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The Scout Years
In Scouting, a boy is encouraged to educate himself instead of being instructed. Robert Powell
How I became a scout, I can no long remember. Perhaps a friend or a classmate introduced me to the Union of European Scouts (BEP), a new organization that sprang up in many towns in the late 1950’s. In an era when European countries still lived in fear, distrust, even hatred for each other, the idea of a European community without borders appeared to be absurd. However, it was the key mission statement of this fledgling movement to bring young people of Western Europe together. They were not burdened by the weight of old political prejudices by former generations.
My experiences as a scout did much to enrich my life with lasting effects and nurtured qualities that became rewarding and useful later on in my adult years. Among those qualities were the ability to work in teams, the development of leadership skills, self-reliance, the love of the outdoors in general and the joy of camping in particular, the indescribable pleasure of singing pirate and lansquenet songs, shanties and spirituals, hearty tunes of adventures in distant lands in unison with like-minded boys, contentedness with simple things in life, a certain degree of frugality with food and clothes, just to name a few.
The city of Wesel had generously made the citadel available to youth groups and other non-profit organizations for their meetings and activities. The citadel is the only intact fortification left in all of Westphalia. Its history goes back to the Napoleonic era and even much earlier, when the French were in control of the Lower Rhine region. The citadel was the massive and robust building where we gathered. The solid interior walls emanated the kind of imagery befitting the stalwart character of scouts in their late teens: strength and dependability. Here we learned under the capable leadership of Günther Alvensleben with the misleading nickname Little Chicken (Hühnchen in German) the rudiments of scouting, from tying knots, writing down our favorite camp songs in notebooks to orienteering with map and compass.
My friend Hans and I were chosen to take on a leadership role in the rapidly expanding local chapter. To become a leader we had to be acquainted with the history of the scout movement and its founder Lord Baden-Powell. We also had to demonstrate competence in a variety of skills related to scouting. Since we had no books, we created our own using small notebooks complete with hand-drawn diagrams and illustrations. After passing an oral test, we had our entries in the booklets signed and provided with the official rubber stamp of Tribe Zoska, to which we belonged. Thus, after a period of intense training, I became leader of a clan consisting of about a dozen boys in their early teens. For the first time in my life I felt responsible for the welfare and safety of others. In the beginning I had become a member of the local scout chapter merely to find enjoyment in their exciting outdoor program. But now I had moved away from a mere egocentric perspective and began to care and feel an obligation towards my fellow scouts in the clan. I also started to understand the truism in the saying ‘By helping others, you help yourself’.
Talents for teaching, organizing activities, bringing about order in chaotic situations, abilities hitherto unknown to me were slumbering and waiting to be awakened. All these hidden capabilities were being developed while learning to be a good leader. What I did not realize at the time was that I also started to bring my own house in order. Gradually I became acutely aware that I had a tendency to lose myself in a dream world indulging in the entire gamut of fantasy-driven emotions. I began to suspect that avoidance of the requirements and obligations of every day living made me dwell so much in my disconnected inner world. My active involvement as leader of a clan brought fresh air into my life, encouraged me to focus on planning, organizing, and executing projects and camp-outs. In short I began to steer away from my unproductive self-centeredness.
To be continued…