Death Of A Sister

As a little boy I received wonderful letters from my elder sister. They were densely painted in dark, luminous colours. I don’t remember much of the written content, but given her dark and vivid imagination I’m sure the correspondent gave her 11 years younger brother a lot to think about.

When I started the long, painful process of growing up, she was my guide and reliable friend. She gave me the kind of education parents can’t give. We talked about sexuality, politics, about drugs and counter culture. She invited me for lunch to her small student flat in Hamburg’s university quarter, recommended the hottest urban venues she had learned about but rarely visited herself, and introduced me to her highly politicized friends.

Once, on a courier mission for the Maoist organization she was engaged in, she took me along to Berlin. Lacking proper lodging we spent a night on the stairs of Gedächtniskirche, together with two teenage runaways from Western Germany and a young local social worker. Later all of us took the subway to Grunewaldsee and had a naked bath in early sunlight.

When some months later she planned to marry and was a little scared to introduce her Ethiopian to-be husband to the family, I was the first to know, necessary ally in the scheme to somehow soften the expected fight with our father (who later of course came not only to accept but to love his wonderful son-in-law and their beloved three children).

Meine Schwester, Foto: Familie Lorenz-Meyer

She was a passionate woman, restlessly seeking explanations. She not only wanted to know, she was obsessed with an urge to understand her own biography as related to and defined by her social and family background, and the inexplainable looming mess of German history.

Her very intensity was overwhelming, sometimes even hard to bear with. Modern technologies of communication were something she deeply disliked, even the telephone was only used under dire necessity. Her medium was the personal talk, preferredly on long, hurried walks during afternoon hours or evening twilight, through Berlin streets, along canals or over the derelict wasteland that is so characteristic for post-war Berlin.

For her 60th birthday in the year of 2005 she invited us to Schloß Cäcilienhof, location of the Potsdam conference. With her astute sense for the interrelation between the personal and the political, she wanted to celebrate the 60 years of her life against the background of the six decades of German post-war history, the foundation of which were laid in her birth year 1945 at exactly that place.

Yesterday morning after the daily shopping she withdrew to her room to play the piano. When everything stayed eerily silent, her husband entered the room and found her lying on her bed with open eyes, pulse already gone.


  1. — Thy sun shall no more go done neither shall thy moon withdraw itself for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light and the days of thy mourning shall be ended —

    [Isaiah 60,20]

  2. Heartwarming memories of a beautiful person. I often think about her and like you as a young man, I believe she gave all of us a lot to think about. I will not forget her.

  3. I didn’t know her – unfortunately – as your memories make me wish I had. She reminds me of my dear aunt who was similar close to me. Death shows us how precious life is – and to cherish the moments we are allowed to share with each other. It also reminds us that it is never too late to change things, attitudes, life styles – but that we do not know how much time is left to improve. So every day has its lesson and we should try to grasp what it means to us.

  4. Gabriele war unglaublich lebendig und intensiv, kaum vorstellbar, dass wir nicht mehr mit ihr sprechen können. Umarme dich. Anna

  5. Though I knew Gabrielle only through the eyes of her brother Ulrich
    I was always enchanted by her special personality and way.
    Losing a sister is always painful (I lost the only one I had many years ago, but think of her often even now).
    My deepest sympathy as you adjust to your loss.
    My thoughts are also with your mother as one’s child should never
    gp before the parents. (I have experienced that also in my life,
    and the pain lingers even yet…

  6. What an eloquent and compelling written tribute to a unique woman. My thoughts are with the Lorenz-Meyer Family as you all remember and mourn the loss of Gabrielle. I am sure that her energy and wonderful spirit will always be with you all.

  7. I am just stunned by Gabriele’s sudden death. She is so much a fixture of my past that it is difficult to believe that she will not be there anymore. Though we lost contact over the years, and I never got to know her as an adult, it seems she lived out what she had begun as a young girl; when we used to play as children, she always had different ways of doing things, inventing new, unusual approaches, and never taking the rules of the game as they were – and often annoying the rest of us, who just wanted to get on with the game. Gabriele will always remain in my memory as a person of great integrity and independence, who would never play by other people’s rules.

  8. Das Kreuz des Alterns scheint mir weniger der eigene Körper zu sein. Viel mehr schmerzen die Lücken, die der Tod heimtückisch in den vertrauten Lebenskreis reißt und uns ratlos und ärmer zurückläßt.

  9. Mein herzlichstes Beileid an die ganze Familie. Ich kann den Schmerz des Verlustes von Gabriele für alle Beteiligten nur allzu gut nachempfinden.

  10. Liebe Familie, auch unsere Gedanken sind bei euch. Auch ich hatte als Kind eine schwesterliche Verbindung zu Gabriele, als ich für ein halbes Jahr in Wohltorf bei euch gewohnt habe. Es ist ein schwerer Schlag, wenn man einen Menschen verliert und das Alter e s eigentlich noch nicht zulassen sollte.
    Ich wünsche euch allen viel Kraft, vor allen dingen ihren Kindern.
    Alles Liebe Ulrike

  11. Lorenz, we hardly know each other, I have not been in Germany for far over 20 years. I met Gabriele as an a very lively girl of 11, saw her seldom again. But had a chance to meet her daughter Sarah when she and your mother visited us in the Us-many years ago, [Onkel Edmund and me].
    My sympathy to you and the rest of the family.

  12. Liebe Familie,liebe Cousinen und Cousins,die Nachricht von Gabrieles Tod hat mich sehr betroffen;die Familie Lorenz-Meyer
    war und ist mir sehr nah.Ich habe als Kind häufig an Eurem
    Familienleben in Wohltorf und Scharbeutz teilgenommen.
    Wir wünschen der Familie unser tiefstes Mitgefühl.
    Petra,Bernd und die Familie

  13. Gabriele had the power of personality, the power of open emotion for the just and the true. As a spring of clear water she embodied value.

  14. Der Familie Lorenz-Meyer gilt unser Beileid und Mitgefühl. Der unerwartete und viel zu frühe Tod der Schwester, Mutter und Ehefrau hat auch uns betroffen gemacht. Wir haben Gabriele und ihre Familie bei den regelmäßigen Besuchen in Wohltorf kennen und schätzen gelernt.

  15. Ich habe leider erst jetzt von dieser schrecklichen Nachricht erfahren und bin sehr bestürzt. Alle meine Gedanken sind bei Euch, vor allem auch bei ihrer Familie, die ich leider nicht kenne, für die dieser plötzliche Tod ganz besonders schwer zu verkraften sein wird. So viele Erinnerungen kommen wieder hoch aus alten Zeiten, als ich bei Euch wohnte und Gabriele mir mit ihrer Warmherzigkeit und ihrem Einfühlungsvermögen sehr nahe stand. Ich habe mich gefreut, auf dem Familienfest in Bergedorf mit ihr sprechen zu können, aber leider sind diese Momente immer viel zu kurz. Euch allen unser tiefes Mitgefühl, Christiane und Yves.

  16. Gabriele took me to Wohltorf when I had to write my first research report ever having just come back from an initial 4 months in Kenya. I was petrified putting the first word on paper. Gabriele quietly put coffee at my side, nudged me with her elbow and then sat next to me in companyable silence. My fingers started dancing along on the typewriter. Evenings, after she had fed us both, we walked on the beach below. What a gift she gave me! I was never scared of writing again. Through he years Armgard kept the bond of friendship between us and I will carry the memory of Gabriele’s gift forever with me.

  17. Thanks, Reinhild, for adding that sweet recollection. I guess that would have been not in Wohltorf, but in Scharbeutz at the Baltic Sea (“we walked on the beach below”), a place full of fond memories for many of us.

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