Away from Home and the Thrill of ‘Mountaineering’
Power is of two kinds. One is obtained by the fear of punishment and the other by acts of love. Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent than the one derived from fear of punishment.
The German school system differed considerably from its North American counterpart. While the emphasis in the United States and Canada was on equality of opportunity for all in a democratic society, the system in Germany was based on an elitist model that provided high school education only to those students deemed capable of handling an academically demanding program. At the end of grade 4 or 5, the teacher would decide and make recommendations as to which students would be leaving the elementary branch to continue in high school for another nine years with the purpose of obtaining the prestigious graduation certificate (Abitur). The remaining students, who were unable to jump that hurdle or whose parents did not wish their child to pursue the high school route, would continue their elementary schooling up to grade 8. Then they would choose a trade, enter an apprenticeship program, during which time they would attend once a week a trade school. The school system in Germany was superior in that it produced on the one hand highly qualified trades people and on the other high school graduates who were better equipped for the rigors of a postsecondary education. It suffered, however, from a couple of major flaws. A teacher ultimately had the power of deciding on a child’s academic career, or parents from a lower class background with no appreciation for higher education could prevent their child from taking the high school route, even though he or she was very talented. Finally the overall system was inflexible. Once a student had embarked on the apprenticeship program, it was next to impossible to access a postsecondary education.
In April 1953 I was admitted at the Messkirch High School (Progymnasium). Since there was no public transportation between Rohrdorf and Messkirch, my parents had made arrangements with carpenter master Stoll to provide room and board and to act ‘in loco parentis’. Herr Stoll, a tall and sturdy man in his mid-thirties, lived with his young wife and his aging half-deaf mother above his carpenter’s workshop on Schloßstraße 18, a street near the famous St. Martin church and the renaissance castle with its adjoining park. Herr and Frau Stoll had recently married and were expecting their first child. They gladly received me into their home on the second floor. The living quarters were divided by a steep staircase into a kitchen and living room area on one side and into bedrooms, storage rooms and an old-fashioned drawing-room on the other. There was also a dachshund, which spent most of his time indoors, but occasionally accompanied the Stoll couple on their evening stroll through the nearby park. For me being away from home for a longer period of time, I felt good that the couple tried very hard to make me feel at home. There was plenty of delicious food on the table. Frau Stoll prepared and served a nourishing meat dish almost every day. I am sure that the rich diet was not intended for the skinny boy from the country, but rather for her husband, a giant of a man with the strength of an ox. Oh, how I loved the meat salad drenched in mayonnaise on my sandwiches at night. Most Germans ate their big meal at noon and were content with a few slices of bread with butter, sausage or cheese in the evening.
One day Herr Stoll took me to the top of the hill that was overlooking the beautiful medieval town. There was a rather steep incline on the part of the crest that led down to the town square and its market place. There he pointed out to me a faint line in the pavement, which would the starting line of the annual soapbox derby for young children over 10 years old. He once participated in such a race and won a ribbon, when he was about my age. He began reminiscing, and carried away by his nostalgic feelings that brought back happy memories, he promised that I would participate in the upcoming soapbox competition. When he saw my puzzled expression on my face, he quickly added that he would build a car for me in his carpentry shop. A simple soapbox then consisted of a wooden frame often brightly painted in red, blue and yellow colors, two axles, one fixed, the other connected to a primitive steering mechanism and of course the four wheels that hopefully would not fall off during the heat of the race. It was not uncommon to reach more than fifty km/h at the steepest part of the hill. So I, the dreamer of the Klopp family, had something very exciting to dream about. All in all this warm reception at the Stoll’s contributed greatly to ease my transition from country to city life away from home.
By the time I attended high school, I had become completely familiar with my role as a temporary foster child, which is to say that I felt confident enough to be myself again, the boisterous eleven-year old boy who did not quite fit the romantic image Herr and Frau Stoll had in their hearts and minds. It seems to me that before their own child was born I had given them an opportunity to practice, the art of parenting and apply some of the techniques they may have learned from reading books on the fine points of child rearing. Unfortunately, for this role they had unrealistic, rather rigid expectations about obedience, punctuality, choice of my friends, and above all my conduct within the narrow confines of their image of an ideal child. In that regard, it is safe to say that I bitterly disappointed them.
On May 29th 1953, the New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Tanzing Norgay, a Nepali sherpa climber, reached the summit of Mount Everest. The news of their successful ascent of the highest mountain spread like a wildfire over the entire world and quickly reached Msskirch, had its citizens talk about at home, at work and in the pubs. The buzz of this great achievement set off a spark that ignited the fertile imagination of us children. Near the starting line of the upcoming soapbox derby was a limestone outcropping covered almost entirely by moss and by grass at the bottom except for its bare pinnacle towering over the Adlerplatz (Eagle Square) below. Here my friends and I often gathered to play. Now this was our Mount Everest. This was our fantasy world, where we lived and experienced the glory of success and agony of near defeat, the dangers of climbing on vertical cliffs, the physical and mental stress and pain of Himalayan mountain climbing. On the long afternoons after school (in Germany school hours were usually from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.) when we should have been doing our homework, we climbed in groups or in pairs like Edmund Hillary and his sherpa supported by each other by imaginary ropes. Invisible to a dull onlooker we made full use of every imaginable piece of mountaineering equipment, mountain boots and gloves, helmets, lanterns, tents, sleeping bags, crampons, pitons, ice axe, first aid kit, and so on. The materials needed for our assault on the limestone summit sprang up like magic in our creative minds. We held nothing in our hands, yet our imagination provided everything we needed that no Disney world with all its fantasy gadgets would ever be able to match.