The certainty of salvation
We German filmmakers were still a fragile group in 1974, so when a friend called me from Paris to say that Lotte [Eisner] had suffered a massive stroke and I should get on the next airplane, I started looking for flights, before realizing it wasn’t the correct way to proceed. I was unable to accept that Lotte might die, and though it was the start of the onslaught of an early winter, I decided to walk from Munich to Paris. My pilgrimage was a million steps in rebellion against her death.
I stuffed a bundle of clothes and a map into a duffel bag, then set off in the straightest line possible, sleeping under bridges, in farms and abandoned houses. I made only one detour—to the town of Troyes, where I marveled at the cathedral—and ended up walking across the Vosges mountains for about twenty miles…I’m not superstitious, but did feel that coming by foot would prevent Lotte’s death. The Catholic Church has a wonderful term for this: Heilsgewissheit, the certainty of salvation.
I moved with the faith of a pilgrim, convinced that Lotte would be alive when I got to Paris four weeks later. When I arrived in town I stopped at a friend’s place to take shelter from the rain and sat in his office, steam coming off my clothes, utterly exhausted after having walked the last fifty miles without a break. I gave him my compass, which I no longer needed, and walked to Lotte’s home. She was very surprised, but happy to see me.
Years later, bedridden and nearly blind, unable to read or see films, Lotte wrote to me, asking if I would visit her. I went to Paris, where she told me, “Werner, there is still some spell cast that prevents me from dying. But I can barely walk. I am saturated with life [lebenssatt]. It would be a good time for me now.” Jokingly, I said, “Lotte, I hereby lift the spell.” Two weeks later she died. It was the right moment for her.