In 1953 Frau Bienkowski’s friend, who was having an affair with a married man, got pregnant. Though she’d had abortions before, she couldn’t get one this time. She had a baby daughter.
The man left his wife. Frau Bienkowski advised her friend not to marry the man. But she did.
After a few years they moved from Berlin to the south of Germany, where his family was from. Frau Bienkowski didn’t like the man. He wasn’t very nice and he drank a lot. He had other children too. Frau Bienkowski and her friend fell out over him for a while.
A few weeks ago, when it was Frau Bienkowski’s birthday, the woman called her.
She’s 89 now and her husband is dead. But the daughter grew up to be a wonderful woman.
“I said to her,” said Frau Bienkowski, prodding her fork into her kiwi cake, “I said, you went through a terrible few years. But look what you’ve got now. A wonderful daughter.”
It all turned out for the best, Frau Bienkowski said. Now she has a diligent daughter – a medical assistant – to take care of her in old age.
Frau Bienkowski and I talked about abortion. I told her it was illegal in Ireland. She had heard about the case of Savita Halappanavar.
Even though her friend now has a lovely daughter to take care of her in old age and her own beloved son died, Frau Bienkowski, 94, and I, seventy years her junior, agreed that Ireland should legalise abortion, and not just if a woman tells three doctors she’s suicidal.
When Frau Bienkowski was young, the pill wasn’t available. “You had to be really careful,” she said.
I told her that when my mother came to Ireland, people went to Georgian houses where doctors illicitly provided them with condoms.
“Contraception is probably still forbidden in Ireland,” Frau Bienkowski said, laughing.
I assured her that, thankfully, it was not.
But I told her that women go to England to get abortions. “Oh, is it legal there?” Frau Bienkowski asked. For her, England and Ireland are pretty much one.
“I’m surprised there’s such a demand for abortion these days though,” Frau Bienkowski said. “With so much contraception available.”
Frau Bienkowski and I talked about men. She knew several who were serially unfaithful.
I said I didn’t like people who wanted to have an exclusive partner and also lots of secret ones. I said I could understand people wanting to have sex with lots of different people, and liking open relationships. But that deceit drove me up the wall.
Frau Bienkowski agreed.
Then she asked: “So how are things with Andrew? What’s the story with his plans?”
“I have good news,” I said.
She looked intently at me. “Yes?”
“He’s moving to Berlin!” I said.
“That’s to my advantage,” she said.
Here eyes were sparkling. “That means you’re staying!”
“It sure does,” I said. “I’m not going anywhere for a while.”
“That’s to my advantage,” she said again.