Finding Marianne Behn
In August 2011, I was in Munich, Germany, after failing my first Ironman triathlon attempt barely a year of learning to cycle a road bike. It was mighty ambitious of me, to progress that quickly from running six miles everyday to running a marathon, then a triathlon and a full Ironman in less than a year.
My husband comforted me repeatedly during that rock bottom period.
We took a train from Munich to Lake Tegernsee, located 31 miles southeast of Munich. Germany has a highly intricate and efficient train system that connects its far flung provinces together, enabling easy commute to faraway towns and resorts in less than an hour on most trips.
After a short tour of the lake by boat, we hopped onto shore and strolled to a lakeside cafeteria for some afternoon sweets. The weather was gorgeous, to say the least. We found a table under the windy shade of a huge tree that dug its roots vicariously by the banks of the lake. I looked around me as I always do in a cafeteria. Holiday makers, families, couples filled most of the tables. An elderly lady in large silver-rimmed glasses, short-sleeved pink tee shirt and a blue cotton hat sat by herself at the table next to ours. She was enjoying a slice of cake and tea. I kept looking over to her table, and after ten minutes, I could tolerate no more.
I’ve always had an unease with people hanging out by themselves. My memories of childhood were those of me returning home from school to an empty home; I’d have lunch, shower, do my homework, read, and head out to play. I only saw my parents for an hour or so each night after they got home from their second job as private tutors in an English school. For their main jobs, they were a teacher and a nurse respectively. Most of my life was shrouded in a sense of loneliness, thus I have a keen observation and affinity for people whom I detect to be alone by themselves.
I smiled and waved to her to join us at our table. She smiled, shrugged as if to say, ‘Alright, what’s the harm? I guess I will’ and brought her cake and tea over to our table. She spoke not a word of English; we spoke no German. To communicate, we’d type words in English and have Google Translate flip our message into German, which we would show her. She would then utter a string of incomprehensible German words which fortunately, my husband could make out a word or two of. He had studied German briefly in university.
We must have looked like a comical trio; talking, gesturing, mimicking, acting just to get our message across to each other. But we understood each other alright. We spent a lovely afternoon getting to know Marianne. Formerly a waitress, Marianne Behn was retired and lived alone in Munich. Her husband had been deceased for a long time and they had no children. Marianne didn’t drive. On weekends, she would explore Germany by train and busses, heading to different places of interest or resorts for a day. Marianne had never flown in a plane or travelled out of Germany.
After our afternoon siesta, we strolled the provincial neighbourhood. Many times I would walk a few steps behind so I could snap back shots of Marianne and my husband walking and chatting with each other. I love taking back shots of people. Marianne appeared to be both lonely and friendly. She would smile and greet anyone that crossed her path, and chatted at length with anyone who would afford her time and attention.
We took the train together back to Munich, after which we parted ways. Marianne didn’t look like she owned a computer or was technologically savvy, and I wasn’t confident that she would be proficient with keeping in touch via emails, so I didn’t ask for her email address. To this day, three and a half years later, I regret not keeping in touch with Marianne. I think of her constantly and wish I have some means of reaching her, because I desire to buy her an air ticket so she could fly, after she told us she had never flown in a plane or travelled out of Germany. I tried to find her on the Internet, using any and every possible combination of keywords to locate her, but failed. She’s not on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. I don’t know who in Munich I could reach to get a hold of her.
I miss Marianne terribly. Why would this be so when I barely know her save for a short afternoon together in the summer of 2011? Is it love, sympathy or compassion crying out here?
How strange is must be for Marianne, that someone thousands of miles away, in a different continent and country, with the oceans between, would think of her constantly and wish her well and hope to see her again?
Marianne was 85 when we met her. She must be 89 now. I pray she’s still alive and well and that I will see her very soon.
Here is an account I wrote in August 2011 after my encounter with the beautiful country (scroll down to point number (5) to read a brief account of my encounter with Marianne at Lake Tegernsee, Munich).