Friedrich Klopp and the Demise of the Rope Making Business
On March 16, 1900, the eldest son Friedrich Klopp married in Wolmirstedt the 20-year old seamstress Auguste Louise Weihe (1880 – 1924) from Zielitz. Two months after the wedding his father, Peter F. Klopp died.
The house at Magdeburg Street 16 (today Friedenstr.), which his father had acquired around 1890 did not fulfill the hopes for a prosperous middle-class existence of the two family branches. It appears that Friedrich had already set up shop in this house in 1898 right after his military service. For Meta Emma (1898 – 1984), his sister was not born here but in Jersleben. Already before the sale of the water-mill, Friedrich Klopp had built in 1902 an addition to the backside of the house.
The new construction contained two floors. The kitchen and the living room plus two small bedrooms were located on the ground floor. A hallway and a stairway led to the upper floor with two more bedrooms and two additional rooms. The largest room was only 15 sq m in size. The new addition had a height of 5.6 m and a slanting roof. Seven or eight people could be accommodated here. The outhouse stood in the yard at the fence close to the neighbour’s garden.
Friedrich had intended the addition to be used by his mother Emma and her children, while he reserved the much larger house at the front for his rope manufacturing plant and his own small family of three. Looking at this rather unfair living arrangement, we may see the root cause of the ensuing family feud. Being treated in such an undignified manner, Emma stayed at most 18 months with her eldest son in Wolmirstedt.
When Friedrich and his pregnant wife took over the house in 1900 at the latest, mother Emma’s plans and her very basis for a comfortable existence within the family were severely shattered. The acquisition of the water-mill turned out for her to be merely an emergency solution, which was for a while financially sustainable. For Emma worrisome years followed. While Ferdinand, one of Friedrich’s younger brothers, was in the United States more or less successfully exploring efficient flour production methods, widow Emma suddenly saw herself confronted with unexpected hostilities.
When Emma’s eldest son Friedrich married Auguste Weihe of Zielitz, he could not foresee how much trouble the new connection would bring to the entire Klopp family. The cause was not so much his young wife, whom he loved dearly, but rather his mother-in-law Luise Weihe, who had her own ideas about the way the couple should conduct their life and business. She insisted that her daughter should share with no one her new nest in Wolmirstedt. She was not exactly excited over Auguste’s choice of her son-in-law. So her daughter should at least be spared from Friedrich’s siblings and relatives. She viciously described them as the ‘vagabond and fugitive children of Cain’ with reference to the Bible verse in Genesis 4, 14.
Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me. King James Bible
With this remark, Luise Weihe not only poisoned the climate of the newly established household but also brought on the estrangement of Emma and her younger children with the family of her eldest son.
Emma’s grandfather Johann Christian Bauer (1792-183) was of Jewish ancestry. It would go beyond the set limits of this blog to report in detail the colourful and eventful life of Johann Bauer. However, it is important to note here that his parents had already converted to the Christian faith and that their 14-year old son had been confirmed in Sudenburg-St. Ambrosius and also got married as a protestant groom on October 29, 1843, in the same place.
At the turn of the 20th century, antisemitism was already a malignant phenomenon and spread like an epidemic throughout Germany. So far Friedrich’s mother-in-law had only hinted at her antisemitic sentiments against the Klopp family. But now she went too far with her unconcealed, racially driven diatribes, which she shamelessly showered on Emma and the rest of the ‘children of Cain’. The result was that even the young wife, her very own daughter, could not take it anymore. She was by nature and temperament a resolute and energetic woman. In the end, she too distanced herself from all connections to her parental home in Zielitz.
Her father Friedrich Weihe (1854-1944) suffered a great deal from his wife’s convoluted thoughts and attacks against the Klopp clan. But he was unable or unwilling to do anything about it except to contemptuously break wind on each step of the staircase he climbed to withdraw himself from the incessant and repetitive tirades in the living room below. This was in a sense his running commentary on his wife’s annoying and irksome prattle, which seemed to have no end.
Out of the marriage between Friedrich Klopp and Marie-Louise Weihe came two sons and two daughters. The first child Frieda was born on June 7, 1900, in the Wolmirstedt house, also Liesbeth on June 5, 1907, and Hermann on September 16, 1908. But their eldest son was not born here, but in 1905 in Loitsche about 20 km north of Magdeburg, so to speak as a consequence of mother-in-law’s meddlesome behaviour. Behind the interruption of the birth sequence in Wolmirstedt, we may see Friedrich’s attempt to escape from the scene of a now poisoned family atmosphere.
Acting on his wife’s prompting Friedrich tried to establish a new economic base in another trade. A determining factor may also have been the return of his brother Ferdinand from the United States, who failed to realize his economic plans there. Suddenly his younger brother was making inheritance claims on business and property, which Friedrich obviously did not recognize as valid. Considering the additional fact that the economic picture of the land was not exactly rosy, it is not hard to understand that the flour and feed business was slow and did not prosper in Wolmirstedt.
Unnerving were also the events, which their brother Hermann recalled 90 years later. Grandmother Louise Weihe of Zielitz without any commercial experience interfered in all matters pertaining to the purchase and sale of goods. To add insult to injury, she circulated all kinds of rumours about her son-in-law and family with harmful effects on the business. To make matters worse, her sister started also to pour oil on the fire.
One particular rumour was making the rounds among family members. The insidious claim was that Emma’s daughter Anna Auguste Louise (1885-1967) had an illegitimate child, whose father was supposed to have been the ‘Polish Jew Grasmück’. Actually, the story was quite different, as will be explained in a chapter on my Aunt Anna at a later date. The nonsense, completely made up of thin air, broke the camel’s back.
All these events cast some light on the chasm-deep hateful feelings, which the mother-in-law from Zielitz dumped without any compunction on the Klopp family. On the other hand, the Emma Klopp side, in turn, did not hesitate to make Friedrich worry a lot about his inheritance, Insults and cantankerousness dominated from now on the scene of the warring parties.
The Widening Gulf within the Klopp Family
In 1903 or at the latest in early 1904 Emma Klopp had relocated to distant West Prussia. One is tempted to interpret the move as a flight from unpleasant family relations regarding the ownership of the house in Wolmirstedt. Then in June 1905 her third son Ferdinand unexpectedly showed up in town. He had just returned from the United States. His brother Friedrich passed on the property to him presumably on the basis of unclear and unresolved inheritance issues. He retreated to the neighbouring village of Loitsche. It appears, however, that within the year rope maker Ferdinand must have ceded ownership back to his disgruntled brother. He followed his mother Emma to West Prussia.
Under almost unbearable chaotic conditions Friedrich managed to bridge the short time gap in Loitsche through masonry work. It provided adequate income during the building boom period at that particular time. In the fall of 1905, the Friedrich Klopp family returned to the Wolmirstedt house. A few months before on July 15, 1905, his son Friedrich was born in Loitsche. It appears his father Friedrich had finally won the battle for the house and the rope making factory. In reality, it was a Pyrrhic victory. Malice and viciousness from family members accompanied Friedrich’s private attempts to disentangle the often chaotic financial and inheritance problems that he was facing. Without any legally binding papers, he had to put up with the never-ending claims made on the property in Wolmirstedt. Thus, under such fruitless prospects, he took over his father’s business. The cost of his return to the rope making business was high. It led to the irreparable break-up with nearly all his siblings and his mother Emma.
The Collapse of the Wolmirstedt Business Venture
Within five years the Klopp and Weihe families had added amongst and against each other so many wounds that only after a century one can look at them with a certain emotional detachment. They should not remain the last ones. Within the course of one generation, the two families had drifted apart and the deep gulf of enmity between them was steadily widening. In the Weihe family, the daughter did no longer communicate with her mother, in the Klopp family mother, brothers, sisters broke all connections with Emma’s eldest son. In the Klopp/Weihe family – no longer worth being called a family – all members completely acted out their mutual dislikes emerging out of the most varied and unlikely causes.
In the Klopp house in Wolmirstedt Friedrich devoted all his energies to the business. For the boat people on the River Ohre he produces ropes and cords, which the rope manufacturing plant ‘Seilerei von Friedrich Klopp’ kept ready for his costumers. Furthermore, he acquired a piece of land with a workshop south of the Ohre bridge on the right side on the road to Elbeu. There Friedrich and his workers twisted hemp fibre into ropes, The length of the ‘rope course’ was 15 m. In front of the bridge ramp, the last house on the left at the Magdeburg Str. was the inn ‘At the Anchor’ (Zum Anker). It served as the meeting place for the Ohre boaters and was strategically located only 40 m from Friedrich’s factory and residence. Diagonally across stood ‘Fatje’s Hotel’, which served as a kind of exchange agency for goods and services, where the Wolmirstedt business elite would do their trading transactions. At the business table would often sit among other dignitaries Carl Loß (1865 – 1937), owner of a nobleman’s estate and of the largest sugar and starch factory of the region. Through him, Friedrich primarily sold his various rope products. Ropes and nets were very useful and much-needed during harvest time. In order to secure the safe transport of sugar beets on the horse-drawn wagons, they found much use in the Loß’s agricultural enterprise.
In these years 1907 and 1908 two more children were born to the Friedrich Klopp family. Under slowly deteriorating economic conditions Friedrich managed to provide food and shelter for his growing family until 1912 when he gave up his business. The steady decline of shipping on the Ohre River reduced the profitability of his business. The taking down of the old wooden Hindenburg Bridge in 1908 and the long wait for the construction of the new stone bridge cut off Friedrich’s access to the market, further diminishing his already declining business. Add to these problems new attempts by his brother Ferdinand to seize house and business and we find the perfect recipe for financial ruin and disaster.
Midwife Marie-Louise Klopp (1880 – 1924)
In response to her mother’s endless disturbing attacks, Marie-Louise told her with an oath, “I am going to move with my family so far away that you cannot visit and bother me anymore.” She resolutely converted this intention into reality. The former seamstress took up nurses’ training at the Wolmirstedt hospital to become a qualified midwife. Even against this career choice, her mother voiced her opposition, although Marie-Louise after 12 years of marriage has been out of her parental home for such a long time. According to her mother’s distorted and overheated fantasies, Marie-Louise was entering a field that somehow was connected to the world of the ‘wise women’ and ‘witches’ of the Middle Ages. Indeed, according to her opinion, this was an evil consequence of her daughter marrying into the Jewish Klopp clan. From this point on, the few remaining family connections broke off altogether.
Marie-Louise started her work as a midwife in 1912 in Algenstedt, north of Gardelegen, where the family had acquired a house on the outskirts of the village. Friedrich found employment as a mason or rather as a laborer here and in the neighbouring towns and villages. Marie-Louise, by having chosen the profession of midwifery, displayed in this male-dominated world a high degree of personal independence. Her work proved to be highly useful in the following years, especially during World War I. While her husband Friedrich was fighting in the war, she became the major bread earner of the family of four children. Fortunately, Friedrich returned unharmed from the war. In 1921/22 he got together with his brother-in-law August Diesing (1875-1939) to prepare for a construction business. The plan was to acquire an older, unused school building close to Gommern by putting in a bid for that property. The devaluation of money and the collapse of the German economy put a quick end to their dream.
On the other hand, from 1912 and 1924, his wife Marie-Louise built up an excellent reputation for being a competent and reliable midwife in the towns, villages and farms north of Gardelegen. Unheard of at a time, when men dominated the workplace, she was the one in the Klopp family, who put bread and butter on the table. Her son Friedrich together with his siblings Liesbeth and Hermann attended the tiny one-room school at Algenstedt. The eldest sister Frieda took care of the younger siblings and general household duties during the frequent absences of their mother.
They all remembered the tame crow ‘Jacob’, which rain or shine sat on the bike’s mudguard of Mother Klopp and travelled along. In-between it would disappear in the long treed boulevards and wait there for her return. Hours later it would travel back with her to Algenstedt. One day a neighbour shot the poor crow because it had pulled the clothespins off the washline.
Night shifts, hardships, a weak physical constitution, last but not least, constantly recurring trouble with her mother brought about her premature death at the young age of 44. From the Zielitz family, nobody showed up for the funeral of their ‘Jewish-affiliated’ daughter.
Friedrich’s Second Marriage with Auguste Berlin
Shortly before Auguste Louise Klopp’s early death, the family of the mason Friedrich Klopp moved to Hemstedt, about 6 km south of Algenstedt. The commotion and upheaval surrounding the relocation to yet another residence were taxing Auguste’s energies to the very limits of what she could bear. She suddenly and unexpectedly passed away in Hemstedt on August 9, 1924. This came as a severe blow for the family, especially for her husband who had so far depended on her income.
At the local cemetery, you can see still today (1990) the lebensbaum trees, which her then 16-year old son Hermann had planted at her gravesite. At the most recent residence widower Friedrich Klopp continued to live for a while with his two youngest children Liesbeth (born 1907) and Hermann (born 1908).
On December 22, 1927, Friedrich married the well-to-do widow Auguste Berlin (née Müller) in Gardelegen. The marriage remained childless. Occupationally and privately, things from this point on were looking up. In 1928 the couple acquired in Gardelegen the house at Alte Heerstraße 14 (now Street of the Victims of Fascism). The recently remodelled and pleasant house is still standing today.
In the masonry line of business Friedrich Klopp quickly gained recognition for his workmanship and advanced to become an experienced construction project manager. In the 1930’s he maintained a financially sound and profitable enterprise. He built several residential houses not to mention a bakery complete with a sales outlet, which turned out to be the largest commercial bakery in town.
The loosening of the ties with the antisemitic Zielitz family of his late wife was like an inner liberation for Friedrich. But being friendly and good-natured, he did not completely sever his contacts. Due to age and declining health he gave up his business in 1937. His son Hermann did not have what it takes to run his father’s construction enterprise.
The Last 5 Years of Friedrich’s Life (1941 -1946)
In the summer of 1941 Friedrich Klopp’s eldest son, Friedrich (1905 – 1988), the father of the author Eberhard Klopp, paid the only visit to his family in Gardelegen. During World War 2 family members exchanged a few postcards, which have been preserved and indicate that to a minimal extent some important information, such as deaths, was being passed around in spite of the prevailing family feud.
At one point Friedrich mentioned in his correspondence Emma Klopp but did not know about her death in 1941, a clear indication that forty years after the deplorable events in Wolmirstedt his sister Anna von Waldenfels (1885 – 1967) had maintained her distance to her brother Friedrich.
The tragic death of his 9-year grandson Hermann badly shook him up. In the summer after the war, Hermann and several of his friends had carelessly played with an anti-aircraft shell, which they had found lying around from old German army stocks. The shell went off with devastating effects. Hermann and several of his playmates were killed.
Friedrich died in Gardelegen on November 3, 1946. In the cold and wintry postwar period his eldest son Friedrich succeeded in making the perilous trip from Naumburg to the funeral in Gardelegen. On his way, he had to run the gauntlet of all kinds of armed guards of the Soviet Occupied Zone and also of the Russian military police. They were aggressively searching for former soldiers and ‘other fascists’, black market dealers and smugglers, people crossing the border and those fit to be deported into labour camps. All these men and perhaps women too were the preferred targets in the overcrowded, filthy and unheated trains of those days, Under such conditions in the former Soviet Zone, Friedrich undertook the journey of almost two days in a life-threatening experience. A special permit of the Leuna Works in Merseburg rescued Friedrich Klopp out of quite a few unpleasant situations. Two brothers and two sisters saw each other for the last time at their father’s gravesite.
Here ends the story of Peter and Emma’s eldest child and my uncle Friedrich Klopp.