When people explore ways their lives could have been different, they like to play the what-if game.
What if my mother never met my father?
What if my family were filthy rich?
Or have to live on the street?
Or, shall we say, from Turkmenistan?
For most people, such subjunctive forms are just a gimmick.
With Frieda Helbig, however, they dragged themselves through her life.
Accompanied her since she was a little girl and unconsciously maybe longer.
Kept them awake at night.
They made them unfocused during the day.
Frieda Helbig wonders what if my grandma hadn't been murdered?
Wouldn't I have nightmares then?
Would I have a normal, healthy relationship with my mother?
And a normal, unexcited life?
Had, would, could - at some point Frieda Helbig realized that she would never find an answer in such subjunctive forms.
Perhaps that's why she decided on the indicative, for all the much more important questions that she now wants to solve, above all this: Who killed my grandma?
Who cut them up?
Did she know her killer?
And where are the missing parts of her body?
Frieda Helbig, the granddaughter, now 31 years old, glasses, bun, nice smile, lives with her little son in a housing estate in Essen.
When she opens the door to her apartment, you can see walls full of funny photos of children, quiche and soda on the kitchen table, light wooden furniture in the children's room.
And in the middle of all the chaos of toddlers, this woman who seems to get her life on the line surprisingly well with her three-year-old.
It's spring, just before Easter.
Frieda Helbig asked a friend to come over to look after her son while she was telling about the murder of her grandmother.
She picks up her cell phone and scrolls through a file.
Four volumes, 1475 pages in total.
A few weeks ago they were emailed to her by the lawyer, and in one night she read everything through completely.
Because she couldn't afford to print the pages, she just read on her cell phone.
"At first I thought, it reads like a script from a Netflix series," she says.
"I had goosebumps. But in the end I realized how opaque and unclear this case is, how completely unsolved, to this day."
It is May 23, 1987, in Barsbüttel near Hamburg, a Saturday around 2 p.m.
Two children play next to a stream, ride a little bike, want to build a forest hut.
They look for wood and discover something light, marzipan-colored under a rotten tree trunk, half underground, they think it might be a turnip, then they flinch.
You run to the neighbor.
She's calling the police.
That is how it is described in the file.
It will later be found out that the body parts found are the skin flap of a left breast and two arms.
Neatly separated, but only "scratched superficially" in the ground, as they say.
Because the location is about 200 meters outside of Hamburg in the direction of Lübeck, the Lübeck Murder Commission takes over the investigation.
But later it becomes clear: the place where the body was found is not the scene of the crime - all traces lead to Hamburg.
The playing children find something bright: a left breast and two arms
Twelve search dogs are sent out, a helicopter flies over the area, a blue plastic bag is found and a pair of "sports or ballet shoes with relatively thick soles", whatever that means.
A week later, the name of the dead is clear: Erika Brigitte M., née H., 42 years old, Austrian, divorced, two children.
Employee at the Hamburg State Opera, dark, long hair, broad face, distinctive nostrils, a beautiful woman.
This is how she looks from the photo, back then in the newspapers.
Erika M. liked to knit and read, enjoyed listening to operas, smoked and drank a lot, sometimes too much, and now and then went swimming.
She is said to have worked as a prostitute sporadically and especially at a young age.
It is unclear whether she continued this work until her death.
She is said to have served her clients "in English", that is, to beat and whip them, witnesses later tell.