“When will we open the bottle of wine?” Frau Bienkowski asked.
We agreed we’d have it the next time LSB came around.
“I was very sad over Christmas,” she said. “There were many times I could have cried.”
Then, probably changing the subject, she continued: “I think someone stole my chocolate.”
I was pretty sure I could fix one of those things. I began opening drawers tentatively.
Frau B has recently developed the habit of finding elaborate hiding places for her personal items.
They’re so good she often can’t find things herself afterwards.
I got lucky after rummaging through her sock drawer. Three bars of Aldi’s Moser Roth, buried deep within a knot of nylon tights.
“Well, there you have it,” she said, retracting her accusation of theft by implicature alone.
“Now, tell me about Alicia*!”
Alicia is my six-month-old niece. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee and charmed practically the entire island of Ireland with her visit at Christmas.
Nothing makes Frau B happier than hearing about her.
“You must have some photographs,” she said, pointing at my phone.
I did. Alicia and her parents in front of the Christmas tree. Alicia dressed in red sitting on an armchair with her grandfather looking on benevolently. Alicia playing with wrapping paper. Alicia with her aunt Kate Katharina.
Frau B sat in her wheelchair, the phone clasped in both her hands, her face lit up in delight.
Babies have that effect.
She told me about her son, Uli, born in 1940 as the bombs were falling on Berlin. Her husband at war, she stayed for two years, taking cover in the cellar during the raids.
Then, in 1942, mother and child moved to the safety of the countryside in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.
They stayed in a guesthouse until 1945.
“If it hadn’t been for the war,” she said, “I would say they were the happiest years of my life.”
She and her husband exchanged countless letters. I wonder what became of them but don’t ask. Frau B has spoken before of the pain she experiences thinking of all the possessions she parted with when she moved into the home.
In Mecklenburg, she became friendly with a protestant priest. He got on famously with Uli, perhaps on account of the affection he had for his mother.
“He told me that if my husband weren’t to survive the war, he’d marry me in a heartbeat,” said Frau B.
“Yes,” she continued. “I could have married three or four times in my life.”
In the end, it was just once. Her husband came home, injured. And the priest was killed in cold blood when the Russians arrived.
*not her real name