“So we have a new pope,” Frau Bienkowski said, as I handed her the bag of medium-sized apples and two packets of sugar-free sweets she’d ordered.
“He could have been a black man,” she continued. “It wouldn’t have mattered.”
“No!” I said.
“But there was something irregular about Benedict’s resignation, wasn’t there? Popes don’t just resign!”
I agreed it wasn’t their custom.
“Could you get us some coffee?” she asked, pushing her stroller over to me. “You can put the cups at the front!”
I pushed the Zimmerframe down the corridor and passed three ladies in wheelchairs. One of them had a remarkable face, like a gazelle. They were staring straight ahead. One of them was saying, “You could write a novel about a life, if you just think back to all your encounters. You could write a novel. You really could.”
I placed Frau Bienkowski’s cup in front of her, and she pushed one of her sugar-free sweets towards me.
“So tell me, how has work been this week?”
I told her I’d been busy and that the new pope was creating a lot of work for us.
“It’s good you’ve got work,” Frau Bienkowski said, “especially as you’ve booked flights to see your boyfriend!”
“I couldn’t agree more,” I said.
“You’re not thinking of marriage, no?”
“Well, it would be difficult logistically since we live in different countries,” I said, apologetically.
She nodded. A few weeks ago she’d told me that she thought German president Joachim Gauck really ought to marry his long-term partner, since she travelled with him in an official capacity.
A little later, we got talking about Germany. “We’ll never escape our past,” she said and paused.
“They could have just removed the Jews from official positions. But there were good Jewish doctors, good workers. Sending them to concentration camps, killing them was wrong.”
For the first time, I felt uncomfortable around Frau Bienkowski.
“Of course it was,” I said.
Frau Bienkowski presented me excitedly with a fashion catalogue. “Look what I got in the post!” she said.
We spent some time leafing through the pages and commenting on the clothes.
“I like that,” I’d say, pointing at a blue and white striped cardigan.
“Yes,” she’d reply, “It’s pretty, but look at the pattern on that blouse .. it’s a bit much, isn’t it?”
We looked at a model in high-heeled shoes. “Do you like them?” I asked.
“Oh yes,” she said.
“Did you wear such high shoes when you were younger?”
“And could you walk in them?”
She smiled. “If you wear them, you walk in them!”
We read some more of the story about the cantankerous 100 year-old living in an Irish convent.
I apologised that I wouldn’t be able to see her next week.
“Don’t you worry!” she said. “This should never be an obligation. And tell Andrew I say hello!”
This is another lovely piece showing how much Frau B and you are at ease in each other’s company. She must miss you, but will surely want to hear all about your trip on your return.
She’ll be getting a postcard to keep her occupied 🙂
This is one leaf out of your novel – a compilation of your encounters. The dialogue brought up alot of historical youth personality and the current personality as well.
Why were you uncomfortable when she talked about the war period?
And you have got me there with your title – I was expecting more conversation around that;). Was that just an attention grabber?
Ha, Clariice, if I ever DO write a novel, I’ll be thanking you inside the jacket cover for all your encouragement!
I was uncomfortable because of the first thinng she said about Jews. To be honest, I was shocked by it.
And you got me, it was just an attention-grabber. I was finding it very hard to com eup with a title for this one 🙂
The comment in and of itself was not so much shocking as reflective of the inculcation of a set of feelings during youth. Of course, to modern ears, any notion that the Holocaust and the treatment of the Jews could be legitimately mitigated is (rightly) held to be abhorrent.
However, for too long, too many Germans from the era merely denied all, pretending that they saw nothing, heard nothing and felt nothing (the ‘Speer’ defence). It seems evident that someone brought up on a diet of German racial supremacism would have certain hardcoded emotions remaining underneath the outer barrier of reason, emotions that, to us, in our generation, are thought shocking. Imagine interviewing an elderly Hungarian about, say, Gypsies – might we not also encounter the same kind of unthinking, unreflective, but not necessarily malicious, bigotry?
Lastly, if that is all Frau B stated on the topic, it could be interpreted in many different ways, perhaps she was intimating that it would have been better to merely remove Jews from official positions, given the governmental policies of the time, instead of following them up with the mass killings that occurred from 1941 on? I don’t know, but whatever her views, I would hope that they are honest (and therefore apt to be discussed and, where necessary, challenged) and not merely destined to please.
How exciting for you to be able to see Andrew! I do hope you enjoy your time with him 🙂
Concerning her comment… as shocking as it is (I did a double take, I’ll admit it), I have to applaud her bluntness. That would have essentially taken the middle road. The Germans could have had their government and what not and the Jewish could have at least had the choice to stay or relocate. I see it as a middle avenue, German leaders are happy and the Jewish would have been safe. Perhaps one can talk like so when they’ve lived through something like that. Of course this theory wouldn’t have worked because of the extremist leadership and the ideological brainwashing, but it would have been viable had it been considered.
Either or, I love these stories. Enjoy your time with Andrew!