Storm Clouds on the Horizon
Key Player #1 in Chapter 34: Gertrud (Biene) Panknin 1965
As the drama unfolds I will introduce for each part of this chapter one person, who played a major role in our desperate struggle for being reunited in Canada.
We define our identity always in dialogue with, sometimes in struggle with against the things our significant others want to see in us. Even after we outgrow some of the others – our parents, for instance – and they disappear from our lives, the conversation with them continues within us as long as we live. Charles Taylor
The Letter to Biene’s Parents
To merely summarize the troubles we experienced, the opinions we voiced, the arguments we had and the decisions we made, the agonies and struggles of the heart would have distorted the true picture we had created through our correspondence between October 1965 and March 1966. On the one hand an objective approach, if it were possible at all, would never have succeeded in describing the passionate appeals we fervently made to one another in the face of dire adversities. On the other hand a purely emotional account would most certainly have embodied on my part a lot of bias and subjectivity. So for the next two chapters I mostly let the letters speak for themselves. They include more and more often our first attempts to correspond with each other in English. Here and there I corrected a few grammatical errors and edited out some awkward expressions without changing the intended meaning. The letters in a sense are also a fine record of our progress in the use of the English language. As to those still written in German it is my hope that not too much of their emotional impact has been lost in translation.
September 25th Didsbury
My dear Peter,
…From my mother I had an immediate reply to my letter, which was going to prepare her for the letter from you. With her words my mother has taken a big burden off my heart; for she writes that she is glad that things are working out for us and that she would help us in as much as she could. She congratulates you to your success at your entrance exam and is confident that we somehow will make it together. Strangely, I felt my heart ache, even though I was happy all the same. Please, dear Peter, write to my parents soon; for now they have been prepared. How I wished I were already with you! Then I would know that everything was true and not just a dream.
Be lovingly kissed, Your Biene
October 15th Calgary
My dear Love,
There are a lot of important things I have to tell you. But first of all I have to apologize that my letter is so late. It is quite possible this will happen again and again for the next couple of months, because the academic work is overwhelming. Only with a time schedule from dawn to dusk I am likely to pass the final examination in the spring, Therefore, dear Gertrud (I guess it sounds better in English to say your real name), remember that I am working hard, that I am devoting more love to you by spending every minute available to me for studying.
About a fortnight ago, I wrote a long letter to your parents. I am still waiting for an answer. I don’t know what they will think of me, and in which way they will react. I only hope positively. I explained the situation and spoke of you as Biene without recognizing that, because this name had become so familiar to me, I had forgotten at this moment that a little more formality would be required. I hope they will not mind it. Canada was shown not in terms of a paradise for their daughter, but as the place to start a completely new life with all the uncertainties of the future, which I cannot anticipate now. They have seen the financial problem as well as the problem of my professional career. Now it is up to them to make their decisions, I hope, in favour of both of us…
With a thousand warm kisses, Your Peter
The letter I wrote to Biene’s parents does no longer exist. As the events unfolded it became very clear that I had made a grave mistake by describing honestly and realistically all the challenges we would be facing in a letter that was supposed to make them agree to let their daughter go to Canada and marry me.
Ominous Rumblings from Biene’s Home Front
Key Player #2 in Chapter 34: Peter Klopp
After having dispatched my letter to Biene’s parents I felt very much at ease. With vim and vigour and guided by an indomitable desire to achieve high marks in my academic endeavours, I embraced a regime of self-denial, a kind of mental forced labour. I cut my leisure hour of guitar practice in the evening, shortened my social lunch time with friends and fellow students at the university, and allocated an extra hour to my studies at home in the morning. I had no idea about the potential danger to my health by placing so many burdens on my shoulder. But I was happy in the sweet knowledge that all the hard work would pay off in the end. Little did I know, however, of the storm clouds gathering on the other side of the Atlantic and of the ominous rumblings coming from Biene’s home turf.
October 20th, 1965 Didsbury
My dear Peter, Life is like a brilliant symphony. Again and again I feel this. Every day has its special tune and colour and atmosphere and you need to be a poet in order to give a vivid and colourful picture of it. Sometimes the melody of the day is light and joyful, in other times dark and full of melancholy.
Today was a bright and sunny October day, and pushing the carriage with the little laughing Paul through the park, I felt happy and at peace with the world. Here in England I have gained new aspects of life and I really feel for the first time free and independent. Two letters, which arrived with the second post, made me hurry to the place, where I usually have a little rest in the sun. I got your letter as well as my mother’s and I have a lot to tell you. At first, Peter, be assured that my parents got your long letter. Don’t worry about not having received an answer until now. I am going to tell you the reason although I rather would not like to speak or even think of it, because it makes me feel unhappy. My aunt (you know, I sometimes talked about her, because I loved her very much) died a fortnight ago. My parents went immediately to Berlin and stayed for a week to arrange everything for her funeral. All the tasks connected with my aunt’s death caused my parents much grief and my mother felt mentally and physically exhausted after the journey and she was not even able to write to me. As soon as she feels better she will let you know what decisions she and my father have made. She asks me to tell you that this is the reason for their long silence. My mother had to tell me so much about the last happenings that she only gave notice to me of the mere fact that she got the letter from you. Yet she did not discuss it. She only reassured me that she would stick to her promise and try to help us in any case…
In love yours forever, Gertrud
A day later, having not sent off the letter, she continued on in German, which I took as a bad omen, and so it was.
My dear Peter,
Today I received a long letter from my brother, which contained the main thoughts and arguments, which he as he told me had written also to you. It is quite impossible for me at the moment to delve into all the details. I didn’t know at all that you don’t find it easy to stay in Canada. This is in any case the way my brother interprets your words. As soon as I have answered my brother, I pass on his letter to you. Dear Peter, my decision is firm, and nothing can detract me from what I recognized as the right thing to do. I have no fear of an uncertain future. This just for today! As soon as I have a little more time and leisure I will write you everything, which I have considered and decided.
I knew all along that, when this moment came, everybody would be against our plans.
For the moment it was very easy for Biene to stick to her decision. To join me in Canada was not only the right thing to do, but also fulfilled the promise of love between the two of us. She was still far removed from the source of disapproving views on getting married to a young adventurer with an uncertain future in the far-off and hitherto unknown country of Canada. Thus, she was able to take a firm stand against the first volley shot by her twin brother Walter across the English Channel.
Gradual Descent into Emotional Hell
Key Player #3 in Chapter 34: Walter Panknin, Biene’s Twin Brother
On the 23rd of October, 1965 I had not yet received the devastating news about her family’s opposition to our wedding plans. Not being aware of the storm clouds gathering over our sweet hopes and aspirations, I wrote Biene a cheerful birthday letter. Being in a most jocular frame of mind, I teased her about the severe yoke of marriage and encouraged her tongue-in-cheek to enjoy the few remaining months of freedom until our wedding day in May . A few days later my mood changed drastically, when I received the bad news.
October 25th, 1965 Calgary University
My dear Gertrud,
If this turns out to be true what you have just been describing in your last letter, you will be in great trouble pretty soon. I had to force myself to work yesterday, because I kept thinking about your problem, which consequently is also my problem.
First of all, what your brother told you is definitely wrong or it is at least the wrong impression. I have never mentioned that I wouldn’t like to be in Canada. The more I think about it, the more I do believe that your parents and brother don’t have any objections against me, but against the fact that their only daughter and sister should leave them in a couple of months. Thinking of returning to Germany is now out of the question. I thank you again for not having interfered in the time of undecided matters and inner conflicts before I entered the university. But if you had done so, it would have been the only possibility of getting me back to the Old Country. Now I have decided to stay. It is not only the money (about one thousand dollars) that is invested now into my studies for the winter session, I am also personally involved with great delight in the courses, especially in German literature and cannot give it up just because your folks want to have you around for a few more years.
But you were resolute and are still resolute, as you wrote me. Didn’t your parents know that you intended to follow me after some time? Sure, they did. The only conclusion I can draw from this is that they must have hoped that our relationship would eventually come to nothing. I guess on this particular point they underestimated the strength and sincerity of our love. Maybe they will think quite differently when they realize that they cannot change your mind. Though I wished I could do more, I cannot help except politely answering your parents’ letter, but definitely stating that I am willing to stay.
There is something else I want to tell you. You said your brother is going to write me too. He may write as often as he wants to, but he cannot expect me to answer his letters as long as I haven’t gotten word from your parents. I know what an awful impact a death of a close relative can have so that I fully understand why they couldn’t answer. In this case I’m willing to wait another fortnight and even longer, but I cannot accept your brother as a mediator between your parents and me. Do you understand me? I think the matter is too important to have it delegated to your brother. I wrote your parents and expect no answer from anybody but from them alone. How can I find out that the arguments are his and not those of his parents? Would you mind telling him that I really enjoy studying now that ‘I really like to be in America’ and his conclusions must have been a misunderstanding.
Although I don’t want to, I am getting quite a bit worried. But when you are involved, how can I remain calm! Nevertheless celebrate with an untroubled spirit your 21st birthday. I hope you will get a day off on Friday. As to your next year it is my heart-felt wish that in spite of all adversities all things will come to pass that you are hoping for right now
With lots of love, your Peter
Biene’s Bold Reaction to Five Letters from Germany
Key Player #4 of Chapter 34: Papa Walter Panknin
November 2nd 1965 Didsbury
My dear Peter,
Before I respond to your messages and also tell you about my life here, I want to deal with the main issue at hand. Dear Peter, my parents and my brother’s reaction came so unexpectedly for me that every letter from home was a real shock for me.
First of all my brother wrote, who until now has only written this long letter to me. He tried to logically explain that our plans are against all reason that out of several reasons I would be unhappy with you in Canada and above all that I would make my parents unhappy. Shortly afterwards I received an equally long and logical letter from my father with similar arguments and the threat that if I acted against all warnings and reason, I would in no way receive any support from him. Then finally came a long letter from my mother. She desires that we two come together and that she was prepared to let me go ‘one day’ to Canada. However, influenced by my father and brother’s arguments, she too thinks that it would be too early and that we would only be unhappy. Even my brother-in-law and sister asked me in long letters to take everything into consideration and let reason prevail rather than listen to my heart.
Dear Peter, as I can only roughly indicate to you, their main concern was about my happiness and the fear to lose me. Therefore, Peter, I cannot feel any anger or disappointment. You are right, Peter, my parents must have hoped all the time that everything, as you said, would fizzle out between us at the end. And only now I understand as to why without any objections they let me go to England. I believe that they hoped it would lead me to different thoughts. Dear Peter, you can imagine in what kind of conflict I find myself! I have never been so determined in my life as now! I come to you, even if I have to earn the sea voyage myself. My decision is final, and nothing can dissuade me from it. Therefore, Peter, prepare everything.
My parents fear that the hard work would make me unhappy. O Peter, I realized here in England how physical work in harmony with intellectual work creates happiness. And to work together with you for our life can truly make me happy! Mrs. Lande literally cried, when I told her that I would have to leave at Christmas time. She thinks that never before had a girl managed to do so well with the work and the children as I have. These words give me self-confidence; for I came with no experience whatsoever. My mother always says, ‘Where there is a will, there is a way.’ I also believe in it. Sometimes I think that I am hard-hearted and egotistical, because I want to come to you, although I know how much pain I am causing to all the people that love me. Yet, Peter, don’t we need to live our life as our parents lived theirs? My father writes that he would rather travel to European destinations four times a year than to spend a single penny for a trip to Canada to visit his daughter, who has abandoned her home country. You too will feel while reading this, how much these words have hurt me. When I come home for Christmas, I will talk calmly with my parents. If they insist on their position and refuse us any help, then Peter I will come in spite of it all. I have so much confidence in our future. Perhaps we can only convince our parents with an iron will! O Peter I think that I appear so hard-hearted toward them, for I can sense how they must feel. But I know that it is right to go to you.
In the meantime you will have received my brother’s letter. Don’t take it as an insult that my parents have used my brother as mediator. I am more offended than you; for I know that only my brother’s influence could have changed my parents’ mind. However, Peter, all parents would just like my parents try to keep their children at their side, especially if it means to let them go into a world of uncertainty. And Canada is for them uncertainty. We must understand them. But nothing can change my decision.
My dear Peter, now I have not yet dealt with many of your questions and problems you brought up in your letters. However, I shared the main issue with you so that you can undertake all the necessary steps and you can tell me what I need to do. As always in a big hurry, unfortunately!
Be lovingly embraced by your Biene
Having observed in the past quite a few of Biene’s vacillations during times when decisions of the heart had to be made, I felt total admiration for Biene’s courageous handling of a dilemma out of which there seemed to be no escape. In my eyes she ruled like a queen over the complex issues that were going to haunt us for a long time to come. Indeed I was awed by her bold stand against the odds that were stacked against her. However, what I did not realize at the time, when her letter gave my anxious heart a lift, was the fact that Biene was fighting far away from home the good fight in the safe haven of her British employer.
A Letter from Biene’s Twin Brother
Key Player #5: Elisabeth Panknin, Biene’s Mother
November 8th 1965 Calgary
My dear Biene,
I would like to embrace you and kiss you a thousand times for your decisive letter on Monday. If it had only arrived on Saturday! Then I would not have gone through the hell of emotional turmoil. My brother Gerry brought your brother’s letter from the Fyffe Road. It had been sitting there for the past fourteen days, Dear Biene, not even during the worst time in the German Army had I been so devastated! I was incapable to do anything sensible. But one thing at a time in the right order! How great you have become again in my heart. I know now what made me happy. In my mind you have already been with me all this time. We celebrated your birthday together. I played your Don Giovanni record, while getting up in the morning. I did all kinds of repairs, bought a picture to decorate our little basement room, and you helped me choose it. You spurred me on at my studies. Imagine I wrote one of the best essays on the Canterbury Tales with very few mistakes. Here too my independent individual opinion was being admired. In Math there have been only very good results on tests and assignments. I have been welcomed into the social life. Everywhere I have gained friends not just with my professor, who is already looking forward to meeting you, but also with my fellow students. I am helping some in Math, others in History. And I did all this as if you were already living with me and made me happy. Dear Biene, quite frankly with this certainty in my heart I could have waited another two or three years. But now I am completely cured. Biene, how good it is that you want to come. Otherwise I would have to ask, yes indeed I would have to beg you to come!
But now let’s look at this letter. If I hadn’t developed in my life so much sensibility, I would have perceived the letter as completely harmless. He had taken my letter to your parents apart into thousand fragments and quoted, quoted, and quoted. In his opinion there was nothing that would keep me in Canada, the prospects in Germany were a thousand times better and so on and so forth. After he had completely blackmailed me morally, he added injury to insult by threatening with financial blackmail. Imagine, I was so dumb as to believe that these were his own ideas. I deemed your father too good to threaten me. Still awake in bed at three o’clock in the morning I could no longer take it anymore and wrote till six a long letter to your parents and presented piece-by-piece positive arguments. Above all I mentioned that the Alberta government will pay for the second year at university, that all my relatives here in Canada had offered financial assistance, that there are still 1,500 marks left in my German bank account, and that thanks to you I have great success in my studies here in Calgary. O Biene, it is no use. If they are not willing, then even the best arguments will not help. I will have insulted your father; for I attacked your brother by stating that I hold myself too good to accept such mean-spirited blackmails. They will mark me as an evil character. O Biene, be firm and strong and hold on to me. I feel you are almost stronger than I, because I have been deeply insulted. But a determined will can bring them still to reason. Besides I think much of your mother’s influence, when the time for action will have actually come. Again thank you for your letter! I am stuck in the midterm exams and need peace, inner peace. How strong has your unshakeable determination made me!
Now that I can breathe more freely again, I will outline precisely, what needs to be done. With your approval I will go to the immigration office in the next couple of days. But I think that in spite of it all I should wait for a reply from your parents. Should I give to the immigration official your address in Velbert or my mother’s address? Don’t do anything, until you receive a message from Cologne. They will set a date for giving you a physical examination in Cologne. Be accurate with all information regarding your relatives in East Germany. When they notice that you were not telling the truth, they may reject your eligibility for immigration. Beforehand you have to get your lungs x-rayed. You need a valid passport as well, for which you must apply in due time. For the voyage you must been inoculated against small pocks, if this has not been done during the past two years. As soon as you are done with these preliminaries, you must see a travel agent to make arrangements for the trip. There will be no immigration visa without a ticket! If it is an efficient travel bureau, you will have no trouble with your luggage crate. They will pick it up and take it to the railroad station. Only in Montreal you will see it again. You yourself will be lost there without any help, because there will be nobody to look after you, when you have been cleared by customs Canada. I will have to be there, when you come. But that much money I will have left over. O Biene, it is not the most beautiful prospect that we both have to work very hard to have things work out for us. But on weekends we will be able to travel to the mountains for a few days for sure. Oh, how I feel well again.
Many thanks for your letter! I still have so much to tell you.
With a thousand dear kisses,
As the drama unfolds I will introduce for each part of this chapter one person, who played a major role in our desperate struggle for being reunited in Canada.
Stepping up the Pace
“It is easier in spite of the great distance to visit relatives in Canada than those in East Germany. And we will lose our children we try to hold captive. In a higher sense we will regain them as we let them go.” Peter’s Mother
From the moment the avalanche of opposing letters came crashing down on us, Biene and I accelerated the pace of our correspondence to a feverish pitch, as far as the notoriously slow mail service between England and Canada would allow any speeding up at all. Biene continued to be resolute and firm in her decision to come to Canada and marry me as early as the following spring. While I had nagging doubts about our future, her bold attitude emanating from her letters was like a shining exemplar encouraging me to be strong and not to despair. Biene’s twin brother had planted poison in my heart. I had premonitions, even believed to hear inner voices with dire warnings of imminent disaster. Fortunately, Biene was always able to dispel such dark fears, which usually surfaced on my distraught mind after stepping down into my dingy basement room after a long, hard day at the university.
With every new letter she rekindled my longing for her presence. Her passionately written words filled my heart with warmth and confidence, fortifying me for the long pause in our correspondence, which was to come even before she returned to Germany. For the longest time like a weary wanderer leaning on his walking stick, I clung to her words.
Do you know Peter that I have the same feelings like you namely that I might become a good wife to you? I am longing for you so much! Your words saying that we must both grow together touched me deeply because that’s what I feel every day more. Yet, Peter is it not a miracle all the same? Look we both are going through the same experiences of life although thousands of miles are between us. In mind we are together. I feel so closely linked to you that to a certain extent the distance does not matter. Yet we are living beings of flesh and blood and not only souls. Therefore even the strongest mental link is only a substitute for being together. I want to feel your arms around me, touch you, speak to you and kiss you. Please undertake all the necessary steps for my coming at once. Have always confidence in me and never let doubts prevail over you.
My dear blogging friends, let me break the rules for writing an objective autobiography and allow me to address you directly. After reading these passionately written lines, tell me who would be the young man whose pulse would not go up a notch faster, would not feel the warmth of tender anticipation flood his heart, and would not foretaste in all its intensity the embrace of his beloved sweetheart ? Even a heart of stone would melt after being exposed to so much loving-kindness!
How could Biene have so much confidence that everything would work out in the end? Was it naive and wishful thinking or blind trust in Providence? Was she truly prepared to enter the lions’ den, especially after the barrage of opposing letters suddenly ended and dead silence from parents and brother was sending out ominous warning signals?
Canada’s Moral Code for Biene’s Immigration
Key Player #7: Paul Werner, Biene’s Brother-in-Law
December 5th 1965 Calgary
My dear Little Bee!
Your admission to Canada is more complicated than I had thought before and is connected with some obligations. Dear Gertrud, you know that I like to talk about each step with you. However, it would take too much time, and I had better hurry up so that you can come next spring. I hope you will agree with all I am undertaking now. First of all there is no other possibility of your coming except that you come as my fiancée. Second, I have to declare that I am willing to marry you within 30 days after your arrival. That means, I cannot compromise with your parents as I have suggested to them that we shall marry after a trial period of a year or so.
I have many things to do now. But I hope that I’ll be at the department of immigration on Monday and have all the requirements fulfilled for them. I have to provide the following pieces of information:
1) A letter from some responsible person, preferably a married woman, who will have accommodation for you until the day of the proposed wedding. (I got a letter from Martha and Gerry). This is probably for maintaining the good morals.
2) A letter from a minister stating that I am of good character, free to marry and that he will perform the wedding ceremony within thirty days of your arrival. I’ll get this letter tomorrow after church.
3) Then I have to give them an exact report to demonstrate that we are well acquainted, that we correspond regularly and that we have exchanged recent photographs etc. This is already done.
4) And I need to provide additional facts relating to you and to me.
It was really wise to start the whole matter from here, for it would have been difficult for you to apply for your immigration in Cologne without having somebody financially responsible for you. If anything goes as the officer in charge has promised me, I might embrace you in May 1966.
How good you are in English! I see you have learned the natural way of expressing yourself. No wonder that you had so much success at your school. You are really familiar with the so-called everyday English that still eludes me. Will you promise me to speak English after we meet again, at least during the regular course of the day? You know, in my second year at the university I will begin with student teaching at the high schools. Therefore, I must have a satisfactory command of the English language.
In longing and in love
Manchester, England – Photo Credit: tourist-destinations.com
Biene’s Last Letter from England
December 10th, 1965 Didsbury
My dear love Peter,
As usual I can just drop a few lines although I am dying to write you all I have on my mind. Your last letter contained quite a lot of exciting news concerning my coming to you in Canada. I feel so relieved that everything is set going for it. I think the conditions are quite sensible and I do agree with them. Peter, imagine we both will get married in less than half a year. On the one hand it seems quite natural to me to get married to you because I cannot imagine another husband for me than you. Yet on the other hand it seems like an unbelievable marvellous wonder, which only happens in dreams and fairy-tales. The thought of it is really overwhelming me with thousands of exciting feelings.
On the 23rd I am flying home. I booked my flight yesterday in town. I am afraid that I will have to face much trouble at home. Yet I feel strong enough to defend my cause. My brother has caused all my relatives to write to me in order to bring me to reason. Are we really that foolish, Peter? I admit that our plans are extraordinary, yet the more I think it over the more I feel that we are doing nothing wrong. I must convince my family! I have so many arguments. But perhaps on both sides the emotional sphere is more powerful than reason, and since strong feelings are involved it will be difficult to come to terms. Oh I really wish I could see clear. At home I will see.
Mrs. Lande often wonders where I get all my patience from and why nothing can shake me and then she says that she really wished to know you because judging from me you must be a really marvellous man to make me always so happy. Do you know Peter that it is about a year ago that I realized how much I am in love with you? It was after the ‘Don Giovanni’ opera, after I had given you the little good luck charm, the magic ‘Glücksbringer’ and after you had left me, and the train had disappeared. I suddenly felt for the first time that I could never live anymore without you loving me. This discovery shook me so very much and stirred up all my feelings and frightened me to such a degree that I was really ill at night and then I wrote to you and then … oh Peter, I sometimes cannot believe that all I had so desperately wished in that night has come true. I do not believe in magic at all, yet you must admit that it was a strange coincidence that I gave you the ‘Glücksbringer’ just on that particular night.
Yours for ever Gertrud
After this passionately written letter more than two weeks passed until I received a card, which did not even arrive on time for Christmas, because it had been sent by surface mail. But her last letter from England was so heart-warming that its message of courage and love sustained me through the darkest days of the season. In quick succession I jotted down all my thoughts about the best possible strategy for Biene’s handling of parental opposition to our plans. I decided to keep writing in small instalments and wait, until I had received word from Biene before sending off the compiled letters. This method also served to bridge the time. However, as Christmas was drawing near, worries about how Biene was making out in her struggle with her parents occupied my heart and soul. Was it not exactly two years ago that I had worried about losing her forever during the gloomy days in the army? Should it be possible that her parents gain the upper hand? Would they be able to soften her resolve to come and marry me in the spring? With no Christmas greetings from Biene or from her parents the stage was set for the loneliest Christmas of my entire life.