Architect from Switzerland
Hedi Mertens, wife of Walter Mertens, the famous garden architect of Switzerland, came to live in Meher Baba’s ashram in 1937. The Mertens had dedicated their home “Bunnishof” in Feldmeilen, near Zurich, to Baba and His work.
On 14th December 1932, Baba bid farewell to his close ones in London and proceeded to Zurich with mandali and few American Baba lovers. They arrived in Zurich the next day. Hedi and Walter Mertens was also Baba's host.
Walter Mertens, husband of Hedi Mertens was follower a Sufi Master. When he heard about Meher Baba was asked by his friend Otto Billo to meet Him, too. At first, Walter's wife Hedi, an artist, was not too interested in Baba, as she was a follower of Ramakrishna. In a reserved mood, Hedi went with Walter anyway and immediately was captured by Baba's love. Baba stayed overnight at the Mertenses' home at Feldmeilen and left Zurich on 16th December 1932 in morning.
In 1933, while in Italy, Baba kept everyone busy, especially with writing, typing and other such work. Hedi Mertens and her daughter Annakatharina (Roelli) came from Zurich to see Baba.
Before coming to Switzerland, Baba had asked the Mertens to find a quiet, yet "free and lofty," place where He could spend a day in seclusion. Their friend Meinrad Inglin, a novelist and hunter from the town of Schwyz, showed them a spot which they thought suitable. That afternoon, Baba went by car with Inglin and the Mertens family to inspect it. After driving up a narrow mountain road (interspersed with cow gates that had to be opened and closed to pass) they arrived atop a mountain.
Walter's first wife came to see Baba on the 10th July 1934, as did Hedi's sister and her family. Evariste Mertens, Walter's son by his first marriage, met Baba on the 11th.
Baba was driven with His group to Feldmeilen. Baba was relaxed and paid much attention to the Mertens family, playing with Walter and Hedi's four children — Annakatharina, Wolfgang, Dieter and Tobias (Toby) — all of whom were enchanted by Baba's personality.
In year 1934, one evening Baba distributed fruit to break group fast. Then they walked through the forest and fields to the road junction, arriving in 45 minutes. Five minutes later, Hedi showed up in the car. She had felt an inner urge to arrive an hour earlier than ordered. They loaded the luggage and, at Baba's request, they began their return home by a different route. At the top of Ibergeregg Pass, they stopped to have coffee in the local restaurant. Inside, a happy atmosphere prevailed with local Swiss farmers laughing and singing in loud, merry voices. Some danced and Baba particularly enjoyed their yodeling. It was quite a contrast to the hours of seclusion He had spent on Fallenfluh — an enjoyable respite from his strenuous work.
Baba and group started back to Zurich in evening and reached the Mertens residence two hours later. Baba was in a good mood and called His lovers to His room. He told them His work had been accomplished well and explained about His meeting with the advanced souls of the hierarchy, the future war and His protection of Switzerland. He spelled out on His board, "I have drawn a circle around the country so that it will not be involved in the coming war."
On the night of 19th August 1938, Hedi and Walter Mertens arrived, along with their fifteen-year-old daughter Annakatharina. Baba welcomed them, stating, "Remain here for three weeks. Banish all thoughts of the outside and breathe in my atmosphere. Think of Me alone and leave everything to me, for I am the source of everything."
On 26th November 1938, Walter Mertens arrived in Meherabad. He was taken up Meherabad Hill and allowed to see his wife Hedi. Following day, during a meeting with Baba, Walter expressed his feelings openly, "I don't want to become an Eastern holy man or a monk. I am a European and believe in a spirituality which can express itself anywhere and in any activity."
Baba answered, dictating, "I stand over the East and the West; I am no yogi and no saint, but a God-Man, as was Christ. You, Hedi and I are one. You two will have great tasks ahead. You have been always with Me."
On 3rd September 1937, Walter and Hedi Mertens and their daughter and son left for Zurich. Baba had permitted Walter, Hedi, to photograph Him and the women mandali on various occasions in Cannes.
Baba sent Walter and Hedi to Panchgani for five days. They left on the 30th and returned on 5th December 1938. Each person spent one night alone in Baba's cave in Tiger Valley, according to His instructions.
On 28th June 1938, Hedi Mertens among four Westerners came from Switzerland to Bombay on the Conte Verde and was then driven to Ahmednagar to join Baba's burgeoning ashram.
Baba left Feldmeilen on 12th July 1934, in the morning and was driven to Fallenfluh with few mandali, Walter and Hedi — seven people in a five-seater Buick with luggage, tents and other provisions piled high on top, at the back and in the trunk. Hedi drove since Walter had injured his hand. The weather was splendid and the scenery was beautiful. Hedi recalled an interesting experience while driving. They drove along the Lake of Zurich for about half an hour — all still quiet, almost no people on the road, passing village after village.
Baba wanted me to drive quicker and so I did. Before starting, I had adjusted my rear-view mirror so that I could see Baba's face. He was seated in the back between two of His mandali, His head deeply wrapped up in a big shawl — His face hidden in shadow. For a long moment, I could not look away. Although I kept the wheel well in my hands, I felt as if my own action was slipping off and as if we were driving on a cushion, the wheels scarcely touching the ground. I was keeping my eyes always fixed on Baba in the mirror. I then saw His face getting brighter, and at the same time, I was strongly drawn to the wheel. Again I saw Baba's face more clearly radiant. Then I felt as if I were discharged from a circle and I was driving easily once more.
In 1934, Hedi had left her children behind in Switzerland in her husband Walter's care. Her relatives, perhaps in an effort to get her to come home, once wrote that two of Hedi's young children had a serious case of pneumonia. Norina came into the room as Hedi was reading the letter and took her to Baba, who was informed of the situation. Hedi told Baba that she was not concerned as Baba had taken responsibility for her family.
Baba was pleased by her attitude. He laughed as He told her, "I can see your children now. They are sitting in lawn chairs underneath a sun umbrella. Their grandmother is with them, and Walter is taking their picture. The youngest one has his finger in his nose."
Three weeks later, Hedi received another letter and in it was a photograph, exactly as Baba had described — the children under a sun umbrella and the youngest with his finger up his nose!
In 1934, Walter and Hedi Mertens arrived from Switzerland to meet Baba. Walter was intellectually inclined and, on one occasion, he asked Baba a few questions.
About knowledge, Baba explained, "Man has all the nourishment to make him strong, but out of ignorance, he is eating things that do not make him strong, but fat! This metaphor contains all the teachings of the world. What is lacking is the knowledge of the heart."
On 7th November 1936, Baba arrived in Zurich where Baba met Hedi and Walter Mertens and their children. Baba visited Walter's brother's house and met those gathered there.
Baba arrived in Cannes and on 15th August 1937. Baba moved to Villa Caldana, at Montfleury. Baba had asked Kitty to arrange for two maids, but she had only been able to bring one from London. Baba did not want local women to do the housework as He thought they would gossip about him and the group. Thereupon, He asked if there was a daughter of one of his European disciples who could come and help with the household chores at Villa Caldana.
Hedi Mertens was cabled in Zurich, but since her own daughter Annakatharina was not used to housekeeping, she turned instead to their family friend, 20-year-old Irene Ruth Billo. Irene was interested in Baba through the influence of her parents, who had met Baba. She accepted Hedi's offer and left soon after, arrived in Cannes in morning and joined Baba.
On 18th September 1937, Baba was at Capo di Monte to celebrate the occasion of Ruano Bogislav's and Adi Jr.'s birthdays and Greta Garbo's birthday.
Special food had been cooked for dinner, including a large birthday cake. Just as the cake was brought out, the telephone rang. It was Hedi Mertens calling from Zurich. Baba went to talk with her through Norina, and some began eating their pieces of cake before he returned. Baba showed his disappointment about their mistake in etiquette; they should have waited until the Master gave permission to eat. To clear the air of their depressed feeling, Baba called all to his room and instructed them to keep silence with him for five minutes with their eyes closed.
On the 3rd January 1939, Baba visited the Madan Mahal Fort and Gwarighat with the women. Walter Mertens was traveling with Baba's group, but separately by train with a few of the others. In Jabalpur, Baba directed him to leave for Zurich that day. He began weeping at the thought of leaving Baba and Hedi, whom he dearly loved. Baba consoled him, "I am coming with you, and will be with you in the work you will do for Me in Zurich." Obeying Baba, with a heavy heart, Walter left for Bombay, from where he sailed for Switzerland.1970-1939
On 17 April 1939, Baba sent Hedi Mertens back home to Switzerland. She sailed three days later. Before leaving, Hedi told Chanji, "Tell Baba that physically I am going, but in spirit I will always be with him. There is none like Baba in the world!"
A cable was received on 25 December 1943 saying that Walter Mertens had died in Switzerland. Baba sent a loving message of consolation to Hedi. Hedi had been at her husband's bedside constantly during his final days. But Walter passed away during the one minute when she had momentarily left the room. Hedi later asked Baba why he had to die just then. Baba consoled her, "It was the only time he could go. Your love was keeping him back."
On 6th August 1952, Baba and His group flew from London to Zurich in morning on Swiss Air 111. They drove to Locarno, where they stayed at Hedi Mertens' home, Casa Ronco di Fiori, in the suburb of Solduno.
On 16th July 1956, Baba left Satara for Bombay, where He stayed for the day at Ashiana. On same night at midnight, Baba along with few disciples flew from Santa Cruz airport on Air India Flight 103 (economy class). On the way to London, the plane stopped for about an hour each at Damascus and Beirut. By the afternoon they arrived at Kloten Airport in Zurich, where Baba met about 35 Europeans including close lovers including Hedi Mertens. As Baba and the mandali disembarked from the plane and walked to the conference room. He embraced Hedi and others one by one.
Baba and group boarded TWA Flight 801 for New York, where they landed at Idlewild (now called Kennedy) airport on 17th May 1958. They continued their journey by plane via National Flight 325 for Wilmington, North Carolina and driven to Myrtle Beach where Baba was accorded a loving welcome by close Baba lovers.
After several postponements, this was Baba's third visit to Myrtle Beach. Two hundred and fifteen "birds" from England, France, Switzerland, Israel, Mexico and different parts of the USA arrived including Hedi Mertens and others who had met Baba during his 1952 and 1956 visits.
After the discourses, Baba called for a brief intermission and asked for music. A record was played a Swiss record brought by Hedi Mertens of a woman yodeler and described how Baba another Swiss record of a male choir was played. It was very moving and some wept. Afterward Baba said: "This reminds Me of the 10th of July (Silence Day). This time, no one should fast or keep silence, but rather repeat seven times in a barely audible voice exactly at midnight between the 9th and 10th of July according to your local time: 'Beloved God, Thy Will has come to pass.