AS first encounters go, it might have been made in Hollywood. At Munich's Hof-brauhaus beer hall they had just finished throwing out the drunken back-packers, American GIs and locals in lederhosen after an evening sinking litres of frothy beer. In Harry's Bar, tucked away in a side-street around the corner, the atmosphere was different. While the piano man tickled the ivories, Boris ''the divine'' Becker, young god of German media, sat staring into his glass. He was fed up with fame and floozies and contemplating a career on the slide, when into his life walked the would-be actress who would change it. Barbara Feltus-Ferbst was subtly different. She was young and beautiful, German and black. Becker claims that he only really noticed her skin colour ''sometime later'', glancing at her sleeping body sprawled against a white sheet. They were first ''outed'' as an ''item'' a month after that first meeting at the end of 1991, dancing together at a disco in Australia. As Barbara was to learn, being on the arm of ''Boom-boom Boris'' meant being in the glare of more flashlights than had ever faced her on catwalk or stage. She soon discovered the rest of it. Within weeks the German tabloid press had winkled out all her ex-boyfriends, hoping - in vain - for a snatch of salacious gossip, and had scoured the cutting rooms of blue movie-makers in the hope of a few reels of Barbara in the buff. All they found was a ''bra and panties'' shot of her modelling underwear; tame stuff but juicy enough out of context to make the front page of the mass daily Bild. Barbara was horrified but there was worse to come. An undercurrent in Germany resented theblond-haired, blue-eyed son of the fatherland being ''stolen by an alien''. When they went to the carnival in Cologne in 1992, Barbara was subject to racist taunts in the street. ''Go back to the bush,'' cried one. ''Black witch, you only want Boris' money,'' screamed another. Becker reacted fiercely with a much-publicised warning about the damage the spectre of racism was doing to his country. Then the couple retreated to his rented apartment in Monte Carlo. The strains forced their relationship underground, prompting speculation last summer that ''Babs'' had gone the way of the girls before her. Meanwhile Becker's relationship with the fatherland that adored him showed its own signs of estrangement: he angered Berlin's mayor, Eberhard Diepgen, who is currently battling against Beijing, Manchester and Sydney to win the Olympics in the year 2000, by suggesting that a German medal haul at ''our own Olympics'' could lead to new talk of a master race. He then belatedly pulled out of Germany's Davis Cup team. Critics said it was because his 1-6, 1-6 thrashing by fellow-countryman Michael Stich in Hamburg last May had so angered him he could not play on the same team. Becker pleaded training schedules but added that the sound of the national anthem being played sent a chill down his spine: ''The Davis Cup has got too much tied up with nationalism,'' he commented. In March, when Becker announced that he and Barbara had secretly become engaged, they revealed that they were looking for a home in which to raise children, possibly in Paris or London. The engagement was marked with a token of reconciliation with Germany too: an exclusive photo-interview series with Stern magazine, the pictures taken by Barbara's father, who runs his own photo-agency in Dusseldorf. Barbara is a piece of genuine German exotica: the daughter of a cold war GI bride, a German girl who fell for a black American. Her father, Harlan Ross Feltus, served in the US army base in Heidelberg where he met her mother and where Barbara was born, only a few months before Boris and a few kilometres from his parents' home in Leimen. Growing up bilingual in a country with no real colonial tradition and hence no non-European immigration until recent years, a black German girl was an oddity. It has clearly not always been easy: ''I grew up with the usual cliches - niggers are all funny, eat bananas, can dance and sing and later of course the predictable comments about eroticism.'' In her Stern interview, she painted a finely-honed double-edged picture of the downside of a black girl's life at the top: ''I experience the best and worst of life now, sometimes within 15 minutes. ''I am someone who cannot get served because I'm black; I get talked to in pidgin German - 'You money have?' - and my banknotes get held up to the light to see if they're genuine. Then the next minute I'm Frau Becker, treated like a queen, people all over me, first-class service. Sometimes I find both awful.'' For his own part, Becker has fallen over backwards to shed an Aryan image he never wanted: ''I've become a 'brother'. People of Barbara's skin colour call me 'brother'. I think that's super-cool and I'm proud of it.'' Becker's self-imposed period in the wilderness - for half of last year he played too little tennis, with predictably disastrous results on his form - has at least allowed him to make a comeback in which his love for Barbara has been widely credited as a stabilising factor. He was recently voted man of the year by Germany's Sports magazine which put him on the front cover in his new look: razor haircut and round steel-rimmed John Lennon sunglasses. He also has a new trainer, Viennese Gunter Bresnik, but his recent defeat to24th-ranked Frenchman Marc Rosset in Monte Carlo shows that his ambition to climb back from world number four to number one has a bit to go. He denies that he was ever on the brink of suicide, as widely reported - not even in the low period before he met Barbara. But he was sorely tempted to get out of tennis to escape the limelight, ''no longer to be judged by others''. Having won Wimbledon for the first time at the age of 17, planting the German flag at the pinnacle of a sport his countrymen had hardly touched, he had unwanted god-hood thrust upon his shoulders. He talks of his search for ''a mission'', but even more longingly of hopes for a normal life with a home and children, pleading against his divinity: ''I'm still someone who has to go to the loo in the morning.'' He is also still a romantic. He proposed on March 5, at a favourite restaurant, the Bogenhauser Hof, in the Munich suburbs, by hiding her ring in her whisky sour and asking the piano man to play the Gershwin tune Summertime - ''our song'', and a regular feature of the repertoire in Harry's Bar. So far the pair will not admit to any decision on where the longed-for ''hideaway'' might be. The attractions of London and Paris are theatre schools where Barbara could resume her career, abandoned since she joined him in Monte Carlo. Becker already has a HK$4.8 million flat in Hamburg, owns his parents' house in Leimen, pays HK$14,640 a month for his Monte Carlo apartment and is rumoured to have bought a HK$39 million house in Munich. The German media's dearest hope is that this willbe his home, but having just signed a HK$171 million annual clothing sponsorship deal with the Italian firm Lotto, Becker is not short for cash. Meanwhile, the German tabloids, worried by what they might have accidentally stirred up in a country deeply worried by arson attacks on immigrant homes and the risk of a wider resurgent racism in a climate of economic recession, have backed off. Only up to a point, though. When rumours began circulating last November that Barbara was pregnant, Bild bounced back in true form: ''All eyes on Barbara's belly!'' Plus ca change, as they say in Monte Carlo, plus c'est la meme chose.