The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Family Project

Reflections on Life, Family and Community

Category Archives: Germany

The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Chapter XXX

29

The Incredible Journey of Biene’s Engagement Ring

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“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.

May 29th

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

 “May 31st

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

Pristine Lake in the Rockies

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!

Your Biene

Accident at the Construction Site and a Painful Walk to the Jewelry Store

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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

 

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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!

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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

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Peter finally Breaks his Silence

July 2, Calgary

Dear Biene,

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.

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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.

The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Chapter XXVII

28

The Voyage

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.

Shakespeare

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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.

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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.

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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.

Record

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

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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.

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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!’

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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

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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.

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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.

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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!

          Your Peter

           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.

The Sea

 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, …

Oh Peter!

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

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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.”

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

First Impressions

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.

 

Albert Schweitzer – Seminar #9

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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.“

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Albert Schweitzer – Seminar #8

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8. Seminar

Die Geschichte vom kleinen Orgelspieler Albert

Albert war inzwischen schon neun Jahre alt geworden. Er besuchte die 3. Klasse seiner Dorfschule in Günsbach. Der Ort liegt im französischen Elsaß inmitten von den Bergen der Vogesen.

Eines Tages fragte ihn sein Lehrer: „Albert, möchtest du einmal Orgelspielen lernen?“ Albert pochte das Herz bei dieser Frage, denn er hätte zu gern ,ja“ gesagt. Er hatte ja schon mit vier Jahren begonnen, Klavier zu spielen. Sein Vater hatte ihm den ersten Unterricht erteilt, weil er frühzeitig erkannte, dass sein Albert sehr musikalisch ist. Schließlich antwortete Albert dem Lehrer und sagte ihm, dass er gerne auf der Orgel spielen würde. Er träumte schon lange davon, oben auf der Empore auf der Orgelbank sitzen zu können und Lieder und Choräle zu spielen.

An einem Sonnabendnachmittag bestellte ihn nun sein Lehrer in die Kirche. Er stieg die steile, knarrende Holztreppe zur Empore hinauf und hatte wieder Herzklopfen vor Aufregung. Oben angekommen, sagte der Lehrer zu ihm: „Setze dich neben mich auf die Orgelbank!“ Dann erklärte der Lehrer dem kleinen Albert seine Orgel. Sie hatte viele weiße und schwarze Tasten, viel mehr als sein Klavier zuhause. Außerdem sah er die vielen Knöpfe, die man herausziehen und wieder zurückdrücken konnte. Und unter seinen Füßen bemerkte er auch noch viele Holzpedalen, zu denen er aber nicht hinunterreichte, weil seine Beine noch viel zu kurz waren. Albert kam aus dem Staunen nicht heraus und hatte Angst, dass er das alles auch verstehen würde. Doch sein Lehrer hatte viel Geduld und erklärte ihm alles schön. Je nachdem, welche Tasten er drückte und welche Knöpfe er zog, erklangen die vielen Orgelpfeifen wie Flöten oder Trompeten oder Posaunen. Das alles erschien dem Albert wie ein Wunder. Mit dieser Orgel konnte man ganz, ganz leise spielen, dass man den Atem anhalten musste, um sie noch zu hören. Aber man konnte auch gewaltig laut spielen, dass man die Musik draußen auf der Straße hörte. Albert hörte das Orgelspiel so gerne, dass er sogar nachts davon träumte. Weil Albert so musikalisch war und immer fleißig übte, erlernte er das Orgelspielen schnell. Seine kleinen Händchen liefen über die Tasten und ließen die Flöten schön erklingen. Nur die Fußpedalen konnte er noch nicht bedienen. Deshalb sagte sein Lehrer aus Spaß zu ihm: ..Du musst immer tüchtig essen, damit du schön groß wirst und bald an die Pedalen reichst!“ Schon nach wenigen Wochen konnte Albert Stücke seines Lieblingskompo­nisten Johann Sebastian Bach spielen. Er erinnerte sich daran, dass im Arbeitszimmer seines Vaters ein Bild von diesem großen Komponisten und Musiker hing. Als die schöne Musik durch den Kirchenraum schallte, wurde dem kleinen Albert ganz warm ums Herz.

Eines Tages kam sein Vater ganz aufgeregt zu Albert. Der Organist seiner Kirche war plötzlich erkrankt und es gab keinen, der zum Gottesdienst die Orgel spielen konnte. Da fragte ihn der Vater: „Albert, würdest du es dir zutrauen, am Sonntag in der Kirche die Orgel zu spielen?“ Albert bekam einen richtig roten Kopf vor Aufregung. Doch er sagte: „Ja!“ Endlich ging für ihn ein langer Traum in Erfüllung. Tatsächlich spielte Albert Schweitzer bereits mit neun Jahren im Gottesdienst zu Günsbach die Orgel und alle Leute lobten ihn, weil er so gut gespielt hat. Später wurde Albert ein weltberühmter Orgelspieler, der sich auch mit der Technik der Orgel so gut auskannte, dass ihn Orgelbauer um seinen Rat baten und er auch Bücher über den Orgelbau schrieb.

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The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Chapter XXVI

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Of a Young Man’s Needs and Faithfulness

Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for. Epicurus

Biene’s Second Visit to Gotha

Beautiful Stained Glass Windows at the Erfurt Cathedral

During the last three weeks of my military service I took the time to write a report on my army experiences. I intended to mail it to the ombudsman, whose job was to receive and act on the written complaints from soldiers about alleged abuses and injustices in the West German army. Having gained the much-needed distance from the upsetting transfer episode and having received fair and respectful treatment at my final army post at Marburg, I was in the right frame of mind to describe in an emotionally neutral and objective manner some of the deplorable conditions at the Koblenz barracks, where low ranking army personnel were fraternizing, drinking, and getting drunk with common soldiers and thus tarnishing the public image of the Armed Forces. I also pointed out the errors, which the officer in charge – whether intentionally or not I could not say – committed to bring about my transfer to Maxhof. Furthermore I made it clear that while I lost out on a chance of becoming a lieutenant of the reserve, the army itself would suffer in the long run from such careless and wasteful practices. Biene helped me by typing up the handwritten draft copy of the report.  She was quite impressed how I managed to control my anger and yet decidedly communicated my legitimate concerns to the ombudsman. Being aware of the fact that for the first time we worked together to address and solve a problem, she remarked in her letter that all her thoughts were directed to a time in the future with me. She wanted to do her part that our life would not turn to be something, upon which we would look back with regret, rather a life that was perhaps difficult, but would fill our hearts with joy, because we mastered it together.

Lingerie Boutique in East Germany 30 Years after the End of World War 2

About a week before my birthday Biene and her twin brother Walter traveled to Gotha to visit their sister Elsbeth in the GDR behind the Iron Curtain. In those days, when a fence heavily guarded by the National People’s Army (NVA) divided the two Germanys, a person needed a traveling visa and a residence permit in order to cross the border and visit close relatives. What made the application process so frustrating for so many West Germans was not the hefty fee they had to pay, but the arbitrariness in the approval process by the East German authorities. Only in the event of a severe illness or death of a close relative could one be fairly sure to get that all important entry document. So Biene and Walter were lucky indeed to make their journey to their former hometown Gotha and to be together with sister Elsbeth and her family at their birthplace. The apartment, where Elsbeth, her husband Paul Werner, and their two sons Norbert and Christian lived, was located in a beautiful house that had escaped the destruction of the Allied bombing raids during the war. The home offered the warm, cozy feeling of a secure harbour, where the family found refuge from the desolation of the outside world, the depressing sights of dilapidated houses all around the neighbourhood. While West Germany had experienced an incredible economic boom with an unprecedented growth in prosperity during the past twenty years, not much had changed on this side of the border and large parts of the major cities still lay in ruins. There was a shortage of the most basic consumer goods that forced shoppers to buy, whenever and wherever they happened to be available in the drab city stores.

Biene and her two Nephews Norbert and Christian – 1965

On Biene’s previous visit in the summer of ’64, the two sisters had already formed a close bond with each other. Now Elsbeth was jealously watching that nobody spent too much time with her cherished guest. Together they traveled to Erfurt to visit the famous cathedral, where Martin Luther was ordained in 1507. Inside the 1200-year-old Gothic church they marveled at the beauty of the altar. Biene was impressed by the rich colors of the stained glass windows that let the vibrant light stream into the interior. In the evening the entire family would sit around the table and play a round of the German card game Doppelkopf, which was also our favorite game at the Kegler Clan. Of course, her two nephews were delighted, when they were allowed to spend a little bit of time and go for a sightseeing tour around town with their elegantly dressed and pretty Aunt Biene from the West.

Biene’s Birth Place in Gotha

Elsbeth had watched on East German TV many interesting documentaries on the landscapes and people of Canada. She confided to Biene that if she could live her life over again and had the freedom to travel, she would immigrate to this fascinating country with its magnificent scenery and its promise of a better future. When Biene told her that I was going to Canada in a matter of a few weeks and that we had promised to be faithful to each other, Elsbeth voiced her skepticism and did not mince words in sharing her opinion on what a man of my age needed. She warned her younger sister that I would be looking for a girl who would offer more than she had been able to give. Biene was quite troubled by her sister’s pessimistic views on men’s desires for sex and their  potential lack of faithfulness. True to our promise of always sharing our thoughts and concerns with each other, she immediately communicated her worry regarding these disturbing insights in a letter directly from Gotha and asked me to respond and hopefully reassure her.

A Delicate Question Answered

Gertrud (Biene) Panknin’s Graduation Class – Who can find her?

On my 23rd birthday with less than a week left before my release from the military service, I sneaked away from the electronic maintenance job, which had been completed long ago and only existed for one purpose to keep us busy and to kill time. I sat alone at the table of Room 328. No sergeant, drillmaster or officer would bother me here. The carrier frequency equipment, for which I had been responsible for its smooth operation, was in top shape and my absence would not be noticed anywhere at the Falkenstein Barracks. I wanted to do something special on my birthday. The daily celebrations, the drinking and carousing to mark the remaining ‘glorious’ days in the army were not that special anymore.

43

Endless Celebrations: Less than Ten Days Left of Military Service

I longed for quiet, a time to reflect on this idle Wednesday morning. I wanted to respond to Biene’s anxious questions and genuine concerns. Here at the soldiers’ simple living and sleeping quarters no loud talking and singing were distracting me, I found the ideal space to grapple with the contentious issue raised by Biene about faithfulness. It was good to know that Biene trusted me to provide an honest answer. I was proud of her courage to touch on the topic of sexuality, which we two had been too shy to discuss at our few encounters. I took out from my closet pen and paper and began to write down my thoughts. It turned out to be a very long letter, in which I, trusting Biene as much as she trusted me, did not hesitate to truthfully lay bare my innermost feelings. The following are excerpts taken from my lengthy reply.

33

Peter and his Buddy at the Last Military Exercise – March 1965

“March 24th, 1965

 My dear Biene,

Yesterday I received your letter from Gotha. Your sister seems to have a rather strange opinion on men. I am glad that you broached the delicate subject of sexuality. But I found it a little troublesome  that you let yourself get so easily misled. But I don’t want to reproach you; for I myself had often to deal with opinions of young married and unmarried men who asserted that a girl could only be faithful and true to her partner, after she had gone to bed with him. Please forgive me this drastic manner of expression, but why should I beat around the bush? You see the accusations are coming from both sides. As for me, I refuse to accept any form of generalization, when people say, that’s how women are, that’s how men are.

 But now to your concerns! You would like to know how I think about it, dear Biene. Like in all men there is undoubtedly a force that drives me to the opposite sex. Yes, furthermore I concede that the drive is not necessarily directed to a particular person. Dear Biene, you must absolutely believe in what I am writing you now. Let no ever so bold opinion throw you off balance again, if you truly love me. Sexuality does not stand on its own, otherwise we would be like animals, but it is intertwined most intimately with the entire personality of the human being. There will always be tensions, in which we have to struggle to maintain the balance and keep this vital force under control.

 Whoever surrenders in this battle and needs to run to a woman to relieve his tensions is in my opinion a weakling and a coward no matter how assertive and self-assured he might otherwise appear. And in what comes now, you can totally put your trust. Since we love each other, this battle for me is over. I have been able to have this uncanny force coexist in harmony with myself. It is always there, lurking behind the scenes, surprising me at times, but it does not bother me any more. When I read a book, look at pictures, walk in the streets or watch a movie, it often and unexpectedly flares up, and then in full awareness of control I have to smile at myself. Don’t you think that one has overcome much, if one can smile at oneself? Do you still worry about me, even when I tell you that I am strong enough to wait for you and through you alone I have become so strong? As long as I can hope for the fulfillment of my ideals, which I have set for myself, you may chase your worries away. You stand in the midst of this sphere, dear Biene, whether I am in Canada or at the end of the world.

 How beautiful it is that we are so frank with one another! This will not only keep us together, but also bring us ever closer together. Do we want to show this spiteful world that one can wait for one another for years without so-called ‘side leaps’, do we want to, dear Biene, do we want to?

 Finally I would like to say one thing, your sister will one day have to concede that there are some exceptions among men, who will turn out to be ‘miracle men’. Now you will smile; thank you so much! Be completely reassured!

          Your Peter”

The modern reader may scratch his or her head over the outdated notions about love and faithfulness expressed in our letters over fifty years ago. Yet, in our mind they remain completely unchanged and have been our beacon of hope even through the darkest and most turbulent times in our life-long relationship.

Last Rendezvous in Germany

Peter on the Left Walking out of the Falckenstein Barracks

The day of our official release from the West German Army had finally arrived. For the last time we stood in attention in front of the main building. One could easily spot the reservists and distinguish them from the soldiers on active duty by just looking at their clothes. We wore civilian clothes, while the others were standing in their uniform. In spite of all the drudgery during the past two years, it now felt good to have served one’s country. To prevent a war through the presence of a strong army as a deterrent to a would-be attacker was in my opinion far more important than being involved in a conflict with its horrors at the front line and with its casualties among the civilian population. I was grateful for the opportunity to spend my final six months in Marburg. I felt enriched by the outstanding technical training, blessed with a company of cheerful comrades, respected by a competent staff of officers and sergeants. Last but not least I was awarded a fine testimonial, which gave credit to my successful teaching assignments. Soon after the brief farewell speech and words of encouragements and good wishes by the commanding officer we walked through the open gate into momentary freedom until new duties and responsibilities – some of our own choosing, others forced upon us by circumstances beyond our control – would limit our choices all over again. But at this very moment we were truly free. I took the very first available train to take me home to my mother in Watzenborn. In an almost nostalgic mood I hummed in my mind: Parole heißt Heimat, Reserve hat Ruh!

Card Sent Home to announce my Coming

Biene’s reply to my long-winded exposition on love and faithfulness was very encouraging. She also confided to me that only two years prior to meeting me she was not even allowed to step outside the door. Her mother, to whom I will remain for ever grateful, worried a lot about her, kept a watchful eye, and thoroughly investigated, where she was going and with whom she was getting together. At that time quite a few dramas were rolling over the home stage. Biene admitted that during that time she was often in danger of being swept up by her impulsive and passionate feelings. Mother Panknin kept her from getting lost on the wrong path and made sure that her precious daughter would not be led astray by false emotions. But now it seemed that she had trust in her daughter. And even though she had never really got to know me, through the eyes of her daughter she seemed to have developed a favorable image of me. How else, so I asked myself, could she let her travel to me and allow her to stay overnight at a distant location? On Biene’s last visit, before I departed for Canada, with full support of her parents, she came to visit me for an entire week. Perhaps Herr and Frau Panknin shared Biene’s older sister’s view believing that once I was off to another country far away from Biene, our relationship would eventually fizzle out and die a natural death.

Peter and Biene in Front of Erna’s House in Michelbach

On Monday, April 5th, Biene arrived by train in Giessen, where I met her at the station. From there we traveled together to Michelbach near Schotten at the foot of Mount Vogelsberg. The week before I had given Erna, Father’s second wife, advance notice that we were coming for a visit. She knew that this would be the very last time Biene and I would be seeing each other before my voyage to Canada. Even though she was still mourning over Father’s sudden and unexpected death the year before, she did her best to make us feel welcome in her so typical cheerfulness. Everything was prepared for a comfortable and enjoyable stay for us. I was going to sleep in Father’s bedroom upstairs, while Biene was sleeping in the guest room.

Erna, Father’s second Wife, on the Left with her Friend Friedchen Langlitz

After a good night’s rest and a hearty breakfast, Biene and I decided to hike up to the Hoherodskopf, one of the higher peaks of the Vogelsberg Mountains, a 2500 square km terrain that was formed totally from volcanoes some 19 million years ago. This volcanic region has been long extinct. It had created one of the most amazing basalt rock formations anywhere in the world. But on this wonderful April day we were not going to study geology, we had better things in mind. We were more interested in each other’s company, living in the here and now, savouring each precious moment. It was cool, but the sun shone brightly over the park like landscape. Thunderclouds arising above the western horizon lent the vernal panorama a dramatic effect. We were grateful that we encountered very few people on our leisurely stroll, as it was early in the season. There was nothing that would disturb the warm, tender feelings we felt for one another. This was also not the time to look back at all the obstacles, challenges, and problems that we had to deal with in the past. We had mastered them and had set them aside not allowing them to interfere with our blissful state of mind.

Biene on our Hike to the Vogelsberg Peak

There was no need to talk. Our hearts and souls felt at one. We reached the top just in time to find some shelter from a heavy downpour that was threatening to spoil our outing. Near the peak of the Taufsteinhütte we stepped into a cozy restaurant by the same name, when the first raindrops began to fall. The dining area created that special kind of ambience so conducive for a romantic get-together, each table place at a window with a view over the spectacular scenery. Just then lightning lit up the dark clouds. Then followed the rumbling of thunder in the distance. I ordered a bottle of Mosel wine to celebrate and drink to our love that had carried us so far and would help us bridge the long time of separation ahead. For on this day we had not only climbed Mount Voglsberg, but even more importantly we had also reached a new pinnacle in our relationship. The rain was now coming down in buckets. Thunder and lightning engendered an electric atmosphere. In a strange mixture of fear and passion it made us move closer together. In the spirit of ‘carpe diem’ we did not gulp down our wine as if in hurry, instead we sipped the sweet wine from the Mosel valley to make the moment last. We almost wished that the storm would last forever. At least for the moment, time appeared to stand still. When we tasted the last drop, the storm and rain had subsided and had moved on. Erna, having worried about us, had sent a neighbour to pick us up in his car. We reluctantly got up and with a feeling of regret let the neighbour drive us back to Michelbach.

Schotten – April 1965

On the following day Biene and I promenaded down to the quaint town of Schotten with their timber-frame houses so typical of this region. Biene was quite excited and full of anticipation. For I had announced that I would buy her a mystery gift. Of course, I could not tell her what it was; after all it was supposed to be a mystery gift. Biene behaved as if she knew the secret. Therefore, she kept her innate curiosity for all things unknown to her in check. If I had a picture of us two walking into town, I would in a comic-book-like fashion place two speech bubbles above our heads. The one above Biene would say, ‘Today is the day Peter will buy me an engagement ring. I will be so happy!’ And my bubble would say, ‘Today is the day I will buy her a genuine Hohner harmonica. She will be so happy!’ Had I not played the mystery game, had Biene said just one word, I would have bought the ring and put it on her finger for everyone, her parents, friends and all would-be suitors to see that she was engaged. Instead she was now in possession of a fancy harmonica that could be played on both sides in keys C and G. Biene looked pleased and even appeared happy, but I am sure that deep inside she was also a bit disappointed. What I could vaguely at the time was that we could have saved ourselves a lot of pain and agony in the not too distant future, if we had been able to communicate with each other just a little better.

Michelbach, the Little Village, between Schotten and Vogelsberg Mountain

It was the night before we had to head back to Mother’s place at Watzenborn Was it the moon, or the noisy cats prowling and meowing in the attic, or fear of the unfamiliar surrounding, or romantic passion stirring in us? Perhaps all of these things! The plain fact, however, was that we could not sleep. With the two upstairs bedrooms so close to each other it would have been so simple on any of the three nights to yield to temptation. But we did not. I would be a hypocrite, if I was going to explain our conduct in terms of a moral victory. It just happened, almost certainly for our own good.

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