As a little boy I received wonderful letters from my elder sister. They were densely painted in dark, luminous colours. I don’t remember much of the written content, but given her dark and vivid imagination I’m sure the correspondent gave her 11 years younger brother a lot to think about.
When I started the long, painful process of growing up, she was my guide and reliable friend. She gave me the kind of education parents can’t give. We talked about sexuality, politics, about drugs and counter culture. She invited me for lunch to her small student flat in Hamburg’s university quarter, recommended the hottest urban venues she had learned about but rarely visited herself, and introduced me to her highly politicized friends.
Once, on a courier mission for the Maoist organization she was engaged in, she took me along to Berlin. Lacking proper lodging we spent a night on the stairs of Gedächtniskirche, together with two teenage runaways from Western Germany and a young local social worker. Later all of us took the subway to Grunewaldsee and had a naked bath in early sunlight.
When some months later she planned to marry and was a little scared to introduce her Ethiopian to-be husband to the family, I was the first to know, necessary ally in the scheme to somehow soften the expected fight with our father (who later of course came not only to accept but to love his wonderful son-in-law and their beloved three children).
She was a passionate woman, restlessly seeking explanations. She not only wanted to know, she was obsessed with an urge to understand her own biography as related to and defined by her social and family background, and the inexplainable looming mess of German history.
Her very intensity was overwhelming, sometimes even hard to bear with. Modern technologies of communication were something she deeply disliked, even the telephone was only used under dire necessity. Her medium was the personal talk, preferredly on long, hurried walks during afternoon hours or evening twilight, through Berlin streets, along canals or over the derelict wasteland that is so characteristic for post-war Berlin.
For her 60th birthday in the year of 2005 she invited us to Schloß Cäcilienhof, location of the Potsdam conference. With her astute sense for the interrelation between the personal and the political, she wanted to celebrate the 60 years of her life against the background of the six decades of German post-war history, the foundation of which were laid in her birth year 1945 at exactly that place.
Yesterday morning after the daily shopping she withdrew to her room to play the piano. When everything stayed eerily silent, her husband entered the room and found her lying on her bed with open eyes, pulse already gone.