As I write this my friends in Freiburg, Germany are gathering to remember the woman we called Gundi.
I only vaguely remember the first time I met Hildegund Dörflinger, because I was already wobbly on Christmas-market Glühwein when I arrived at her bar. But I do remember that she made me feel instantly welcome.
Gundi, fourth from the left, with some of her after-work regulars
I spent two more evenings at Bei Gundi during that first trip to Freiburg. I made fast friends with the regulars — Adelheid, Thomas, Fabio, Stefan — and I cried on my last night when I hugged Gundi goodbye. (Still reeling from a grim diagnosis, I feared it really was goodbye.)
But Gundi and I exchanged a couple of letters and the following spring I was back in Freiburg.
My friends were eager for some bar-hopping, but I was tired after a long day of travel. So I set off for home alone and immediately got lost. The streets were dark and the signs were hard to read, but by some act of grace I stumbled into Gundi’s place. I was so relieved when our eyes met that I burst into tears. She hugged me, brought me soup and called me a taxi.
I saw Gundi again the following evening, when my friends and I gathered for a small concert. “Hallo, Heide. Alles OK?” she asked me. She smiled broadly when I nodded.
Gundi, second from the left, with some of my Bei Gundi friends
I loved her fuchsia-and-orange hair and her twinkling little eyes. But more than anything I remember her smile. She always seemed so full of good cheer, even when it was way past closing … and no one was going home.
Gundi brought people together. She was like family to her regulars, and she fed more than a few starving musicians. I heard some fantastic music at Bei Gundi, in fact — especially late at night, long after the “official” show had ended.
Not everyone loved the music and loud gatherings, though. Shortly after my second trip I heard that some of Gundi’s neighbors had complained, and she’d lost her lease. Two months later Bei Gundi was out of business.
Bei Gundi, as it once existed at Merianstraße 13. It closed in 2013 and has since been converted into an apartment. Photo via fudder.de
I thought of Gundi often after that, and wondered how she was doing. I also thought of looking her up the last time I was in Freiburg. I wasn’t in the mood for the old party crowd, though, so I resolved to see Gundi next time.
But now Gundi is gone, and there will never be a next time. I’ll never be able to apologize for the times I sang too loudly or drank too much of her beer. And I’ll never have the chance to tell her how much I appreciated her generosity and kindness …
All that’s left now of Gundi is my friends’ and my happy memories. But through those memories, Gundi lives on: Her legacy is the friendships she nurtured, the musicians she helped support, and the people she brought together.
To borrow my friend Fabio’s words,
Du hast uns alle in dein großes Herz geschlossen und wirst mir immer in Gedanken bleiben. Auf dich meine liebe und großartige Gundi ruhe in frieden.
Rest in peace, dear Gundi. Rest in peace.