On a cold, winter night in a beautiful city far from home, Linda Key met the love of her life.

It was February 1984, and the 41-year-old Sunnyvale resident, overcoming a divorce, decided to take herself on a solo 10-day ski vacation to Innsbruck, Austria. Early into her trip, she spent an evening in Innsbruck's Old Town. As she crossed a street on her way back to her hotel, a man called out to her in German. He seemed to be warning her about something.

"I said, 'I don't speak German,' " said Linda, who remembered only a few words from high school German. Somehow, through the man's barely rudimentary English, along with some Italian on his side and Spanish on hers, a rapport emerged.

The man, who introduced himself as Helmut Kluckner, managed to explain to her it was dangerous to cross against the light, even though there were no cars around. She let him walk her back to her hotel, where they stood outside, barely noticing the cold, and talked for another hour.

"We were muddling about in four languages," said Linda.

Helmut invited her to dinner some night and said he would call.

But when Linda didn't hear from him over the next week, she shrugged off their encounter as one of those pleasant, romantic moments that happen on vacation.

The night before Linda was to catch a bus to the Munich airport, she agreed to go out dancing with some other tourists. But on her way out, the hotel concierge found her in the lobby.


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A call was waiting for her. It was Helmut.

If he had called five minutes later, Linda would have missed hearing from him and the opportunity to take a whole new direction in life.

"We had some wine, went dancing," she said. "We had a lovely night out. I got back awfully late."

Over the next six months, they exchanged phone calls and letters, with Helmut laboring with a dictionary to find the correct English words to use. In August, Linda returned to Austria, where Helmut took her on a tour of the Alpine valleys and villages in his country and in northern Italy.

Two days after Linda returned to the United States, Helmut called to propose. Two days later, Linda called him back to accept.

In February, a year after they met, Linda arrived at the Munich airport. As she made her way through customs, she could see through a window into the terminal where Helmut was waiting for her. "He waved and I waved, and I remember thinking, 'What am I doing? I don't know this man.' "

Helmut later admitted he had similar thoughts, but any last-minute doubts didn't deter them. They married in a small civil ceremony at Innsbruck's Goldenes Dachl, a landmark 1500s building famous for a roof over its balcony decorated with fire-gilded copper tiles.

After settling his affairs, Helmut joined Linda in the Bay Area, where they eventually opened a shop, inspired by Helmut's love of motorcycles.

At their Fremont-based Helimot -- a title that combines their first names -- they design, make and sell custom-designed racing suits, gloves and other motorcycle-related accessories. They also ride together most Sundays.

"We're still together, work together and enjoy each other still," she says.

-- Martha Ross, Staff

If you want to share the story of how you and your partner or best friend met, send an email to mross@bayareanewsgroup.com with the subject line "how we met."