On 14 February, the body of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri lay in front of me, his socks on fire. I thought at first he was a "kaak" seller on the Beirut Corniche, one of the men who sells toasted bread. Now four of Lebanon's most senior - and most frightening - security bosses have been charged as suspects by the United Nations. Phew.
Then Ane-Karine Arvesen, my old Norwegian diplomat friend, died of cancer in June. And then, unbelievably, Christian Kleinert died.
He was not a close colleague. I only met him in July when he came to Beirut with his friend and lover Andrea Bistrich. She is a journalist, he a photographer. "Was" a photographer I keep saying to myself as I write this. She came to interview me for a German paper. He took the pictures.
We sat on my balcony over the sea and chatted about the Middle East, the West's supercilious, lying coverage of wars, the future of poor old Lebanon. The couple had that special complicity that always attaches itself to people in love. She is 36, he is - goddamit, was - 37. They had known each other for 13 years. Then they left for southern Lebanon.
Later she told me of a museum near Tyre, recording the Palestinian exodus of 1948, and I followed up her tip and that is how Independent readers came to know a few days later of this extraordinary room full of documents, farm implements, photographs and books of the "nakhba", the Palestinian Arab "catastrophe" of 57 years ago.
Then this week, the Independent foreign desk sent me my usual weekly mail packet. Inside was a thick brown envelope containing coloured photos (Bob of Arabia looking far too serious) and two pictures of Andrea and Christian. He had laid his head on her shoulder. A black-and-white snapshot of him was captioned "26.7.1968 - 29.7.2005." What in God's name did this mean, I asked myself? There was a letter from Andrea. Here is what she wrote, in full, complete with a few errors in her otherwise exemplary English:
"It is sad to say: my dearest friend and partner died on 29 july in a car accident near Munich. Only two weeks after our Lebanon journey and three days after his 37th birthday. On his birthday he said to me that for the first time he felt 'like finally being arrived in life.'
"Our journey to Beirut was very important for him. We had a wonderful time, met a lot of people and working together as a team was great. He prepared the photos for you, that was the first thing he did after our arrival. He was so happy that you gave us the chance to meet you. It was special for him and he liked you a lot.
"We had plans to leave Munich next year and travel more and also to live in Beirut for a while. We applied at Goethe Institute for a three-months-project in autumn. Now, more than ever, I would like to leave Munich. Everything reminds me of him, I remember every walk we did, and it's terrible painful.
"On Friday 29, he hurried to his work - and never came back. He was in a car with two other colleagues and sat next to the driver. Chris talked enthusiastically about Beirut and how he liked it. And he talked about me and how wonderful we worked together.
"Perhaps the driver was so engaged with listening that she made a mistake and crashed into a BMW which came towards them at 100 miles/hour. Chris was immediately unconscious with heavy breathing. He had too many inner injuries and died two hours later in a Munich hospital. His colleague on the back seat survived but is still in hospital, the driver had nothing.
"Now, three weeks after his death, I still cannot comprehend it. My life changed radically and I have no idea about the future nor about the next day. I reached a kind of 'valium point'. I am alive, but what next?
"I was a freelancer, but always had some editorial projects going in order to pay the rent and to earn a living. I lost them all. And it's difficult to find work at newspapers at the moment. I hope something new is coming up. The only thing I know is that I want to keep on writing. More than ever I would like to leave Munich and go to the 'Orient'.
"Dear Robert, thanks again from us both, that you were able to take time for meeting us. Enclosed please find some photos. We have more of you, but these we liked most. Let me know if you want them all.
"Regards and best wishes from Munich,
I was stunned. Goddamit, I said out loud. GODDAMIT. I called Andrea.
"I had run to the window to wave goodbye that morning," she said. "He turned and waved at me."
The German cop who first reached the scene told Andrea that Chris had not suffered. It will take a year for the post-mortem.
I reread the letter, trying to understand its pathos and sorrow and courage. That special line at the end - "thanks again from both of us" - in which Andrea had recreated, reborn her dead man, made Christian come alive again to send his wishes to Beirut - was heartbreaking.
But what was the message here? I kept asking myself this question. A murdered man, a child crushed on a Baghdad bridge, an old man dead in a chair because his president did not care about global warming, a prime minister who refuses to acknowledge that his citizens die on a London Tube train because of his folly in Iraq. All this has a meaning. But Munich?
Oddly, it was not the first time I had received heartbreaking news from that city. But this death had no meaning. Christian Kleinert should be alive today and he is dead and, as a journalist, I add him to the list of our "martyrs", those of us who die in road accidents and storms and train crashes as well as from bombs and trigger-happy soldiers and occupation troops and gunmen.
And still, I wake each morning in Beirut and hear the wind in the palm trees outside my bedroom window and ask myself what we all ask ourselves these days - or should ask ourselves: what horror waits for us today?Reuse content