A line can be many things. As a route, it marks the shortest connection between two points. As a straight line, it is infinitely long, unlimited in both directions. Viewed soberly, life seems like a stretch. Birth, death, a more or less straight path in between. For Ann Dora Nielsen it was more of a mixture of both: there was no end in sight. When it became inevitable, she shaped this endpoint of her lifeline herself, as she had always done.
“The beautiful line”, as she called it, ran through her life as a motif. With a keen sense of aesthetics, she arranged them to perfection. She persistently baked until she made herself the perfect whole grain loaf, topped it with the best cheese danish and wrapped in the most beautiful sandwich paper in a color-coordinated fashion. As a costume master, she was constantly getting closer to the perfect silhouette, first covering her cuts with pencil lines, then correcting them with pen, then going over them again with different colored pencils. She recognized the most beautiful of all the curves in the tangle of colors, followed the lines of the body that the fabric would later perfectly cover, and finally applied the scissors, following an internal compass.
She acquired this compass early on. As a child, Ann Dora was an amazing sight. Tall, with curly blond hair, the son of divorcees. Other children in the Copenhagen housing estate made fun of her. Even in winter she would go out in a summer dress: what could this favorite piece do if the weather was not on her side?
When, at the age of twelve, she watched a neighbor make her suits, her life plan was established. He dropped out of school at 16, left home and apprenticed himself to a downtown robe maker who made costumes for the Royal Opera and Ballet. His first task: weeks of cleaning pins.
Ann Dora saved this work from her own apprentices, who called her studio in Berlin a few decades later. She was still strict. And persistently, nothing escaped her. When her student wondered if she was pinning the fabric correctly, Ann asked Dora from across the room: Are you putting the pins in the right direction too? If she discreetly removed her thimble because it was annoying, Ann Dora would yell, Hey, your thimble! Believe it or not, in the end, the thimble stitches become more even.
Young Ann Dora shared a symbiotic relationship with her master. Together, the two women moved to the California headquarters of a spiritual group in the 1980s. Juan also lived there. While most assumed that Ann Dora, closely watched by her Master, was unavailable, he knew better. After three brief conversations and no physical contact, he proposed to her, completely in love with her. Ann Dora was dumbfounded, looked at him very, very carefully, perhaps for the first time, and said, yes, let’s do it.
This was followed by 33 years of love, two children. They quickly fled kibbutz-like group quarters, living sometimes in New York, sometimes in Hamburg, sometimes in Sausalito. Ann Dora especially enjoyed the seven years in the Danish countryside, completely atypical for Denmark, she devoted herself solely to her family, making her children’s carnival costumes like Pikachu or Lego cowboys. Later, in Berlin, she finally established herself professionally.
She didn’t have a master’s degree. To do this, she would have had to sacrifice a day for an exam after her seven-year apprenticeship. A point that she left out of her lifeline. That’s how the customers came. She mastered some old trades like making corsets or hats. She made film costumes for Jeremy Irons and Emma Watson, she graced fairy tale films and major television productions, “Our Mothers, Our Fathers,” “Adlon.” The costume she designed for the solo dancer of the magazine Friedrichsstadtpalast appeared on bus stops all over Berlin in 2008. Her last production, the series The Palace, aired the day before her death. She didn’t want to look at him, as she had little interest in all the chichi about her work. Tailoring was her passion.
In the family bathroom there was a big box with more than 20 toothbrushes, for all the children’s friends. Sometimes other children also lived in the house for months, children who could not live with their own parents at the time. No matter why, the main thing was that the child was fine.
When it became clear that there was no cure for her cancer, her self-drawn line began to flare, combining shock, sadness, anger, and fear with love and sudden, overwhelming feelings of happiness to form a wild curve. I feel so much love that it is almost unbearable, she said nine months before she died. Y: Looking back, I would do everything the same way. When she could no longer deny that life is not a curve or a straight line, but a stretch, she decided to embrace radical acceptance. Her years of involvement in spirituality and her personal development helped her. She found an inner peace that took over everyone around her. The hospice nurses were just looking for her company after a chaotic day, and no matter how she was feeling, her friends would first ask how are you, how are the kids? When they got sad, she said: Hey, I’m Danish, we can laugh at death too.
He longed for Denmark, he dreamed of Smørrebrød and Hindbærsnitter. The doctor said that a trip is not planned in such palliative care, professionally I have to advise against it. But if I were you, I would. For a week she felt wonderful, she walked upright, no longer contorted by pain, and she felt that the ferry crossing was almost symbolic.
When her husband lost his composure in the hospital because she told the questioning doctor that she was fine, she says, “I don’t like the doctor, I’m waiting for the other one.” the most difficult act of her life: Johannes, I want to go now.
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