Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Liebe Suse

When I was 22 I moved to Germany. I had a Rotary fellowship, a love of foreign languages, and no immediate desire to enter the workforce. So I headed for the Goethe Institute in Freiburg-im-Breisgau and hoped that during my 6 week language intensive I'd be able to find housing and make a plan for the year to come.

Learning German was a lot easier than finding an apartment. After weeks of disappointment, I found myself sitting in a crowd of students, waiting to fill out an application for yet another tiny room. The landlord was late and we were tense; I felt very foreign indeed. A young woman in a French fisherman's jersey asked me, in English, if I was American. That's how I met Susanne Anschuetz.

Susanne had a lead on a larger apartment, one she couldn't afford on her own. On impulse she asked me if I wanted to be her roommate and equally impulsive, I said yes. Maybe because we were young, maybe because we were desperate, maybe because we recognized a kindred spirit, we both made a leap of faith.

For a year we shared an apartment in the Kartaueserstrasse. It was an open-plan apartment, spacious, but with only a curtain separating the sleeping alcove from the living room. The apartment came furnished with one, green velour, king sized, platform bed. Funny the things you accept at 22, without blinking an eye.

Susanne was from Heidelberg and had spent time in the U.S. studying English. I can't imagine what that year would have been like without her. She introduced me to her family, her friends, the idioms of the language, and the intricacies of student life in Germany. She made me feel much less foreign.

We kept in touch. She visited New York a few times with her family and we'd talk on our birthdays. In December she said was coming to NYC with her husband to celebrate her 50th and asked me to check out the hotel.

A few weeks ago I began to wonder why Susanne hadn't answered my last email, to firm up our plans for the end of the month. I even sent an old-fashioned letter thinking maybe her email address had changed. Today, not knowing what else to do, I googled her, looking for updated contact information. Instead I found an announcement of her death, following "eines tragischen Unfalls" in February.

A fire. I felt awful asking her mother what happened, but I had to know. And now what?


At May 10, 2012 at 1:53 AM , Anonymous Leda Meredith said...

So very sorry to hear about this. Condolences.

At May 10, 2012 at 7:29 AM , Anonymous Zoe said...

This is so sad, Ellen, and I'm so sorry. A good friend from a long time back is a special thing indeed. Glad you were able to learn what happened, but what a heartbreak...

At May 10, 2012 at 8:01 AM , Anonymous Frank@nycg said...

So sorry for you and your friend's family. Maybe a trip to Germany is in order?

At May 10, 2012 at 8:05 AM , Anonymous Charles Yurgalevitch said...

I'm sorry for your loss.

At May 10, 2012 at 8:54 AM , Blogger Ellen Zachos said...

Thank you, all. I deeply regret not going to visit Susanne in recent years. She always asked when I could come and I never had enough money or time. My parents saw her two years ago when they were in Berlin. She very generously met up with them and showed them around the city.

At May 10, 2012 at 10:50 AM , Blogger SaraGardens said...

How wrenchingly sad, Ellen - thinking of you, and of all who knew and loved her.

At May 14, 2012 at 3:19 AM , Anonymous Mark said...

Oh, Eleni. There will always now be this hole in your life. I imagne sadness filling you like water pouring into an empty pitcher. We don't "get over" such things. We live them into ourselves.

I believe that memory connects people who have loved and shared, so you will keep something of her with you. As you know she did of you.

I am so sorry and sad for you.


At February 11, 2013 at 5:04 PM , Anonymous Lisa said...

Hi Ellen, my name is Elisabeth, a friend of Suse. exactly one year ago we celebrated my 50th together. She hold the speech. It was the last day I met her.

I'll be in New your in May this year. If you like we could have a coffee together.

Best, Elisabeth

At February 11, 2013 at 5:39 PM , Blogger Ellen Zachos said...

Dear Elisabeth,

I would love to meet you when you're in New York. It would feel good to talk with someone who knew Suse. Please email me ( so we can make a date.


At February 23, 2015 at 6:42 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

Very sad loss. I hope Elizabeth becomes a new and special connection to that happy year you spent with Suse in Germany.


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