Some Reflections on the So-called Coincidences of Life
“Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.”
Camping with Hans and Helmut
Spring came early in 1962. I no longer played an active role in the scout movement. But my desire to get out of the city and enjoy nature in the company of friends was as strong as ever. Among my friends, who had survived the nine-year culling process at the high school, only Hans and Helmut were left. All the others were either eliminated by the academic hurdles or departed on their own looking for other ways of moving up the educational ladder. Ever since I did Helmut that great favor at the ballroom final, he was seeking my friendship and clung to me like a burr on a woolen sweater. He wanted to be included in our overnight camp-outs. When I objected on the grounds that there was not enough room in my tent, he replied that he would sleep in his own tent. So it happened one sunny weekend that three young men went out camping together, with Helmut – so it appeared – being the odd man out. Hans and I in spite of our differences shared a bond that had lasted for more than five years. Our friendship was based on experiences in the boy scout movement, on our common interest in experimental electronics, all the way back to early days on the school yard, when I was Ede Wolf and Hans one of three piglets that I was supposed to catch. Helmut was a newcomer and in a sense also an intruder, gentle, polite, simply wanting to be part of our camaraderie. Perhaps on his part it was a struggle against loneliness that intellectuals feel more intensely, but we perceived him as an intruder just the same.
It was evening, when we arrived on our heavily packed bikes at a clearing. We quickly erected our tents helping each other to get ready for the night. After we had wolfed down our sandwiches, which our mothers had so lovingly prepared, we hurried into the woods, gathered dead branches and proudly started a campfire with only one match. In no time, flames leaped up and around the kettle, which we had suspended over the fire on a wooden tripod. Helmut, in my eyes still an intellectual nerd, impressed me how well he had learned the basics of camping in such a short time, and most of all how hard he tried to be helpful. The tea water in the kettle had almost come to a boil. Hans and I ceremoniously took turns adding tea bags, plenty of red wine, pepper and other assorted spices into the steaming brew. We lifted the kettle off the tripod to prevent the alcohol from evaporating. To fortify the punch some more, I pulled from my coat pocket a small bottle of rum and poured its brown content under the approving applause of my friends into the aromatic brew. By now it was getting dark. The stars began to shine in ever increasing numbers on the canopy of a moonless sky. The fire merrily crackled and its fiery tongues shot up high casting dancing shadows of us onto the mossy ground. It was time to fill our cups to the rim, to cheer to each other’s health and happiness, and drink. Hans grabbed his six-string and entertained us for a while with Spanish guitar music, which he played superbly off the cuff. In the meantime, the cups needed a refill. The warmth of this miraculous elixir penetrated deep into our bodies and spirits. During a pause I suggested to Hans to do something together, while the drink was good and the fire burning, “Let’s raise our voices and sing our favorite scouting songs.” Helmut being a good sport supported my suggestion, even though he did not know the lyrics of most of these specialized traveling songs. He would whistle along, whenever he recognized the tune, he said. Soon a chorus in a strange blend of young male voices, guitar chords, and whistling rose above the campfire strengthened in volume and enthusiasm by the concoction from the kettle. The birds waking up in the forest may have wondered why we were making such a cheerful noise. The more the night advanced, the more boisterously we belted out the songs, which glorified the violence and cruelty of the German and Swedish pike men in the Thirty-Year War in lines like, ‘We also came to Rome, there we threw the pope from his throne.’ ‘The little nobleman’s daughter we cast her into hell.’ And ‘Hang the chaplain on the window cross’. The booze, the raucous singing, the flickering flames, the starry night, all contributed to conjure up images in our young hearts of a time wild and free, in which we participated for this one short moment and in which Helmut had become a member of our friendship circle. Long after midnight we poured the remaining dregs from the kettle over the embers and happy and sleepy crawled into our sleeping bags.