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?