The Day Marilyn was in Bremen
(From the series: Building Legends)
That no one knew about Marilyn´s visit to Bremen is not quite true. One person who did know is Jan Ahlers from the Ritter-Raschen-Street in the Walle area.
The year is 1955. Jan Ahlers is 25 years old and works as a salesman in the well-known Lattemann shoestore on Sögestreet.
On Thursday, the 5th of May, as luck would have it, Gerhard Iversen, the manager at Lattemann´s, assigns Jan Ahlers to help out downstairs in ladies´ shoes. Two saleswomen are out, one with a bad back, the other because of a funeral. Lutz Kehlenbeck will have to take care of men´s upstairs on his own, but he can handle it. It´s a warm and sunny spring day. Little white clouds move from southeast to northwest.
In late afternoon, Jan Ahler´s tenth customer, the wife of a local businessman, exits the store, holding the door open for a young brunette woman with sunglasses. She looks around a bit, then heads forJan Ahlers. Small problem. The woman is speaking English, actually, it´s American English--Jan Ahlers hears that immediately because he is always listening to AFN Bremerhaven at home. He can speak it pretty well, even if he wasn´t the smartest guy in his English class - no wonder, with that English teacher he had! Anyway, now he listens to his customer´s wishes. She is looking for for some light, summery high heels, not those slingbacks (she has enough of them at home, she says) --no, a closed shoe, but something for a warm spring day like today. Jan Ahlers tries to concentrate on all this, but he feels like he has seen this woman before -- something about those eyebrows peeking out from behind the sunglasses, the shape of them, and, well, also, the shape of the whole young woman, all of her so round beneath that pearl-grey suit.
The shoestore Lattemann is, as everyone knows, a shop steeped in tradition, with rather dignified and expensive merchandise. Jan Ahlers chooses the nicest models, the finest leathers, the most subtle colors. But none of these shoes seem to appeal at all to his American customer. The moment he opens the box and lifts the first tissue, she turns away with a quick "No!" He´s now on the sixth pair, and.is getting kind of a sick feeling in his stomach. He is not that familiar with ladies´ shoes - he´s just filling in here - he needs to get into a broader range of the styles in stock. So, he goes once more to the shelves, searching the rows, lifts a top here and there - nothing. Until he reaches way up - up into the irregulars, so to speak, just a hunch - at the same time distracted by the thought of why the young woman doesn´t take off her sunglasses in the comfortable, soft lighting of the shop? Is it one of those American habits like shaving legs and chewing gum? Well, the box from that very top shelf happens to be something like a misstep for the Lattemann shoe store, you could say. Inside the box is a pair of black and white striped linen pumps with extra thin stiletto heels. Certainly not for the Bremen customer, least of all for Lattemann´s. But the shoe really does have a light and summery look to it. The American customer likes it - even if it´s a titch too big, she doesn´t care, she says. She walks up and down, from side to side, looks in the floor mirror from all angles and then says "Great!" She sits down, and Jan Ahlers kneels in front of her to slip off the shoes. He feels relieved (you could say happy). And, as he sits in this position in front of her, he hears her whisper, "You´ve got the nicest neck I´ve ever seen". Which makes him look up, and he feels his face blush. It´s a certain tone in the beautiful customer´s voice. In that moment he sees the small round mole under her left nostril. He´s seen that somewhere before too, and he looks at it a little too long. And from this position he also notices over her left ear a few strands of platinum blonde hair mixed in with the brunette - a wig! Jan Ahlers actually manages a little smile, even though he´s got quite a struggle with himself, this customer and her shoes. He stands up, which at least is soothing to his blush, and he moves towards the cash register, trying to stay totally involved in the necessary process. However, try as he might, out of the corner of his eye he can´t help but see her following him, with that characteristic movement of those hips. Well, it´s not like young men from Bremen, especially a handsome specimen like our Jan Ahlers, are merely embarrassed in such situations, unable to take things to the next level (although, of course, that can happen once in a while) - the reader will get the idea - During the following few minutes, as Jan Ahlers wraps the striped shoes for his beautiful customer and takes care of the cash register, all by himself, of course, as no one comes into the store, no one comes down from upstairs - during these minutes the suspicion grows stronger until it becomes a certainty: This is Marilyn standing in front of him, Marilyn Monroe with her sunglasses and brown wig, his customer in Lattemann´s. Today, Jan Ahlers is wearing one of his whitest shirts -- no, not one of those nylon shirts that turn yellow - his shirt is pure cotton and crisply ironed - not starched though, he doesn´t like them starched - but anyway, the shirt gives him that little extra self-confidence, and he asks her straight out if she is Marilyn Monroe. There. It´s out in the open. The young woman immediately puts her finger to his lips, gently but unmistakably. She smiles. She was in Bremerhaven yesterday, she explains quickly and softly (like it´s a secret) to see a major who´s stationed there that she likes and who likes her, at least he did until this morning (she giggles a little) - they had an argument, "Peanuts" says Miss Monroe, and so she up and left and booked herself into the Park Hotel under an assumed name. Only for tonight - she has to return to New York (no, not Hollywood, she´s currently living in New York). She´s flying back from Frankfurt. Now, of course, we don´t know if Miss Monroe´s peanuts with the major were of more or less consequence than described. Jan Ahlers, in any case, gets invited to come to the nearby Astoria when he gets off work. She´s sitting there with a dry martini and waves to him. And he sits down with her, almost like an equal, with his heart pounding. In reality, he can´t feel his feet touch the ground. Miss Monroe asks him to call her Norma Jean, in case anyone should hear. He does everything she asks, it´s all ok with him, later he carries the shoebox for her to the Park Hotel, up to her room, where she takes off her shoes and puts on the new ones. She walks back and forth in them a few times, just for him.
They drink some more martinis, this time with gin, how many more, after a while he´s not sure. Room Service brings some fried chicken. Although he wouldn´t say his senses were totally impaired, the striped pattern on those shoes certainly got a little blurry. Miss Norma Jean, now minus the wig, looks like she does on all those front pages and in the movies. He missed "How to marry a Millionaire" but he saw "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes". ("River of no Return" will be coming soon.)
A bit later, Miss Monroe kicks off her striped heels and stretches a little. From here on, we don´t want to go into further detail. Everything is already romantic enough, and our imagination is able to, or should be able to, do the rest. For example, Norma Jean had occasion to use the word "amazing" several times during that night. And, as for the major in Bremerhaven - if he had a restless night, well, least he had that in common with our two here.
Early on Thursday morning, the 6th of May, Jan Ahlers heads in the direction of the main station, feeling a little happy, a little sad, and not quite believing it either. Even though the lack of sleep shows, there is a certain sparkle in his eye. His shirt, however, has really had it. He hurries to catch the next train to Walle to change - he can just make it, he has to make it - if he were to show up in Lattemann´s in a shirt that looks like it´d been slept in, he´d really catch it from Gerhard Iversen.
He has to admit he´s a little worried already that he won´t be able to concentrate on his work today - understandable - we know the reason.
Oh, and then, there´s this: Norma Jean took the heels home with her, but she never wore them again. Later, when items from her estate were being inventoried by Sotheby´s, they found a note on the shoes. A single word, in her handwriting: "gain".
Translated by Freerk Heinz
Edited by Arlene Wellemeyer