary protagonists find exactly what they need. And they each learn that while they may lose their material possessions to the Nazis, may even lose their lives, they can never lose the legacy of a treasure stored deep in their hearts.
Hidden Among the Stars by Melanie Dobson
From the award-winning author of Catching the Wind, which Publishers Weekly called “unforgettable” and a “must-read,” comes another gripping time-slip novel about hidden treasure, a castle, and ordinary people who resisted evil in their own extraordinary way.
The year is 1938, and as Hitler’s troops sweep into Vienna, Austrian Max Dornbach promises to help his Jewish friends hide their most valuable possessions from the Nazis, smuggling them to his family’s summer estate near the picturesque village of Hallstatt. He enlists the help of Annika Knopf, his childhood friend and the caretaker’s daughter, who is eager to help the man she’s loved her entire life. But when Max also brings Luzia Weiss, a young Jewish woman, to hide at the castle, it complicates Annika’s feelings and puts their entire plan—even their very lives—in jeopardy. Especially when the Nazis come to scour the estate and find both Luzia and the treasure gone.
Eighty years later, Callie Randall is mostly content with her quiet life, running a bookstore with her sister and reaching out into the world through her blog. Then she finds a cryptic list in an old edition of Bambi that connects her to Annika’s story . . . and maybe to the long-buried story of a dear friend. As she digs into the past, Callie must risk venturing outside the safe world she’s built for a chance at answers, adventure, and maybe even new love.