She was thirty, he twenty-seven, when they met in Munich in 1906. He was rather short, with a mop of black curly hair and eyes of a deep brown that looked around him appraisingly. She was taller, and slender with the tiny waist of the period and heavy hair piled on top of her head. They were not immediately sympathetic.
Helen, whose forebears were colonists in America in the 1660s, came to Munich as a graduate student to enroll in the drama department of the university. Elias was in the final year of work there for his Ph.D. in Latin Paleography. Their backgrounds could not have been more diverse. He, a Russian Jew by birth and now American through his father’s naturalization, came to America at the age of twelve. She was the product of a small-town in rural Pennsylvania, a “lady” and cultivated, but with rebellion beneath her quiet demeanor.
Initially Elias had been smitten by Helen’s sister, sweet gentle Fanny, in Munich a few years earlier to complete her voice training, now returned to America to marry. He was less drawn to Helen. But after a few weeks of long walks in the Bavarian hills and fishing expeditions in Bavarian streams, he became increasingly attracted. They talked endlessly, of the friendship between Goethe and Schiller, of Shakespeare and Keats, her special loves, of Childe Harold, which Elias was then reading, of Lohengrin, which he had seen so many times he almost knew it by heart – she did not match him there. They talked of George Eliot and George Sand, of John Stuart Mill, of Beatrice and Sidney Webb, of George Bernard Shaw – she considered herself a suffragist, she told him. They read Plato and Browning aloud to each other. They could not stop talking – as though their entire past had been spent in steeping themselves in Western culture and now, suddenly, pent up so long, it all came spilling out, scalding them with the headiness of it all, the relief of finding someone else like themselves. It was their minds that fell in love.