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  • Oma is German for Grandmother, or you can call her Omi. I had two Omas and one Omi. Omi was the second wife of my paternal grandpa. Well, he did not really marry her, they just lived together and when he died he left her basically in the streets hadn’t it been for my Dad, who maintained her until her death. Omi was an extraordinary cook and baker, she housekept for my granddad and I do not know how she endured his sexual escapades with every other woman, who lived in the other apartments of their complex and his constant excursions to the world famous whore houses of St. Pauli in Hamburg.

    I guess she must have gotten something good out of all that bad. One good, I guess was, that through my father she had three granddaughters. Even though no biological bond connected us, a loving one did. Omi was for me maybe more important than my two Omas, the real biological ones, even though also I loved them both quite a bit.

    Omi had lived in Egypt for ten years before World War II. She had been the assistant of a German woman who had married an Egyptian physician, which in those times seems to have been pretty unusual. The German woman had a handicapped daughter and fell sick with cancer and my Omi, Berta by name, took care of them both instead of considering having her own family. But she told us that she did fall in love with a man during those years, a German named Leo Pfahl, who to her heartbreak one day was found dead in Cairo and nobody ever discovered why he had been killed.

    After this tragedy the German woman Omi took care of died and later Nina, the woman´s daughter, died of Typhus and Omi was completely heartbroken and returned to Germany. She told us that on the boat ride back she got terribly seasick, but was cured by a kind man by drinking cognac. (Is that why she always had dried plums in cognac in her house?)

    My sisters and I absolutely loved to stay overnight and sometimes for a week with Omi. She told us all these fascinating stories from a world so far away; those were still no global times back then. Every day she cooked me my favorite food. She taught me how to sew dolls and clothes for the dolls and how to fix the dolls my sisters ruined. I absolutely loved that: repairing dolls!

    Without sleeping pills Omi never slept. When I awoke at night beside her in the huge bed she had shared for so many years with my grandpa, she was reading. She was not reading a novel (which she also loved) she was reading the town´s telephone book! When we asked her why the hell she was entertained by reading the local telephone book she answered," Most of the people in the book I know and their telephone numbers and names remind me of them, I enjoy that."

    Omi wanted nothing more than a Germany with its Kaiser back. Royalty was what she desired. She had been an illegal child of one of the maids to the Grand Duke of Oldenburg. She never knew her Dad and did not see her mom very much as she was raised by her own Omi. Now I wonder: was she maybe a child of the Grand Duke of Oldenburg? She never pointed at that, though, and I am sure she would have if she had suspected or known that.

    Omi baked the most wonderful cakes that I have eaten in my life: cakes with 10 or 12 eggs in them and lots of almonds, there was a chocolate cake made with bone marrow.... I learnt my passion for baking with her but never have risen to her level.

    She sewed clothes for me and my two younger sisters, so that we all were dressed alike and we loved it when sometimes strangers thought we were triples.

    Omi´s birthday was one day after mine and she introduced me to the wisdom of the Zodiac and that I should never wear pearls, because pearls bring tears to people who are born Pisces. I have never worn pearls.

    There was a strain on the relationship between Omi and the Oma, who had been my grandfather´s first wife, even though Omi had not been the reason for him leaving Oma without money and alone with two little children back when that had happened. Once my grandpa had died both women agreed to meet on family dinners and got to respect each other. When Oma was hit by a car she had not seen coming (I guess she also suffered from Retinitis and never knew) and barely survived, Omi took her in. We were all in awe. Omi was a lady and Oma a kind of hippie long before hippies existed. They lived together until Oma fell and broke her hip. After that she needed a kind of care Omi could not provide anymore.

    One year, I was sixteen, Omi said she wanted to have a very special birthday with the whole family, she wanted to bake all her best cakes, and she wanted it to be very, very big and special. I remember my parents say," Why go to all that work, we better keep it small, we take you out!"

    But Omi kept stubborn and we had a huge party with delicious cakes and a month after she fell and could not live alone anymore and went to a home for the elderly. She never baked a cake again.

    For many years she lived in different homes and once a week I visited her.

    One day I took my then boy - friend Klaus to visit her. He had long hair and had it dyed henna red just as I had and Omi just could not take that.

    I stopped visiting her for a few weeks. My mother called one day and said, Omi was dying and I went to see her. She did not look ladylike at all anymore. She was bony and nearly bald. She said she was expecting the Grand Duke of Oldenburg to come for her any minute. She did recognize me, though, took my head in her hands, touched my front to hers and said," You know, Kiki, which one of my Egyptian rings is for you!"

    I still feel bad that because of a long - and red - haired haired and short - term boy friend I let her die alone.

    These days when spring is ecstatic here where I live I remember Omi a lot. Whenever spring arrived after a long northern German winter she asked me to accompany her to the park in town. I remember how she marveled at every flower and was enchanted by every bush. I was 12 and 13 and 14 then and wondered about her being able to be that happy about some little flowers or a bird chirping. I walked clueless beside her and just peeped here, there and everywhere to see if there was some boy around who peeped at me.

    I was so ignorant and stupid and young and driven by the same spring - hormones!

    Today I understand her exactly. When I call my grandsons to admire the flowers of the Pitaya Cactus, they come unwillingly, because they do not want to interrupt their video games. No girls in mind yet, but I know - oh so soon!
    Art by Kiki ("En la primavera")
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