Since she had been a young girl and experiencing and approaching adolescence, Karen Auer had recorded her thoughts, dreams and desires into her trusted Moroccan bound yearly diary. An unexpected Christmas gift, as she later recalled, on her twelfth birthday from her father.
After her decision to abruptly leave the conservatory many years later and because of that painful, personal betrayal by another fellow student whom she had then thought of then as a dear friend, but was nothing more than a parasite, she had quickly forsaken this daily diary duty. That worn dusty diary being discarded quickly to her desk drawer to be deposited amongst used Parker fountain pens and shapeless paper clips, and collected pebbles from the many beach souvenirs of past happy family holidays.
By 1931 Karen was aware, as were many professional political pundits, that the party was now looking both financially and healthy in membership recruits and welcomed donations. Especially from known industrialists. The opening of the party building in Munich now completely refurbished had offered the party an aura of respectability that it now expected and desired.
Not so long ago it had pursued a policy of crude street revolution but that had been abandoned after Lansberg. The future and way ahead were through the always fickle ballot box declared Adolph to his surprised followers.
With Walter’s expected promotion, Karen had felt rather neglected because of what was happening to her husband in the political swirl of German politics. Her main concern in the spring of that year was the collapsing condition of her beloved friend and confidant Carin. Her ravaged complexion was akin to a striking oil painting by Francisco Goya. Yet she had disguised the unsightly pallor of her face as best she could with some skilful use of cosmetics. She was particularly partial to the American brand of Max Factor.
Herman after discussions with Adolph and Heinrich had decided it was time to extend a search for a suitable health spa. Perhaps with some professional and individual care, she might just regain some of her flagging health.
Heinrich reached for the telephone and dialled a number that he knew so well. He certainly had no need of a Munich directory: “Doctor Auer it’s Heinrich … yes, I’m fine and how are you?” he asked politely.
After a brief reply, he said: “Both Herman, myself and Adolph are very concerned about Carin’s ongoing health problems and we wondered if there is some treatment we should be looking at? There has been some talk from Walter of perhaps a suitable spa or clinic. Maybe you could recommend somewhere?”
He waited as he listened for an encouraging answer. Then he turned to Herman saying: “He wants to talk to you.” He accepted the offered phone then spoke with concern: “Good morning doctor I do hope you can help us … it seems to me there has been a noticeable decline in Carin’s health. Maybe some sea air I am thinking might just help to revive her spirits.”
“Hello, Herman” replied the doctor rather cautiously …”Well yes, I think its an excellent idea and any change of scenery or routine can sometimes be very beneficial and especially for Carin. I would recommend a spa in Altheid it’s known as the Belvedere. Yes I know it’s a long way from Munich but the area is delightful and would be very beneficial for her recovery as well. I’ve also read some glowing testimonials from previous patients.” He looked out of his study window and smiled as he watched Karen playing ball with Gus. They seemed so happy together. Ah if only life were that simple he thought for most people just keeping one step ahead of personal catastrophe is an effort.
Herman protested that it still seemed too far a distance to travel for her in her fragile condition. But doctor Auer was still observing Karen his once little girl who had now metamorphosed into an attractive married woman. And it had seemed so seamless from her unexpected introduction to Walter concerning a snatched handbag. To Walter proposing marriage and her surprisingly accepting his sudden request. He had never been quite sure about that fortuitous meeting between Karen and Walter that it had somehow been perhaps carefully orchestrated? But by whom or why he was unaware. But he sighed ‘all’s well that ends well’ the bard had claimed. Yet their marriage seemed a happy contended one. But he knew that so many of his patients past and present who as serving officers in the Munich constabulary had suffered broken, irreparable marriages as well as an alcohol and drug dependency.
“Yes, I know” he answered to the concerned Herman. “But it’s a minor problem and she will travel in comfort I guarantee that … the less she hears of our everyday problems here the better it might be to aid her recovery. Also, more importantly, the house is situated on the coastline and with her beloved Sweden just a few miles away across the water.” And he paused for effect saying … “I’m reliably informed that in the still of the night you can actually hear those lonely Swedish fishermen singing as they haul in their nightly catch. Then hopefully to safely return to the home harbour and safe waters. This could do more for her recovery than any proscribed hospital treatment you know.” Although he privately doubted it would prevent the slow expected decline of her illness.
Sadly the countess, if fortunate had but a few months to enjoy the declining days of her life with her husband and family and of course his daughter Karen.
Later after discussions between the three men a decision was finally taken. Carin Goring would be transported to the recommended spa and in the utmost comfort. Doctor Auer would be pleased to take care of all the travel and medical and insurance arrangements.
Some weeks later a weakened but cheerful Carin would be accompanied by Karen and with a young (just qualified) nurse named Gertrude being recommended by doctor Auer. The mercy mission started out on the journey to Altheide by the sea.
Karen prior to the journey had been affected due to a high pollen count. A popular antihistamine was successfully proscribed by her father and she was given the all-clear to begin the journey with Carin. Neither men could, unfortunately, manage to be away from the Munich political arena. What with election preparations and arranged speaking arrangements an electrical political storm was brewing in the air that year and its later electoral downpour would be devastating for the country and its people. Later this political tsunami would devastate the political landscape of Europe for decades still to come.
The problem of Karen’s prepared future journey to visit Carin and how she would arrive was solved very quickly several days later when the German industrialist millionaire and entrepreneur Willy Bock placed at her disposal his newly purchased Mercedes-Benz 170. Offering his chauffeur as well to transport her and the faithful Gertrude to the recommended spa. It seemed Karen had been offered a choice of twelve cars to choose from for the journey. All then being lovingly housed in Herr Bock’s purpose-built garage. She happily decided on the gleaming Mercedes-Benz mainly because of its distinctive canary yellow flare. The car’s fur-lined boot (trunk) would be packed with enough luggage to last for a two-week occupation. As well as a placed secured icebox containing fresh fruit, cold cuts, drinks and rolls as well as a massive bouquet of white carnations, a gift from Herr Bock himself.
As he wished the party a safe journey the industrialist confided to Karen speaking quietly: “Please send my warmest regards to my dear friend the countess. In fact several years ago when I sought her advice concerning some lucrative land acquisition in the Transvaal, she strictly warned me by telephone against purchasing it. Well, it turned out after a survey it was nothing more than a useless salted swampland. How she knew about its content I will never know. But it would have cost me a packet of money to drain and irrigate I don’t mind telling you.”
He then walked over to his driver and said a few short words in the man’s ear. Then patted him affectionately on the shoulder and slipped a rare Cuban cigar into the man’s open breast pocket. Then with a slow bow to Karen, he waved and departed towards his waiting immaculate yellow Rolls Royce.
Gertrude was delighted to meet and later talk to Gerard their English chauffer. She had always had a fascination for the English way of life and especially its royalty. She was fascinated by the lifestyle of the young princesses Elizabeth and Margaret the king’s daughters. Later during the journey she shyly enquired of Gerard who hailed from Lancashire – he had proudly informed them – if he had ever been acquainted with the king or the little princesses. It was a nonchalant negative to both questions from their driver whose alert eyes never, it seemed, deserted the empty road ahead.
Later an unforeseen incident on the long journey that Karin and Gertrude would always remember that left them both in shock and some sadness. This being when their car collided with a stray low flying Canada Goose.
This so upset Carin and annoyed the chauffer that she ordered the car to stop. Both she and Gertrude realised immediately after inspection that the poor creature was dead.
She knelt down and cradled its head in her cupped hands as Gertrude watched sobbing. Their chauffer observing the plight had reached into the car’s boot (trunk) and removed a collapsed army spade.
“Shall I bury the bird madam?” he asked non-committally, but hoping the answer would be a no.
“Please do” they both whispered almost in unison to him.
They then watched silently as he gently lifted the dead bird with gloved hands. It’s now broken neck grotesquely hanging down, as they walked over to the roadside. Both Karen and Carin watched in shock, as their chauffer prepared a resting place in the soft soil. When he had finished the three stood by the makeshift grave in silence, two of them with closed eyes. Then he slowly shovelled the pile of dirt over the plot and patted the mound into a heap. Then as they returned towards the car Karen scooped up three loose feathers from the bird’s wings. She wasn’t really sure of what this gesture signified but somehow she felt she needed to do it and placed them into her coat pocket.
There was an uncomfortable silence for the next few hours in the car as it now neared its final destination. Finally, as the expected dusk settled over the silent spa so too did the three tired travellers from Munich arrive. Now soon to be freed at last from the car’s confines, both were tired and rather stiff from the journey. Karen stretched and looked round about her. Yet she still retained a serious suspicion that the sad plight of the dead goose might be a bad omen of what was to follow. She briefly listened to the sad song of a nightingale somewhere in the distance. She paused thinking was it a song of sorrow perhaps for the dead goose, but she somehow doubted this foolish emotion. Or perhaps was it a warning for herself of sadness yet to arrive then settle over her own life? Again she hoped not, but was not any false hope more acceptable than no hope at all she wondered?
This erect grey building stood before her like a lone sentry outside Buckingham Palace on a December night. She shivered as she took in the many vacant windows that looked down on her almost accusingly. Yet it was the aroma of the salted sea air that arrested her breath. She had not realised how close to the sea the spa actually was.
Her thoughts were interrupted by Gertrude calling her name softly and Gerard now standing at the open door announcing rather impatiently: “I believe they are expecting us, madam.”
Then before her stood a tall cadaverous man wearing a crisp white coat with an obligatory stethoscope draped around his neck like a dead snake. He had positioned himself in the hallway and called her name with an outstretched hand. She would later learn and see for herself that he possessed a glass eye. This made it always difficult when she spoke to him hoping to look at the correct eye. Somewhere probably during the war, he had parted company with his left thumb as well. Only an ugly stump remained when displayed. Yet for most of the time outside of his office, she noticed he wore soft white cotton gloves. This was because of a suspected germ phobia Gertrude had later heard about from the friendly French Sou chef Paolo.
“Welcome to our humble abode madame I am doctor Drainzieg. Please do come in. It’s always a personal pleasure to welcome the daughter of the distinguished doctor Auer whose medical writings I am very familiar with, as published in the Lancet. His article on the problem of diabetes and its possible cure was excellent if I may say so.”
He beamed at Carin now taking both of her gloved hands into his own hands saying with abundant respect: “We are naturally delighted and so honoured to be able to welcome countess Carin Goring as well to use our facilities of which I am very proud of.” He then stood swiftly aside and beckoned them into the hallway. They had finally arrived at last thought Karin with a contented sigh and smile.
Karen then seriously glanced at the surroundings in the spacious hallway that comprised of several gentle watercolour landscape paintings. But one depicting Montmartre, Paris at night seemed to her rather out of place. But with soft yellow curtains and matching covered easy chairs, it looked very welcoming. On display for the new arrivals were several large lighted aquariums of tropical fish. A corner Chippendale table and chair had coloured brochures laid upon it and assorted rural and coastal postcards, as well as headed notepaper and envelopes and a small silver plate containing postage stamps.
This bright airy room that welcomed guests and visitors alike had certainly succeeded, but maybe that was its purpose Karen suspected. Suddenly noticing a full-size suit of dented armour situated by a small half-concealed doorway surprised her and made her smile. Very dramatic she thought as she appraised the other displayed antiques. Yet there was something continental, whether designed or not about the whole prepared effect. And all it required she thought was a cheerful concierge reading a crumpled copy of La Figaro with a half-smoked Gitanes cigarette in her mouth to complete this arranged picture.
Yet Karen was obviously aware that she had not journeyed to this spa to perform an art appraisal however much she enjoyed it. Her friend was here for full medical care and consultation. And to her, it was critical she be here with her always. She remembered only too well when last Christmas Carin had dramatically collapsed in front of her eyes whilst opening her many presents in the Goring apartment then stacked under the over-decorated Christmas tree. Walter had deftly stepped forward and caught her. Later being confined to her sickbed on doctor’s orders for several days with a burning fever consuming her already depleting strength.
By January of the new year, she had sufficiently motivated herself to oversee the preparations for a dinner party to entertain Adolph and other party donors. Then silently retreated alone to her unmade bed like a wounded doe. It had been terrible for Karen to observe her suffering yet feel so powerless to aid her in her agony. Karen had watched her friend descend somewhere into a secure safe harbour that only she could enter. Maybe she was walking once again as a young girl in the lush maintained grounds of her home in Sweden? Or struggling to remain standing in a deep snowdrift that so enriches that enchanting nordic land of the famed midnight sun.
Over the years their friendship had established into a lasting unimpaired liaison between the two women. She knew it could only ever be finally terminated by the approaching death of her close friend. She did not, however, wish to dwell on that likelihood just now in the building she had just arrived at. She hoped all would proceed smoothly. She would have to remain positive for both of them.
Doctor Drainzig then informed them that they would be escorted to the guest suite. He suggested that they both might like to freshen up and later to join him in his office for coffee. Until then he would place them both in the capable hands of the kindly Scottish housekeeper Mrs Holliday.
Karen then became aware of Gerard gently clearing his throat as if to make his presence noticed. She turned and smiled at him and enquired: “Was there something Gerard?” The man shrugged uncomfortably saying: “Yes madam, unfortunately, I must return to Munich this evening. However, I am requested to inform you that when you are ready to leave the hospital please have somebody place a telephone call to Herr Bock.” He passed her a printed card.
She accepted it, glanced at it, and thanked him for all he had done especially in preparing that unforeseen grave for that poor unfortunate bird. He did not comment but saluted them both, turned and departed to begin the long haul back to Munich. She did not envy him and then turned with Carin to accompany the waiting and smiling Mrs Holliday to be escorted to their awaiting quarters. But before departing the empty hallway however her eyes were arrested by the colourful shoal of displayed tropical fish. Pausing and noticing her keen interest she heard a soft Scottish voice gently warning her: “I wouldn’t put your finger there my dear because there is supposed to be a hungry piranha lurking in the plants … or so I’m informed … not that I would recognise one even if I suddenly tripped over one … and certainly I’ve never seen one in Scotland.”
Karen turned and smiled then dismissed her warning and received a humorous wink in return.
“Come along now ladies and let me show you to your rooms … oh and don’t worry about luggage it will be delivered to your rooms later and … some welcome refreshments I’m sure will be provided.”
They both obediently followed her. As promised the suitcases arrived later, as well as bottles of mineral water, fresh fruit and biscuits placed on the bedside table.
Karen was to remain at the comfortable spa for just over a week. And accompanied much of the time with Carin by her side. That is when her precarious health allowed. The two took welcomed short walks in the delightful fields and woods with frequent pauses for Carin to catch her breath. They talked and laughed and reminisced a great deal about the past and their first fortuitous introduction to each other and what had happened since.
Karen had previously placed in her new vanity bag before leaving Munich, a yearly diary to record her daily thoughts and daily jottings concerning life at the spa and Carin’s ongoing health progress. However, she then wondered one evening rather abruptly about the purpose of committing every written word and deed that happens in the day into a small useless book that she suspected will probably only be looked at or read by herself sometime in the future. She quickly dismissed this useless self-appointed task by asking herself ‘what’s the point?’
She then decided she would instead each day if possible, put pen to paper and prepare an informative letter to Walter, sharing her thoughts of the daily happenings she had seen at the sanatorium. And more importantly with Carin’s slow recovery, she might even mention the countryside as well and especially to inform him of how much she was missing him already. She added then mischievously with an emphasised mention of Gus as well.
She decided she would commence composing a letter in the morning before breakfast if possible and finally finish it in the evening after supper. Then seal the letter with a kiss to be ready for her to post the following day to Munich. She had packed in her suitcase a small china cup depicting the old Munich town which was now placed on her dressing table.
In the previous months, Karen had discovered much to her delight the stanzas of the English poet Walter De LaMare. She was especially delighted with one of his poetic works ‘The Empty House.’ She recited part of it gently to herself:
‘See this house, how dark it is
Beneath its vast boughed trees
Not one trembling leaflet cries
To that watcher in the skies’
She would then frequently tease Walter by addressing him as’ Walt,’ apparently, the poet had been called this affectionately by his friends. ‘And don’t forget Walt Disney” she would laughingly remind Walter! But Walter hated to be addressed by it. Then on one occasion, he decided to call her ‘Carrie.’ This then suddenly reminded her of an event when she and Ingrid had been taken as children to the ‘Smitz Brothers’ circus by her parents in Munich. She had watched in horror as a poor performing seal named Carrie had balanced somehow a coloured beach ball on her nose and flapped her flippers. The poor thing she thought. It’s so cruel that they were making her sadly and cruelly perform” she later sadly recalled.
An uneasy but very friendly truce between the couple had then been affectionately established in how they addressed each other, promising that neither would ever use either Carrie or Walt to address each other, but it was frequently broken.
THE BELVEDRE SPA AND SANITORIOUM, 1931
“My darling Walter (Walt!), it is very late and I’m finally putting pen to paper as promised to inform you of what has been happening here. Well, my dear after a momentous journey in Herr Bock’s oh so comfortable car and that unfortunate experience when a poor Canada goose was accidentally killed, about which I will tell you all more about when I return home, we finally arrived at the above address tired and hungry and even our driver appeared exhausted and grumpy. It’s certainly an imposing building I must say having once been the apparently the family country home and the estate of one of those forgotten 18th-century German prince’s. Or so I’m reliably informed, not sure which one and don’t really care. But of the patients that I have encountered so far so much of their damaged lives and any lasting love seems to have eluded so many of them. It’s so very sad when you talk to them. Many of them never have a visit or a letter from home. One old lady and always a delight to talk to has I have been informed two grown-up children and both of them practising doctors. The so-called caring profession and have never once been to visit her. It must be very distressing for her. But one never really knows what does go in families behind closed doors. The attitude of some people really is unforgivable, isn’t it? This nine fingered doctor I must mention uses the hospital rather like his personal fiefdom, with both patients and staff seem to be in awe or fear of him I noticed. When he undertakes his morning ward rounds he is then followed by his Lilliputian secretary named Fraulein Gulliver can you believe? She rather trots behind him rather like a drooling French poodle and always making frantic notes into one of her many lined note pads. Hoping I suspect never to mishear his fired instructions to her. She must be very efficient is all I can say. I can also testify to the speed of the words that he dictates to her over his shoulder … rather like fired machine-gun bullets. The hospital matron or madam La Dragon as she is referred to behind her back by staff and patients orders all around the building rather like an old Prussian army drill sergeant I am informed, but with no flames erupting from her mouth. She wears a heavy canvas belt around her waist over a floor-length grey uniformed prison dress and with a heavy bunch of keys on display. And always has a petulant frown on her face. The male orderlies I noticed are dressed in short crisp white jackets with an embroidered logo stitched onto their jackets. And with black creased trousers and highly polished boots, they seem very militaristic. They seem to patrol the wards and grounds but I haven’t seen any guard dogs yet my dear, but I heard some barking the other darkened night all very strange … oh by the way I suspect Heinrich would be very proud of the orderlies dress code. Gertrude had been assisting in the kitchen and has made friends with one of the young workers … seems he is from near where she was born and they both sang in the same Lutheran choir but did not know each other it seems. Small world isn’t it? Carin at the moment is ensconced comfortably in a wonderful suite on her own in a wing known as the Rembrandt wing. It will be later converted into the countess wing I’m informed for obvious reasons by the hospital director and obviously he wants to curry favour with Herman in the future. Interestingly all the other wards are clearly numbered but only feature even numbers with no odds numbers. I’m reliably informed by an old sea captain here who is being treated for alcohol abuse that apparently it’s part of the hospital healing process to feature the positive and never the negative even indoor numbering. Not sure about this hospital rule? Very strange. I’m also accompanying Carin each morning to the heated hydro pool and darling when no one’s looking I’m taking a ‘dip’ myself! We have both taken full advantage of the warm pool in the steam room and we both sampled the many opportunities to spoil ourselves with such delights as aromatherapy creams, scented sponges, heated oils from Ceylon, essences from Corfu and a refreshing balm salt. Then we both indulge ourselves with a deep heat massage delivered by a beautiful lady from Bali who possesses the softest of hands in her relaxation techniques. You must try it!! It’s all the rage in Palm Springs I’m informed by her. Many of the kitchen and nursing staff are proudly political I have noticed and according to Gertrud most will be voting for Adolph. Carin has written to Herman of course with this exciting news. She wanted to talk to him on the telephone but dreaded the prospect of being alone in the doctor’s cluttered office with him listening to what she had to say. But sadly her heath seems so precarious yet at other times she seems to be her old self. It’s very upsetting for both of us. We both eat in a private commissary and the food is sublime and served from a five-star course menu can you believe? Carin as usual only picks at what is placed before her. Usually an ordered poached egg with some salad with fresh mint and spinach. Poor darling has little taste for anything at all these days. However, I’m rather enjoying a new slimming diet of avocado, some bell peppers and asparagus, some nuts with steamed wild Canadian rice with herbs. Umm, delicious. How healthy I’m becoming my love!! This being a famous spa, of course, it is almost mandatory that we both drink at least five litres of this fortified water for prescribed daily healing benefits each day. I cannot confess to have noticed any difference in my own appetite. And Carin has not noticed any obvious healing aspects either. But we will persevere anyway. Incidentally, there is a separate kitchen for the guests such as ourselves where our food is prepared by a chef from the London Savoy hotel also named Walter! The kitchen when he proudly showed us around is fitted with stainless steel cookers and large heavy freezer refrigerators imported from Denmark. And also something I have never seen before is a small fitted eye-level refrigerator set into a teak surrounded alcove. Oh, and beautiful Dresden china as well. A special cultivated vegetable/herb garden is provided for the patients’ dietary needs, with free-range eggs and milk and butter delivered directly from the spa farm. Other delights from the orchards are brought in each day or delivered from the nearest farmer’s market. Oh, and there is a heard of Holstein Friesian cows I am informed by Mrs Holliday happily grazing on the land here who seem quite friendly to strangers. It seems the American President William Taft had his own pet cow named Pauline we were informed. And this pet cow happily grazed for years on the White House lawns and provided fresh milk for the presidential family each morning can you believe? As papa used to say, ‘You learn something new each day’. Well, that’s true enough.”
To be concluded…
(C) Copyright G. Patrick Battell