Today is a day for grief and gratitude. Yesterday night my cat fell passed away in my arms at the vet.
He had the most peculiar name for a cat, we called him “Hundchen” which means little dog. When I got him almost 18 years ago, I assumed he was a girl and had a name for a female cat. But when it turned out, he was a boy, I wasn’t fast enough to come up with a name so my mother’s calling him – like many cute animals – “Hundchen” became institutionalized as his real name. A special name for a very special cat: Hundchen was the most gentle cat I’ve ever encountered. He would never bite or scratch anyone, even when my young niece and nephew came to visit and would chase him, he’d stay friendly.
He was part of my life for longer that he wasn’t. I was 14 when my mom and I drove to a class mate’s farm and I got to pick out any kitten I wanted from the litter. I remember the many small fur balls bustling around, crowding around the feeding bowl. I reached out and lifted a pretty orange kitten. In German, you say something or someone is a “Glücksgriff”, a lucky grasp. Hundchen was definitely a Glücksgriff.
He was a very social cat, paying tribute to his name dog, he loved being with his pack. You didn’t have to pay special attention to him, he just wanted to be with you. In January, we spent a last week together in my parents’ house and he would follow me, lie down and purr just because he was glad to be with his humans.
When he was younger, he would even follow us out on walks, but he had some invisible border he didn’t want to cross. He’d stop and meow at us loudly, trying to get us to understand that you must not go further. When we came home later, he’d perk up and run towards us once he heard us returning.
In the mornings, Hundchen would wake us. When he was younger, he’d wake me in a gentler way, like just walking in and calling me, or sitting down, waiting for me to wake up so I could pet him. In the later years, he’d make my parents go up at 6 because that’s when he wanted food. My friend Emily once spent Christmas with us and told me how Hundchen woke her (she’s the earliest riser of us all) and showed her where he food was so he could be fed. Smart kitty!
He was my loyal friend, my best little buddy. When I was in pain, like with a stomach ache, Hundchen somehow sensed it and I remember him curling up to me. During my teens, he would comfort me when I was sad and he would hang out with me when there was not much else to do in the small town we lived in. He’d come to my room and sit down inconveniently on my computer keyboard or a little more conveniently on my school bag. My computer screen saver (there was something like that then) was moving bubbles and Hundchen thought they were real and tried to catch them. Just like when he watched TV – which he really did surprisingly attentively – and animal documentaries came on, he tried to hunt the televised fauna.
Hundchen was a coziness guarantee. He’d come in, purr and make any space homey. Emily called him the purring machine. Anyone who visited (and even the people who I only told about him) seems to remember him. Partly because he wouldn’t have any of it when someone declared themselves a cat-o-phobe. Those people he particularily wooed until they became his friends, too. My mom’s teacher friend who has spent many weeks here during their school exchange over the past 15 years, said yesterday, “He’s the only cat I ever loved”.
My mother’s recipe for dealing with exhaustion was always: “Enter in a sleeping competition with the cat”. He knew how to rest. Unfortunately, his pretty orange fur was left everywhere he went as he was shedding like crazy. I sometimes brought special clothes to wear to cuddle him. Because purring and smooching (and okay, eating) were his main objectives in life, and rightly so.
Cuddling during his last months
Yesterday we spent all day in the kitchen next to him, petting him and feeding him treats. He had much difficulty eating and was in pain when he moved. But he still sought contact and kept close to us.
His mild-mannered, social personality will be greatly missed. No paw placed on my knee to ask for attention, no meowing when feeding time has come. There will be no more purring in this house. Thanks for everything, little buddy. We will remember you.
no photos because slow train internet
My co-worker went to an open civic meeting for our neighborhood the other day (we live in the same part of town) and brought me a broschure about recent urban planning projects. It was so interesting! Many of the projects were completed in 2015 it seems. When I moved away from Hamburg in 2015, this part of town was considered boring and off. Now that I live here, I feel it’s a really nice place to live, and I (very unscienticly) attribute this to this urban planning work that’s been done. One example is the renovation of an old factory, the New York Hamburg Rubber Ware Factory (I haven’t figured out yet why New York’s in the name). It is now in part the Museum of Work and in part a civic/culture center called Zinnschmelze (that’s the old name of the building, a place where they used to melt tin). This Monday, A and I went to the Zinnschmelze to attend a (free!) improv theater performance. This wasn’t just any improv, this was a soap opera: for 99 „episodes“ (one evening per month), a group has played „Gutes Barmbek, schlechtes Barmbek“. The title is derived from Germany’s most popular soap opera, meaning ”Good times, bad times”. In the beginning, we were introduced to the characters and to what happened in the last episode. Then, the show began – prompted by the audience’s input. There were marriage troubles, koala bears, and even improvised commercials. None of this was known to either actors or audience before, as is the case with improv theater. The actors were quite skilled and funny and I especially liked the local element. People would shout things like, ”They’re meeting at the XY bar” which is a local bar we all know, the host would explain, ”Now he’s at McDonald’s. McDonald’s used to be down XY street. It doesn’t exist anymore, but we pretend it still does” or an actor would make reference to a Hamburg politician.
The little theater saloon was completely full – apparently locals know this is a fun activity for a Monday night. It took some effort* to go out into the cold winter night after dinner but it is only a ten minute walk from the Tiny House and was so worth it. When we came home, A said: „I feel like it’s the weekend“.
*Laura Vanderkam says: “The key to happiness is to placate the anticipating and remembering selves by doing things that may feel uncomfortable in the moment, for your experiencing self. Browsing social media posts? Out. Visiting a museum exhibit with friends? In. Why? Because you’ll look forward to the latter experience for days and potentially remember it for years.”