Politically active, locally and nationally, Franz Hermann was the supporter of the liberal FDP (Free Democratic Party), and hobnobbed with big boys such as the foreign minister Hans Dietrich Genscher. Deathly afraid of flying, he never set foot on an airplane, with one noticeable exception when he flew to Turkey with Wilhelm Dünwald, then the German ambassador to Turkey, as part of his delegation. Beyond that it was in Wachtendonk that he would bring the oceans and the mountains from far away. A big opera fan, mezzo-soprano Mignon Dunn, when in Germany, she hung out at his home in the little BIG city of Wachtendonk.

After Madhu emigrated to Canada, I remained behind in Germany. Soon I too would go west. Those few months cemented our friendship and we even allowed ourselves to be called familiar Du. As with Madhu’s departure, he was sad for me to go too. But then when Playboy brought me back to Germany, we picked up the threads and let our friendship grow and flourish. It gave him boasting rights that I had returned with such a plum job and that I held an important position at none other than Germany’s top quality zeitschrift, Playboy.

Though Munich wasn’t exactly hop-skip and jump from Wachtendonk, Essen was where we printed the magazine and I maintained there a second apartment. This natural proximity allowed us to see each other and to splurge frequently and share stunde der wahrheit – many hours of the truth, with Nasim whom he had practically adopted and when Madhu came for one Christmas – just like in good old days.

Of the several girls I photographed during that phase of me hunting for Playmates, Barbara was already scheduled to be published (July 1975), while I had just done some initial tests of another Playmate candidate – a petite Eurasian beauty, half German and half Japanese, an army brat, Karen Sugimoto.

Other than the home where Franz Hermann lived with his family, he owned a summer home just a short walking distance from the main house, which everyone called Flieth – a German version of the Russian Dacha and the Czech Chalupa. A ranch style low structure cozy dwelling stood at the farthest end of the front gate and the garden path that lead you to the house fronted with a small round pond and a fountain springing out of a large millstone as its centerpiece. The property was secluded by the sheer fact of ten minutes walk from the stadtmitte, the “center” of Wachtendonk. The further privacy was lent by the high fences covered with ivy, hedges and the dense tall trees. A gentle ribbon of the river Nette flowed behind the house under the dainty wooden bridge. The grounds lit by the old fashioned romantic street lamp posts painted white. An ideal dream like location to shoot a  Playmate.

When I asked Franz Hermann, he was tickled  pink. Aber natürlich, he enthused. Karen and I  would spend the weekend at his home. I would shoot during the day and we would visit at night. Only slight concern we had was the weather, because it’s already November. But we’re in luck and Karen is game. If it does get colder, we can always duck in and out of the house.

The only snag is – and a delicate one at that.

‘Don’t you need an assistant? I can help you with things around the house.’

This doesn’t come as a surprise, so I am prepared. I tell him that this is something that’s just not done. An outsider on the set makes every one nervous, especially it’s not fair to the girl. As much he tries to convince me that he would make his presence barely felt, seeing that I am firm, however reluctantly, he gives up. He takes us to the house, which I am quite familiar with, and goes through the motions of showing us around and then retreats back home.

‘Call, if you need anything!’ He winks at me and I see him slowly walking back to the main house like a dejected spoiled little kid.

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