Fun at the Fairgrounds and Breaking Bedtime Rules
Many towns and villages in Germany had and still have an annual Kermesse, a sort of funfair that has its origins in the Middle Ages. When this highly popular event came to Messkirch, the colors and sounds of the fairgrounds attracted me. There were the noisy roller coasters, the gentler merry-go-rounds for little children and the giant Ferris wheel, the cacophony of music blaring from loudspeakers cranked up to full capacity, showmen at dozens of sideshows clamoring for the attention of hundreds of people milling through the narrow alleys, the tantalizing odors of frying Bratwursts, the games people played, such as target shooting with air rifles, throwing darts, knocking down pyramids of cans with tennis balls. Being part of a giant colorful human canvass in motion, I enjoyed just being there. I had no money to spend on a ride on the roller coaster, or on a paper cup filled with French fries topped with mayonnaise, or to pay for the fun of popping a balloon with a dart to win a prize.
When I returned to the Kermesse on the following afternoon, it so happened that one of the attendants of the merry-go-round had not yet shown up for work. The operator who had spotted me hanging around at the ticket booth approached me and asked, if I was interested in a little job in return for free rides. All I had to do was to take and tear up the tickets of the people sitting in the gondolas and waiting for the merry-go-round to start. That was very enjoyable except that it lasted only a few minutes. The tardy worker arrived and my job was done. But to my surprise the operator honored his promise. So I was taking rides for the remainder of the afternoon for free. Unfortunately I had not yet learned much about self-control and did yet comprehend that there is something we call too much of a good thing. Yes, I experienced the thrill of being twirled around in a sea of color and sound. But after the fifth or sixth ride the initial excitement gave way first to boredom, then to nausea. Stubbornly I kept taking one ride after another, until motion sickness forced me to quickly leave the fairgrounds feeling sick to the point of throwing up. Late, far too late I arrived at Schloßstraße 18 pale and exhausted. To make matters worse, Herr Stoll in his anger about my tardiness slapped me hard in the face with his powerful carpenter’s hand and sent me off to bed. Sick and hungry I spent a long time tossing around in my little bed before eventually falling asleep.
My eldest brother Karl attended the same high school in Messkirch. He had lost a couple of years of schooling due to the turmoil in the years immediately after the war. When he was finally reunited with our family in Rohrdorf, the school administration allowed the 18-year old Karl to participate in classroom instructions with students six or seven years younger. The first foreign language offered in all the schools of this part of Germany was French. Hence Karl who had received no instruction in this language before had to start over again at the lowest high school level. However, in all other subjects he was clearly superior and so he could concentrate all his energies on French. As soon as he obtained the necessary language proficiency, he was allowed to jump to the next higher grade. He did this often several times in a single school year. It did not take very long for Karl to acquire a reputation for being a genius. Enveloped in an aura of success he became a legend, even before he left the school. Teachers and fellow students alike marveled at his exemplary accomplishments. At first I was pleased to hear so many good things about my brother. However, with the accolades heaped upon that miracle student also came high expectations, which I was unable to meet. Instead of doing my homework I spent the afternoons outdoors with friends, whose company Herr Stoll did not approve.
One evening, it was already getting dark and it was time for me to be in bed. Suddenly I remembered a math assignment that was due the next morning. Pretending to sleep, I waited quietly until Herr and Frau Stoll had gone out for their evening stroll. Then I switched on the light, knelt in front of the tiny night table to do my homework. I had barely finished the first exercise, when I heard the staircase creak and the thump-thump of heavy footsteps. In panic I switched off the lamp on my mini-desk and in doing so I knocked over the small ink pot. In the darkness I tripped over my shoes and hit the wooden floor headfirst with a thud. Hastily I got up and jumped into my bed. Too late! The door burst open and the bright light from the ceiling made me squint. I was dazed and unable to move. Herr Stoll walked up to me, and slapped me in the face. Without saying a single word he switched off the light, slammed the door behind him, barely concealing his uncontrollable anger. His wife was waiting for him at the bottom of the staircase. I overheard him saying, “That will teach him obeying bedtime rules.” Even though this time they were really going for their evening stroll, I did not dare to switch the night lamp back on. I crawled under my blanket and listened in horror, as the ink was dripping drop by drop onto the wooden floor.
Soon afterwards our homeroom teacher prepared letters to be taken home to warn parents, whose children were in danger of failing the grade. Fräulein Welte gave me one to be signed by my father. I guess I would have had to present the letter to Herr Stoll, even though it was addressed to Ernst Klopp. Fearful of severe punishments I forged my father’s signature, but was dumb enough to brag about it to my classmates. It did not take very long, before Fräulein Welte got wind of my offense and mailed a letter to my home address in Rohrdorf. Fortunately Father was preoccupied with his own problems and was too far away to deal effectively with mine at school.