A tribute to Martina I. Kischke (and my mum)

Picture it: Frankfurt, the early 1980s. On a day like any other, my mother and I passed the Frankfurter Rundschau building, the Frankfurter Rundschau was in these times for Germany what, say, the Washington Post was for the United States, in other words a very important newspaper and former employer of my mother (the blonde on the right), when we ran into Martina (the brunette on the left), a good friend and ex-colleague of my mother’s who was in charge of the newspaper’s women‘s section, the “Frauenredaktion”, in the changing political climate of the 1960s and ’70s, she was commenting on women’s lib issues and the legalisation of abortion as well as reporting from the Paris fashion shows. In 1966, when the cold war was still a major issue, she fell in love with a Russian when reporting from Kazakhstan. A Russian that turned out to be a spy. The very moment, she met her “Romeo” in Alma Ata to marry him, she was arrested for espionage, microfilm had been hidden by her fiancé in her cigarette pack. For 138 horrid days she was imprisoned, first in Alma Ata, then in Moscow’s notorious prison, the Lubyanka. But she survived. On December, 23rd, 1966, she was finally freed because her boss, Karl Gerold, founder and editor-in-chief of the Frankfurter Rundschau, had moved heaven and earth to have her exchanged, exchanged for a real spy, Alfred Frenzel, a German politician that had been working for Russia. Anyway, on this less important day in the early 1980s, my mother, just like Mrs Dalloway in eternal repetition, had bought the flowers herself but was missing a vase, I guess either me or one of the cats had broken the ball-shaped vase my mother had in mind for her tulips and so she asked Martina where to get a one. “Lorey.”, Martina replied, “They have Lalique.” Lalique, okay, sure, why not replace a vase for ten bucks with Lalique crystal? For years, this has been a running gag. Martina had kind of a Jacqueline Kennedy-ish approach to life: always the best. You rarely saw her without an Hermès scarf. I found all of that very intriguing, and as my mother still has no high-toned crystal at home, I have to blame Martina for all the money I’ve spent on Lalique vases.

The history of things.

I hate new things. I love things with a history attached. Fragrances, for instance. Bois des Iles is from 1926, the year The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was published, Agatha Christie’s first ‘whodunnit’ story featuring Hercule Poirot, her Belgian detective, and reformulated or not, it still smells like Coco Chanel, au petit jour in the backseat of a black Rolls-Royce, wrapped in her sable coat, on her way home from a delightful sexual encounter with some of these men way out of her league, socially speaking, they were all of such noble birth, rich as hell or nouveau pauvre – très nouveau, très pauvre, but in fact, they all were out of hers, they just had names, names they were just born with, she had made herself a name, a name worth millions then and now, she chose her lovers like others chose jewelry, and was hated for it, envied at least, but to hell, she was no bourgeoise, she just dressed them. The dresser it stands on is from the same time, by the way. It belonged to a pharmacist, so the antique dealer I bought it from told me, considering it’s art deco, it wasn’t even new when he bought it. Inherited, maybe. Or a pharmacist who was into art deco, sounds like an interesting man, somebody who had looked out for something special, who wanted to enjoy opening his sock drawer, suavely, pulling it open with the gentlemanly grip burl wood demands. On the other hand, he might have hated it. Too many memories attached. It might have belonged to his wife who left him for another man. A younger one. Although he was only 36 when she left. He waited all his life for her to come back. Didn’t touch her personal things, her silk stockings, kept them as if she would come back for them, or him – as if, she’d reply – maybe it was just one of those things, he kept telling himself. Or maybe not. Maybe he was just way out of her league.