The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Family Project

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Category Archives: The P. and G. Klopp Story

The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Chapter XL

11

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A Young Man’s Anxiety about the Future

“Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so.”

-Noam Chomsky

Loving the Real Person, not the Fantasy Hero

March 11th, Calgary

My dear Biene,

You know me as a very cautious person, who often perceives the future as more ominous than it is. Yet now I can state with a clear conscience that I will certainly pass all my final exams in April. My academic achievements are already way above the average. In Math I collected so many percentage points that I wouldn’t need to take the final in order to pass the course. The last exam day is April 29th. Now if we were really reasonable, it would be best if you came in May, when all my studies will be over. But my desire is to see you again much sooner. Also I think it to be in our favour if you keep your fingers crossed right here close to me. It will certainly help.

Quite frankly I am getting quite a bit scared. I am really looking forward to your coming, but the burden of new responsibilities gives cause to think about many things. You must understand, Biene, why I had asked so strongly for preparedness for our great adventure. The inner bond between us must rest on solid ground. Biene, it is not the money that bothers me, but the fact as I had said before that you want to go away again, even if only for a short time. I don’t know, Biene. Call it selfishness, if you wish, but I feel it is not right what you have in mind out of love for your mother. Yet, I don’t want to dwell on it any more. I believe that your trip to the Canadian Embassy in Cologne will shed considerable light on this matter. In suspense I am awaiting your answer.

Dear Biene, I believe you that you are wearing my ring. Lately I really had to restrain myself. Often frightening thoughts are surfacing and I don’t know why. So the thought that had been tormenting me in my subconscious suddenly had slipped out. I felt a certain kind of relief afterwards, until I realized that I felt better at your expense and a few days later felt very sorry about this question.

The hero and angel from England will not appear at the Calgary Airport. But I consider myself lucky that the illusion of a superwoman has been taken away from me! Do you not also believe that it is the greatest mistake a man can commit in his ecstasy to no longer see his partner as a human being? I think that life taught me a very valuable lesson in this regard. Dear Biene, take also great care not to see more in me than reality will permit.

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Peter makes a Confession

Believe me, dear Biene, I am a paragon of faithfulness in my outer conduct towards my female fellow students. However, do external actions describe the entire human being? Was I permitted to absorb with burning desire the images of womanly shapes, which enticingly passed by before me in the great lecture hall of the university?  Was it OK to sleep in my dreams with other girls than you alone? Biene, when I thoroughly examine myself and notice in the depth of my inner being the flickering of thousands of secret desires, I must confess that I have betrayed you innumerable times. To admit this dark side to oneself takes a long time. Some, alas too many deny its existence. I don’t know what kind of impression I am making on you now. I don’t know whether you are relieved to hear it or whether you will pass a moral judgment over a completely amoral matter. I said yes to myself and henceforth I am getting along with myself much better. I believe that this attitude is also the precondition to get along with others.

Recently I dreamed about you in my sleep for the first time. I wonder why I did not do this before. After all you and our future have constantly been on my mind with anxious thoughts so much so that I lay awake often for hours after my evening studies. The dream was not something of the past. No, one Saturday morning you entered my room. I threw all my books into a corner. In a long walk we passed wonderful hours ambling through the Calgary Zoo. Finally I woke up caused by the disappointment that you had suddenly disappeared.

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Tackling a Delicate Problem

The Idealist is Voicing his Opinion

Dear Biene, regarding children you found a seemingly good solution by suggesting that we should go and see a doctor together. I would like to broach this hot topic right away. The doctor will help you in no other way than to recommend to you to swallow that notorious pill. Allow me to tell you, dear Biene, why I harbour such a profound resentment against any such plan. Please do not consider me old-fashioned, when I launch an attack against this form of birth control, even though it is being hailed as a great medical success story.

I do not wish to talk about the obvious health related consequences at this time, but more importantly rather discuss the hidden psychological effects on our life together. In my view the interplay between tension and relaxation determines our creativity. Ideas are sparked by the inner tension and within the subsequent state of relaxation rests true happiness. If now by using the pill our relationship deteriorates into something rather common or even vulgar, where inner tension never surfaces and, if it does, is immediately dissolved, then – so it appears to me – our life will taste no better than lukewarm water. Therefore, Biene, let us be ‘old-fashioned’. Watch your internal calendar and if your biological clock is halfway accurate, we will find a useful solution. I strongly believe it would be far better for us to become parents than to lead such a distastefully ordinary life.

As to my studies you should know that I have practically regained the lost  years of my German army time by having started my studies here in Canada. Since I am taking senior courses in German literature, I am ahead of my Canadian fellow students in my academic placement by at least two years. So should I have to interrupt my studies next year, I could already expect to earn a fair teacher’s income.

My dear Biene, should I have used another hurtful word in my letter, please do not be offended, but let your anger burn and your wrath be directed at me.

Always in love with you,

Your Peter

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Peter Contemplates a Second Opinion

March 15, 1966 Calgary

My dear Biene,

How I hate this tedious letter writing! What is being revealed in our lines is but a fraction of who we really are. And the long wait makes our hearts heavy and sad.

There are two new developments which I would like to quickly share with you. My kind professor of German literature spent two hours to discuss our problems with me in his office. For the beginning of our married life Dr. Cardinal advised against my idealistic plan of getting by without any form of birth control. He acknowledges the same danger I described to you, the danger of a shallow life style, followed later by  a complete disinterest in raising a family. Yet, according to him, this problem is more characteristic of the common person of vulgar disposition totally immersed in the pursuit of pleasure.

My professor believes that you and I have sufficient moral backbone to return to our ideals, when we will have acquired a solid financial base for raising a family. We should not shy away from taking advantage of what modern medical science can offer us. On such a complex and difficult issue I think I will have to sleep on it for a while.

Dr, Cardinal expressed his envy in a good-natured way for our happiness. He said that he regrets that he married so late and had listened to his mother. Her opinion was that at the age of 23 he was still too immature to get married.

He also believes that it is sometimes necessary to foster illusions with your parents to alleviate the pain of the final farewell. In that sense he is partly in agreement with you and even justifies your actions. As you can see, Dr. Cardinal has been like a father to me. He asked me to pass on his kindest regards and he is looking forward to meeting you.

Now quickly to the second news item: I have been very busy looking for a small apartment for us. I found out that the Italian family upstairs will be moving out soon. I had a good look at the apartment and immediately fell in love with it. Mind you, it has not been painted for years, but I saw the potential of what we could do with it. The rent is only $55. It is like a large doll house, but large enough for two people. There is also a basement suite available in the neighbourhood, which I will have to check out in the next couple of days. As you can see, I have been busy in the search of a more pleasant living space for the two of us. If only the dumb thoughts and worries about our future would leave me alone!

Always in love with you! Your Peter

The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Chapter XXXIX

15

Biene Hitting Rock Bottom

“I think this is what we all want to hear: that we are not alone in hitting the bottom, and that it is possible to come out of that place courageous, beautiful, and strong.” – Anna White

Biene in Distress

February 6th,1966, Velbert

My beloved Peter,

I have not been feeling well for quite some time. I must come quickly to you. Every day I am expecting news from the embassy. I received my first salary today and now have saved up over a thousand marks.

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Biene wrote this letter at the back of this early Picasso card.

At the moment I feel so depressed that I am not as strong as you would like me to be. But this time will also pass. I don’t want to see anybody and yet I have to put up a nice front every day, which is getting on my nerves. I feel totally run down. But Peter, I must quickly come to you. Do not be distressed; otherwise I become really sick.  Hopefully my father didn’t write you anything bad. I can’t take it any more! Dear Peter, if you don’t lose your trust in me, I will find it also again in me.

After all I belong to you! Your Biene

February 13th, 1966, Velbert

My dear Peter,

In what kind of painful unrest must you have been through my silence! Peter, please forgive me. Now I feel better, and it seems to me as if I had gone through a dangerous illness. Peter, my nerves and my entire being were completely out of balance to the point that I had almost lost myself in something at the end, which would have ruined our entire life. But now I have overcome this weakness and I feel my faith and strength return again. How I yearn for that day, when the long wait will be over! O Peter, I am ashamed of myself that I almost did not succeed in fending off the insidious indifference, which suddenly appeared as an enticing way out. But now, Peter, you need not be worried about me any more. I only hope that you are fine and that no treacherous temptations seek to lure you, when you suffer too much from loneliness.

When I am with you, Peter, it would be perhaps best to go and see a doctor to get some professional advice. For I feel we should not have a baby for the first little while. Do you think, he might be able to help us?

My dear Peter, when you are lonesome, always think that one day it will be like in Michelbach again, where together we were happy and sad. And for our wedding, Peter, we two drink a bottle of Moselle wine just like we did on that evening in the thunder and lightning storm.

All my desires and dreams still live in me and still have the same power.

Yours in love, Biene

Three Options for Biene

February 25th, Calgary

My dear Biene,

Actually I was less disquieted by your letter than I had expected to be. Perhaps the reason for that is that the time for your arrival is approaching and that many problems will go away on their own. For unity with his nature a man can only achieve in marriage, and in it rests the possibility of our happiness. This thought allowed me to go steadfastly through the last couple of months, although I always felt the temptations, about which you have written me. You once spoke of the great assurance of the protective effect of my ring. I sometimes wonder, if in the presence of your parents, relatives, and friends you are still wearing it.

Even though I am no longer fearful about the dangerous uncertainty, my main concern still is that you want to come to me and leave your parents about your true intentions in the dark. I am sensing that this weakness will be the beginning of never ending problems. Therefore, I ask you to let me clarify this point for you. Let me write to your parents that

  1. you will fly to me in the spring and look at land and people,
  2. decide to marry me and stay
  3. or fly home and don’t marry me.

Please write me a clear yes or no. Each way shall be OK with me. Take your time.  For it is an important decision. Dear Biene, what I need here is an emotionally stable wife, who rather spurs me on to stay than to beg me, driven by homesickness, to return to Germany. I would also like you to have the courage to fight for the love, which you esteem so highly, and defend it.

At Christmas you condemned my letter to your parents so quickly and asked me to apologize. I heard of women, who followed their husbands out of love, although they knew that they had done something wrong. And at Christmas I had only wanted your best! O Biene, could you only this time be resolute and tell me to write this letter to your parents. I would be a lot happier then. Otherwise your mother’s solution would be the best way out. All parties except you perhaps would be content. Of course, you will still have to convince the ambassador that you wish to thoroughly study the country first, before you decide to take Canada as your new home country and marry me. That decision would be all right for me considering that I have to jump over the next hurdle – English was the first – as student teacher at the local high schools. For to marry, then seeing my wife fly away again, spending huge amounts of money, never mind who pays for it, I see all this in its total senselessness in the highest degree as cause for inner strain, which I must avoid at all cost now and in the near future.

My dear Biene, you see therefore either way is fine with me. You can decide for one or the other without fear, because no answer will hurt my feelings. But in secret I still hope you would go for the first one, because I wish that you become my wife.

Always in love with you!

Your Peter

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City of Calgary – Photo Credit: http://www.moneysense.ca

Peter’s receives Papa Pankin’s Letter

February 28th ,Calgary

My beloved Biene,

My brother Gerry just brought me your father’s letter. From his point of view he is completely right, yet I cannot agree with him, because his ideas belong to an antiquated world. He writes that a husband must be able to support (feed was the word he used) his wife. Today most marriages begin with both working together. He writes that Calgary is the end of the world, because he still believes that Germany is the centre of the universe. Just imagine, how strange, he believes that I am abducting you to Canada. I could only smile about this statement For isn’t it your greatest desire to come to me? I was also puzzled about his paradoxical attitude that I could marry you if I had a lot of money. However, since I am as poor as a church mouse, he believes it to be irresponsible on his part to lend us any financial support.

My dear Biene, do not worry. I am not angry at your father’s answer. I only wish that you come soon.

Yours in love, Peter

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Two Pages from the Book of Dreams

Biene is going to the Canadian Embassy

March 7th , Velbert

My dear Peter,

In two days I am going to Cologne. I am all excited and also glad. Do you remember the day, when you came from Cologne and we two traveled together to your mother’s place in Watzenborn. Our farewell was still ahead of us and now comes our reunion. How many days, often sad days, lie between! I am longing for the day of my departure and I am looking forward to seeing you again so much. As always I am also a little afraid. But it is a pleasant fear. What will be all ahead of us, Peter! Do you really believe that I don’t wear your ring at home? I never ever took it off, Peter. You must believe me; otherwise you really hurt me. Although sometimes it may have appeared to you that I was not as strong at home as I had promised in England, you must not lose faith in me, Peter.

Right now the first warm spring days have arrived and the pleasant anticipation to be with you is beginning to thaw my inner frozenness, which has held my feelings captive for the last little while.

As soon as I am back from the embassy, I will write you in greater details and will also answer your question to your last letter.

In love, Your Biene

The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Chapter XXXVIII

12

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Will a Passionate Poem make a Difference?

“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.

Fern

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,

schicksalstrotzend, hoffnungsfroh fanden unseren Halt.

 

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!

 

Alberta Rose

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!

The University of Calgary campus in the winter of 2015.

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.

Campus sign by the arch with the new logo. 2016

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 evening  and to withdraw  as 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.

I love you.

Your Biene

The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Chapter XXXVII

16

109Maintain

Beautiful Rocky Mountains in the Mid 60’s

Staying the Course

“I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.” Blaise Pascal

Peter’s Tug-A-War with Biene

January 6th, 1966 Calgary

My dear Biene,

Tomorrow we write our English exam. Before in a state of utter confusion I write your name on the test paper a thousand times  and fail to write a satisfactory essay, I want to quickly take a big burden off my chest.

I would like to clarify just one more time our present situation for you so you have something to cling to when new challenges arise. I can understand your father’s attitude perfectly well, because he is indeed losing his only daughter. But understanding must not lead to self-sacrifice. I am standing on the left, your parents on the right; you are in the middle and can only go to one.

My dear Biene, let me recount one more time how everything has evolved. Perhaps it will help you. Last summer waiting anxiously for a sign of life from me, you became desperate and asked me to let you come. Did you then openly talk to your parents about our plans to get married? When after work I came home dead tired and often with bleeding hands, when there was no word from the university, then your parents would have perhaps persuaded me to return to Germany. Later on when during my studies one success after another made me feel strong and confident, I believed that it was time to think of your coming to Canada. You didn’t only joyfully agree, but encouraged me in every letter to ask your parents for your hand in marriage. How well they were prepared I found out in your brother’s reply. You too were surprised at the unfriendly reaction and yet should have expected it. Then you became admirably brave and said, ‘I come in spite of it all!’ I remarked to my brother Gerry that they can all respectfully bow their heads before you. That’s how proud I was of you.

Then I waited for a reply, even though it was very difficult for me. Nothing was forthcoming for a very long time. But what did I hear sounding across from England? ‘Don’t wait too long, Peter’. So then I went from the university to downtown Calgary and started the lengthy application process for your immigration. A lot of things had to be done, because they never had a case before, in which a student was going to be the sponsor. While I was doing all this, you were dreaming about our wedding. Is it possible that you wrote nothing about this to your parents? This would have been the simplest thing in the world. For what one writes with calm reasoning, becomes clearer and more distinct in one’s mind than if one had to present the matter face to face. I can only explain your parents’ consternation in the light of their lack of awareness of our wedding plans.

You write that I should apologize to your parents. I read my letter over and over again. I cannot take away one iota. It is correct. If I apologize, your parents will despise me for my weakness. But this does not matter. What is more important that you desire that I apologize and with that you indicate to me – tears are almost welling up at this thought – that you no longer stand completely on my side. For above all, these plans were yours and mine. I gather this from your request not to write about them to your parents. O Biene don’t you see that your battle is already halfway lost!

115Mountain

Dear Biene, you are so sure about the future, yet you do not dare to tell your parents that you want to marry me this spring. I love you for your big heart in dealing so compassionately with all people. But you must understand that you will hurt your parents a thousand times more if you tell them the full truth only at the end. What will you say to them when the registered letter arrives from the Canadian embassy?

You wrote about the shocking experience of your mother in her youth. Did you notice in regard to us the unintended irony of this tragic event? She was so much in love with her fiancé that she wanted to force her parents by means of a baby to agree to the marriage. Did the thought not cross your mind that you could be at this time in the same situation? And Biene, I have to tell you this; I would have never done ‘it’ under any circumstances no matter how passionately my blood was pulsing through my veins. For then I would have taken your freedom away to follow me to Canada. I do not blackmail, I do not sweet-talk, and neither do I make any promises that I cannot keep.

Decide if you want to come in the spring or if you prefer to stay. in Germany. You know I cannot ask the immigration officials twice. They cannot change the immigration requirements and conditions.  You agreed to them and your parents should know them too.

One more time Fate is anchored within you, not in the time or the circumstances. So write to me soon and openly how things are at your end and how accurately your parents are informed. Forgive me, if I only saw the dark and unexplained content of your letter. Forgive me too, if I used too harsh a word or two and hurt your feelings or if the cold facts gave you pain. But until you can courageously face the present reality, especially when talking to your parents, I will not have a single peaceful moment. Quite frankly our situation appears already doomed to me. Biene, don’t you think a man just like a woman may also prepare himself inwardly for the wedding and may look forward to it? Yet I suffer with a burning fire in my chest tormented by the worries about our future. It cannot go on any longer like this! Make an end to my pain. My heart is longing for an end, happy or unhappy, it does not matter. Do not write any more what sounds nice, but give a true account of how things really are in Velbert, what you have accomplished and how I could help.

You have too much feeling. Oh, if you were already mine!

Your Peter

116Mountain

Biene’s Urgent Plea for Understanding

January 11th 1966, Velbert

My dear Love, I am a bit exhausted and my nerves are on edge. But don’t be afraid. I never lose my confidence and courage, whatever happens. Nothing can prevent me from coming to you.

First I must tell you this. The letter from the Canadian Embassy arrived today! I filled out the form at once and it is now on its way back to Cologne. But Peter, I had to do something you may not understand. But I had to do it to take a burden off my mother’s heart. I have asked the ambassador whether it will be possible to grant me a visa and a work permit for one year, before I will come to you forever. I have arranged with my mother to go to you till Christmas and then come back home to make the final decision. It breaks my mother’s heart. She cannot bear the thought that already this step I am going to do might be the final one. She must get acquainted to this thought by and by. Peter, please understand I have to grant her this favour. I must try everything to leave her at least in the hope that I am not bound to stay with you if I should not be able to stand the new life.

Peter, once together with you, I can reassure her in everything and she will get acquainted to the thought that I will stay with you. Peter, believe me, I only want to do the best and therefore never let doubts enter your heart! I need courage and I only can get it through you, when I know you are not troubled. Look, Peter, I come to you, I think, in April by airplane taking only small luggage with me. Coming back after Christmas I will take everything with me, for then I will stay forever. Peter, understand this change of plans, if the embassy should grant me my wish.

In one point I won’t be able to grant my mother’s wish and that is that I want to get married to you at once. Don’t think that I was not sincere with my parents. O Peter, I was! They knew everything of us for a long time and all the same they reacted like this. I cannot be frank anymore, because the more I tell them, the worse it gets. O Peter, understand my situation. I cannot bear their tears, I cannot see them suffer and they are so downhearted, because they love me so much. Although I love you more than anything in the world, I suffer too with them and I cannot help it and yet I am happy, because I love you. Peter, it is so difficult to understand.

Sometimes I really wish I could hate my parents, because everything would be easier. I have to work because my father won’t give me a penny. Nothing can move him, although I have told him everything. I cannot bear the thought to take our last money you have here. I want to be able to pay at least the fare. Besides I learn a lot. I have nearly the function of a secretary. I have to type, to write letters and to translate many English letters with many difficult technical terms. It is a real good experience for getting a job in Canada. Don’t you think so? Have confidence, Peter, because nothing is hopeless as long as we love each other.

I love you so much! Your Biene

A few days later she added …

My dear Peter, I only now realize with a great shock how my last letter must have created a storm of anxiety in your heart. O Peter, I hope you remained calm at the exam. Peter, I was not aware at all what I had done to you. See, there are so many things that I have to deal with, but yet you must never doubt that I am coming to you. Even my parents know that. They only want to make sure that I keep my freedom as long as possible, because they cannot believe that I will be able to endure life with you in Canada. Nevertheless I am going to be your wife as soon as possible. And when I am with you and my parents sense that I am happy, then they will find it easier to bear the separation. When I come to you without bringing anything, later on we still get eventually something. At least I want to be able to pay for the fare.

Dear Peter, I am asking you now just for one thing, although my letters do not always radiate confidence, you must not lose your trust in me. Unfortunately, I cannot describe everything. It is always way too much. But I love you so much that it would cost me my life, if I didn’t come to you soon.

Your Biene

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Banff – Historical Photo 1966

Peter Strikes a more Conciliatory Tone

January 13th 1966, Calgary

My dear Biene,

Much has been happening on my side, and if you hadn’t written so quickly, I would have sent you a letter anyway in the next couple of days.

Warm thoughts about you flow again through my heart. Although truth sometimes hurts, it is never as cruel as nebulous uncertainty. Many people don’t manage to bear the tragedy of life with assured hearts. They actually prefer to indulge in fuzzy daydreams and attempt to escape the challenges of life. You know now that I don’t belong to this kind of people and would not want to be categorized as such. Dear Biene, please take these philosophical considerations seriously; especially as they relate to our own experiences.

But first of all let me tell you what I think about what you have written and then let me know whether you agree. I would congratulate you very much, if the ambassador would grant your request for a work visa. Please don’t count on a positive response. For he knows the regulations and he cannot change them.  If you cannot support our original plan and wish to spare your mother any more grief, then the only way out is to make a new application from your end.

But now to your plans! Believe me, it would turn out to be a heavy burden for our entire future, if you were going to fly home and then come back after your final farewell. Not even a rich man would throw so much money out of the window and yet at the beginning we will belong to the poorest of the poor. You work and sacrifice your health to pay for the flight, then again you work throughout the summer just to fly back home and would not have any money to fly again. Did your mother not consider that they rob you of your youthful energy, which should be devoted to us both? Is this true motherly love? I really don’t want to get angry again, but I am facing a human puzzle. What grief will you cause all over again, when you have to say your final farewell! And as my wife you will fly back to Germany. Your mother will feel like having been deceived, and I will be disappointed that you rank your love to your parents higher than your care for our challenging start in life here. Your parents want that you can make a free decision. Why not? Here is a new suggestion. I go one more time to the immigration office and ask for an extension of our wedding date so that you can freely decide whether you like it or not. In case you cannot stand it or the strange environment drives you back home, then take my money as much as you need and fly home again. I am prepared to give my word to you and to your parents even in writing if necessary.

The chest with your belongings may be shipped after you have made your decision to stay. Biene. Is this not a good suggestion, if the deadline for our wedding is extended to three months? Would you be so kind and make your parents aware of this proposal? By their reaction you will know if they really want your best or whether they are simply trying to keep you near them for the foreseeable future. They pay nothing for your wedding. Do they also want that you pay for the return ticket? The $500.00 could furnish our apartment or house, if I was going to remain and teach in Calgary. Enough of it!

At Gerry’s family (Fyffe Road) a little baby girl by the name of Jaqueline has been born. My brother voiced his opinion in his humorous manner and said, ‘Now Martha has got what she wanted and hopefully from now on she will let me sleep in peace.’ I had to laugh at the way he said it.

Always in love

Your Peter

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Rocky Mountains 1966

What Biene had Arranged with her Mother

January 14th ,1966,Velbert

My dear Peter,

Finally I can take all your fears away. My mother is looking at my departure in a calm and collected manner, because she now knows – which wasn’t clear to her before – that I can return any time in case of an emergency. She had been in the mistaken belief that I would commit myself to some sort of obligation, which would not allow me to come home so soon. My dear Peter, do not take it as my giving in or as a sign of weakness that I promised my mother to come home for Christmas. That way saying goodbye will not be so difficult. She can now hope to see me again in the not so distant future.

Also she has now gotten used to the idea of us two getting married. Only my father remains unbending. He says that he does not want to cast me out, but he would not financially support me in the least. My dear Peter, this is in complete contradiction of what my parents have promised me in the summer. I can only explain it by their desire to console me in my desperation, but they never counted on all this becoming a reality. I know now that they believed that while I was in England I would take my mind off our plans.

See dear Peter, I gathered from remarks that my father will write you a letter. I hope he will not hurt your feelings. That’s why I prepared you for it. Whatever he may write, don’t let him offend you.

I enjoy my work at Yale & Towne, an American company, located here in Velbert. Because of my knowledge of English, I do a lot of translations of mostly technical nature,  but also take care of my boss’s correspondence. So in a way I perform my duties almost as a personal secretary. Once I am in Canada, I would like to work in an office and later, when we are doing financially well, I would also like to enrol in a university program to obtain at least the lowest possible teaching diploma.

My dear Peter, I only hope that you are calm again and you have forgiven me. Certainly everything will turn out good in the end.

In love,

Your Biene

The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Chapter XXXVI

7

Storm Clouds over the Rocky Mountains

Storm Clouds Gathering over the Rocky Mountains

The Bombshell from Germany

Broken Road

It can be easy
to breeze through life
when you are cruising along
on the wide open, straight path of the highway.

But often times
it is the bumps and dips and obstacles
on the broken roads
that lead to the best and most beautiful things in life.

Quote by kind permission taken from the post “Broken Road” in Jodi’s blog

THE CREATIVE LIFE IN BETWEEN

Disquieting News for Peter

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.

98Mountain

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?

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Hoodoos above the Bow River

Biene’s Dilemma

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.

113Mountain

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.

The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Chapter XXXIII

11

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

UAC1

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

Faithfulness Revisited

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 and  in 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.

Missing Biene

65

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 field  with 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

66

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

64

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 isolation  His 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

Student Peter

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

62

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.

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