Human Condition 051219 (toned)

Michael Günther was born on July 16, 1935, in Berlin. I met him in a Hilton Executive Lounge and sat with him through breakfast. He was a small, frail man, 85½ years old. The half is important after 80 and before 8. Here is his story as he recounted it to me:

"I was an actor by age 10, when the Russian tanks came to save my home from the evil that infected it. We didn’t know then that they would infect us in a different way, but as terrible as a paper cut with lemon juice.

"Most people know me now as a patron of our opera. If you go there, they will know my name, and you will be well treated. Some in Berlin remember me as a famous German film director. You know in May of 1989, the East German Film Society asked me to make a film for them. We were near the wall, on the other side at the time. I said I would not while this blight divided my hometown. They told me that this wall would stand until the end of time. That’s what autocrats say when they know the end is near. Anytime the end is near you find yourself saying 'forever.'

" ‘Forever' is the word you say when you know it is ending. I told my wife, the day before she died, that I would love her 'forever.' She had cancer. I took care of her myself at home with all sorts of doctors and private nurses and coming and going. I could afford anything. Except to make her live forever, so I could love her forever.

"The wall came down just six months after the East German Film Society said it would stand forever. That was almost 25 years before I told my wife I would love her forever. We were married 51 years.

"And already I have, because I needed one, I have a new companion. She’s a widow like me, with a pension. She won’t marry me, but I call her my wife. Of course, she isn’t my wife. She’s in Zurich, meeting her second, no her sixth, grandchild. So she books me here.

"My wife, you know, who isn’t my wife, she books me here because I say I love this hotel. But really, when my wife, my real wife who died, when she was alive, we traveled all the time to make movies. To Thailand, Dubai, all over the world. We were in Guatemala when the wall fell and my home city was united again. There again, we needed outsiders, not Berliners to help us remove the cancer.

"A doctor came for her from Switzerland. But even he couldn’t do it. Remove the cancer. No matter how much I could afford. When she was dying, she wanted to travel. So I booked us here at The Hilton. And we ordered room service. And pretended we were anywhere in the world. It was a nice trip, the last one. My companion, she doesn’t know that. She just thinks I like this hotel. But I miss my wife. I will love her forever.”

— Wood lives in Baton Rouge


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