149. On not losing my heart

By Peter Fraenkel

It is a well-known German song “Ich hab mein Herz in Heidelberg verloren” … I have lost my heart at Heidelberg. And indeed, my father, who had spent one of his student years there, spoke enthusiastically about that little pink–stoned university town on two sides of a ravine.

I now had an invitation to spend a week at Heidelberg. Unfortunately, it was not father’s university town but Heidelberg Transvaal, South Africa. The brother of a family friend had a business there. He had I invited me.  I accepted his invitation with pleasure.  It would give me a chance to see a little more of South Africa. I had seen very little, being perpetually short of money.  I knew other students managed to get around without money. The members of the lefty Jewish Hashomer Hatzair movement were passionate hitchhikers.  I was not a member but I took some advice from one of their members and tried hitchhiking –  once. I spent two or three hours at some desolate corner waiting among fields of ‘mealies’ (maize) but nobody ever offered me a lift. Maybe I hadn’t listened carefully enough to his advice on how to pick a good corner.  Eventually I accepted the invitation to Heidelberg Transvaal. Perhaps my hosts hoped I would be a good influence on their little boy. A horrid child, he was obsessed by his bodily functions. He told me about the faeces he had produced that morning and how it differed from that of the day before… and the day before that. I told him I was not interested but he persisted until I told him to shut up or I would give him a beating. That made him wail and his mother – who had said earlier she was confident I would be an excellent influence – must now have judged me a sad disappointment. His father had to go to Johannesburg the following week and had promised me a lift so I had to endure the obsessed little boy for the rest of that week. However, just before departing, I did manage one well-placed kick in the very region the boy found so interesting.  They had promised to invite me again for my next vacations, but they didn’t. I did not remind them. I had not lost my heart at Heidelberg Transvaal.