From Romford to Ludwigshafen: a 37-year love story to rival Mills & Boon

A rollercoaster 37-year love story that began with two teens on a choir excursion, might never have happened if it wasn’t for a twin town scheme between Romford and Ludwigshafen.

When 14-year-old Hornchurch schoolgirl Michele Burton travelled to the German town with the Havering Youth Choir in 1974, she never could have imagined it would spark a 37-year love affair worthy of a Mills & Boon novel.

This week the 51-year-old marketing manager shared her incredible tale with the Recorder, admitting: “When someone literally throws you on someone’s lap when you’re 14, you don’t know you’re going to love them like this.”

The former St Edwards School pupil had been at a dance with the Ludwigshafen Youth Choir when she met “soul mate” Dieter Schlachter, then 16.

“One of the choir members, William, said to Dieter ‘who do you like?’ He said me, and so William grabbed me and threw me on Dieter’s lap and said ‘there, get to know each other’,” Michele said.

The pair did exactly that with Michele admitting there were tears when she returned home a week later.

But she didn’t have to wait long to see her sweetheart with the “David Cassidy hair,” with Dieter visiting Hornchurch a few months later.

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Dieter later went into army service for three years and the couple lost touch. And at 19 Michele “did a really silly thing – I got married.”

But just five months into her marriage, she received a call from her mum saying there was “a German man at the door.”

“As soon as I saw him I knew I’d made a terrible mistake getting married. The man I loved was standing right in front of me,” Michele said.

She followed Dieter to Germany where she admits “we became intimate for the first time. I called my husband and said it was finished. He wasn’t too shocked.”

But with her mother dying from cancer, Michele was forced to return to Hornchurch in July 1980. Though not before dramatically revealing she was pregnant.

Sadly, Michele miscarried and the couple again lost touch, marrying other people and starting families of their own. Both divorced in 2000 and it wasn’t until almost ten years later that Michele tracked down Dieter, now a 53-year-old physiotherapist, through a social networking site.

“All this time he had been looking for me too,” she said.

“I met him at Stansted Airport and I was like a 14-year-old schoolgirl again. There were lots of tears and wishing things had been different.”

Michele moved to Frankenthal, Germany, one year ago, adding: “This is what my mother said love was like and she was absolutely right. I can’t imagine my life without him. And if it wasn’t for Romford and Ludwigshafen being twin towns it might never have happened.”