For Loki and Helmut Schmidt, Lilo and Siegfried Lenz were confidants and friends. Even if the two well-known Hamburg couples have not met for months, they have kept in touch for almost 50 years. They exchanged more than 400 letters, cards and telegrams between 1965 and 2014. The focus was not on politics, even if Helmut Schmidt, as Hamburg Senator for the Interior, Minister and finally Chancellor (1974 to 1982) often had little time for anything else. The readable correspondence between the two couples is now published as a book.
Literature is a common theme for them. Both Schmidts read the works of Siegfried Lenz. Loki in particular often goes into detail about this in her letters. The most famous Lenz novel "German Lesson" also impressed Helmut Schmidt. Schmidt also expressly praises Lilo Lenz's book "Waldboden" with her watercolor drawings as "beautiful and endearing". Loki writes a review about it.
Siegfried Lenz (“Heimatmuseum”, “Exerzierplatz”) repeatedly emphasized how much he was looking forward to a new book by Helmut Schmidt. Lenz makes suggestions for book titles, reads manuscripts, but also sends Schmidt suggestions and "ideas" for political speeches. The exchange via texts works on many levels.
The SPD supported Lenz early on, for example in many campaign appearances. In early 1965 he met Helmut Schmidt because he wanted to write a portrait about him. The letter of thanks after another meeting is the first letter received between the two. Politically they feel close. After the end of Schmidt's chancellorship, the tone of the letters became even more personal: "Dear Siggi" wrote Schmidt in the salutation. However, the two of them stayed with you for the rest of their lives.
The exchange of letters, edited by the Germanist and Lenz expert Maren Ermisch, is not only unusual because of the long period of time. The four-person constellation is also special: Here, an intellectual does not exchange ideas with a politician, as in the case of Günter Grass and Willy Brandt.
Lilo Lenz and Loki Schmidt have been important correspondents from the start. They do not simply add to what their much more prominent husbands have to say, but bring their own topics and perspectives. It is often they who take the initiative, who ensure that contact is not broken off.
Not least between Siegfried Lenz (1926-2014) and Loki Schmidt (1919-2010) an intensive dialogue develops about topics that are important to both of them: nature conservation, for example. Loki Schmidt, who was interested in biology and botany all his life, founded the Board of Trustees for the Protection of Endangered Plants in 1976, which later became the foundation named after her, which has been selecting the "Flower of the Year" for decades.
Lenz read chapter by chapter of her first book about nature reserves in Germany and helped her with suggestions for improvement. He wrote the foreword for another one about botanical gardens.
The exquisite courtesy that characterizes all correspondence partners is striking. Again and again, the four assure each other of their respect and sympathy, sometimes immediately after a meeting.
Mutual visits to Lake Brahmsee, southwest of Kiel, where the Schmidts have a weekend house, or to Lilo and Siegfried Lenz's summer house on the Danish island of Alsen, became a tradition. All four also set out on several joint sailing trips on the Baltic Sea.
The tradition also includes mutual gifts, often small things of almost touching modesty: potatoes or jam, colored pencils or a cream spoon. In this case, too, there will be detailed words of thanks in the next letter. The correspondence finally ended in 2014 with the death of Siegfried Lenz. Helmut Schmidt died the following year - the last of the four confidants.