Foto: Panorama Helsinki / Finland - Dom und Parlamentsplatz (by tap5a)
Berlin, Französische Straße
Friday, 25 July 2025, at 8.50 a.m.
Five minutes earlier, Claire Elisabeth Beauchamp had entered the large, light gray house, built in the neo-Renaissance style that dominated the whole Forum Fridericianum. In the lobby, which was dominated by marble and dark wood, Claire was greeted by a receptionist. She was asked to sit down for a moment in one of the dark leather armchairs, of which four were grouped around an elegant round table. As she waited, her eyes wandered up the high walls of the entrance hall. A few steps of a staircase led out of the hall through a large glass door that ended in a round arch at the top, reminiscent of a gate entrance. Above it was a large ornament of dark stones inlaid in the light marble. The ornament showed a circle, which, as it seemed, was formed from a belt. The words “Je suis prest” could be read in the curve of the circle and in the center of the ornament was the head of a stately stag, which looked directly at the observer.
“Französische Straße Berlin”
Claire knew that the French motto meant “I am ready!”, but just as she was wondering what the sign meant, an older lady approached her. She introduced herself as Mrs. Fitz-Gibbons. This employee, whose blue costume gave the impression of a uniform, led Claire down various small staircases and long corridors to the room where she was now sitting. Wherever they had gone in this house, it had been extremely quiet. The heavy, dark red carpets that covered all the stairs and hallways, had swallowed every sound of their footsteps. Now she sat in a room whose furnishings were characterized by dark wood and light brass and whose dimensions were more like those of a hall. But it was the antechamber of the CEO’s office of “Fraser & Son International” and behind the large double-winged door that Claire was now looking at was the study of Dr. James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, one of the country’s leading business owners.
Until two weeks ago, Claire did not know the man’s name or that of his company. She didn’t care about the gossip press, which also reported on the local “high society” in Berlin. But then Geillis Duncan, her best friend, came by one evening and showed her a job ad from the “Wirtschaftswoche” newspaper. At first, Claire was completely surprised. How did Geillis, who loved to read the gossip press, come to show her an ad from Germany’s leading weekly magazine for managers?
“Dave left it on the kitchen table, and since I didn’t have anything else at hand, I looked into it while having breakfast. But now take a look at this job ad!”
Geillis had emphatically pointed to an ad that featured the same ornament as the one she had seen in the lobby.
Claire had started reading. A pedagogically trained caregiver was needed for an almost seven-year-old child. The woman should speak fluent German, English, and French. Further foreign language skills were welcome but not required. Furthermore, extensive general education and an impeccable curriculum vitae (i.e. no entries in the Federal Central Crime Register) were expected. Special emphasis was placed on the knowledge and practice of the literature written by Adolph Freiherr Knigge. Three times the current monthly salary was offered, 30 days paid vacation, free lodging, and private health insurance 1st class.
“Just imagine Claire!” the girlfriend had exclaimed enthusiastically, “If you got this job and worked there for a few years, all your problems would be solved!”
Geillis was right, well, almost. Surely not all her problems would be solved. But the financial problems she had to deal with could at least be significantly reduced by this job. She had to acknowledge that and so Claire, Geillis, and her friend Dave met that very evening to write a letter of application. Dave, who worked for a large media company at Potsdamer Platz, immediately agreed to help her with his knowledge. The next day, Claire had sent off the application. Then she had bought an updated edition of "The Knigge” and started reading it. Shortly after, Geillis came and brought her a large pile of current newspaper clippings so Claire could learn all she needed to know about the person of James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser and the family business he ran.
She learned a lot about the company from various business magazines, but the person of James Fraser seemed almost like a phantom. It seemed to her that this man also didn’t care about the so-called “high society” and obviously he didn’t deliver any headlines to the gossip press. There was neither an article about him nor a photo of him on the company’s homepage. Even a Wikipedia article with his name only gave the basic data (birthday, place of birth, family, studies) and otherwise dealt more with the globally active company. “Fraser & Son International” was one of the few family-owned companies that to this day had no shareholders and, having invested in a wide range of economic sectors, not only survived the financial crisis of 2008 well but had even emerged from it stronger. In this Wikipedia article, however, there was a photo by James Fraser. It showed him with a group of business leaders at a national conference. However, this picture was over eight years old and also very pixelated. At some point, everything turned in Claire’s head and she hoped that she had not learned all this information for nothing. If she would at least be invited for a job interview.
Ten days later, she hadn’t dared to hope that she would ever hear of Fraser & Son International, and to her surprise, her smartphone rang just before the lunch break began. A Dr. Ned Gowan called on behalf of the company, explained that he was the lawyer for “Fraser & Son International” and asked if she could come for an interview at the company’s headquarters two days later at 9:00 am. She told him that she had to ask her department head to give her time off first and would call back. As the summer vacation period was over, it was no problem to get a day off and so she called Dr. Gowan fifteen minutes later and agreed to meet him (and Dr. Fraser!) two days later. Claire had to be extremely restrained not to cheer out loud. This would have immediately drawn the attention of her colleagues in the department, and she definitely did not want to tell them about it. During the lunch break, she left the clinic and sat down on a bench in a nearby park. From there she called Geillis and told her the good news. Right after the end of her shift, the friends met in the parking lot of the clinic to go into town together and pick out a suitable “outfit” for Claire’s job interview. Geillis, who had worked as a freelance fashion consultant for many years before she met “the rich Dave”, dragged her friend directly to the fashion department of the KaDeWe. There, after a while, they found a muted dark green business costume that emphasized Claire’s figure but still looked respectable.
“Kaufhaus des Westens (KaDeWe) - Foto by Avi1111 dr. avishai teicher / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)
“That’s perfect,” exclaimed Geillis as Claire stepped out of the dressing room.
“Yes, perfectly too expensive for me. Have you seen the price?”
“Don’t worry about that,” Geillis replied. Then she whispered:
“I’ll pay for it. If the job doesn’t work out, we’ll just give it back afterward. And if you get the job and want to keep it, you’ll give me the money back when you get your first salary.”
They bought the costume and also a matching blouse and shoes. Claire was not allowed to think about the amount of money they had spent within a few hours or she would get sick.
But that was all forgotten at that moment. Now it was time to concentrate and make a good impression.
Mrs. Fitz-Gibbons had led her into this room and instructed her to use one of the twelve large brown leather armchairs. With the words
"You will be called in when it is your turn,”
she had said goodbye.
Claire had taken a seat and scanned the room as inconspicuously as possible. Seven other women sat in leather armchairs of the same type, which were set up on three sidewalls of the room, each separated by a small table. On the tables were glasses and bottles of mineral water, but none of the other women had made use of them. Claire had not intended to drink anything either. She was far too excited to drink, and she was afraid that she might have to go to the bathroom in the middle of her upcoming job interview. Slowly, her gaze wandered across the light-colored carpet to that large, two-winged mahogany wooden door. On each of the wings was a coat of arms, divided into four sections. On the upper left and the lower right quarter were three white flowers on a blue background. The upper right and the lower left quarter each showed three red, pointed crowns on a white background. Behind this door, Claire assumed, must be the director’s room. What would she expect there? She did not know. Why had she only gotten involved in this thing that Geillis Duncan had suggested to her? Out of desperation? She wasn’t sure. Only one thing was sure: she had never thought that she would have to have another job interview at the age of almost 30. But that was her life. Much of what had happened in her life had not been planned, nor had she ever expected her life to be like that.
Claire Elisabeth Beauchamp, almost divorced Randall, had lost her parents in a car accident when she was five years old. For the next fifteen years, she was raised in the loving care of her uncle ‘Lamb’. Dr. Quentin Lambert Beauchamp, an archaeologist, and Egyptologist whose research focus was on the Old Kingdom of Egypt and who was highly revered by his students came to Berlin in 2015, where he taught at Humboldt University in the last years before his retirement. There Claire had also met her future husband, Dr. Frank Randall. He had been assigned to her uncle as a research assistant. Randall had courted her like no man before and they had already married in May 2016. The first four years of their marriage had gone in a way that Claire would still describe as happy today. Although, she was no longer quite so sure. What did happiness actually mean? Was there a definition for this term? And even if there was a definition for the term “happiness”, was it really valid for all people? In any case, the first four years of her marriage had not been very negative. Together they had made regular trips to Paris, Madrid, Prague, Budapest, Dubrovnik, Palermo, Venice, Turin, Marseille, Amsterdam, Florence, Milan, Barcelona, and Bruges.
“Palermo/Sizilien” by nataliaaggiato
Claire enjoyed getting to know these cities and experiencing their cultural particularities. When Lambert Beauchamp died unexpectedly in February 2019 as a result of a stroke, Frank had been kind and, in her opinion, very sensitive to her needs. But in the spring of 2020, a strange development had set in with him. At first, Claire had blamed it on the effects of the corona pandemic. After the start of the lockdown, Frank was mainly at home, giving lectures via Zoom and otherwise writing a new book on the history of the Scottish Jacobite uprising in 1745. Claire, on the other hand, was working as a nurse in the children’s clinic of Berlin’s Charité hospital, as she had been before the crisis. Frank had insisted that Claire should give up her job. The possibility that she could become infected with the virus seemed too high for him. But Claire could not bring it over her heart to leave her fellow nurses alone, especially in such a severe time, and thanks to the strictly observed precautions she got through this difficult time without any problems. While she could be happy about the successes in her profession, the problems in her marriage with Frank seemed to become bigger and bigger. At some point, she felt that Frank was becoming more and more monosyllabic and that they were drifting apart rapidly. But even then she thought this was a temporary phase that would end after the pandemic at the latest. At least she hoped so. When a vaccine against the virus was finally found in July 2021 and became available in December 2021, Claire breathed a sigh of relief. She and Frank would get vaccinated and then they could travel again. This would change Frank’s mind and make her marriage blossom again. But it all turned out differently. Once they were vaccinated, Frank suddenly didn’t feel like traveling anymore. Again and again, he put off his work. Regularly he worked until late at night at the university and sometimes he spent whole nights there. It was always about important analyses, which he published in specialist publications and for which there were tight deadlines. Even on evenings when Claire was off, he was rarely at home, and whenever she tried to initiate a little marital tenderness, he was too tired for that. In the spring of 2022, they had slept together for the last time. A few months later, Frank had stopped kissing her goodbye, as he usually did when he left the house.
What happened then had the potential to throw her completely off track. By the fall of 2022, a hunch that Claire had suppressed again and again had been confirmed. Frank had a mistress. When she returned from her work at the children’s hospital one evening in October, she saw Frank saying goodbye to a slender blonde at the door of their shared house, kissing her intensely. She stood there frozen. Everything inside her urged her to turn around and run away. But then the anger that built up within her gained the upper hand. Like a burning ray that shot out of her stomach through her whole body, he took a breath. She ran to the front door, unlocked it, and found Frank standing at the sink in the kitchen, where he was just rinsing out two wine glasses. He turned to her in surprise, but before he could say a word, Claire’s purse hit him in the left half of his face with full force. Frank had lost his balance and had fallen over. His glasses had come off his head and had broken when he hit the kitchen floor. Claire no longer knew what insults she had used to call him. Frank had picked himself up and collected the parts of his glasses. He had not even set out to explain the situation or apologize. Claire would not have listened to him either. She had turned on her foot and had run into the shared bedroom. When she arrived there, she had taken Frank’s bed linen, run back downstairs with it, and threw it all into his study. Then she ran back into the bedroom again and locked herself inside. She did not know how long she had cried angrily. But before she had fallen asleep, she had made a plan. The next morning she went on the morning shift. During a break, she called a lawyer and that same afternoon she went to see her to discuss the formalities of a divorce.
“Brille” by jottbe
Frank had had the injuries Claire had inflicted on him treated, but had not reported them to the police. It was only later that he let it show that he had orchestrated the whole situation. He had simply been too cowardly to have a conversation with her about divorce, as two adults normally do. He probably wanted to make her feel guilty, too. Claire was convinced of that, at least. Frank had always been against her going back to work. When she accepted the job at the children’s hospital a year after their wedding, he had expressed himself very negatively about it. What kind of impression would it leave on his colleagues if the wife of a prospective professor went to work? And in the last year of their marriage, he had not missed any opportunity to tell her how much he felt neglected.
It took three months before Claire was able to move into a small room in one of the Charité nurses’ homes. During these three months, she did everything she could to avoid Frank as much as possible. Anything she couldn’t take with her to the nurses’ home, she stored in her friend Geillis Duncan’s basement. Claire hoped that the divorce would be finalized in October 2023 after the obligatory year of separation and that she could finally start a new life. But this time, too, everything turned out differently than she had hoped.
It was a rainy autumn day in September 2023 and it was to be the last day in the life of Dr. Frank Randall. On a country road near Lübeck, where he had attended a conference for historians, Frank’s car skidded for some unknown reason. The car broke through the barrier and then came to a halt in a field. There it was discovered the next morning by a farmer. When the police arrived at the scene of the accident, Dr. Frank Randall was strapped in the seat belt and sat in the driver’s seat as if nothing had happened. He was uninjured and even still wearing his hat. But Frank Randall was dead. An autopsy performed later revealed that Frank had had a heart attack that caused him to lose control of the car, causing it to veer off the road. It was, as the police later said, very lucky that no other car had been hit. Claire was shaken.
“Lübeck” by scholty1970
But an even greater shock struck her on the day of the reading of the will. On that day, the notary told her that she would not inherit any money, only debts from Frank. Her still-husband had bought a condominium for his mistress for 250,000 euros, which he had signed over to her. For this gift, Frank had gone into debt, and Claire, who was still married to him by law, inherited his debts. It was one big nightmare. Although Claire had also inherited the rights to Frank’s books, these reference books sold only in very manageable numbers and brought in little money. With her salary as a pediatric nurse, it would take her decades to pay off Frank’s debts. Meanwhile, Sandy Travers, this bleached …., was sitting in her apartment, probably enjoying herself with her next lover. Once again the anger about Frank rose in Claire’s heart, but before she could think about him any further, a familiar voice tore her from these thoughts.