My friend Gisela Hoferer, who has died aged 77 of metastatic brain cancer, was a doctor in Bavaria, Germany. She was a great storyteller and independent-minded with a gift for observing others sharply, but with kindness.
Born in Poznań, Poland, one of five children of Tamara (nee von Noltein) and Erhard Kroeger, both originally from Riga, Latvia, Gisela grew up not knowing the truth about her father – he was a fugitive from justice and had spent part of 1941 selecting victims for mass shootings as an SS officer. He was convicted of war crimes in 1969, but never accepted any blame. For all her adult life, she suffered from the effects of his attempts to extract displays of loyalty from his children, whom he had abandoned.
After attending the Realgymnasium in Eichstaett, Gisela studied medicine at Zurich and Goettingen universities, with practical training at hospitals in Bochum and Landshut. In the 1960s, she took up an internship at a hospital in London, though she claimed she spent most of her time saying: “My English is very poor.”
Like many women of her generation, she had to contend with the sexism of the 1950s, which demanded domesticity, and then that of the 70s, the decade that expected women to be fun and sexy, both in their professional and private lives.
In the mid-70s Gisela married Sebastian Hoferer, known as Wasti, whom she had met in a commune outside Munich. Though he had a degree in ancient Mandarin, his main talents lay in acting and making marionettes. His many jobs including being a potter, taxi driver and parking attendant. He was a stay-at-home father to their son Max, born in 1978, and Anna, born two years later. Max died after a long illness at the age of 30.
From around the time of her marriage Gisela lived in the hamlet of Falkenfels, between the Danube and the Czech border. Rather than entering private practice, she worked as a locum – covering holidays for GPs and emergency services in her area. She claimed to prefer this marginal professional status as she was wary of the authority patients ascribe to their doctors.
Gisela was determinedly ideologically unaligned, always keeping a
critical distance from her own convictions. Talking to her was an
extraordinary experience, as her thought process appeared genuinely
open-ended. It was hard to predict where her judgments would land,
whatever the subject. She was generous and kind, she listened, and she
In this spirit, she took pleasure in observing the little rituals she encountered at the lunch table of the Cambridge college where I was a lecturer. She encouraged me to see their charms when I was struggling to square college life with bringing up young children.
The world’s best bullshit detector, she would always catch
me out if I was trying to fool myself, but she would not make me feel
bad about it.
Wasti died in 2018. Gisela is survived by Anna, and by a brother, Matthias, and sister, Karin.