They sit at a long table in the dining room. Gerhard Büttner has a bowl of white pudding in front of him: “Would you like the rest?” – “I’ll take it with me for later,” says Waltraut Eiperle. She likes to eat his dessert and he likes to eat her main course.

Waltraut, 88, and Gerhard, 89, met one and a half years ago in the Haus Martinus retirement home in Stuttgart – and fell in love. “We initially sat here across from each other, and we still sit here today,” says Waltraut. To her right, a woman sleeps in a wheelchair. Across the street, a man is just waking up from his afternoon nap.

“There is the Mariakirche,” says Gerhard, pointing towards the window front. Leaning on his walker, he gives a tour of the retirement home. He has mounted a large bell on his walker, white with red roses on it, in case he needs to ring someone out of the way. The door opener for his room dangles on a gold chain from the left handle. His walker stands out here like a souped-up moped.

Before Gerhard met Waltraut, he often lay awake at night and cried. He lived for 35 years in a beautiful apartment with oil paintings on the walls and souvenirs from his travels in a glass cabinet. In the end, he could no longer manage the household on his own and moved to the facility on Olgastrasse.

He was only able to take a few of his memories with him. A picture from a Greek monastery is in his room. He traveled all over Crete on a motorcycle. He was never married and has no children. When he was 18 he had a girlfriend. She was nine years older than him and could not have children. She didn’t want to ruin his chance of having a family and eventually separated. The two were lifelong friends until she died five years ago. “I didn’t think I would have a partnership again,” he says.

Waltraut holds the transponder to her room door and uses it to unlock it. Gerhard goes in, supports himself and switches on the chain of lights decorated with a plastic rose on Waltraut’s desk. It should look inviting when guests are there. Next to the plastic rose is a Polaroid photo of her in his arms on Boxing Day. Both laugh. There is a photo of her and her husband on her dessert. When Waltraut met Gerhard, she had been widowed for about a year. She twists the gold ring on her finger that she has worn for 64 years.

She cared for her husband for years. Cooked the food, did the laundry, shopped. She helped him out of bed when he couldn’t get up. Helped him get up from the ground when he stumbled. He had senile dementia. After a stroke he was paralyzed and could no longer speak or eat. At some point a nurse came to help.

After his death, Waltraut wore black for two weeks. Then she thought to herself that she doesn’t have to show her sadness on the outside, “I carry it inside me.” So she slowly calmed down again and was finally able to sleep through the night again. She wipes her eyes with a tissue. Gerhard comforts her. He says it’s built close to the water.

After the death, Waltraut felt alone, says Sabine Braun, the daughter. She calls her mother every day. At some point, her sister Ulrike talked about a man who spent a lot of time with Waltraut. “Mum was in love,” says Sabine. “She lived her first life with my father. She lives her second life with Gerhard.”

Sometimes the couple goes to Waltraut’s husband’s grave together. It’s not far, just down the road. Gerhard then closes his eyes and meditates a bit to think of him and build a connection, as he says. When the two of them stand together at the grave, she is no longer sad. She is happy that her husband was allowed to die after being sick for so long. She is sure he would be happy for her too if he knew she had fallen in love again.

She first noticed Gerhard on the third floor. He ate at the long table with his gang. She was sitting behind him, the new one. She moved into a retirement home in October 2021, a year after her husband’s death. She sat there huddled, said nothing, and quickly disappeared again after eating. At some point he asked her if she would like to come over to him.

“She looked so sad. I wanted to know how she was doing and which room she lived in,” says Gerhard. “I replied that it was none of his business. I was negative at the beginning,” says Waltraut. “She thought to herself what this guy wanted from her. And I thought that I wanted to help her,” says Gerhard. “Today we help each other,” says Waltraut, “for example, taking off stockings.”

At some point the food was moved from the third floor to the fourth. When the two were assigned new seats, Gerhard asked the ward manager whether Waltraut could come to his table. From then on they sat opposite each other, in the front right. For breakfast, lunch and dinner. Then she realized that he also liked good food, says Waltraut. In the retirement home there is always only sausage and cheese. One day they walked to the supermarket and bought a fish together. Then she slowly realized that she liked him and that it might be more than just a friendship.

At some point Gerhard told his best friend about Waltraut and how much he liked her. The friend Gerhard then brought two cups from the Christmas market with “Walli and Gerhard” written on them in white letters. Waltraut was surprised, but she kept the cup. From then on they always went for walks together. “Things with us developed slowly,” says Waltraut. At the beginning she thought to herself: What’s the point of that anyway? Now you’ve been married for 64 years – and are you falling in love again?

“Basically, falling in love at 86 is the same as falling in love at 14,” says Waltraut. It’s exciting again and your stomach is tingling. But you also ask yourself whether it’s still worth it now. “We have to manage our strength. This makes you perceive love more consciously.” She particularly likes the fact that Gerhard is so loving. “That’s the beauty of touching each other and exchanging caresses. You might not be able to imagine that when you’re young. But that’s just as nice when you’re old as it was when you were young.” They don’t have sex anymore. They talked about this as soon as they got together.

“When was that when we were both dressed so smartly and everyone saw each other?” – “We were at a concert in the Leonhardskirche.” – “The home director came towards us and asked if we were going to the registry office. “The whole house noticed this with them. “Walli was a bit reserved at first. In the meantime we kiss in front of the others too.”

During Carnival, Waltraut spent a week with her daughter Sabine in Frankfurt and visited her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. At that time, Gerhard always watched TV in the evenings – and waited for her call. When they hugged again for the first time, he was so happy: “That’s when I realized how much I miss her when she’s not there.”

Gerhard and Waltraut are used to doing everything together. The first kiss comes in the morning. Every morning Gerhard knocks on her door, diagonally opposite his, and then they go to breakfast. The last kiss comes in the evening before they go to sleep, each in their own room. “Aside from sleeping, there’s practically nothing we don’t do together,” he says. “That would also be bad in these narrow beds,” she says. “I would have to be at the back and he would have to be at the front. And at some point he would fall out of my bed.”

Sometimes they disagree. Then they discuss, both happy to express their opinions. For example, when you go shopping and you just want to do something briefly. She usually knows exactly what she needs in advance and makes targeted purchases. But Gerhard takes forever. He then wants to stroll through the corridors. When he’s out and about in the city, he likes to take a long look at what’s in the shop windows. But they’ve never had a real argument. And if you have any disagreements, resolve them before you go to bed at the latest. When you’re almost 90 years old, you never know whether you’ll still have the opportunity to do it the next day.

Gerhard has cancer. A tumor behind the eye. The doctors wanted to operate on him at the end of last year, but it was too dangerous for him. Maybe he would sit here longer with the operation, but then he wouldn’t be able to see anything. “I may die from my tumor in a year or two. Or I’ll have a stroke tomorrow and be gone,” he says. “I help Gerhard wherever I can,” she says. “We’ll get through this together.”

She touches her neck, a necklace with purple stones that Gerhard gave her as a gift, just like that. She gave him a voucher for a pedicure. He takes the piece of paper out of a drawer and spreads it out. There are two feet with smiling smileys on their toes.

Since she met Gerhard, she has become happier and freer, says Waltraut. She takes life less seriously. They joke a lot together and tease each other. They laugh a lot, like little children. Or they play together, every day. “Triominos,” a tile-laying game, is her favorite right now. Gerhard and Waltraut like games where they have to think a bit. Where they can strain their brain cells. “So we can stay fit.”

By Luise Land

The original for this article “Gerhard (89) often lay awake at night and cried – then he met his Walli (88)” comes from STUTTGARTER ZEITUNG.