Among hundreds other, I feel fortunate to have known him for twenty five years until the moment he checked out of this material world at the young age of 67.  Madhu (Parekh) and I flew out to attend his funeral. We had the hardest time containing ourselves from breaking out in a loud laugh. It was absolutely incredible to see him lying there, down in the cold basement of the village church, decked out impeccably in his black tuxedo and all. But what I found the strangest was to see his hands neatly folded under his chest, clutching the rosary strewn around and across his waist. The rosary!! It seemed like a joke. Someone getting even with him for snubbing the church all his life. It felt so ironic and weird that I was expecting him to open one of his eyes for a split second and wink at me, and let one of his naughty smiles break out, as if saying: so ist es junge. Wenn du bist tod, bist du tod!!! – that’s how it is, when you’re dead, you’re dead. And then withdraw back into the world of the departed.

But there couldn’t be any regrets, for Franz Hermann lived his life as if every day was his last. The ultimate existentialist, living in the moment. As if everyday were an ongoing Karneval and Christmas and Sylvester. His life crammed with hordes of people. Mostly much younger than himself and many of them foreigners such as myself, Madhu and Nasim (Yar Khan). At some point it would seem to me that he had taken upon himself the mission of making us stay put in Germany, marry German women and live closer to where he was.

Comfortably affluent, he was the most unpretentious and downhome mensch, always drove Volkswagen bug up until after they introduced the Golf. But that was the extent of his luxury. Heilpraktiker (Healing Practitioner, described as an alternative and complementary health care) at the time when it wasn’t exactly in vogue. We joked with him that it was more of a hobby for him than a real profession. Plus in such a title conscious society as Germany, it afforded him the title of Herr Doktor. Gave  him an excuse to get in his car every morning to drive from Wacthtendonk to Krefeld – some twenty kilometers. His physician’s sticker gave him an excuse to speed, something he loved to do and did. When coming upon a slow moving vehicle, he would say out loud in his exasperation: eure idioten! Just because they have posted a speed limit!! And then he would shake his head in disgust.

Similarly, he had no patience and or respect for authorities. So very unlike a German. It’s the afternoon of Christmas Eve, and we are stuck in the middle of traffic thick as jungle. Everyone is out doing their last minute shopping before the shops close at two. Traffic is further thrown in disarray by a police car stopped smack dab in the middle of the square, trying to give a ticket. Fuming, Franz Hermann rolls down the window, sticks his neck out and yells at the cops. What you think you’re doing? Nowhere in the world you yell at cops like that, let alone in Germany! Unless, of course your name is Franz Hermann. Would you believe, the cop got into the car and drove away?

And I still remember when he visited me in Munich and we’re in Alte Pinakothek – the art museum. On one of the glass topped display cabinets is a cardboard sign mounted on a wooden stand, which says: VORSICHT! POLIZERIALARM. Just to see if an alarm would really go off, he is about to lift it when I stop him. Ah quatsch – nonsense, there is no police alarm! He grumbles, but then lets it go. A couple of hours later, when we are sitting in a café, what does he pull out of his coat pocket and put on the table top? The sign with the stand and all. Ein geschenk – a gift! And he smiles his knowing smile. I still have it.  

Uncrowned feudal lord of the grossstadt Wachtendonk, he could make things happen, such as when Madhu returned from India with his brand new bride, Uma in the tow, it was the front page news in the regional Rheinische Post.

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