It took 30 years, love letters and festive magic to bring us together

It took 30 years, a box of old love letters and a sprinkling of festive magic to bring us together: Theirs is a story worthy of any Richard Curtis script – a teenage holiday romance that defied time and distance to have the happiest Christmas ending

Sometimes life has a way of surprising us with its curious and delightful symmetries. Almost exactly two years ago, in the depths of 2020’s bleak winter lockdown, along with the rest of the world Kate Pymm was searching for some Christmas cheer.

It would have been too easy, as a divorcee of 11 years, with no children and a social life that had been poleaxed by the pandemic, to simply give up on the season. But no, she was determined to ‘do her bit’ and went rummaging through the cupboards and eaves of her North Yorkshire home for some decorations to add some sparkle to the dark days ahead.

Suddenly, a shoebox stuffed with old letters fell crashing to her feet, almost as if it had been waiting, ready to pounce.

Kate, a 50-year-old make-up artist, looked at the handwriting on the envelopes, and somewhere in the universe, something stirred.

On September 17, the couple had a celebrant wedding at Danby Castle Barn in North Yorkshire for 65 of Kate’s friends and family

They were old love letters — hundreds of pages of declarations of devotion and self-penned poetry — written 30 years ago by her first love, Guenther Baer, a dashing young German who’d stolen her heart during a holiday romance in 1989. A man to whom no one else, really, had ever compared.

Reading through the letters, Kate — beleaguered and disillusioned after years of soul-destroying dating and humiliating blind dates — felt a glimmer of hope. Could this be a sign? Was love actually out there?

Given that Guenther was last known to be living some 800 miles away in southern Germany, and not to mention the fact that she hadn’t seen or heard of him since 1993, trying to turn that flicker of curiosity into a flame was a flight of fancy, to say the least.

But not only did Kate miraculously manage to track down her young love — more of which later — but last December, little more than a year after that shoebox crashed back into her life, she and Guenther, now 56, were finally married. And this year, they are spending their first Christmas together as husband and wife.

‘If I’d had a crystal ball two years ago and seen this in my future — me and Guenther married and in the bosom of his family — I would have been ecstatic,’ says Kate.

‘Guenther was my first love. I was only 17 when we met, so I had no idea how special that was at the time, but no other man measured up. I kept every letter, every card, every photograph. But Guenther was always the one who got away.’

The couple first met back in the summer of 1989, in a bar in Torquay, Devon, where Kate was on holiday with her mother and best friend. Guenther, 23, was visiting England.

Kate was smitten by this foreigner with blond curls and an exotic accent. Guenther, meanwhile, was mesmerised by the pretty teenager’s smile. They arranged to meet for coffee at the pavilion the following day.

Their holiday romance was brief, as Guenther was booked on a flight home a day later. But they exchanged addresses and landline numbers — romance took commitment in the days before mobile phones and WhatsApp.

The couple first met back in the summer of 1989, in a bar in Torquay, Devon, where Kate was on holiday with her mother and best friend. Guenther, 23, was visiting England.

By the time Kate returned home there was already a letter with a German postmark waiting on the doormat. The calls and letters continued, intermingling declarations of love with the minutiae of their daily lives, and when Kate planned her 18th birthday celebrations the following June, she was insistent that Guenther had to be there.

In October 1990 it was Kate’s turn to visit Bavaria. Together they climbed mountains and swam in lakes — and although she spoke no German and Guenther’s family no English, his parents and brother welcomed her warmly. They had no idea that was to be the last time they saw one another for 31 years.

Guenther tried, unsuccessfully, to get a place on an aeronautical engineering course at Hull University to be close to Kate, who was by then at art college. Unable to speak the language, and reluctant to leave her mother, Kate couldn’t be persuaded to move to Germany, either.

‘I felt I had to stay and support my mum, who had been on her own since her divorce, so I thought the only option was to break up with Guenther,’ says Kate, visibly frustrated with her younger self.

‘I didn’t see how we could carry on with a distance of 800 miles between us, so I told him it was over during a very tearful conversation, as he pumped coins into a payphone.’

That was in 1991 and although they were free to date other people, the letters continued for another couple of years. Then one day in 1993 — around the time, Kate now knows, that Guenther met the woman who would become his first wife — he stopped writing.

‘Losing that connection was heart-breaking, but I was also in another relationship by then, so decided it was time tmove on,’ says Kate, who now lives in Guisborough, North Yorkshire. Not that it was easy. ‘All kinds of things would trigger memories. Nineties music, any mention of Germany.’

So fond were these memories that, in the late 1990s, Kate wrote a letter to Guenther at his mother’s address, hoping to reconnect. She heard nothing back — in fact the letter never reached him — and soon afterwards she met the man she would go on to marry in 2002.

Kate suffers from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which doctors said would make it difficult to conceive, and as her husband didn’t want children and she had ‘no burning desire’ to be a mother either, she concentrated on her career, working with make-up supremos Charlotte Tilbury and Trinny Woodall and travelling the world. Her marriage faltered, however: ‘I wasn’t really in love with my husband and I don’t think he was very much in love with me.’ They divorced in 2010.

Meanwhile, Guenther became a father to two sons and a daughter — now aged from 19 to 26 — while climbing the ranks in his role as an IT automation engineer.

He admits he had always known Kate was his ‘perfect woman’ but, believing there was no hope for them when she broke off their romance, he worked hard at his marriage. Nevertheless, he and his ex-wife also grew apart, divorcing in 2006 and sharing custody of their children.

He, too, frequently thought about Kate. He remembers visiting London in 2017 and scanning the streets in the hope she might be somewhere among the throng. As a social media refusenik, there was no chance of finding her online, so Guenther simply gave up hope.

Not so Kate, who had started to trawl online directories for addresses not only for Guenther but other members of his family. She knew it was a crazy gamble to even attempt to get back in touch. ‘He could have been happily ensconced with a wife and family and have totally forgotten me,’ she admits.

Then on November 22, 2020, Guenther’s brother Andy turned up at his door in Unterwössen with a letter. Kate had tracked him down.

Guenther recalls: ‘Andy said, ‘Do you remember Kate?’ And I said, ‘Of course I do. Why?’ And he said: ‘Well, he (sic) wrote me a letter for you.’ Kate tenderly strokes the side of Guenther’s face and corrects him: ‘She, not he.’ Her husband smiles, shaking his head. ‘Sorry, my English isn’t always the best.’

Spotting Kate had included her phone number in the letter, Guenther told his brother: ‘Sorry to be rude but I have to go and call her straight away.’

When a number with a German prefix flashed up on her mobile, Kate instinctively knew who was calling.

‘I said ‘Guenther?’ and he said ‘Yes, it’s Guenther’ and I said ‘Guenther! Guenther! Guenther!’ and he just started laughing,’ Kate recalls. ‘And he said: ‘Where have you been?’ ‘

Guenther suggested a video chat but Kate had just got out of the shower after a run and insisted he give her an hour to make herself ‘presentable’.

‘I wasn’t letting him see me like that, for the first time in 30 years,’ she laughs. ‘I asked if he was married — I had to know so I didn’t get my hopes up — and he said, ‘No, divorced and single.’ My stomach did a somersault.

‘Then he said, ‘Just one thing Kate. I’m old.’ And I said, ‘Don’t worry, we’re both 30 years older!’.’

In fact, Kate thought Guenther ‘with his beard, salt and pepper hair and glasses’ had only improved with age. Gallantly, he insisted she hadn’t changed at all. The pair spent hours on video chats over the next week.

‘A couple of days in, I told him ‘I’ve always loved you and still do. You’ve always been here, in my heart, a part of me. Otherwise I would have thrown away your letters’.

‘I realise it sounds very forward but I’m a confident woman, I wear my heart on my sleeve, and we’ve wasted enough time.’ Having been hurt in the past, Guenther was cautious at first. ‘But by the end of the week, he was telling me I was the woman he should have married.’

Due to lockdown, the first opportunity they had to meet in person was in January 2021, when Guenther flew into Manchester airport and immediately swept her up into his arms, telling her how much he’d missed her ‘lovely smell’. ‘It felt surreal after all that time, but also completely natural,’ says Kate. Young people may believe they have the monopoly on sex, but Kate and Guenther both agree that their love life is better in their 50s than it ever was as a couple of lovestruck twenty-somethings.

So certain were they that their destiny was to be together that, by that first visit, they discussed marriage and how to finally get around the issue of geography. Guenther explored getting a transfer to a UK office but his bosses said it was impossible. So Kate, who works freelance, decided to finally take the plunge and move to Germany.

In August 2021, Kate was visiting Guenther in Bavaria when he suggested they take a picnic up Hochgern mountain, where he’d first taken her 30 years earlier.

‘We reached this plateau overlooking Lake Chiemsee, and Guenther pulled out a rug, a bottle of Veuve Clicquot and got down on one knee,’ Kate recalls, teary-eyed. ‘He was ever so nervous and said, ‘Distance couldn’t keep us apart. Time couldn’t keep us apart. Please be my wife’.’

Guenther then produced a stunning 2.3-carat diamond solitaire — a ring his budget would never have stretched to when they were young — and Kate flung her arms around him, saying ‘Yes!’.

The couple finally married in Bavaria on December 30 last year in front of Guenther’s family and friends. His children, who had many years to get used to their parents being apart, all love the happy ending to this tale, but only Sebastian, his middle child, was there as the others had not had their Covid vaccines.

‘People heard about our story and we were like a couple of local celebrities, so the deputy mayor performed the ceremony,’ Kate laughs. Then, on September 17, the couple had a celebrant wedding at Danby Castle Barn in North Yorkshire for 65 of her friends and family. ‘Everyone says it’s like a fairy tale,’ she says. ‘Some single friends have even contacted their first loves.’

But there is still one hurdle between the couple and their happy ever after. Due to new EU rules introduced since Brexit, Kate must pass an exam in spoken and written German before she can move in with Guenther in his 17th-century farmhouse permanently.

‘It’s not easy learning a new language at my age, but I’m working on it,’ she says. ‘I’m doing an intensive course in January so I can apply for a visa and settle in Bavaria. After that I can think about getting work. We’ve overcome much bigger obstacles than me passing an exam.’

Happy as they are, do they ever contemplate how different their lives might have been had they stayed together all those years ago? ‘We often talk about it,’ Kate says. ‘With the right man, maybe my maternal instincts would have kicked in and we would have had a child. But there’s no point in what-ifs, it’s just upsetting.’

This Christmas could not be more different to that of two years ago, when fate threw that box of love letters at Kate’s feet.

The couple spent it in Bavaria with Guenther’s large extended family. They had a 6ft tree, venison from a hunter in the next village, plus champagne and red wine. For their anniversary on Friday, Guenther has booked a table at a five-star hotel in the nearby village of Grassau. It is an ending which even the king of romantic comedies himself, Richard Curtis, would surely be proud. Kate smiles. ‘Now I have him back, I won’t let him go again.’

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