Elsbeth Hinz lives in a retirement home in Langenberg. Her third husband, August, who plays the elegant suitor in the series, has since passed away. Her fourth husband, to whom Elsbeth was married for only one year, has also died. The fourth marriage was a media event, even being reported into the television news, as a 75-year old woman was marrying an 89-year old man. For Elsbeth, this was a new lease of life.
Elsbeth is happy to live in a retirement home. Retirement homes are houses in which the apartments are only available for rental by elderly people, and their residents consider themselves fortunate. The close contact with people in a similar situation often makes the life of elderly people easier and richer, in a Germany where there is hardly any room for large families anymore.
At least 20% of all Germans are over 65 years old, the legal age for retirement, according to the Datenreports 2002 of the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung. In comparison, in 1910 only 5% were over 65. The life of elderly people therefore plays an important role in German social policy, as the votes of pensioners can determine the outcome of elections.
In the series, Elsbeth, like many pensioners, has been living in a small two-room flat for years. Her children live in northern Germany, and so she can’t depend on familial support and has to be self-sufficient. She places ads in the personal column of newspapers, not because she is seriously entertaining the possibility of marriage, but because she enjoys the adventure of making and breaking off new erotic contacts as she pleases. This extravagant hobby is not exactly socially acceptable amongst her age group, and so she keeps it to herself for fear of her reputation. She documents her encounters in a book, as she doesn’t want to forget any of her adventures, and at her age she can’t rely on her ability to remember things. Her notes are highly confidential. Absolute discretion is crucial for her, and so she changes the venue of her meetings constantly. The aura of mystery and the lure of the forbidden are all important.
Elsbeth lived through the Second World War and the flight from the former East Germany. She had children both in wartime and after the War, brought them up on her own, and worked hard. With men she has loved and lost in equal measure. Though she has been through divorce and death four times, she says that true love was also there.
She has learned to take life in her own hands and also to make the best of unfavourable economic and private circumstances. She loves the luxurious, the colourful and the vibrant. She has endowed her life with empathy for the sorrows of other people. Of all the people in the house, she is the only one who is able interpret the signs and recognise the predicament of the Tomaseks for what it is. She knows that someone who, like the Tomaseks, is ever more withdrawn and reserved because they don’t want to be there anymore must have fallen on hard times. Someone has to help, and she does what it is within her power to do. She finds Robert Tomasek a job (unfortunately, not the right one) and tries to show, at least through her friendliness and kindness, that she is aware of their difficult situation. She remembers her own past, the poverty, the responsibility for the children, and the mistrust of others, who viewed her more with scepticism than with sympathy since she was a single mother and so something of an outsider. The worst thing is, as she knows, when others behave as if you’re not there, and when you don’t have the courage to complain about it anymore. And so she tries to support Susanne Tomasek.