Last week I showed a lone cattail at a frozen pond. Two days ago, we visited the pond again and found that all the ice had melted with daytime temperatures climbing way above freezing. A pair of mallard ducks had already returned from their winter quarters and settled nicely in their seasonal residence. It is an ideal place for the ducks with plenty of water to frolik in and clumps of tall grasses and reeds to hide from predators. For me, it was hard to get a good view to capture them with my camera. A brief walk across the road is our favourite viewpoint. Dark clouds made the BC Hydro powerline and the lake below look more dramatic. Enjoy.
Like my parents, Papa had his family roots in the Eastern provinces of Germany, which are now part of Poland. After WWI, when as part of the Treaty of Versailles, West Prussia was incorporated into Poland’s newly re-established state, the Panknin family members resettled and resided in and around Berlin. Walter Panknin was born to Arnold and Gertrud Panknin (née Weber) on May 26th, 1898, in Kalthof near Marienburg (Malbork in Polish), former West Prussia. He had two younger siblings, his brother Rudi and sister Toni. During the early war years, probably inspired by the great naval battles between the British and German Imperial fleets, Papa and Rudi devised a naval battle game, not unlike the war game that I had created during my teenage years. The game board, of course, has long been lost. But the notebook, with its meticulously drawn pictures of Walter and Rudi’s fleets with the neat description of the ships’ tonnage and type in beautiful gothic handwriting, has survived a century-long journey. After WWII, Papa maintained with brother and sister and his old penpal Kampmann an extensive correspondence. I was able to glean a wealth of information, as they referred in their letters to the turbulent times before and during the war.
When Papa turned eighteen in 1916, the year after his father had passed away, he fought on the Western Front for Germany’s honour and glory. Likewise, in an unparalleled patriotic fervour, young men on the British and French side were willing to die in a senseless and gory war. Papa escaped death on numerous occasions. And when the war that was supposed to end all wars was finally over, he emerged physically unscathed from the horrific slaughterhouse of the killing fields in the West. But Papa had to bear for the rest of his life a heavy psychological burden. For he witnessed the maiming and killing of comrades, the endless shelling, and the miserable life in the trenches. The inglorious forced march back to Germany and the pain of the awareness that it had all been in vain must have affected him deeply.
By the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles, the German army was reduced to 100,000 men. Thus, there was no future in a military career for Papa, even though he had advanced to a lieutenant’s rank while fighting on the western front. In his search to find meaningful employment, he went into a training program, which at its successful completion allowed him to seek employment as a qualified dental technician. In 1922 he moved to the small town of Gassen (Polish Jasien today), West Prussia, and until 1927 worked in a dental lab facility.
The week before the Easter weekend was chilly but sunny. Early in the morning we traveled 10 km south of Fauquier, drove past a pond that was still frozen. We briefly stopped to capture a few of the cattails which after a long winter were getting ready to spread their fluffy seed heads. When we arrived at the lake, a number of beautifully sculpted tree stumps attracted our attention. When the lake level is low, they make their appearance. More than fifty years ago all trees at the lakeshore had been cut down to prepare for the building of the Keenleyside Dam near Castlegar. You may also like the arrival of more Canada geese.
Gotha today is the fifth-largest city in Thuringia, Germany, located 20 kilometres west of Erfurt with a population of 44,000. In the Middle Ages, Gotha was a prosperous trading town on the trade route Via Regia. Between 1650 and 1850, Gotha saw a cultural heyday as a centre of sciences and arts, fostered by the dukes of Saxe-Gotha The first duke, Ernest the Pious, was famous for his wise rule. The cartographer Justus Perthes and the encyclopedist Joseph Meyer made Gotha a leading centre of German publishing around 1800. In that period, Gotha became an industrial core with companies like the Gothaer Waggonfabrik, a producer of trams and airplanes. One of the main sights of Gotha is the early-modern Friedenstein Castle, one of the largest Renaissance/Baroque castles in Germany. It was built between 1643 and 1654 and is one of Germany’s first sizeable Baroque residence castles. Some essential scientific institutions were the ducal library (today’s Forschungsbibliothek Gotha as part of the University of Erfurt), founded in 1650, the “coin cabinet” (1712), the “art and natural collection,” basis of today’s museums, and the Gotha Observatory at Seeberg mountain.
Much of Thuringia’s acclaim as the green heart of Germany is due to the Thuringian Forest (Thüringer Wald), not far from Gotha. Germans have celebrated its landscapes at least since the time of Goethe. Its romantic villages with cottage workshops do little to dispel the illusion of an era that appears frozen in a time when life was still uncomplicated and beautiful.
In 1937 Walter and Elisabeth Panknin (née Reifferscheid), moved from Dortmund to Gotha. After they had met and fell in love in 1928, they married two years later, on November 25th, 1930, in Berlin-Charlottenburg. Not long after their daughter arrived in Calgary in April 1966, her parents became my parents-in-law. Therefore, I will, for the sake of simplicity, often call them Papa and Mutti when describing their lives in this family history.
Nostalgic Projection of Spring Soon to Come – Part 2
The grass is starting to grow. The grey cover of our yard is showing a hint of green. The raised garden beds have been prepared for the spring season. Soon it will be the time for planting the cold weather crops. Our strawberries are getting busy developing their buds and promise a bountiful harvest. This is the second and final instalment of my excursion into my archives. Today I am focusing on daisies, violets, a tiger lily, and an unknown beauty. Enjoy.
At the time of Father’s sudden and unexpected passing, death had given me in quick succession several reminders of our transitory life here on earth. In the fall of 1963, I was serving in the signal corps of the German Nato Forces in Bavaria. On November 22 at the Maxhof army barracks, I listened to the American Forces Network (AFN Munich). The DJ suddenly interrupted the Country and Western music and, after a short pause, announced that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, Texas. Later that night, AFN reported that he had died of his gunshot wounds. I was shocked by the news of this tragedy, as I had taken a liking to this great man for his courage to force the Soviet Union to remove their missiles out of Cuba. I liked the way he had publicly committed himself to the security of West Berlin. His famous statement, ‘Ich bin ein Berliner,’ will remain with me for as long as I live. Then, in January, our staff sergeant Wohl had a fatal accident when his VW beetle collided with a public transit bus on an icy hillside road in Feldafing. Three comrades and I accepted the sad task of becoming his pallbearers. I will never forget the widow’s heart-rending sobbing in the front pew when the officiating priest addressed her with a few consoling words. A couple of weeks later, almost if death intended to remind me again of its presence, I lent sixty marks to a friend so he could buy a train ticket to attend his grandmother’s funeral.
Then, on February 26, an order came for me to see the captain for an important message. A little puzzled and worried about this unusual event, I went to the captain’s office. After I sat down, he informed me with genuine regret that my father had died of a massive heart attack on the night of February 25. The officer granted me a five-day compassionate leave, effective immediately. Numbed by this horrific message, I could not respond with a single word. The captain, deliberately ignoring military protocol, shook hands with me and spoke kind words of condolences.
Only a small number of family members, aunt Meta and Anna, Erna’s relatives and friends attended the funeral in Michelbach. I wrote and dedicated a poem in German to my dad, my best friend and helper. The poem ended with a line in Latin:
Viventium, non mortuorum misereor.
I feel sorry for the living, not the dead.
If Father were still living today, he would proudly look at his many descendants: five children, eleven grandchildren and many great-grandchildren. Perhaps one day, some of them will be interested in the fascinating story of their wonderful grandfather and great-grandfather Ernst Klopp. I hope that they will read it and get to know the roots of the Klopp branch of their family.
My next project will be writing about my father-in-law, Walter Panknin, and his family.