“Last night I was lying awake thinking about my husband,” said Frau Bienkowski. “And I wondered whether he had ever told me that he loved me.”
“I thought back and realised he never had,” she continued. “I think he would have considered it unmanly.”
“And did you ever say it to him?” I asked.
“No. I think if I had asked him, he would have replied, ‘haven’t you noticed?’”
“Lots of men aren’t good at expressing their emotions,” I said.
“Yes,” she said. “And he did bring me flowers.”
I looked over at the windowsill. The carnations, whose longevity has astounded us, were now wilting.
“Do you think I should get rid of them?”
“I think it’s time,” I said.
Our conversation meandered.
Frau Bienkowski told me about a carer at the home who earns just €1000 a month. She is a Lithuanian law graduate in her fifties.
We talked about the possibility of Germany introducing a minimum wage, and what the outcome of Sunday’s election might be.
Frau Bienkowski follows politics closely. Last week, I sent off her postal vote.
She’s voted for the same party all her life.
Frau Bienkowski thinks Merkel is machthungrig – hungry for power- but also “ruhig” – or calm.
Even though Germany is in a good place, the poor are getting poorer.
Frau Bienkowski is anxious about LSB finding a job. He has been here for just five days. I told her that he was at home learning German.
“He’s diligent, is he?” she asked.
“He is,” I said. “He’ll find work. But for the moment, he needs to focus on learning the language.”
“Absolutely – there’s no point worrying about it this side of Christmas.”
Frau Bienkowsi says she pities young people out of work. It was the same in 1928, she told me. Unemployment was rampant.
Then Hitler rose and things changed. A man Frau Bienkowski knew had been out of work for ages. Then he got a job building a motorway. His wife was delighted.
Hitler re-built the army, even though he wasn’t allowed.
Men were kitted out in brown uniforms and had work again.
Frau Bienkowski got married just before the war broke out. She got pregnant, then her husband was conscripted. In 1940 her son was born.
“I prefer not to think of the time after the war,” she said. “It was so hard. We had no money.”
She will never forget the generosity of the Americans during the blockade.
“We gathered at Tempelhof airport,” she said. “And they dropped down packets of food for us.”
Then Frau Bienkowski wanted to talk about her winter clothes. They’re stuffed in a large box because her summer wardrobe takes up all the cupboard space.
We agreed to leave re-arranging the clothes until October in case of an Indian summer.
I told Frau Bienkowsi that LSB has complained about my many clothes taking up all the cupboard space and about how his t-shirts hang neatly, discontentedly from the top of the wardrobe door.
She laughed, her eyes lighting up with amusement, and told me to send him her love.