During his time as a POW in 1945, Papa attended many scholarly lectures that some learned fellow prisoners gave in open-air forums on various topics. As writing was strictly forbidden, he secretly wrote down on the tiny sheets of cigarette paper the authors of books recommended by the lecturers. He was especially interested in history books, which he intended to read later. Fifteen years have passed. Now the time has come to fulfil one of the dreams he had for his retirement. Among the history authors, he admired the famous 19th-century historian Leopold von Ranke the most. He especially liked the quote that underlines the importance of objectively presenting historical events: “Let the author be quiet, but let the events and documents tell the story.” Proudly Papa wrote in a letter to his friend Herr Kampmann that he had already devoured eight of Ranke’s twenty-five volumes.
The correspondence with his pen pal mainly dealt with political issues of the German postwar era. He drew the most relevant information and its polemic spirit from the German news magazine “Der Spiegel.” Its claim to fame was the publisher’s uncanny ability to uncover and publish government secrets, cases of corruption and scandals. Major Panknin, in retirement, wrote his multi-paged letters on his old typewriter, using carbon paper to have copies for his record. They fill binders carefully ordered by year, month and day. The letters reveal his critical view of the West German political landscape. They describe his disgust over how deep his beloved Germany has sunk into the quagmire of dishonesty and scandalous behaviour. His diatribes take on a familiar ring when we fast forward into the 21st century.
Did I digress from telling the Walter Panknin family story? Having Ranke’s quote in mind, I declare, “Let Papa’s immense correspondence and insatiable appetite for reading history books and historical novels tell the story.”
Two weeks ago, I published two photos that added with the help of the rosehips and the pine tree a little bit of colour to the otherwise grey winter landscape. Many people also noticed the oak tree with the orange leaves. Who can solve the puzzle about the leaves still on this tree and also on all the maple trees here in our little community at the end of January? I have never observed this curious phenomenon before. Today’s photo was taken in bright sunshine about a week ago. Enjoy.
Before the ‘golden years’ arrived, the division of labour was fair for both husband and wife. In the following posts, I will talk about the injustice of the heavy burden for Frau Panknin as a mother, housekeeper, cook, and wife. I will also show how much, on the other hand, Papa enjoyed his sunset years as a father, hiker, traveller, hobbyist, and history enthusiast.
Grocery shopping has drastically changed since the early 1960s. Nowadays, well-to-do families living in their homes or modern high-rise apartment buildings take the elevator down to the ground floor, step into their car and drive to a nearby shopping centre. After they are done shopping, they may have time to dine in a family restaurant and take the kids to a bowling alley or the movies for some weekend entertainment.
Sixty years ago, in the little town of Velbert, Elisabeth Panknin went shopping at least twice a week. She takes two large cloth bags and descends the 120 steps down to the ground floor of the three-story building. The tiny neighbourhood corner store only carries bare essentials, like bread, milk and butter. Frau Panknin takes the bus to a larger city. She only buys as much as she can carry. Public transportation poses a problem when the bags are filled to the hilt, and there is no seat for a sixty-year-old woman in an overcrowded bus reeking from the nauseating fumes of cigarette smoke. It is also time-consuming. If you miss the bus, you may have to wait up to an hour to catch the next one. Mutter Panknin finally stands at the entrance of the apartment building. Huffing and puffing, she climbs up the staircase with the two heavy bags of groceries. Then, you will not believe this. She immediately starts cooking the evening meal for her husband and the twins Gertrud and Walter.
Unusually mild weather has been dominating our January weather. I recently spotted some beautiful droplets hanging from a rosehip twig on a hike at the Fauquier boat dock. Upon closer inspection, I discovered in the reflective lens a few fir trees inside the droplet. Enjoy.
In late 1960, shortly before Christmas, a letter from the highest state court arrived at the Panknin residence with the long-awaited good news. Their request for Papa’s pension and the refugee status associated with all the rights and privileges had been granted. However, having battled for seven years with the various government agencies, they had paid a high price. Frau Panknin had been travelling by bus and train to talk to the officials in person. At the same time, Papa Panknin did the massive paperwork to make requests and provide written proof to the authorities. One day, Elisabeth Panknin collapsed from juggling the nerve-wracking travels and her housekeeping chores at home. Papa had to write the Christmas letters to all their relatives and friends, as his wife was too weak to do so. Fortunately, Mutti recovered just in time to prepare the Christmas dinner for the family. After over ten years, they could finally sit down on Christmas Eve and enjoy feasting on a sumptuous goose dinner with all the trimmings.
The celebration of their victorious battle with the West German bureaucracy marked the end of their financial woes. It also turned out to be the end of their workload’s fair and equitable sharing. Up to this point, the couple had performed their domestic and professional duties along traditional lines. Papa, as a police officer, worked under highly stressful conditions under the Nazi regime, while his wife, in charge of their beautiful home, lovingly took care of the children. In those days, it was rare in most societies to have the predefined roles of husband and wife reversed. Today, it is very common, especially in Western societies, for a wife with higher qualifications to go out to work and leave the nurturing of the children to the father. Unfortunately, the basic things of life, such as shelter, food, and transportation, have become so expensive that both need to provide an income to make ends meet. They have to entrust their children to others all too often at an exorbitant price. Coming back to my father-in-law, I believe that he was so deeply rooted in the culture of a bygone era that he, without any qualms, left the entire burden of the household to his wife while he was experiencing to the fullest extent the joys of early retirement.
A little bit of green (Hope) provided by the Ponderosa pine tree and a sprinkle of red (Love) with courtesy from the rose hips go a long way to cheer up our hearts on a soggy, rainy winter day in the Kootenays. Temperatures 10 degrees above normal in April are quite common but not in January in our neck of the woods. I took the two photos 30 minutes before dark. Enjoy.