The large photo on the wall of her apartment shows her father. As he stands on a sports field. He has grown old, his shoulders bent forward. Only dressed in a hospital gown and a blue bathrobe, which he has randomly tied around his waist. His feet and legs are bare. Two boys, his grandchildren, jump in front of him, a ball lands in the basketball hoop. Not visible in the picture is the wheelchair he just stepped out to play with. The daughter points to the picture and says: “It was my father, he was ill for 23 hours, on the 24th he got up to run with his grandchildren, play catch or basketball. He was the best grandfather they could have. “
Siegward never talked about himself. He also did not like parties he should have talked to so many people. His own birthday was a horror to him. He did everything to make sure he was somehow forgotten. If he wanted to leave the house, he listened at the door to see if he could hear neighbors in the corridor. Just no small talk, no “how are you?” he was not good at that. When the coast was ready, he went out.
But once, when the refugee crisis flickered across Germany’s screens in 2015, he told his grandson what it was like for him at the time. When he came from Silesia as a four-year-old boy in a covered wagon. With him he had his mother, sisters and twin brother. He talked about the fear, about the darkness, the cold and the many nights, sometimes along the way, sometimes in haystacks. It was a long time before they finally arrived at a farm in Schleswig-Holstein. Here they got a roof over their heads and food. For this they had to work until they almost fell over.
Because his mother wanted it that way, Siegward learned to upholster armchairs and sofas in his father’s store. It did not matter that he would rather have gone to the bank. He was the skilled craftsman and was to take over the legacy. Years passed where Siegward agreed. What was his choice? To say no, quarrel, get his own will, he could not, not yet. His brother, with whom he spent every free minute, was different, more independent and stronger.
My own way, finally!
It must have bothered Siegward, he must have struggled with himself, but then came the moment when he had had enough. He told his parents that he would no longer work in the furniture store and they certainly would not take over. He now wanted to go his own way, got on the train and drove to his brother in Hamburg.
1976, a holiday in the Austrian mountains. Marleen got to know Siegward, it was as if they had known each other deeply for eternity. She could laugh, talk, joke with him. Everything was so easy in his company. Clearly the case, she was in love with this man with a full beard. He also stood acceptably on skis, could dance and always managed to steer them away from the ski group. When she returned to Bochum, she found a letter from him in the box with a ticket to Hamburg in. Clearly, he must be in love with her too. They wrote to each other, they visited each other, after less than nine months she moved in with him. He shaved his beard off for the wedding. She almost said no.
The daughter wrote a letter to her bosses with her most beautiful children’s handwriting. In it, she complained that her father became ill from working shifts and that he could not sleep properly because of it. Siegward worked in IT at Philips. He monitored data input in the various programs, initially he still handled hole cards. There was one good thing about the night shift: If he got a good night’s sleep, he could go on bike rides with his daughter, swim in the lake, or walk in the woods. Then he told one fictional story after another, and time flew by. So Siegward took the letter to work, gave it to his bosses, and told his daughter about it. A week later, a letter from his bosses was in the mailbox. They wrote their thanks and said they were sad that their father had to work so much, sometimes even at night. He is now an important employee and there is no other way. There were sweets too. Did the bosses really respond? Was it the father himself? She does not know. “The work came to him,” says the daughter, “but the work actually suited him. He didn’t have to talk to so many other people. “
Once, while on holiday in Denmark, they passed a bicycle lying in ruins. It was on the side of the road. Of course he had to pack it up: it can definitely be repaired! He personally brought his tax return to the responsible authority by bicycle, for which he rode 40 kilometers. Thursday was sacred to him when “time” came, as he read from end to end in his old wing chair. He was particularly interested in an article, for example on climate change, technical progress, he cut it out and put it on his daughter’s breakfast plate. He packed the rest of the newspaper in the attic along with the others he had collected since 1976. He knew so much, but only revealed it when asked. When his brother was at the hospice, he drove there every day, was there from morning to night, and followed him until his death.
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The grandchildren were born, both prematurely, they were often ill. Siegward boarded the train early in the morning, drove to Berlin and took the children to the doctor. He pushed her through the parks in her stroller, fed her, hugged her and made love with her. Maybe he was so good with them because he was still a child at heart. One who did not really understand the adult world, its conventions and requirements.
At one point, the daughter suggested that he and the mother could move to Berlin. They got older, the family wanted to be together, he could always see the grandchildren. Opposite would be an apartment to have. It was perhaps the most difficult decision they had to make. They sold the house they had built and moved to Kreuzberg. That was in 2012. Siegward quickly found out where the best bread was to be found and where the most beautiful bike routes were. He studied the newspapers, looked for tips for specialty shops, exhibitions and restaurants, and drove there with his wife. Within a year, the city was already his.
In the woods, by the lake, reading, building and making – Siegward was the best grandfather. It was not really noticed that this cancer existed, that it was getting worse and worse. Every time you saw him, he was bursting with energy. When doctors asked him if he was planning anything else, he said: To experience my grandchildren’s next birthday. At the very end he wanted one last beer. His daughter brought it to him. Asked him if he wanted a glass. He shook his head and put the bottle to his mouth.
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