Back when I was a child, our next-door neighbour was a woman whom we knew simply as Frau Herta. We lived in an block of rental flats that was beginning to show signs of age, as were the majority of its residents. And as the only kids in the building, we were accordingly unpopular with most of those people, who just wanted to spend their well-earned retirements in peace. An exception, however, was Frau Herta—69 years old, with purple-streaked dark red hair, and single but not living alone. Frau Herta’s mother, who was in her early ’90s, lived together with her and had already developed dementia by the time we made her acquaintance. She had bright, wide-awake eyes, was always dressed in black, and wore a golden cross around her neck. Most people in our building were afraid of this old woman, but we kids liked her.

Frau Herta would often invite us over. She’d serve us hot chocolate along with borderline-stale cookies dispensed from a silver container. Then we’d sit down in her flat’s little living room, over which her mother always presided from that ever-same spot on the sofa, and Frau Herta would play the piano for all of us. Always the same piece, because it was her mother’s favourite: Beethoven’s Für Elise. Again and again.

The end would lose itself in the beginning, with the notes flowing into each other, and thus did time pass in that little room with the thick velvet curtains that shut out all that happened outside. Sunrise, sunset, wind, snow, and the spring thaw. As if the seasons no longer existed around us, as if the present had come to a standstill and memories of the past no longer existed. Always was now as soon as Frau Herta had sat down at the piano—and when our parents knocked on the door to pick us up, we could never say how long we’d been there.

Once her mother had passed away, Frau Herta’s own life quickly drew to a close. But we did still visit her a few times. She always played piano for us—but never again Für Elise. She’d buried that piece along with her mother.

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