Saturday, February 4, 2012

A Fragrance of Karlsruhe

With a big pot of black bean soup on the stove yesterday, the thought came that my friend Angela might enjoy a bowl. Though Friday was an off-schedule day for our visits, I hoped the aroma from my bring-in lunch would tempt her to open the door. It was a good day for eating out on the back patio, a spot that when conditions are right produces a quality that brings quiet joy to the heart. A sun-dappled shade hangs over the whole and apart from the distant buzz of a lawnmower the only sound is that of squirrels and lizards scampering across a crinkled carpet of leaves, squawked at by a sullen blue jay.

Angela complains that she can’t eat a bite. An early morning anxiety attack coming like waves of black freight required an unscheduled dose of Lorazepam. “No, I tell you. I can eat nothing. My stomach is empty.”

“Empty? Sounds like a good time to have a light meal,” I answered, knowing the magic in my lunch sack would work better than medicine. “Grab those sunglasses. We’re on our way to an hour of patio madness.” Wheeling Angela out of the bedroom, I added, “I have a salad you’ll like.”

Settled in an almost theatrically lit spot of flickering light and warm shade, we enjoy a lunch of black bean soup and green salad, a toasted muffin. Angela dabbles at her lunch, eating slow bites while describing the small neighborhood she grew up in. Karlsruhe, Germany 1938, a time when the country was flourishing, but conversation guarded. A brother-in-law had not been seen since a late night visit by the authorities. Angela lived a comfortable life with her mother over their perfumery, a place she worked alongside her mother when not in school. An elegant shop with glass cases, its best feature was the cherrywood paneling framed in ebony. The shelves were stocked with a sundry of perfumes and colognes, names like 4711 and Midnight in Paris, hard-to-get nylon stockings, tortoiseshell brushes, combs and barrettes. The building was one of many comprising a triangular block of stores and upper floor dwellings. There was a fine clothing store owned by a Jewish family until they disappeared. Two doors away was the Golden Cross, a favorite eating place for many in the neighborhood. The apothecary was a large establishment on the corner with a rainbow of colored waters sparkling in its windows. As the effects of war ground their way across Germany, keeping the shop open became difficult and Angela’s mother was forced to sell the perfumery. They continued to live in the rooms above the store.

The City of Karlsruhe is in the southwest of Germany, located near the French-German border. It was founded in 1715 as Karlsruhe Palace at a time when the country was a series of principalities and city states. The city was built with the palace tower at the center and thirty-two streets radiating out from it like the spokes of a wheel. Much of the central area was destroyed by Allied bombing during World War II and later rebuilt.


  1. Wonderful post and interesting about Karlsruhe. We probably went there on our travels in Germany. We went to Stuttgart so I am sure we at least drove through Karlsruhe which is a beautiful area of the country. You left me hanging not knowing if Angela ate and enjoyed her lunch. I am sure she did and you were so kind to think of taking that to her to brighten her day.

  2. I, too, was hoping for the story to continue after the closing of the store, the menace of people disappearing and Jewish shops closing. Wanted to know how she ended up on a sun-dappled patio in a Florida retirement home. A wonderful opening to something that could be a fine short story or non-fiction piece, a quick survey of her life using (at times) her own descriptive language. Well done.


About Me

My photo
Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America