Great Acting, a Chocolate Stand and a Scary Tale
Each year the school organized a concert for the parents and the general public. We students would sing in a choir, recite poetry, and put on plays. In this annual event we had an opportunity to showcase our artistic achievements. As to the drama performance this year, Frau Schroff was especially ambitious. She selected a medieval play, the farcical comedy: The Wandering Scholar from Paradise. The author Hans Sachs gained international fame as the central figure of Richard Wagner’s opera: Die Meisteresinger von Nürnberg. Sachs was a Meistersinger or mastersinger, who plied his trade as a shoemaker in the city of Nurnberg. He was also a creative narrator in the local guild of poets and musicians. ‘The Wandering Scholar from Paradise’ is about a farmer’s gullible wife, who falls victim to a traveling student’s claim that he had seen her beloved first husband in paradise. Frau Schroff decided that I would be the best candidate to play the role of the wandering student. And I did not disappoint her. As it turned out this challenging comedy was such a success on our modest school stage that we three actors received a standing ovation. Needless to say our teacher was beaming with pride over our success. At the end of the concert, she took me aside to tell me that I had earned with my spectacular performance the price of a new ruler. She also promised not to write that ominous letter to my parents. So I did not only bask in the glory of a wonderful performance that evening, but I also felt a great relief from the anxiety caused by my recklessness in the classroom.
It is one thing to do something creative because it is a school function, such as organized and directed by a competent teacher. It is quite another when young children prompted by their own inspiration start an activity strictly for their own enjoyment. This is exactly what happened in a group of seven boys, which we called ‘The Rohrdorf Village Musicians’. Once or twice a week, when the weather was fine and the grass was dry, we would get together on a sunny hillside between the Upper and Lower Village at least two km away from the nearest farmhouse, where nobody could disturb us during band practice. Our immensely talented bandleader was Klaus. His personality radiated confidence and enthusiasm. I remember the energetic movements of his arms, hands and fingers controlling our musical endeavors with the élan worthy of a professional conductor. But what was there to conduct, since we had hardly any musical instruments? There were only two, one was a tin bucket placed upside down, which served in combination with two wooden spoons as the drum section. The other was slightly more complicated and consisted of a large comb with widely spaced teeth and a sheet of wax paper loosely wrapped around it. The musician had to hum and barely touch the wax paper with his lips to create a rasping musical note. Today one can buy a metallic kazoo for as little as two dollars. The boys without instruments would add variety to the sonorous qualities of the kazoo and the tinny clang of the drum by whistling and humming. My friend Günther even managed to complement the drum by clicking his tongue. I for my part added tonal depth to the ensemble by creating a flute-like sound. To do this I clasped both hands, interlocked my fingers and thus created a hollow between my palms. All I had to do was to blow at a certain angle between the thumbs changing the pitch by expanding or contracting the cavity. With each band session our repertoire of the most common German folksongs grew until we were able to play for half an hour without repeating any of the tunes. Even though we never played for others, it was a most enjoyable experience, a definite highlight of my childhood years.
Summer had finally arrived indicating to all the school children that final report cards and six weeks of vacations were rapidly approaching. It was also the beginning of the tourist season. At the intersection not far from the village fountain the two main highways that converged here showed a fair volume of traffic, especially during the summer months. One day after band practice I presented a business plan, which I had dreamed up the night before for my two best friends Klaus and Hans.
I suggested setting up a little store at the village fountain. That’s where tourists often stopped for a drink of cool and refreshing water. We could offer them chocolate bars, which we would buy from a local store and resell them at a higher price. In theory the plan looked good. There was just one catch, so my friends objected. Where would we get the money to start our business venture? In reply I pointed out that I had a good amount of money in my savings account that I had earned delivering milk to the dairy. They could use the money as security, if they came up with the cash from their own earnings. I was convinced that I could easily access my funds at the local credit union. So both came up with enough cash to buy six chocolate bars. A board straddling two bricks served as table for our wares. Hans had made a large sign made out of cardboard, on which he had written in large capital letters: Chocolate for Sale, Only DM 5.00. We leaned it against the fountain wall to make sure it would be highly visible from the intersection.
On the first day we sold nothing. The few travelers that bothered to stop at the fountain were obviously puzzled seeing young boys hawking their strange wares and shook their heads in disbelief. Some made encouraging remarks, but did not buy any chocolate. After we had not made any sales on the second day, I suggested to sell the chocolate bar for four marks. That would still result in a small profit. On the third day my friends were getting bored. To speed up our sales – actually there was nothing to speed up, since we hadn’t sold anything yet-, we agreed to sell the sweet stuff at the original purchase price. That way we would at least break even. But Klaus, who was in charge to look after the merchandise at his house, showed up with only five chocolate bars. He explained that his older brother had found out what we were doing and demanded one bar in return for keeping quiet about the whole affair. Annoyed and depressed over the loss of one sixth of our supply we sat down and discussed what to do next. Then Hans came up with brilliant idea to abandon the business as a lost cause and rather enjoy the beautiful summer day. Furthermore, even though the outdoor store had turned out to be a total failure, he suggested celebrating its closure by eating the remaining five chocolate bars, before they would melt and spoil in the hot sun. This proposal was cheerfully accepted. However, to my great disappointment, Klaus demanded that I be excluded from the feast because to date I had not made any cash contributions to the now bankrupt business venture. Although I knew in my heart that their verdict was just, I had expected a little more generosity. I left my friends at the fountain in a huff. I could not stand their sight gorging themselves with the chocolate.
One of the scariest moments in my childhood was an extreme sports adventure with my brother Gerhard. A man from a neighboring village needed a shelter for his motorbike, while he was working. My father, always ready to help, allowed him to park his bike in our barn, where it would be safe and stay dry during rainy days. It was a beauty of a motorbike with lots of power. Gerhard had immediately cast a longing eye on it. The desire to ride the chrome-shining machine was overwhelming. My brother was about seventeen years old. At that age one believes that life is indestructible and one is ready to do any stunt for kicks and to feel the rush of adrenalin through one’s veins. Soon he managed to start the engine and make a few doughnuts near our farm. Unfortunately the odometer mercilessly turned to a higher number each time he took it for a little spin. So one day he got hold of some bike tools and managed to disable the odometer. Now without the fear that the owner would get suspicious except perhaps wondering about the poor gas mileage, Gerhard ventured onto the highway to test the limits of what this bike was capable of doing. With the regularity of a clock the owner dropped off his bike in the morning and picked it up again after work in the evening. Thus, there was lots of time for Gerhard to make longer trips on the highway to Meßkirch.
One day he invited me to come along for a joyride. Soon I sat firmly behind his back. When Gerhard had reached the straight stretch past the public fountain, he began to bring the bike to full speed. At first I immensely enjoyed the exhilarating sensation of power with my hair flapping in the wind. But now the speed was steadily increasing to what must have been well over the 100 km/h mark. Fear, then sheer terror pushed aside the initial enjoyment. My brother was now turning the accelerator as far as it would go. The trees along the highway were zipping past me at a dizzying speed. The roar of the engine was so loud that my screams remained unheard. I closed my eyes, clutched my hands more tightly around his waist and pressed my head against his back in an effort to find a small measure of safety, where none existed. After a long time that seemed like eternity, Gerhard was forced to slow down at the first major curve. At last he heard my urgent plea to stop. My ordeal was finally over. Gerhard noticing how pale I looked turned the bike around. In an attempt to cheer me up, he drove us home at a very moderate clip. But the high that I felt at the beginning of the ride did not return.
A few days later Gerhard was again tinkering with the bike to make it ready for another joyride, when suddenly and totally unexpectedly the owner was walking up the hill to the Ösfarm. Perhaps he had become suspicious. Gerhard and I had just enough time to jump and hide in the hayloft, before the owner entered the barn. He noticed the tools on the ground and the odometer cable dangling aimlessly in the air. He rolled out his motorbike onto the yard, started it up and was never seen again. Perhaps he had saved not only his bike from destruction, but also my brother’s life.