“Picking up the pieces of a shattered dream is better than having no pieces to pick up at all.” Matshona Dhliwayo
Poetry to the Rescue!
For three long months Biene had to endure the assaults from her parents, twin brother, relatives and friends on our plans to carve out a niche for our future in Canada. No doubt, while the arguments were partly driven by selfishness and the fear of losing daughter, sister and friend, they were also motivated by love and concern for her happiness in a distant land. Biene, endowed by nature with a big heart and a keen sense of perception felt empathy especially for her mother’s despair. Thus, she made compromises, which deeply affected me and touched a very sensitive nerve.
While Biene was struggling with real people, who were bent on imposing their idea of happiness on her, I in faraway Canada had to fight a different battle. Having no one to talk to and argue with, I battled with phantoms breaking through the crevices of my beleaguered mind, where dream and reality once so intimately interwoven were drifting apart with each new letter from Germany.
Then I remembered that two years earlier I had written a novella entitled “Carthage” (yet to be translated into English). The book written for Biene was my desperate attempt to declare my love to her and to win back her heart after the engagement with her Dutch fiancé had fallen apart. So as a prelude to a very long letter I composed a poem. It was written in the spirit of German classic literature and poetry that I was studying at the time and was definitely inspired by my worries about all the troublesome changes made to our plans. The poem was to remind Biene of our hopes and aspirations, which we had recorded less than a year earlier in our book of dreams.
Below is the original poem in German with a translation with no attempt to preserve rhyme or rhythm. My hope is that not too much of its emotional impact is lost in translation.
Sorge um einen Verlorenen Traum
O lass noch einmal jene Stunden
der Zweisamkeit vor Dir entstehen,
um die noch ungebrochene Blume
des stillen Glücks ein zweites mal zu sehen.
Ob du noch weißt, wie ich mit ungeübter Hand
Dir gold’ne Zeilen in das Buch der Träume schrieb,
den zarten Schleier, der versprach, ein ganzes Leben
in sanfter Milde zu umspannen, wo er verblieb?
Süße, schwere, einst entschwundene Wonne
drang in unsere Herzen mit dionysischer Gewalt;
denn wir als Glieder in der Kette, Ahn und Enkel eingereiht,
Mit ernstem Blick seh’ ich des Tages letzte Strahlen
in eisigen Höhen sich vor mir entfalten.
Wenn auch ein fernes Herz für mich noch schlägt,
Ich spüre Angst und Sorge in mir walten.
Fragend schau’ ich, den Hauch des Vergangenen suchend,
zum Abendhimmel hoch hinauf.
Teure Biene, komm und eil in meine Hütte
und schlag das Buch der Träume wieder auf!
Worry about a Lost Dream
Oh let once again those hours
of togetherness arise before you,
to see the still unbroken flower
of quiet bliss a second time.
Do you remember how I with inexperienced hand
wrote golden lines in our book of dreams,
the gentle veil, which promised to span a lifetime
in tender sweetness, where it remained?
Sweet and heavy bliss, once vanished,
penetrated our hearts with Dionysian force;
for we, as links in the chain of ancestor and descendent,
rebellious and hopeful found our strength and support.
With somber glance, I see the last rays of the day
in icy heights unfold before me.
Even though a distant heart still beats for me,
I sense fear and worry reign within me.
While seeking to catch the aura of the past,
I look questioningly up to the evening sky.
Dearest Biene, come and hurry to my hut
and open the book of our dreams again!
University of Calgary – Image courtesy University of Calgary.
Peter Offers Three Choices
January 22nd 1966, Calgary
My beloved Biene,
I passed the exam, also the one in English. But this appears unimportant to me in the light of your coming this spring. I will write you the details of the exam some other time.
I fear that a few things I wrote must have hurt your feelings. I am sorry and apologize. You are in the least responsible. Rather the causes for all the troubles rest with me. That’s what I think; for I have critically examined myself. You know, when I am separated from people and I am sitting for hours at the same spot and study, then painful loneliness takes control over my heart. It comes from nowhere, from the silence of a tortured soul. However, I am aware that this pain can be alleviated by a sociable life and above all by the giving and receiving of love. You see, dear Biene, in our separation I often did you wrong, when unexpected news and such moods came together in a perilous brew. From now on I will make an effort to separate the two from each other.
O Biene I appear to me like a stubborn grumbler, because I must voice my objections all over again. I worked out with my brother that as a typist in an office you will barely earn enough money for the flight back home. And how do you propose to get to Canada, if your father is not willing to pay a single penny for the fare? Biene, forgive me please, if I seem to be so harsh; but you appear to dream about a happiness that still needs to be acquired with all our strength. The wedding is just the beginning of a lengthy struggle and not the final station of perpetual bliss. Whether we stay in the basement suite or whether we move, we will be lacking everything. I am still eating from the plastic plate my mother once gave me when I was a boy scout. We will need tableware, cooking utensils and a few pieces of furniture. My brother is willing to pass on a few things to us. But it goes without saying that he can’t give away everything. I got to know many student couples, who started like this and have been quite happy all the same, because they could watch their day-by-day progress. But they did not start with debts, which would be the case, if we worked all summer not for our apartment, but for your return flight.
I see only three solutions out of this miserable situation: EITHER you follow completely your mother’s advice, come here for the summer, make your decision and work in a household, where you don’t have to pay for room and board, OR we get married after a certain waiting period and we let your father pay for the flights to and from Germany OR in case he doesn’t, you stay in Canada and we invite your parents to come. Later when we are financially better off we could fly together to Germany. I think this is a reasonable and responsible suggestion and I wished you would think it over during a quiet moment.
University of Calgary – Image courtesy University of Calgary
Peter’s Pleading Letter and Biene’s Reassurance
Dear Biene, I also want you to have your freedom to decide. During the first six weeks here a double burden will rest on your shoulders. I have no choice any more, since I have made mine already in December. So your yes will also be my yes and your no will be my no. Look at everything carefully when you come including the things that might shock you and then decide whether you can bear the absence of your relatives and friends for a long time. If you think you can, then throw our love onto the scales for the final decision.
The poem expresses the worry that dream and reality are no longer as close together as they once were in Michelbach and that the role in a family as wife and mother would no longer mean as much to you as then. How can I possibly explain that later after a few years, when we will be doing better, you would want to study from morning till eveningand to withdrawas wife and mother from the family just to obtain a diploma? Biene, please understand me correctly. At the university there are many inspiring individual courses, which offer opportunities for intellectual enrichment. I would be the last one to oppose such desires. But a full university program as you desire indicates that you have begun to look at life, love, and marriage with different eyes. The goal that I once vaguely and exuberantly set in our book of dreams is still worth striving for and has already taken on clear and concrete forms. Yes, we evolve and we must work on us, but we should never ever attempt to change our character. Actually I don’t worry too much about you. For I know how much you are exposed to your mother’s influence. She planted contradictory ideas into your heart. Here her endeavours for your security are going too far. Perhaps in her fear about you she believes that one day I could abandon you or we could separate and then you wouldn’t have a profession to fall back on. Please reexamine earnestly if such wishes in you are genuine or if they merely represent a favour towards your anxious mother. For me this is a question of utmost importance and I hope it is for you as well.
Again I seem to be so stiff-necked, and it hurts to be like that. Just follow that one path that once had been the right one for both of us. In fact I am not commanding you to do anything Rather I am imploring you not to deviate from our life’s ideals. Even if we cannot reach them completely, the work and the endeavour towards them will provide sense and purpose of life. In an active and meaningful life true happiness will not be very far.
Give my kindest regards to your parents and your brother Walter.
For now be lovingly embraced by your Peter
January 31st, Velbert
My dear Peter,
just a few lines! How much I feel for and understand your worries! Have no fear. All my dreams about our future are still the same. And I will try everything to realize them with you, believe me. As to the money my parents (my mother actually) are prepared to pay the return fare. But I will do it only as you suggested, because I know my father has enough money. If only I were already with you, then everything would be easier. I am waiting for more information from Cologne. At the moment I am completely exhausted; but I will soon answer all your questions. I am so happy that you passed your exams. Peter, I shall always be, God willing, a good wife to you.
For three months from the time I had written my first letter to Biene’s parents to the moment she had returned to Germany, Biene and I were united by a common goal. We had mutually agreed on the details of a carefully laid out plan. It was simple and straightforward. Biene would come to Canada, marry me within a month or so and would take on together with me the challenging, but rewarding task of building our future together. We both received letters from Germany, which all expressed the same thought, total opposition to a foolish undertaking that would not only make us unhappy, but Biene’s parents as well.
Working together from a common base, even though thousands of miles apart, we fought off any attempt to make us give in to all kinds of threats, financial blackmail, or urgent pleas to come to our senses. The only person who showed some understanding to our plans and had struck a more conciliatory tone was Biene’s mother. But she would only go so far as to make a vague promise to let her daughter go one day. As long as Biene was in England, Biene and I were of one heart and one soul. We were both far removed from the place, where our controversial wedding plans were being challenged and hotly debated. Under the barrage of criticism we suffered together, we responded together and promised each other not to soften our resolve to get married. Above everything else stood out Biene’s urgent plea to set all the wheels in motion for her coming and to tell her what steps she needed to take in her dealings with the Canadian Embassy in Cologne. Then on the 23rd of December after a tearful parting from the Lande family, Biene finally flew home to join her family just in time for Christmas.
In spite of complete lack of communication from her for more than two weeks, I was still feeding on the strength and inspiration of Biene’s comforting last letter from England. However, in my worries about her impending troubles at home I also became increasingly more sensitive and vulnerable, feeling lonely and helpless in the drab and dreary basement room. Three days before New Year’s Eve I finally received her first letter since her arrival in Germany. When I had finished reading it, my hands were trembling, and my heart was pounding. I could not believe what I had just read. I was in such a shock that for the longest time I was unable to think clearly. In a state of utter despair about the events that threatened to derail all our plans I was pacing to and fro on the basement floor not knowing what to do. After I had sufficiently calmed down I reread the letter in search for some comforting clues I might have missed at the first perusal. Like a drowning person who clutches at straws trying to keep afloat I searched for a hint, a hidden meaning, or even the mere absence of an entire sentence that Biene in her own emotional turmoil may have intended to write, but had failed somehow to put it down in writing. But there was none. My devastation was complete.
Highway 1 near Banff in the Mid 60’s
Roses and Violets
December 26th Velbert
My dear Peter,
…With mixed feelings, but also in joyful anticipation, I arrived at the Düsseldorf Airport, where my mother, Walter and my friend Ulli received me with roses and violets. I was deeply touched! At home the same warm atmosphere welcomed me, which our apartment is always radiating. And when I then entered my room and found your letter on my desk, it seemed to me as if I had never been away. Yet the exciting new tidings stirred up my emotions. The photo of us in Michelbach rekindled all the memories and let me think of so many things. Only now did my mother notice that the other letter was addressed to her. Oh Peter, you should not have written the letter to my parents. I had wanted to prepare them slowly for everything. I know, Peter, that only out of love to me you wrote the letter, and yet, Peter, you should not have written it. See, Peter, I always told you that my parents are acting out of love, and therefore we must not hurt their feelings. Your words hit my mother hard, because it sounded like hell was awaiting me here at home. In some way you are right, Peter. However, I implore you to apologize to my mother as quickly as possible. I know how proud you are; yet I ask you to do this for the sake of our love. So far my mother has supported our side to the extent that she was even able to change my brother’s mind. He was actually prepared to help us in case I wanted to come to you for a year.
Then Biene wrote that her mother had confided to her the story of a shocking tragedy. Out of religious reason Biene’s mother was not allowed to marry the man she truly loved. Because she was not yet of age, she wanted to force her family to consent to the marriage by having a baby. So Biene’s sister Elsbeth was born out of wedlock. But before she gave birth to the baby girl, her fiancé died in a fatal accident.
Biene also let me know in her letter that she had found employment with the American company Yale and Towne, one of the largest lock manufacturing companies in Europe at the time. She was hired as an office assistant responsible for translating technical documents into English. She had signed a contract for a period of two months with a monthly salary of 450 marks. So she would be able to save up enough money for the flight to Calgary, if her father was not going to provide any financial support. She also added that because of her work she would not be able to write me as often as before. Then she returned to the main issue.
In conclusion I earnestly ask you just one more time to write a nice letter to my parents and also to Walter. Don’t mention much about our plans for the moment. I will prepare them for everything.
In my thoughts I am already living with you, Peter. Don’t lose your confidence in our future.
In love Your Biene
Did you receive my Christmas card, on which I forgot to write By Air?
Hoodoos above the Bow River
It was New Year’s Eve. I kept reading her letter over and over again, but it did not help to calm me down. In fact the turn of events stirred me up more than her brother’s argumentative diatribe in the fall. In my tortured mind I saw everything that deviated from the course of action we had agreed on as a betrayal of our dreams. Through the dark lens in my anguished soul I gazed at gloomy images that made everything she described feel like a bad omen. The heart-warming reception with roses and violets at the airport was for me a well orchestrated attempt to strengthen the threads in the web, out of which Biene would find it difficult to break free. I also found it strange that one letter on her desk turned suddenly into two letters and that her mother would recognize it only now, which was clearly addressed to Frau Elisabeth Panknin. Nor could I understand why my so lovingly written letter could have insulted her so much. It contained only kind words. I admit I did plead with her to let Biene go in peace. But to make this single sentence, which expressed my deepest love and concern for Biene, the actual cause of a complete turnabout in her attitude towards our wedding plans was in my view a travesty of her true intentions.
Ultimately it bothered me the most that Biene told me that because of her new job, which had not even started yet, she would not to find the time to write as often as before. Clearly she wanted to keep me in the dark. That was my painful conclusion. I felt a surge of angry revolt take hold of my heart. I threw myself on my bed and stewed over the new situation for a very long time. There was not a single word about getting married in the spring. On the contrary, in an effort to appease her family she had already made a major concession. She wanted to come for a year to find out if she could stand it to live in Canada. The once comforting words she once wrote from England were beginning to mock me, “Even if you were as poor as a church mouse, I would still come to you, because I love you.” Had our love not been tested enough? Why all of a sudden was there talk about a trial period to see if she could be happy in Canada?
What I did not realize while I was tossing and turning on my bed was that she was confronted with one the greatest dilemmas in her life. On the one side was her mother, who loved her dearly and who did not want her to go away into a distant land, to marry into an uncertain future and become unhappy. On the other side was I, the man, whom she loved and wanted to marry. For her there seemed to be no other way to get out of this conflict than to play a dangerous game of deception. If she had only revealed to me that she needed to keep her mother in the belief that she would be able to retain her independence and freedom, while she was only visiting me until next Christmas, I would have cooperated and she would have spared me the distress I was in. A short message would have sufficed to keep me in the loop. All I needed was a word of reassurance that nothing would change in our plans. But no matter how often I read Biene’s letter, I found no such comfort and I was deeply worried.
Banff National Park – Mid 1960’s
A Troublesome New Year’s Eve
Then I considered that we originally had promised to wait two or even three years for each other and that only the episode of the engagement ring had rushed us to cut the waiting period down to less than a year. Biene had greatly suffered when she was without any sign of life from me for more than three weeks and had pleaded with me to let her come. I could see now that in my desire, which was just as strong as hers, to be together with her I had foolishly given in, when our future was still uncertain. Thus, the original plan, which was sound and would have given her parents plenty of time to get used to, had been rendered unrealistic and indeed ridiculous in their disapproving eyes. In a flash I felt responsible that my very own weakness had brought about the mess that she was in right now. Angry with myself I considered writing to her parents according to her wish, which she imploringly expressed several times in her letter.
The Chinook winds that had started to blow earlier this evening were now howling at full strength around the building and made the basement window rattle. In the distance a few firecrackers announced the start of the New Year. Lying on my back, while others were celebrating, I composed in my mind the message that was going to bring our derailed original plans back on track. I would apologize to her parents. I would tell the story of her engagement ring and would describe Biene’s desperation, when she did not receive any letter from me for such a long time. I would tell them that she had urged me to let her come to Canada as quickly as possible and that I had agreed on the condition that I would have to be admitted first to the Faculty of Education or have a well paying job. Finally I would kindly propose to her parents that I would wait until the successful completion of my teachers’ training program in exchange for their kind approval of us getting married after I had become a teacher. With these thoughts going through my mind I sat down at the table and feverishly reached out for pen and paper. I was just about to write down the opening sentence, when I suddenly remembered how in anger and frustration I had once reacted by writing a spiteful response to the prospective in-laws, which only served to harden their already inflexible position. No, this time I would sleep on it for a night or two. And if I couldn’t sleep, I would rather suffer through a wakeful night than committing another blunder.
Late in the morning I awoke like from a nightmare. But I was relieved to know that while the letter that I was going to write would have brought complete satisfaction to her parents it would have caused most certainly grief and misery to Biene and to me as well. Who could expect us after all the emotional upheavals we had already gone through to wait another year or even a third year to be reunited? I could see clearly now the trap I would have walked into, out of which there would have been no escape. Wisdom dictated that I waited until I had more information from Germany. Having scored a major victory over myself and restrained my impetuous inclination to surrender to her parents’ wishes, I felt much better and with relative calm resumed my studies the following Monday.
My apology to all my dear readers and followers, who have been missing this post last week. I skipped over to Chapter 34 by mistake and left out the events that had brought new energy, hope and joy to Biene and me. At that time we had new idea that dark storm clouds were brewing on the horizon of our love story.
First Semester at the University of Calgary
Brand-new University of Calgary – Author’s own Historical Photo
“I will ask no more of life than this that I might love you through all my days, and that you may find peace and joy in the constancy of my heart.” Robert Sexton
While searching for a quote that described best my feelings about love and faithfulness, I came across many quotes about fidelity, loyalty, and faithfulness. These virtues have always found strong support across the ages from philosophers, theologians, and rulers, as long as they were part of an individual’s commitment to an ideal, religion, or country. When I narrowed my search down to the love between a man and a woman, I discovered to my dismay that there were two camps of opinions, which differed from each other like day and night. The dark side would have scoffed at Robert Sexton’s quote as if he was promoting boredom and loss of freedom in human relationships. It ridiculed commitment through faithfulness by quotes, such as ‘The follies which a man regrets the most in his life are those he didn’t commit when he had the opportunity’, ‘A bridegroom is a guy who has lost his liberty in pursuit of happiness’, and ‘Absence makes the heart go wander’. The list is almost endless.
Biene and I were poorly prepared and had nothing except our love to repel the onslaught of subversive opinions and temptations. To this day I am grateful to Biene’s sister Elsbeth for trying to warn Biene about the dangers of a long separation. Even though we were not too happy about the doubts she had cast into our hearts, she at least forced us to confront the issue. By being made aware of the perils for our romantic relationship so far apart from each other, we were able to recognize situations that could potentially destroy it.
Before Biene went to England, she had to learn first hand how a commonly held opinion could put belief in faithfulness into question as something both unrealistic and old-fashioned. A nice young man, a fellow student of the Wuppertal University, no doubt infatuated and attracted to her natural charm and beauty, pursued her and in vain tried to weaken her resolve to wait for me. She was dismayed to see that so few people believed in the power of love, which would give us the strength to be faithful. Incidences of this kind prompted her to ask for a ring as a form of protection against aggressive suitors in Germany andin England.
I for my part had no such outer sign, with which I started my studies in Calgary. But I thought being male I would find it easier to avoid the pitfalls of temptation. For in the mid sixties it was the man, who would normally invite a girl to a date. While being very worried about Biene in this regard and actually sharing my concerns with her, I myself felt secure in my belief that my female fellow students, who may have taken a fancy to me, would not pursue me, as Biene’s aggressive suitor did in Wuppertal. As it turned out I was quite mistaken. I had to learn and I learned quickly that their methods were not as obvious, rather a lot subtler in their outward manifestations.
For the eighteen-year old female graduates from high school, the faculty of education was the most favourite department to enrol. Very few were willing to face the exacting demands of engineering, nor were they welcome in this male dominated field in those years. But there was also another reason why they were outnumbering young men in the teachers’ training program almost at the ratio two to one. This was still the time when well-to-do parents would send their daughters to college in the hope to marry them off to a professional young man, who would be acceptable within their socially elevated family status.
Another historic photo of the University of Calgary in the mid 1960’s!
At the end of the frosh week, during which we new students received our orientation and introduction into the life on campus, the university had organized a dance in the huge gymnasium of the Physical Education complex. Six bands were playing alternately rock and more traditional music. They made sure that there was never a break for the indefatigable couples on the dance floor. Having no friends to hang out with, I felt lonely and wished that Biene were there sharing this special moment with me. With all the tables taken I had no place to sit down. I leaned against the back wall taking in some of my favourite music I remembered so well from my birthday parties. But I was not in the mood to enjoy it. So I left, took the next available bus and returned to my humble basement room. To overcome my feeling of loneliness I wrote a letter to Biene.
September 19th Calgary
My dear Biene, now you will get to know how things turned out with my search for an apartment and with my introduction to the university. For days I have been running around in the northwestern section of Calgary, until I finally decided on a small basement suite. I am exaggerating if I say suite, because it is only one large room. Table and chairs, bed and cupboard, as well as a gas heater and some basic cooking facilities are included in the rent, which is thirty dollars a month. To be totally independent, I decided to exclude bedding from the rental agreement, which would have cost me five dollars more. Now it is gradually turning into a really cozy place All day long I scrubbed the dirty walls, mopped the linoleum floor and cleaned the windows. My old wooden crate has been converted into a cooking stand so that the table remains free for my studies. Oh and then came all the shopping I had to do: bedclothes, blankets, cutlery, bowls and plates, a small radio, etc. Now I am satisfied and wonder whether you would like it.
An old lady also lives down here in the basement adjacent to my room. She is very pleasant and enjoys the sound of my guitar, which I sometimes play for relaxation. I could hardly suppress my astonishment about her ignorance of geography. When I told her that I had come from Germany, she asked me, where that city was located in Canada.
Yesterday we had our orientation complete with welcome speeches and formal ceremonies for the frosh. The professors spoke so clearly and distinctly that all my fear disappeared from my anxious heart. I have already made the acquaintance with a couple of classmates and hope to meet them again later on. To understand them is quite a bit harder for me, because they just don’t make the effort to speak clearly and distinctly.
Yes, dear Biene, if you were here, my happiness would be complete. How much I miss you, I again felt last night, when after the formalities the six largest bands of the city were playing music in the gymnasium, where everyone was dancing except you and me …
The very next day the fall session began. Since I was in a first year program, most of the lectures were held in auditorium-sized rooms accommodating more than a hundred students at a time. Courses like calculus and psychology that were being shared by other departments were especially crowded. Having chosen a senior course in German turned out to be a blessing. Dr. Cardinal, a very likeable professor, was teaching The Age of Goethe to our small group of three students. Here my mind could at least take a short break from the great demands in the other subject areas. Ever since Biene and I had decided on starting our life together as husband and wife in Canada, I knew that I had not merely entered a race for the survival in the academic training program, but also committed myself to an all-out effort to achieve an above average standing. For only with a grade point average of close to an A could I hope to receive substantial government grants and scholarships for the second year. I had poured my entire savings from my army service and my summer earnings as a labourer into the cost of tuition, textbooks, rent and living expenses. There would be little left for me to finance another academic year except with the help of financial support from the Alberta Government. Thus, in spite of my limited English language skills I set my goal to nothing less that a B+ over all standing. To achieve this, I had to get near perfect scores in German and Calculus, while maintaining a minimum of 70% final grade in the other subjects. For the first couple of weeks this appeared to be an unobtainable target. I often communicated my concerns and worries with Biene. I told her that I did not want our life to start in poverty with no chance for a prosperous future. Even just to finish the year with merely passing grades looked like a great challenge to me in the beginning. Then came another shock. I had set my hopes on studying lecture notes and textbooks and on doing well in the multiple-choice tests that were becoming very popular in the mid sixties. Instead we were required to write one essay after another. I felt that I could not compete very well in this challenging fieldwith my Canadian fellow students. A visit to the office of my English professor was going to shed some light onto the nebulous trail of my academic future at the U of C.
Facing the Challenges of the English Literature Course
University Campus with the Calgary Tower in the Background
I took some comfort in the fact that the English literature classes were small. The one I attended had only twenty students under the loving tutelage of Dr. Alexander. In my mind I called her Dr. Nightingale, because she was frequently teasing her students for not knowing the European songbird that had taken such a prominent place in John Keat’s ‘Ode to a Nightingale’. I went to see her one day after class in her office to get advice as to how to cope with my language problems. Apparently having a good knowledge of the European high school system, she pointed out that I had studied the principles of essay writing for much longer and in greater depth than my Canadian fellow students. What I would have to do was to concentrate my efforts on expanding my active and passive vocabulary and thus build up my confidence.
I became very eager to prove my ability to write well after this encouraging and heart-warming interview.Near the end of one of the Friday morning lectures Dr. Alexander announced to the class that for Monday she planned on giving us a written test on one of two topics having to do with poems of English Romanticism. Having all weekend to prepare myself I chose the topic I felt most comfortable with, I first wrote the essay on a piece of scrap paper, then memorized the three pages sentence by sentence. When I could recite the entire text out loud, I was looking forward to take the test. All I needed to do now was to rewrite the essay from memory on the official exam paper on Monday. How proud I would feel, if I could report to Biene my first A in English 240!
Well rested and as I thought well prepared I sat at my desk in the small lecture room waiting for Dr. Alexander to come in, while others were chatting about all the fun they had over the weekend. A bit annoyed that they were partying while I had been studying so hard, but at the same time quite relieved that with their poor preparation I would have a better chance of getting a high mark on the test, I attempted to tune them out and tried to focus on the precious content I had stored in my memory. By now I was well known to the other students for my strong, not necessarily unpleasant German accent and my often-stilted way of expressing myself. Some asked, “Well, Peter, I bet, you studied really hard for the exam.”
“I studied hard enough to get by with a passing grade,” I replied trying to be modest.
Then our professor walked in with her endearing smile. Without further ado she handed out the papers and then announced, “You will write on the second topic”, whereupon she sat down apparently quite content to spend the lecture free morning watching us write.
In the meantime I felt the emotional shockwaves of her incredible announcement racing through my mind. Believing we had a choice between the two topics, I had studied for the first one. For several minutes I stared at the blank paper in front of me. The pen I held in my right hand did not move for a very long time. Then finally I began to calm down. Under pressure and time constraints, where others would fall apart, I had the ability to make the best out of a bad situation. In a creative surge I took the parts of the memorized essay, which at least by some stretch of imagination bore some resemblance to topic two, reworded them and recombined them with ideas which I had picked up at the lectures. In spite of the initial delay I was able to hand in my finished work at the end of the fifty-minute session. With some apprehension I was awaiting the return of my paper. Great was my relief when I read the professor’s comment, ‘Well written! But very weak conclusion! 67%.’
Walking the Line
Historical Photo of the University of Calgary in the Mid 60’s
After a few sessions in the Calculus Course I realized that I had underestimated the scope and depth of this extremely demanding subject area. I was of the mistaken belief that I could easily sail through its content with a minimum of effort, as the course appeared to be merely a review of what I had already learned at the German high school. Also the lecture hall for the Math 211 students was overcrowded with more than two hundred students in attendance. The course was compulsory for all first-year students in the Departments of Engineering and Education. Then there were the obligatory tutorial classes, which were much smaller and more conducive to the nature of a question-and-answer period. The tutor, a young graduate student by the name of Jenkins, was very keen on telling us off-colour jokes and even more questionable mathematical riddles very much to the embarrassment of the female students in the class. When asked to explain how to go about solving a particular math problem, he appeared often evasive and rarely was of any real help to anyone. So we got into the habit of helping each other.
This is how I got to know Brian Fisher, with whom I immediately struck up a friendship that was going to last a lifetime. I helped him to get through the course with a passing grade, while he freed me from my social isolationHis mother was a very caring person. Seeing that I had been on a hunger diet she insisted that I should join the family for Thanksgiving. For the first time in my life I looked at an oven-roasted turkey, smelled the aroma of the carved up slices on my plate that together with the mashed potatoes drenched in mouth watering gravy, the cranberry sauce, and the mix of carrots and peas presented a most wonderful culinary delight. This was truly a treat for someone like me, who out of budgetary constraints was content with a diet alternating between chicken noodle soup on one day and chunky dinner out of a can on the next.
In the meantime the calculus course had become increasingly more difficult. We were now struggling with the concepts of mathematical limits and the first derivative. At the end of the tutorial class a female student intending to become a music teacher approached me rather timidly and asked if I could give her some help with a problem that Mr. Jenkins had been unwilling or unable to explain. Why the curriculum required that primary, music, art and all other teachers not embarking on a career in secondary math had to take this course, I could never figure out. I was able to give her some valuable clues without providing the answer. On the next tutorial class she cheerfully told me that thanks to my help she was able to solve the problem and asked me a little less timidly this time if I could spare a few minutes again after the tutorial to assist her with a question she had some trouble with. As I showed her the steps that would lead her with some work of her own to the answer, I noticed how excited she had become during my lesson. And when I saw her joyfully singing and prancing down the hallway, I realized that she had more on her mind than just receiving extra help from me. So I told her there and then that my fiancée was coming to Canada next spring and that we intended to get married soon after her arrival. Disappointment was written all over her face. But she managed to say, “I am so happy for you two.” I had to repeat the story a few more times during the course of the year, when I felt I was being approached by some other girl with similar intentions. I had no trouble doing so and did it each time I felt in my heart that someone has been trying to cross the line. Before I immigrated to Canada I had often listened to the popular Johnny Cash song ‘I walk the line’ on the American Forces Network in Munich. It has been one of my favourite tunes and lyrics to this very day.
Discussing Marriage at Lunch Break
Peter in front of the University of Calgary
On the wall of my basement room hung a timetable, a rigid what-to-do list that was to govern my life for the next seven months. On weekdays I got up at six and after a cornflakes-and-milk breakfast spent sixty minutes to have an early morning study period. Then I took the bus for my first morning class at campus. I had one hour for lunch that always consisted of the same homemade bologna and cheese sandwiches washed down with the watery coffee from the vending machine. During this time, when I managed to relax a little bit, I often met with three students on alternate days, as they all had their own schedules to follow.
On Tuesdays and Fridays I sat together with Brian Fisher, since we both attended the same afternoon tutorial class for Math 211. It made me feel very good to be able to help him with many of the questions from the weekly assignment sheets. In turn I got gradually used to the informal, casual way of English conversation. On the other days I met with two women, both married, one from Great Britain, whose husband had recently been promoted to a managerial position in an IBM sponsored business in downtown Calgary, the other Mrs. Karen Bolso, an immigrant from Norway. Both were attending the same late morning psychology lecture. In a country that was built on the skills and talents of hundreds of thousands of immigrants the voices of three individuals producing an interesting blend of Oxford English, Scandinavian and German accents were not unusual in the student lounge. All three of us, coming from Europe, had interesting stories and experiences to share. The British student, whose name I can no longer recall, had recently followed and joined her husband in Calgary and was pursuing a teaching career to get out of the house as she put it, while her husband was busy setting up calculating machines, the forerunners of business computers. Her main point of advice relating to happiness in marriage was that the two partners should come from the same ethnic and cultural background. Their children would integrate quickly with their new environment, but the parents would take a long time to adjust. “Like oil and water Canadian and immigrant spouses just do not mix,” she stated her opinion with a slightly superior air.
Mrs. Bolso, whose marriage was on the rocks, protested and said, “Well, let me tell you something. I was married to a Norwegian, and yet things did not work out at all. When I arrived as his bride from Norway, he lavished gifts on me, bought me a diamond ring and a fur coat with money he did not have. He had bought all these luxury goods on credit, even though he held only a low paying job. He could barely put enough food on the table for our two children and me. I would rather have a husband, who would show his love in a financially responsible manner. Your theory is all wrong!”
Then it was my turn to voice my opinion. I spoke quite eloquently presenting an entirely idealistic viewpoint, which, as I could see from their reaction, took them by surprise. “Even if a partner could afford the most expensive diamond ring, a fancy car, and an even more fanciful house, it would be all for naught, if love and faithfulness were not present to hold the two together.” Then I thought it would be a good time to talk about my invisible engagement ring, the story about Biene, my fiancée, who was going to join me here in Calgary next spring. After many exclamations of ‘O, how wonderful’, ‘You must be so happy’ and the like, we moved on to other topics.
For the evening my timetable allowed me one hour for preparing and eating a frugal meal for supper. Two hours of studying followed till nine, after which I granted myself a little bit of time to play and practice a few tunes on my guitar. But if I had gotten stuck in my attempt to solve a particularly difficult calculus problem, there was no time for relaxation, until I had found the solution. One evening I had been working over a thorny differential equation. Stubborn as I was when working on problem solving, I did not want to give up. It was way past my bedtime. Midnight was rapidly approaching. Finally common sense prevailed and I decided to go to bed. But the brain having been overstimulated did not want to come to rest. So many possible solutions were gliding by in front of my inner eye that it took another hour before I managed to fall asleep. Before the alarm went off, I woke up with a jolt. My body had rested, but my brain had not. I jumped out of bed, ran up to the table, grabbed paper and pencil, and before it would fade away, I jotted down the solution, which my brain had worked out correctly in my sleep. Having no coffee maker, I put an extra spoonful of ground coffee into the cooking pot, added water and brought the brew to a boil over my two-element stove to make myself a cup of strong coffee. What a life!
Empathy for Peter
Brand New University of Calgary in the Mid 60’s
In Educational Foundations we studied the great philosophers of education from Socrates to Piaget. For this course also the university had set up tutorial classes to facilitate the exchange of ideas in small discussion groups. I spite of my language difficulties I felt I had a noticeable advantage. I was about five years older and therefore more mature in many aspects of learning. I also brought a wealth of life experiences, which enabled me to enrich the class with new and fresh ideas. To the amazement of my much younger fellow students I was not afraid to criticize the great thinkers of the past. There was venerable Rousseau for example, who advocated locking up disobedient children in a dark room instead of using corporal punishment. Remembering all too well my own ordeals being locked up as a young child in the dingy storage room of Mr. Stoll’s carpentry shop, I declared that in my opinion locking up a child was one of the cruelest forms of punishment and that ultimately spanking justly applied without causing physical harm was to be preferred.
Some other time we were discussing the importance of the family in early childhood development. Having a much broader concept of education in mind, I emphasized with as much conviction as I still have today, “The family is the smallest unit in a society. As healthy cells make a healthy body, so family units that are intact and provide a caring environment for the children are the building blocks for a strong society. Take away the health of the family and the state will sooner or later suffer and begin to disintegrate.” I am sure that I expressed these thoughts quite differently, but the idea came across with electrifying results. The students were most likely wondering, where this immigrant student had all his ideas from. Little did they know that I had studied Mommsen’s ‘History of Rome’ and that the ideas about the importance of the family were as old as the Roman Republic!
One day our tutorial instructor felt the need to divide us into groups of four or five students each. To develop a feeling for empathy, a term that can be easily defined in clinical terms but is otherwise quite an elusive concept, we needed someone in our group, who would be willing to take on the role of a client and come up with a story, to which the others as would-be councillor would react with supportive questions and remarks. A lot of time was being wasted, because nobody wanted to be saddled with the difficult role of the client. After a long pause, I said, “OK, I’ll do it. Just give me a little bit of time to think.”
Then I began without referring to any specific time or place to tell the story of my father, how close we had become before he had left home, how he gave me a guiding hand with my schoolwork, how much I was shaken up by my parents’ divorce, how I had to wait for five long years before I could see him again, how I spent many happy hours at his new home, then how suddenly and unexpectedly I had lost my father all over again and this time forever, when he died of a massive heart attack. By the time I had spoken the last sentence, it was so quiet that you could hear a pin drop in the tutorial room. All other groups had stopped their exercise to listen in to the extraordinary story that was grabbing everybody’s attention. Then the students were getting noisy with shouts of praise and admiration. After the tutor regained quiet and order, he said to me, “It seems your creative story caused quite an outpour of empathy. How did you think it all up so quickly?”
In a strange mix of pride and self-pity, I replied, “I’d wish it had been just a story.” With these words I quickly left the room. In my heart I was thankful to tutor and students for respecting my privacy and not asking any more questions in the sessions that followed.
“When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” Nora Ephron
Peter worries about the Future
This chapter contains a highly condensed version of our correspondence. Only parts that seemed relevant to the theme of the initial challenges facing us on either side of the Atlantic are included here. I reorganized some paragraphs only to enhance the flow of the narrative and sometimes added a sentence or two to make for better transitions. What remained is the fascinating account of the incredible journey of Biene’s engagement ring.
My dear Peter,
Your latest letter has made me so happy, and all your plans have touched my heart. I would love to write, o Peter, commit such a great ‘foolishness’, landing a job with the IBM Company and let me soon come to you so that through our closeness we can give each other strength to do all the things that you have described to me. But Peter, you are right; we must not be unreasonable. And perhaps time will pass more quickly and more easily than we think. I am so eagerly waiting for the moment, when your letter to my parents will have arrived. I cannot put into words at all how much I miss you. But because I know that you love me I can bear the long wait…
My dear Peter, now that I am going to England to work as an a-pair girl, I have a special wish. I can hardly overcome my fear to ask you for something that I so fervently desire. But I will directly ask you, because you love me. So I really don’t need to be bashful about it. You know, Peter, I would very much like to wear a ring from you, especially now as I am going to England. Not that I couldn’t be as faithful without the ring. You certainly know that, Peter! I wish that everyone could see that I belong to you and that I promised to be faithful to you. You know, Peter, it is a peculiar feeling, but I believe that I would feel like having some kind of protection, because everyone could see that I have you. Can you understand this, Peter? If I didn’t know how much you love me, I would have never found the courage to write you this…
In Love, Your Biene
My dear Biene,
If I had to report on my search for work or my planned studies at the university, I would have nothing to write today. I hope you do not get impatient that the questions about my job and teachers’ training have not been settled yet.
Gradually I am beginning to worry about us and the more I think about the future the more anxious I get. You know, I have a restless heart that is incessantly driving me, even at times troubling and tormenting me, especially when things are not going the way I had planned. This restlessness engenders a yearning for inner peace and security. Dear Biene, you are my alter ego. In you I found everything I did not have. Without you I would be nothing. Because I love you so much, I also want you to be always happy when you are with me. Out of love you are willing to follow me no matter where I live. You emphasized in your last letter that you would even go and cut trees with me if necessary. But did you consider how much you would have to give up not just for a few days, but rather for a lifetime? You would no longer see your dear friends, your classmates, your brother, your father, and your mother. Later I cannot be the substitute for all these dear people. Instead I would like to be your husband and life’s companion. Dear Biene, to put it frankly I fear you will leave far more behind in Germany than what you will gain in Canada. You see, this is how I feel right now. You are on my mind all the time. You walk with me, you talk with me, and I hear warning voices. Perhaps I am totally off base, and one day we will meet again sharing the desire for happiness, security, and contentedness, for which your restless heart is yearning just as much as mine is. However, never would I want that my wish become an obligation on your part. Think it over thoroughly and give me your honest opinion. Please don’t be sad that I have given so much thought to this matter. I am only thinking about what I can do for you to make you happy…
Greetings from the heart, Peter
Biene Withdraws her Wish for an Engagement Ring
Calgary, June 2nd
My dear Biene,
I must quickly write you this letter, and indeed for three reasons. Some very pleasant events have come up during the past two days. First and foremost I must ask you not to take my last letter too seriously. I had no work and I was worrying about our future. I missed you so much, and then I began to ponder about how it would be for you to meet me again poor and penniless. At such moments I worry too much. I believe that you already know that part of me well enough.
Today I came home rather exhausted. Yet I was happy and content. In my mind I saw you receive me tenderly in your arms, perhaps because I looked so very dusty and tired. Now I must let the cat out of the bag. Right on the first day of my search I found work. I have a good, but tough job with a construction company, and I am getting $1.80 an hour. Isn’t that a good beginning? Here I will stay until I find something better.
Yesterday I paid a little visit to the University of Calgary. From the bus stop I walked the last mile up the hill. You would not believe, dear Biene, how the people were gawking, because I was not driving a car. At the registration counter they gave me a very friendly reception. They retained my high school diploma for translation into English. Everything that I needed to know for the teachers’ training program in the Department of Education was in the book that the receptionist handed to me together with the application forms. There you have the latest information from me. I will write you again, whenever I can spare another hour.
Be kissed a thousand times! Your Peter
Velbert, June 4th
…Yes Peter, and then I read your letter. When I came to the line, where your expressed your concerns, a strange mood suddenly took hold of me, as if I was lying with closed eyes on my back bathing in brilliant sunshine. All at once a shudder seized me, because a dark cloud had drifted over the sun and for a moment withdrew all warmth from me. But this really happened only in the twinkling of an eye, because I could not understand why you were writing me this. I thought, ‘Why do you want me to be afraid of the future?’ Now I feel ashamed of these thoughts and I am sad that I even allowed them to surface in my mind. Peter, please, you must forgive me. There are certain days, when I am a little sensitive. So I did not recognize at first why you wrote me about your doubts. It was because you care so much about me and worry about my future happiness. I only saw the words, ‘ Did you consider all this very carefully?’ and ‘I don’t want that my wish become an obligation to you.’ I did not notice all the other words at all, which were so much more important. Fearfully I thought, ‘Doesn’t Peter no longer believe that our love can be much stronger than all the bonds of family and friends put together, and would he resign himself to the fact that I would no longer be willing to come to him any more?’ But immediately I felt sorry that such thoughts occurred to me, and all of a sudden I understood with my whole heart what had motivated you to lay all the possible future problems before my eyes. I am not ignoring them, Peter! I know exactly what it means to leave everything behind one day.
I talked to my mother about it and asked her, if she could bear to see me leave, because you wanted me to become your wife. You will see how great my mother’s love is. I regret more and more that you were unable to come for a visit before you left for Canada. She said it would be quite natural that I would leave her one day. But a mother would only let her children go with a light heart, if she knew that they would be happy…
Dear Peter, I feel just as strongly as you do that I could not be without you! Therefore, you must not ponder and mull over such thoughts any more. They put brakes on your zest for action and initiative. And in the end I would even believe that you cast doubts on our love, and that I could never endure. Peter, please promise me to put these depressing thoughts aside. You know that it is so simple for you to make me happy.
Now I would like to say something regarding my last letter. But I do not want to hurt you, and therefore understand me correctly. I would like to tell you that I am sorry that I had asked you for a ring. Perhaps you are not yet able to fulfill this wish, because you do not have the money or you believe that it isn’t the right time for it yet. Therefore, let us do as if I had never asked for it. I thought it would be nice to wear a ring from you, I also thought that perhaps you would be glad that I would want it. Peter, right from the beginning we two ran a course, which was quite different from the ordinary, and for that reason it is sometimes a bit complicated between us. And yet it could be simple, because I sense from every word from you that in your innermost being you are so closely connected to me. Oh Peter, don’t you understand? You must be able to understand that it is easy to give up something if one loves one another. And never would I like to make you unhappy again as I once did, when I had not yet recognized it.
Greetings with all my heart!
Accident at the Construction Site and a Painful Walk to the Jewelry Store
On Friday, June 18th, I had an accident at the construction site. One of the bricks slipped off the upper board on the scaffold and hit my left knee, which almost immediately swelled up. It could have been much worse. The law did not require safety helmets in the mid 60’s. As I found out much later, I wasn’t even insured and therefore would not have received financial assistance from the Workmen’s Compensation Board. Our boss had deducted the laborers’ insurance and pension contributions from the pay cheques, but kept the money for himself.
Unable to work with so much pain from my swollen knee, I had to call it quits for the day. I promised the foreman that I would report back the following Monday. Instead of returning to my brother’s place, I stepped on the bus, which took me to downtown Calgary. Very close to the bus station stood the building of the Hudson’s Bay department store. With its three stories it was then the highest building in downtown Calgary. From there I limped two and a half blocks on Seventh Avenue to the jewelry store. There on the previous weekend I had ordered Biene’s engagement ring, on account of which so many tender, bitter-sweet feelings had already welled up in our hearts.
I was lucky. Although I had come sooner than planned, the ring was ready. Yet I felt timid and embarrassed in my dirty work clothes and with bloodstains on my pants. I felt oddly out-of-place in this opulent place laid out with red carpets, the walls covered with oak paneling, spotlights illuminating the sparkling wares for the wealthy, with every imaginable piece of expensive jewelry securely placed behind glass cabinets. My heavy German accent was in stark contrast to the polished Oxford English of the gentleman, who was wearing a formal suit. I pulled out four twenty-dollar bills from my back pocket and put the folded bundle on the counter top. It was one week’s worth of hard work. On that very same day Biene’s engagement ring began its odyssey half way around the globe, but never arrived at its intended destination in Germany.
For the longest time I did not know that the letter with its precious content had gone missing, presumably lost in transit somewhere between Calgary and Velbert. Week after week I waited for Biene’s thankful and happy response, while Biene was desperately yearning for a sign of life from me. For her, as we have seen, the ring meant protection, a signal to all that she belonged to me. But perhaps more importantly she perceived it as concrete assurance of my love and faithfulness. Wearing, seeing, touching and feeling it on her finger would have imbued her with a sense of security from within and without. But there was no ring, no letter, not even a card, which would have immediately ended her distress and despair…
Biene Close to Despair
Velbert, June 24th
My dear Peter,
Now I cannot be so long without any mail from you and therefore quickly write me again, and even if there are only a few words! You see, it is the only thing we have of each other. I told you that I would understand if you couldn’t write as often as before. Now I start worrying again and wonder what may have happened to you, if you are doing well or are perhaps sick. Since your last letter it seems like eternity, and I am fervently awaiting a letter from you.
I hope that you received my letters and my card from the Island of Juist. There we spent four carefree and happy days at the North Sea. Every year the Department of English organizes an introductory get-together for the participants in the first semester. More than ever before I had wished you were here to share all these beautiful experiences with me. I met many new friends, but as nice as they all were, nobody can replace you!
The sea, when it is stormy, is so captivating and contributed a great deal to the atmosphere of friendship and harmony in our group, which was of course also the goal of this excursion. One cannot speak any idle words when walking along the beach, struggling against the storm, or viewing the playful waves in motion. If one talks at all, then only words, which come from the heart and reveal a small aspect of one’s inner being. I had to talk about you; for every thought is somewhat connected to you. All my companions wanted to look into the locket with your picture in it. Now they all know you a little, and the boys kept teasing me, ‘How is Canada?’ Whenever I saw one of them coming my way, I already expected a question like that. But I wasn’t cross with them; for they meant it well.
What can I tell you about the sea? You already got to know it certainly much better than I on your voyage to Canada. However, one thing you could not do like I did, that is running into the surf and then being carried by the waves. That was an incredible feeling! We were so relaxed that we sang from morning to evening. Our American exchange student, Pete, who had an almost inexhaustible repertoire of songs, taught us many of them, which we sang with never-ending enthusiasm. It was truly a genuine music festival! Peter, you would have very much liked it too. But I promise you to learn all the songs so that later on we can sing them together. O Peter, if only you had been present! Every time they were singing ‘My Bonnie lies over the ocean, my Bonnie lies over the sea, oh bring back my Bonnie to me!’, I ardently wished the wind just like in the song would carry you to me.
Now I wish from the bottom of my heart that you are doing well. And if something troubles you, dear Peter, please write it to me. I am waiting so longingly for your letter. I even asked after school at the post office, but it was all in vain.
Greetings in love and many hugs, Your Biene
Still no letter from Peter …
Velbert, June 30th
My dear Peter, I don’t know what to do any more! I feel so helpless and powerless, because I don’t know what I should do to get an answer from you. What might have happened that you don’t write to me? It is so terrible having to wait so long, when out of worry my heart is almost breaking. Oh had I only not written that I could understand if you wouldn’t be able to find much time to write. So I don’t know at all, if you don’t write on account of my remark or if there is a more serious cause. But since your last letter so much time passed by that in my inner turmoil and anxiety I turned into a veritable bundle of nerves and I am frightened by the darkest thoughts. Oh Peter, tell me as quickly as possible that all is well! Peter, let me come to you! There must be some work for me there too. I am really not afraid of anything except our separation. I did not want to tell you this, but for the moment I have lost all my courage. How much would I gladly endure, if only I could be with you! Dear Peter, if there is somehow a way, then let us take it. It should not be any more difficult than our long separation. How often did you tell me that we must take our ‘fate’ into our own hands! Surely it will turn out well, if we do it together. I firmly believe this.
Please, dear Peter, quickly write me or else I believe that you are gravely ill. I am constantly praying for you. And if I should have written something in my letters, which hurt your feelings, please forgive me. If I did, it would certainly be, because you are so far away from me and not, because I want to hurt you.
I love you, Peter! Your Biene
Peter finally Breaks his Silence
July 2, Calgary
I cannot let you wait any longer. You are like me. You speculate and worry more than it is necessary. Today it was extremely hot again, and yet I had to work for eleven hours. We have to catch up now on the time we lost during the rainy days. But it is not because of my extreme tiredness after work that I did not write to you. The true reason is far more important.
Today, since I know for sure that fate wanted it differently, I can tell you about what happened. Every day I had been waiting for a special message from you. And when you wrote on Monday about your experiences on the Island of Juist and you asked me to write how I was doing, I was already a little concerned, but in spite of your urgent plea I decided to wait for just few more days. But then today on Friday I lost all hope that you actually received my previous letter.
On the German or Canadian side a letter carrier must have stolen it perhaps assuming that it contained something valuable. I am so sad, for he was right. In it I described to you that on the 18th of June, a year and a day after our first date a brick had fallen on my knee and that I was limping to the jeweler’s store. There I picked up the ring I had ordered for you. You can easily imagine the rest of the story. I wanted to give the ring to you, because I was convinced that you truly desired it with all your heart and everything you wrote afterwards was only a renunciation mixed in with painful regret. I saw you in my mind how it first you were perhaps a little angry with me, but then at the end how gratefully and happily you would have acknowledged the receipt of my precious gift. Yes, I am sad that the letter with the ring apparently is lost, but I console myself with the feeling of having turned a good thought immediately into action. Whatever happened on the postal route was beyond my control and we had to accept the bitter fact that the letter was lost.
For more than four weeks Biene and I tried in vain to track down the letter that had gone astray. Obviously it was almost impossible to locate a piece of mail, which I had failed to send by registered letter. After I provided all the particulars, such as type and size of the letter, postage paid and the date, on which I had put the letter in the mailbox, even the thorough and efficient German Post Office was unable to help. Suddenly a ray of hope entered our hearts when I pointed out the possibility that perhaps because of the extra weight and because of insufficient postage the letter had been sent by surface mail, and therefore was still on its way to Germany. This thought occurred to me when I checked the mail I had received from my friend Hans, who had never sent his letters by air. They often took more than a month to arrive. But by the end of July that last glimmer of hope had completely faded. We had indeed resigned ourselves to not seeing the letter with the engagement ring ever again. Besides other things were pressing heavily on our mind. During the long, desperate wait for each other’s reply it became abundantly clear to us and then, when we had resumed our correspondence, even more so that we needed to end our separation much sooner than originally planned. However, shortening the wait time meant that I had to have something concrete, on which to build our romantic aspirations. To find a meaningful job or to enter the teachers’ training program at the university these were the options I was contemplating.
Then a letter arrived that looked strangely familiar. And familiar indeed it was, because it was the missing letter with the ring. In my excitement to fulfill Biene’s wish and dream and perhaps my attention numbed by the pain from my swollen knee, I had forgotten to write Germany on the envelope. Now had Canada Post promptly returned the letter, Biene would not even have noticed the small delay of a day or two. But the overly zealous employee tried to be helpful by second-guessing its destination. To him Velbert sounded Dutch, Elisabethstr. appeared to be British. So our dear postal employee concluded that the country in question had to be South Africa. Thus the letter had traveled half around the globe all the way to Johannesburg by air and had come back ever so slowly by surface mail.
Exactly two months after I had originally mailed this precious letter I put the unopened envelope into a larger one, added a passionately written letter and forwarded it all to Manchester, England, where Biene had already been working as an au-pair girl at the Landes family for a few weeks. But I am getting too far ahead in my story and I must regretfully leave her reaction, her work and her studies for another chapter.
There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
Theatre in Giessen – Photo Credit: wikipedia.org
Travel Preparations and a Farewell Speech on a Vinyl Record
The day after Biene had returned home, Adolf took my sister Eka and me on a whirlwind tour to Berlin, where we saw for the last time Aunt Alma and her family. On the way back we dropped in at the apartment of our brother Karl in Braunschweig, where he had recently embarked on a banking career at a local bank. There in the beautiful apartment we spent a few days with our brother, his wife Ingrid and their little baby daughter Annekatrin.
Adolf Standing in front of the Giessen Travel Agency
Back at home we directed our attention to the task of getting our belongings packed and ready. Our tickets for the voyage to Canada included the shipping charges for the wooden crates that contained all our personal effects. Almost too late we found out that we were responsible for moving them to the travel agency in Giessen. Almost instantly arose a heated argument among the hot-tempered siblings, myself included, as to whose fault it was for having overlooked such an obvious problem. Accusations were flying back and forth. It seemed that each one of us was on a faultfinding mission. Of course, no matter how hotly we debated the issue, the heat of the arguments would not move our big, heavy crates to Giessen.
Problems Worked out over a Mug of Beer
Fortunately our cousin Jürgen arrived just at the right time and helped diffuse a potentially explosive situation. He suggested a cooling-off period for the enraged brothers. In Giessen we dropped in at the ‘Vienna Forest, a popular restaurant, where they served us grilled chicken and beer. Tension and lingering hostility abated quickly at the same rate as our stomachs filled with delicious food and copious amounts of beer. Now we were ready to tackle the shipping in a more amiable environment. Jürgen had just made the acquaintance of a fellow student, who would be willing to provide his old and dilapidated VW bus for the crates. After a few more drinks at a roadside fast food outlet we were going to announce the good news at home. However, the pub, ‘The New Homeland’, was still open in Watzenborn. We thought a few more beers would not hurt and would definitely clear away the last little bit of rancour, before going home. So we finally arrived in a fairly boisterous mood. Everybody had already gone to bed. But this did not prevent us from loudly announcing to Eka that we had found a solution to the shipping problem. We all withdrew into the furnace room, which with its excellent sound-proofed walls offered a modicum of protection against the noise. Befuddled by all that beer I played the guitar rather poorly often missing the correct fret, while Adolf sang the song merrily out of tune with the chords I was playing. In the meantime Jürgen and Eka had an animated discussion on the poor timing of our nocturnal arrival. Not receiving the appreciative reception that we were expecting, we decided to spend the night at Jürgen’s place in Giessen and slept for want of something more accommodating all three in one bed, but not before having a taste from the bottle of whiskey that happened to be there for this crazy occasion. Next morning (or was it noon?) Adolf and I, feeling somewhat remorseful for our rambunctious behaviour the night before, drove home quite willing to accept any criticism with a repentant heart and to make amends by getting the crates ready for shipment.
In the turmoil of the endless visits of well-meaning relatives and friends, who all came to say good-bye, I still managed to keep up the correspondence with Biene, although it was almost impossible to find a quiet corner in the house. I had made a recording of a few simple classical guitar pieces that I felt were good enough for her to listen to. In addition, I recorded a farewell message on tape and mailed it together with the music to a company in France to have it pressed onto a vinyl record. A few days before our departure date the record arrived, which I embellished with some pretty labels and redirected it to Biene’s home address. It so happened that on the very day we boarded the Canada bound vessel, the ‘Ryndam’, she received my gift.
The recording sounds a bit scratchy. But what do you expect from a 50-year old vinyl record?
Farewell to Germany
Papa Panknin with Daughter Biene and Son Walter 1965
Career planning for his daughter was on Papa Panknin’s mind, when he asked Biene to have a serious talk with him. He was not fond of seeing her becoming a teacher. He felt that it would be too stressful for her. Sitting endless hours in lecture rooms, bending over and studying textbooks would lead to even getting more stressed out, when after her university training Biene would enter again the educational treadmill. In his opinion the best thing for her to do would be to get a job and earn money as quickly as possible. Being a little tightfisted and in control of the family purse strings, he may also have been thinking of the expenses, which a prolonged period of university training for his daughter would incur. In contrast to North American practice German law required that parents were at least in part financially responsible for their children’s post-secondary education. In addition, there was probably on his mind his son Walter, Biene’s twin brother, who was embarking on a six-year program at the Institute of Engineering at the University of Hanover. Biene, with her eyes firmly set on getting married, agreed to a compromise that her father had proposed. She would start immediately her teacher’s training at the university of Wuppertal, but at the same time apply at the German airline Lufthansa to enter a training program to become a stewardess at the age of twenty-one. In my eyes this was a good plan. I really wanted her to become a teacher. So I took comfort in the fact that thousands of young girls were dreaming about becoming a stewardess and only a few had their applications accepted every year. Therefore, I had no difficulty of sending my wholehearted approval and let Biene romanticize about working for Lufthansa and flying to Calgary, where she could visit me on her stopover flights to Western Canada.
Adolf and Eka in the Waiting Room at the Rotterdam Terminal Station
At last, the day arrived when Adolf, Eka and I were on our way to Rotterdam, where we would board the passenger ship Ryndam that was to carry us to Canada. Mother woke us at 3 a.m. to make sure we would have ample time to enjoy a solid breakfast before we parted. One hour later we sat at the breakfast table. Aunt Mieze read from her devotional booklet and included us in her morning prayers, with which she had been greeting the day for as long as I can remember. The outside world was still shrouded in darkness, which put us all into a somber mood. The thought that we would not be seeing Mother and all the other dear relatives for a very long time was weighing heavily on our mind. Later on, we were occupied loading Jürgen’s car with our possessions, five suitcases, my tape recorder, guitar and a gigantic duffel bag with personal belongings too valuable to be trusted to the wooden crates. The heavy work made us forget a little the pain of leaving home. We even managed to put on a cheerful face, when we said our good-byes adding comforting words like ‘We’ll meet again in beautiful Canada!’
The Ryndam that brought us to Canada – Anchored at Rotterdam Harbour
The Trans European Express train (TEE) was racing at an incredible speed towards the Dutch border stopping only at major urban centres. At Wesel, my previous hometown, which had grown into a city of almost 50,000, the train did not stop either. Shortly after noon we arrived in Rotterdam, where a taxi took us to the harbour, which was and still is one of the biggest and busiest ports in the world. There our ship was waiting for her passengers to come on board. In the harbour inn Adolf and I sat and drank beer, while Eka had a coffee to perk up with after such a long train ride. We were quite annoyed at the delay of our departure caused by the much larger sister vessel of the Holland-America line bound for New York, which happened to leave port on the same day. Finally we were allowed to embark. Before heading out into the Atlantic Ocean, the Ryndam, for the next ten days our home, hotel, restaurant, and entertainment centre, had to make two ports of call, Le Havre and Southampton. From England I mailed Biene my first letter written at sea.
Two Letters and a Poem
Meal Time on the Ryndam – Adolf, Eka and Peter at the Back
April 28th, 1965 Le Havre
My dear Biene,
We just left Le Havre and are heading towards England. Thousands of impressions hit me all at once. I feel as if I had already been on board for a very long time. It is like paradise. Yet, I am restless, because you cannot experience all this with me. I’d like describe to you how a typical day is panning out for us travelers. The tinkling of bells wakes us up in the morning. It is also reminds us in this gentle way to show up for breakfast soon. Then I climb down the ladder. For I sleep in the upper bunk, while Adolf sleeps below. We can shower or take a bath for as long as we like. Then we march off to the dining room. Never before have I seen a greater variety of food. When we return to our cabin, the steward has already made our beds. The cabin is very small, and if one had to share it with a stranger, that would definitely not be a pleasant experience. We all have our own peculiar habits, which someone else would have to get used to.
Shuffle Board on the Sun Bathed Deck
The entertainment program is so rich and varied that one does not know which item to choose first. You can watch English movies, go to the library, play all kinds of games. The big hit here is Shuffleboard. After lunch you can attend a concert, go dancing in the evening or have a beer in the bar. And now I experience all this without you! That makes me a little sad and pensive. When I turn melancholic, I gladly withdraw from all these fun activities and write in my travelogue.
Oh this heavenly weather! People are presently sun bathing and there is no rough sea, not even a trace of a swell. I wanted to experience a real storm. But my brother said that it would come soon enough, if I were really that keen on getting seasick.
Peter Strumming on his Guitar
Your picture stands on my little desk. When at night I look down to you from my bed, I feel infinitely happy. I wished I could do the voyage all over again with you, when I have enough money to pick you up in Germany.
In a few days you will begin your studies, whereas I while away the time here doing nothing. Tackle your academic work as if you never applied for the stewardess program and as if you pursued a life’s career. You should know that you can help me also as a trained teacher, perhaps later assist me for a little while, in case my own studies should be dragging on.
What would I give to be able to kiss you now! Until next time greetings to you and your parents!
On the same day Biene also wrote me a letter, which of course I was unable to read, until I arrived at my brother’s place in Calgary. I only included excerpts here to avoid breaking the chronological order of the family history.
April 28th, 1965 Velbert
My dear Peter,
Again you have made me cry. But don’t you worry, Peter. I did not have to cry out of sorrow (it was only lingering at the back of my mind), but from an overwhelming feeling of joy, happiness and unfathomable love. I listened to your guitar music and to your voice on the record you had sent me. I could not grasp it! I just sat there, and tears were streaming down my cheeks. I once read that only a few people really understand how to say good-bye, and you knew how, Peter. Never will I forget this!
Dear Peter, now you have been on board for one day and with every minute you are getting closer to your destination. And when you read this letter, the long sea voyage and the road trip across Canada will already be behind you. Tell me Peter, isn’t it an incomprehensible feeling to be on the high seas and to experience the vastness and beauty of the ocean? When I experienced the sea for the first time, I was deeply moved. It was in the year we had met. My family and I were spending our vacation on the island of Corsica. Toward evening we had landed on the island. It was night, when we reached after an adventurous trip through the mountains our vacation village at the sea. Completely exhausted we immediately fell into a deep sleep, from which I awoke unusually early in the morning. In eager anticipation to finally cast my eyes onto the sea, I quietly sneaked out, because my brother Walter was still fast asleep. Outside the air was cool and still. The sun had just risen above the horizon. The beach spread before me still completely untouched. I went a few steps down the slope and then I took in the full view of the sea! Somehow I was like in trance and could not move another step forward. Although the view was overwhelmingly beautiful, the infinite vastness also instilled in me a little bit of fear. I sat down very quietly in the sand and remained there, until the first beach guests, who frolicked in the water, broke the charm that had kept me spellbound. You alone, dear Peter, would not have dispelled the magic atmosphere.
Inspired by her memories Biene wrote the following poem and entered it into the Book of Dreams.
I will forever love the sea,
Even when the gulls scream
Above thousands of storm-tossed waves.
I love the play of colors in the surf,
The billowing clouds, the sun, the warm sand, …
How much would I like to sit with you
On a lonely beach, at the sea
With its music
Rather than being
Separated from you
So infinitely far away
On the other side of the ocean.
On board of the Ryndam I also romanticized the sea as if in response of her letter that I had not even read yet.
Gale Force 7 in the North Atlantic
The calm sea and the sunshine are deceiving (my sister and I relaxing on deck of the Ryndam)
After a few days of calm and sunny weather a violent storm broke out, which put an end to the leisurely lounging on deck and made most passengers withdraw into their cabins. I entered into my travelogue:
“ Today is an especially stormy day. Most passengers don’t dare to come on deck. They play cards instead or while away the long hours in some other way. But outside awaits the intrepid traveler an indescribable experience. I believe, if you fellow travelers were not afraid of becoming seasick, you would, like my brother and I, be eager to see what a storm Poseidon can whip up for you. At the stern of the ship we view how one of the most awesome spectacles are playing out in front of our eyes. Presently we have wind force 7 on the Beaufort scale, and the waves are piling up high threatening to engulf the Ryndam. In the dark all this takes on an all the more eerie appearance. The waves are bedecked with white foam. And it seethes and hisses like in a witch’s cauldron. When the crests reach a certain height, they seem to lose by the sheer wind force their support and dissolve into sheets of spray, which drift like blowing snow up against us. Feeling the mighty wind and tasting salt in our mouth, we are invigorated in body and soul. A great sea voyage turns into an inner experience.”
Giant Wave – Photo Credit: zaujimavysvet.sk
World literature is replete with fascinating stories dealing with violent storms at sea. Confronted with the raw unbridled forces of Mother Nature man seems so small, so weak and insignificant. In the early days of exploration sailing ships were being tossed about like little nutshells by mountainous waves and hurricane-force strong winds. In ballads, short stories and novels the authors extol the indomitable human spirit that pushed man beyond what was thought to be possible. Standing with Adolf at the stern, hanging onto the safety ropes, and leaning against the wind that threatened to knock us down, we caught a glimpse of what it must have been like to be a sailor on a small sailing ship. On the other hand the Ryndam passengers hardly noticed the storm that was howling on the outside of the steel hull. The 200 m long vessel pitched and rolled just a little. None of the entertainment programs were cancelled. Most passengers continued to play cards, watch movies, danced, or sipped whiskey in the bar. They all missed out on the adventure of a lifetime.
It was Sunday. I attended the church service provided by a Dutch minister in a large stateroom that served as church on this particular day. It was only a few months ago that I had bought a New Testament book in Latin with the twofold purpose of reading its message and keeping my ancient language skills alive. For similar reasons I felt attracted to the religious service. I wanted to hear God’s word and at the same time reinforce my English that had been getting rusty from lack of practice, since I graduated form high school. Was I ever into a treat on both counts! The minister spoke with a strong Dutch accent but very clearly. He explained how the Jews were devastated, after the Romans had utterly destroyed their temple in 70 AD. They believed that God had lost his dwelling place on earth and therefore could no longer live among them. The pastor emphasized that God had never lived in a temple. No man-made structure would be adequate to contain the glory of God. Instead he lives in the hearts of those who are seeking His presence and accept His Son Jesus as their personal savior. Hearing these words it felt like water was being poured on the parched soil of my impoverished soul and the seed that was once planted had just received the spiritual nourishment to grow and develop in the New World that I was about to enter.
A Mysterious Thing Called Love
The Ryndam Approaching Canada
We had already set back our time on board by three hours, which meant that we had covered more than half of the total distance of our route to Canada. Like a giant magnet the approaching American continent channeled and directed my thoughts and feelings towards it as to make me feel at home before we even arrived at the port of entry. At Adolf’s portable radio, which he had bought on board at the duty-free shop, we picked up the first Canadian stations and eagerly listened to music and news from the island province of Newfoundland. Yet, in spite of my joyful anticipation of soon setting foot on my new homeland, there were also moments, when being alone in our cabin I began to examine in a critical manner my motives for leaving Germany.
For my brother Adolf the voyage was simply a return to where he belonged after the successful completion of his journeyman program as a machinist. My sister Erika, a fully trained and certified nurse, wanted to escape the deplorable working conditions in the German hospitals, where she was overworked and underpaid.
My Brother Adolf Chatting with a Butcher’s Couple
But what about me? Wasn’t I a fool to leave Germany, where I could have enrolled in any of the post-secondary programs leading to a diploma in my favourite field in high frequency technology? The words of the kind army major at the basic training camp were still ringing in my ears and entered my thoughts about a great opportunity I may have missed. He had urged me to consider a career in teaching at the technical army schools as a high-ranking and well-paid officer. I could have also gone into teaching with excellent prospects in Germany. Seeing all these real opportunities I realized the painful irony of my situation. Even though I had never met Biene’s parents except for a brief encounter at the Baldeney campground, I was unknowingly sharing their conservative – we would say old-fashioned today – expectations for their future son-in-law. I felt like they did that to be acceptable to marry their daughter I would have to be able to support her. To achieve this goal, I needed a minimum of six years at a German university in order to become a high school teacher or an engineer in electronics. At the time of my immigration to Canada, there existed a two-years teachers’ training program. This would have been a crash course, which upon successful completion allowed the student to go out and teach as long as he or she was willing to put in the extra course work in summer sessions to complete the diploma requirements. So the main reason for me to emigrate was not to seek better jobs, to enjoy a greater sense of freedom, or to experience the grandeur of the Canadian wilderness, albeit very appealing in and of themselves, but that it was a means to an end, i.e. to get married to Biene as soon as possible. It was truly paradoxical that in order to be close to Biene in the future, I had to be far away from her, At this point in time we couldn’t even dream of meeting in the next couple of years.
Adolf in his Tiny, but Cozy Bunk
It is a strange thing about love. We feel its power, yet we cannot describe it. It has no physical location, even though we assert we feel it in our hearts. It has no substance, yet we say metaphorically love is in the air. However, we know it exists whenever we are in it and feel its tug at our heartstrings. We begin to see things associated with our beloved that we did not see before. So it was the case with Biene and me. I was on my way to Canada. All of a sudden this relatively unknown country from a German perspective had taken on an entirely new meaning for Biene. If love had not established a connection to this alluring country across the Atlantic, she would not have cared much about it, when her sister Elsbeth in Gotha romanticized about Canada and the wonderful things she had seen on TV. But now the floodgate of associations was wide open. Anything that had even remotely to do with Canada filled her heart with joyous anticipation. Somehow its name had taken on an auspicious meaning for her. She bought travel books on this second largest country in the world. Soon she described herself tongue-in-cheek as an expert on Canadian affairs. Whenever something related to this country came up on the radio, she perked up and eagerly listened to the news. On her daily trip to the teacher’s college in Wuppertal she walked by a large clock that indicated also the times in many other locations in the world. Of course, she would be interested in knowing the time in Calgary, where I would soon arrive by car with Adolf. When a seminar with slide presentation on travels in North America was offered to the general public at a community college, Biene attended the session. The presenter Martin Winter had traveled across all the Americas. He showed his slides of the Canadian wilderness, the majestic Rocky Mountains, serene lakes and raging rivers. When he talked about Calgary and the Stampede, the greatest rodeo spectacle on earth, Biene was so thrilled, she went to see him after the presentation and told him that her fiancé was just then on his way to Canada. ‘One day’, she wrote me in her enthusiasm for this wild and beautiful country, ‘you must take me camping to one of these glorious mountain lakes.’
Arriving in Canada in our Sleep
Iceberg – Photo Credit: icebergwatereurope.com
In the meantime on board of the Ryndam we could tell that we were approaching Canada’s territorial waters. The storm that had been stirring up the ocean moved on eastward and made room for sunny sky and calm conditions. The temperature plunged to 2° C. On deck we had to wrap ourselves in woolen blankets to enjoy a short sunbathing session in the cold air. The Ryndam seemed to have reduced her speed although there were hardly any waves. Suddenly we heard a message over the intercom speakers to alert us to an iceberg that was floating by less than one km to the right. As we were coming closer, we marvelled at the beauty of the mountainous object that glittered in the bright sunshine like a diamond of gigantic size. Knowing that ninety percent of an iceberg is submerged and invisibly spreads into all directions, we now understood why the captain had decided on a slower pace. Fifty-five years ago about the same time and in the same waters a single iceberg had sent the ‘unsinkable’ Titanic in less than three hours to the bottom of the sea.
The First Seagulls
The next morning three fishing vessels were slowly passing by on starboard, a sure sign that we were not far from land. Seagulls suddenly appeared as if from nowhere and trailed our ship at the stern expecting to find scraps of food that someone might have thrown overboard. Then the first offshore islands emerged from the hazy horizon. They looked desolate and uninhabited. They were all covered in snow. The icebergs, the snow on the islands and the chill in the air made us feel that spring had not yet come in this part of Canada.
The First Off-Shore Islands
My sister suffered from a sore throat and decided not to accompany us in the car to travel across the continent, but to take the train instead. In the evening Adolf and I went into the bar that was more crowded than usual to say good-bye to our friends and table companions. At three in the morning, I am not sure after how many shots of whiskey and how many glasses of beer, we were finally done with saying our good-byes. After getting only a few winks of sleep, we awoke this time not by the familiar tinkling of the breakfast bell, but by an eerie quietness. Still groggy from all the partying the night before we however managed to jump into our clothes at lightning speed and rushed on board. We were anxious to find out what kind of calamity the Ryndam had gotten itself into. Perhaps the engines had broken down. Or did those dreadful icebergs surround us? What a pleasant surprise was unfolding before our eyes! The Ryndam peacefully lay securely tied to the pier posts at the Quebec Harbor. What a shame! While sleeping we had arrived in Canada.
Quebec Harbor – May 1965
After breakfast Erika and I with all the other immigrants walked over the gangway past large cargo and shipping facilities to the federal office building. There a friendly bilingual customs and immigration official greeted us and carefully examined our passports and the flimsy unassuming piece of paper we had received from the Canadian embassy in Cologne. The terrorists of today would be laughing at the simple document of fifty years ago. A photocopy on ordinary paper would have sufficed to let them slip by our border checkpoints. While we were waiting to get our documents stamped and approved, a charitable organization offered us our first cup of coffee on Canadian soil. It turned out to be a typical brew as offered then in most American coffee shops, so weak and bland you could be drinking it all day without any adverse effect, as some people were in the habit of doing. A Catholic priest asked us about our plans and provided us with useful information on Alberta, British Columbia and the other provinces of Canada. Then quite relieved that we had successfully jumped the first hurdle and had officially become a member of the Canadian society with all its rights and responsibilities except for the right to vote, we returned to our ship to reconnect with Adolf. The French-Canadian officials at the pier smiled, when I played the German folk song ‘Muss i denn, muss i denn zum Städtele hinaus’ on the harmonica. Elvis Presley sang this lovely tune while with the American Armed Forces in Germany. Wooden Heart was its English title. The sentimental Germans who themselves were beginning to forget and to neglect their very own folk songs liked the Elvis version so much that the song maintained the number one position on the German record charts for several weeks in a row.
Picturesque Quebec City – May 1965
Now we were at liberty to visit Quebec City. Adolf, who as Canadian citizen did not have to go through the immigration procedure, joined us to explore the only walled city in all of North America. We took a taxi to the city centre. We traveled past wooden houses painted in bright, sometimes garish-looking colors offering a bewildering sight for the new immigrants from the Old Country. When my sister and I noticed the ugly power poles often leaning at a precarious angle in the back alleys with wires seemingly helter-skelter stretching out in all directions, we broke out in irreverent fits of laughter. Adolf was quite annoyed, as we had touched a sensitive nerve. After all it was his home country that we were insulting with our disrespectful conduct.
City Hall Quebec City
We got out of the taxi at the statue of Samuel de Champlain, the French explorer, founder and first governor of Quebec. There Adolf and I decided to separate from Erika and her companion Beate, as they were more interested in shopping. We two brothers, however, wanted to have a good look at the ramparts and fortifications of this historically rich city. So we took a tour of the classical 17th century defense systems with its mighty walls, which unfortunately in the end did not prevent the British redcoats from taking over all the French colonial possessions in North America.
Samuel Champlain – French Explorer and First Governor of Quebec
When hunger pangs reminded us that it was time to have lunch, we dropped in at one of the many restaurants catering to the tourists that were flocking to Quebec City by the tens of thousands every year. We ordered steaks, large enough to fill out the entire plate and at $2.00 a bargain even at the then current dismal German Canadian currency exchange rate of four marks to one dollar. I had trouble communicating with the waiter with my Parisian school French. So I could not figure out, why they could not serve us any beer, which would have complemented nicely the fabulous meat dish. To quench our thirst, it felt odd that we had to move on in search of a beer parlor. To call it a pub would have definitely been a misnomer. The place was filled with dense cigarette smoke wafting above oversized round tables, the jabbering of hundreds of people echoing from the bare walls gave more the impression of a large waiting hall at a German railroad station than that of a cozy inn, like the one where Biene and I had spent a romantic afternoon on Mount Vogelsberg. These beer parlors had been built based on the mistaken belief that their grotesque ugliness would deter people from gathering and drinking beer. Great was my amazement to watch the clients order half a dozen glasses of beer all at once, not caring about their drink getting stale. Some even sprinkled salt on their brew or ate heavily salted peanuts to increase their thirst for more. Adolf was quite used to this custom, which seemed to me a relic of the past. It was a bit of a culture shock to me and I was happy when we returned to the Ryndam, where we enjoyed the sumptuous farewell dinner that the cooks had prepared for us, truly a culinary experience par excellence.
Cannons and Fortifications – My Brother Adolf on the Left
There were many last times on this floating hotel and entertainment centre that had safely carried us across the Atlantic, the last dinner with our table companions, the last game of chess with a Yugoslav doctor, the last card game of Mau Mau, the last visit to the bar, the last time I climbed up to my upper bunk, a last glance from above on Biene’s portrait on the cabin’s tiny desk, the last time the little room bell tinkled and called us for the last breakfast on board of the Ryndam. My heart filled with a sense of nostalgia and bittersweet feelings of regret. I had to leave this wonderful ship with her dedicated staff behind. I felt sad that I had not been able to share all these memorable experiences of the eight days on board with Biene.
Die Geschichte von den armen Familien und Albert Schweitzers Entschluss
Als Albert das Abitur bestanden hatte, studierte er in Straßburg Theologie und Philosophie. Das eine Fach beschäftigt sich mit der Religion und das andere mit der menschlichen Weisheit. Wie sein Vater wollte auch Albert Pfarrer werden. Er wollte aber nicht nur auf der Universität lernen, sondern auch daneben anderen Menschen helfen. Deshalb besuchte er arme Leute, sprach mit ihnen und übergab ihnen Geld, das reiche Menschen gespendet hatten. Die armen Leute freuten sich immer, wenn er zu ihnen kam, denn ihnen half sonst niemand. Sie waren so arm, dass die Kinder schon arbeiten gehen mussten, um etwas Geld zu verdienen. Sonst hätten sie nicht einmal genug zum Essen gehabt. Spielzeug hatten die Kinder sowieso nicht, denn dafür hatten die Eltern kein Geld. Sie spielten in der Küche auf dem Fußboden mit kleinen Steinchen. In der Küche hingen an Bindfäden Windeln und andere Wäschestücke zum Trocknen. Woanders war dafür kein Platz. Der Vater der Kinder war krank und verdiente nun gar kein Geld mehr. Die Mutter fing an zu weinen, weil sie nicht wusste, ob sie in der Wohnung bleiben durften. Sie konnte ja nun keine Miete bezahlen. Das war alles sehr traurig. Da legte ihr Albert Schweitzer etwas Geld auf den Küchentisch, damit die Mutter wenigstens etwas Brot und Milch für die Kinder kaufen konnte. Mutter und Kinder freuten sich darüber sehr und bedankten sich. Aber Albert wollte keinen Dank und sagte ihnen, dass das Geld von anderen Menschen stammte, die ein Herz für arme Laute hatten. Er habe es nur für sie gesammelt.
Die Mutter erzählte auch dem Albert, dass ihr ältester Sohn in der Schule gut lernt und schon das „ABC“ aufsagen kann. Darauf war sie sehr stolz.
Als Albert wieder zuhause war. dachte er über alles nach, was er gesehen und gehört hatte. Er fragte sich: “Warum habe ich es so gut in meiner Kindheit gehabt? Ich konnte spielen und lernen, hatte ein eigenes Bett und brauchte nie zu hungern! Viele andere Kinder hatten das alles nicht. Mein Glück ist also nicht selbstverständlich.”
Darauf legte Albert ein Gelübde ab, das heißt, er nahm sich fest vor: „Bis ich dreißig Jahre alt bin, will ich für mich leben. Ich will studieren, Orgel spielen und Konzerte geben, Bücher schreiben und Vorträge halten und in der Kirche predigen. Aber danach will ich vor allem für andere Menschen da sein. Ich will all denen helfen, denen es nicht so gut ging wie mir, so wie es Jesus mir gesagt hat.“