“Auf die Minute!”

Auf die Minute! Frau Bienkowski says, glancing at the clock which hangs to her right.

This is always my greeting. It is the third and final thing that happens before we shake hands.

First I knock twice on the door. Frau Bienkowski says “Ja” in two syllables, which she stresses equally.

And as I am pushing open the door and making my way past where her coat hangs, she says it.

Auf die Minute! – to the minute!

Once, Frau Bienkowski had another visitor – a lady – when I knocked on the door at precisely 3 o’clock.

Auf die Minute! they said in unison, because Frau Bienkowski had told the lady that I come exactly on time, every time. And we all laughed.

“So gehört es sich auch,” – that’s how it should be – I retort as I take the hand she has outstretched.

Sometimes Frau Bienkowski playfully teases me about my punctuality.

“You must pace around the corridors!” she says.

“The corridors? Are you joking? I go for a walk in the gardens!”

It is a source of immeasurable pride that my punctuality amuses and reassures a German. A 94-year-old German at that.

I have not told Frau Bienkowski that she alone benefits from my impeccable timekeeping and that back home, my parents are bemused by what they called my “scurry” – a trademark dash out the door which I perform with my shoulders hunched forward, my head down and usually missing an item vital to the appointment I am trying to make.

Today Frau Bienkowski is wearing a yellow jumper with short sleeves. She matches the apricots I have brought her.

“I couldn’t find the Turkish apricots which you requested,” I tell her. “These are Greek.”

“Oh, perfect,” she says.

“And they are still a little hard. But I chose them deliberately because they go soft so quickly.”

“Absolutely right,” she says, digging out her purse and pouring coins onto the table. “Now, what do I owe you?”

“Nothing,” I say. “I get a monthly travel allowance of €25 for visiting you, which I do not use because I walk. I think it’s well spent on apricots.”

“Katechen,” she says, as more coins topple out of her purse. “I swear to you, I will not ask you to get me anything ever again if you do this!”

“But I don’t need the…”


“They cost €2.29,” I say.

“Good,” she says. “Take €2.50.”

“Ha! You must be joking.”

Frau Bienkowski digs her fingers through the netting of the plastic container. She gropes the apricots, pressing them with her forefinger and thumb.

“Let’s have one each,” she says.

I take them and rinse them under the tap in her toilet sink.

To the left there is a plastic shower seat, where Frau Bienkowski sits when she gets her back washed.

“It is the only thing I can’t do for myself,” she has told me many times. “I can still do everything else. I can get dressed, and make my way downstairs for lunch. I always say, as long as I still can, I will…But I can’t reach my back any longer.”

We sit by the window, munching apricots.

It is a dull day, but every now and then, the sun breaks out from behind the clouds.

On the window sill is a line of pots.

“Look,” Frau Bienkowski says, pointing to the pot of carnations I brought for her birthday.

They are deep pink and in full bloom.

Why people stop blogging

You can spot them miles away.

Blogs that have been abandoned by the successful.

As the days and months go by, the posts became sparser.

A dig through the archives reveals evidence of more humble times – detailed descriptions of trips to the supermarket, unsolicited critiques of films,dramatic confessions that nobody really cares about, anecdotes about odd family gatherings and photographs of asparagus.

Posts become weightier. Themes like politics and history rear their ugly heads.002

Success becomes a legitimate reason to write a blog post.

Out with the grainy pictures of home-made jam and in with shiny pictures of cook book launches.

Links to appearances in more well-read publications begin to appear, like acid being poured on a wilting flower.

Enough, I say.

I’m sorry I haven’t blogged in a while.

But don’t worry. I haven’t become a massive success.

I’m just guilty of benign neglect.

And I’ve also been surprisingly busy.

And, alright, if you MUST know, I’ve been writing quite a lot for other publications.

Sickening, I know.

But I haven’t forgotten where I came from.

I’m still Kate Katharina, creep supreme and number 1 fan of the lampsilis mussel.

Last month, I interviewed a 49-year-old woman whom I met in a homeless shelter.

She spoke to me in fluent English.

Every day, she goes to a café run by a homeless charity, where she sits, smoking and writing Final Fantasy 7 fan fiction.

I’m planning an entire post dedicated to that encounter soon.

Last week, I went down to Bernauer Strasse, where Michelle Obama and the girls were visiting remnants of the Berlin wall.

In the blistering heat, I interviewed a few people who had gathered to welcome them.

One of them was Ruben, a Dutch civil servant, who had driven all the way from Holland for the Obama visit.

His enthusiasm was infectious.

After I’d taken his photograph and the Obamas had departed, he asked me whether there was a loo anywhere in the area.

I wasn’t sure if this was off-the-record.

As the road was closed off and most of the cafes on the street were shut, I took him back to the little three-person office where I freelance and presented him to my colleague as “Ruben, a Dutchman who is going to use our facilities.”

I’ve also been working on- www.berlinab50.com which is a blog aimed at Berliners in the 50-or-over category. I’m guessing that doesn’t include most of my present readers.

And I’ve been visiting Frau Bienkowski, who has vowed never to let slip again that she was invited to dine on asparagus in palatial surroundings.

Rivalry in the home can become quite intense.

And LSB was over for a few days too.

I took him up in a giant air balloon and fed him with falafel.

And we had our first ever experience with a disposable grill set.

And on that intriguing note, let me leave you with a link to an article I wrote last night for an Irish paper.

the promise to do my very best to blog more regularly again.


“So many beautiful young women’s legs are wasted by wearing trousers,” said Frau Bienkowski.

I nodded sympathetically. I was in an asymmetrical chequered skirt and thick brown tights.

“Your hair looks very nice today,” she said. “Is it freshly-washed?”

“I washed it this morning though that’s not unusual. But I’ve been out in the rain.”

She nodded. “That could explain it; it’s sitting very nicely.”

I wheeled the Zimmerframe down the corridor and picked up two cups of coffee.

“Here, have this 200 gram-bar of chocolate,” Frau Bienkowski said.

“Oh, I couldn’t possibly..”

“They’re putting me on a diet, I’m getting too fat!”

“Oh, if you insist!”

Outside the rain pelted down. The sky was white and grey. The trees swayed sadly and their leaves hung limp.

“Weren’t we waiting for a rainy day to clear out the cupboard?” I asked.

“Oh, but it’s Sunday.. are you sure?”

image source: centralavenuepub.wordpress.com

image source: centralavenuepub.wordpress.com

“Sure as can be.”

“Why don’t you use that walking stick to pull out all the stuff at the bottom?”

I fetched the dark mahogany stick and poked absurdly around the bottom of the cupboard, pulling out piles of clothing, carrier bags, cardboard boxes and four rolls of kitchen paper.

We made several piles: too big, too small, keep, discard.

I held up some wide navy trousers.

“They’re for hospital,” she said. “My only pair! Put them in the hospital bag.”

Later, we continued reading from Una Troy’s book about the cantankerous Irish nun.

I read a passage detailing the monotony of convent life. Frau Bienkowski nodded the whole way through.

“Just like here,” she said.

Afterwards I asked her whether she’d listened to the audio book.

“No, Katechen” she said. “I’m so listless and uninterested in life. I sit here and keep my eyes closed.”

“But you could just try it out for five minutes,” I insisted.

“Yes,” she said. “I could. But I am depressed. Well, I don’t know whether I am. But the weather doesn’t help. Every day is the same.”

“You have a lively mind,” I said. “You need more stimulation.”

“The friend I told you about last time,” she said. “She was a year younger than me. We used to bet about who would die first. I said since she was younger it’s only right that I would go first. But she died last year.”

“Anyway, Katechen. How is Andrew?”

“He’s well. Working diligently on his dissertation.”

“And when are you next free?”

“I’ll check my diary.”

“Now, I don’t want you to…”

“Enough, Frau Bienkowski.”

She smiled.



She came with me to the lift.

“Thank you, Katechen.”

“Thank you.”

The doors slid closed but her eyes were sparkling and she was smiling before she disappeared from view.