The Story of Two Women

Wanderings through a Flohmarkt (flea market)

One can learn about the culture of a country by wandering through its flea markets. There you see discarded memories of people’s lives, possessions trivial and possessions imposing, where once something may have been cherished but no longer. Materialistic items yes, but things representing peoples lives, years of living, items that have no intrinsic meaning except they were once held by those who can no longer speak except through the object itself. They are now orphans.

If you go to any Flohmarkt in Germany you will find hundreds if not thousands of WWI era family pictures being sold almost in bulk.  It's sort of sad really, but you quickly get the feel of that time period. I bought one beautiful picture of two women, a woman in her 20's kissing an older woman on the cheek, sort of like a daughter kissing her mother.  Both were immaculately dressed, upright, erect posture.  This picture is one that makes you ponder about the people and time period. In the young woman's left hand looks like a knitting needle, and almost casually, there is about a one foot long piece of crochet. It should be noted, this was not a snapshot, but a large photograph in an elegant wooden framed obviously done by a professional photographer.

It was cold and wet, the day I went to this particular flea market. I was more interested in getting dry and having some gluewein (a delicious hot wine), when I almost ran past this picture. It caught my eye but I went on in my frantic attempt to see everything before I became drenched. However, I couldn't get that picture out of my mind. The rain was falling on the picture and silly me, it seemed a shame that it was being treated so badly for such a lovely picture.  I turned around and bought the picture for 40 marks ($25).

The look of the two women staring out at me reminded me of the Mona Lisa. What were they saying to me? The picture remained a mystery.  Both women were quite "handsome" if not beautiful.  There was joy in that picture but I couldn't figure out why. The picture was encased in a nice frame but because of mildew it needed an overhaul.  I turned it over to a friend whose hobby was framing.  He liked the challenge and the picture like most people who see it, fascinated him as well. The old wooden frame was to be kept, and a new matting replaced the old. Two weeks later I received a beautifully reworked picture and also a surprise. My friend, said, "I have a surprise for you.  I found something underneath the picture when I took it apart."

What was underneath explained part of the mystery but created more mystery on its explained the joy in the picture.  Underneath was found a certificate, a degree of completion of a dance studio in Paris signed by a French woman.  The student was obviously German. The degree was dated about one month before WWI when France and Germany would become enemies.

It solved the mystery of joy found in the picture but other questions will always remain. What became of the two women?  Were they forever friends or did the war make them enemies? Probably not enemies, for who would keep a picture of an enemy for almost 80 years until I found it in the rain.  But, why was it even in the rain? The young woman filled with joy, died an old woman and her sons and daughters did not want a picture of this old woman in her youth? Or did she die alone and her distant relatives sold off all her belongings?  Or just before she died, did her dimmed eyes look over to the picture, and did she think of that fleeting moment in the spring of joy, of her teacher, of the happy times in Paris in 1914?

If no one else on this earth remembers these two women, at least there will be me.

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