The first time it happened was on an excursion. I remember driving ahead. My red bike was new and my friend Lulu was sitting on the luggage rack. The Elbe flowed to our right, it went slightly uphill, and everything about this moment was precious: the presence of my mother, with whom I did not live as a child of a separation, and who was now walking behind us with her boyfriend. Lulu, my joy about the new bike. My heart felt strangely light, it stumbled, and then it beat like never before. It was racing. When I think back, I see myself lying on a nearby bench, a five-year-old with a heaving chest. The others stood around me. A jogger stopped, asked what was wrong, and soon I was hanging over the back of the bench, puking. As abruptly as the racing heart had started, it stopped again. What remains is the knowledge that it can come back at any time.

Since that moment on the Elbe, my heart and I have been in a relationship. It has fluttered countless times throughout my life, in situations in which I was emotionally upset and sometimes physically strenuous. Where I was in love, afraid, overwhelmed. It flutters to this day and doesn’t care that I want to function and don’t want to attract attention. If you don’t tell them, my racing heart cries, I’ll tell them! And then I lie in carpet-soft back rooms, in tiled hallways, between seats on the train or in the forest and wait for it to click on again. At best it’s quiet so that I don’t care about anything. To freak out and latch on, my body’s own verbs for almost 40 years. Nothing in this world slows me down as vehemently as my heart. Every time it reminds me that everything else is less important than I think. Every time I repress the realization as soon as it calms down and don’t allow myself to be examined again.

It may be that the rhythm disturbances sharpen my attention, but we all have a relationship with our hearts – unlike our kidneys. It is a miraculous organ. Slightly inclined, it sits fist-sized in the left side of the chest, protected by the sternum, ribs, lungs and diaphragm. A doctor wrote that it resembled a mango, and I can relate to that. Its texture is artistic and also complex. It works largely autonomously: it has its own control center, the sinus node, which makes it beat about a hundred thousand times a day. It pumps around 7,000 liters through the body in 24 hours, for life. I thought for a long time that it probably weighed several kilos. It is as light as the amount of sugar I pour into my chocolate tart, barely 300 grams.

If it stops beating, we die. That’s why it scares us when our heart races or stumbles, when it stops or hurts. Our concern is not exaggerated, because although we can rely on excellent medical care, cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death in this country. Last year, more than 358,000 people died from them. It is hardly surprising that the most commonly prescribed medicines are cardiovascular drugs. And we also seem to put more strain on our hearts than people in many other countries. In any case, compared to Western Europe, we have a lower average life expectancy than they do.

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