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On a freezing November night, a young doctor accidentally runs over and kills an 18-year old boy. The criminal investigation is quickly dropped, but the mysterious circumstances of the accident leave behind many unanswered questions.
Over half a century ago, when I was 19, my friend Per Sinats took me to see a film he had seen once before: "Ich Denke Oft an Piroschke" ("I Often Think of Piroschke"). Most of the film has faded in my memory, but I remember the first glimpse the feckless young hero and I got of Liselotte Pulver in Hungarian peasant's garb standing in some outdoor setting - a farmer's field perhaps? - smiling at us both. THAT'S the archetypal image I keep in my heart - a natural beauty, an open, welcoming smile, an invitation to a summer of love.
Per and I were both smitten with Liselotte Pulver, aka Piroshka, and went to any movie she was in, though we never quite re-captured the fresh, guileless Hungarian peasant girl.
That was in the autumn. By the next springtime I had a real-life German girlfriend, Rose, who at 19 was as open, trusting, and willing to love as Piroshka. Perhaps not as beautiful, but then, who was? Not even Liselotte Pulver herself, I daresay, except on celluloid. Suffice it to say that Rose pleased me.
But like Hans in the movie I left Germany after a year with no plans to return, and when I next ran into Rose I was forty, and married. And the next time I was sixty, and divorced, but with another woman in tow. And finally, last summer, seventy-one and once again single.
Rose never married - never WANTED to marry, she avers, for fear of losing her independence, her chance at the satisfying career that in fact she has had. But had I been the love of her life, as she once wrote in a letter? Had my abandonment of her ruined her life, or had it, rather, allowed her to have the life she wanted?
In any case our six-day reunion was sweet, and I spent another two weeks with her at Xmas, and plan on going back again.
She is deeply rooted in the town where she was born, in the house she inherited from her parents, on a hillside overlooking the Neckar river a few miles east of Heidelberg. She has friends who married Americans and who after decades here still regret leaving Germany. Despite my fondness for Germany I don't want to live there, and she won't even fly to visit me in far-off Alaska, so I must fly there if I want to see her again, and I do.
The friendship is sweet, and preserves some of that fantasy the movie captured - that somewhere out there is the perfect lover, eternally young, smiling at us from a field of shimmering wheat, giving everything and asking nothing of us except what we willingly have to give. And so I still often think of "Ich Denke Oft an Piroschke."
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