The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Family Project

Reflections on Life, Family and Community

Operation ‘Kleiner Bär” 1940 (in German)

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Die Lebenslinien von Bruno Kegler und Rolf Barge treffen sich 1940 im Schwarzwald – Part II

 Von Dieter Barge (Chart II a – II & IV)

Die Division wurde am 31.5.1940 bei gutem Wetter in Marsch gesetzt, die Fahrt ging von Burg über Magdeburg, Halle , Naumburg nach Erfurt, das gegen Abend erreicht wurde.
Von Erfurt ging es über die Rhön nach Frankfurt-Süd, von dort über die Bergstraße nach Heidelberg, das Neckartal hinauf bis Stuttgart. In Stuttgart (1.6.1940 abends) erfolgte die Ausladung und der Abmarsch über Freudenstadt nach Zell. Die endgültige Unterbringung der Einheit von Bruno erfolgte in Schuttertal.

Endgültige Unterbringung

Endgültige Unterbringung

Nach Tutschfelden kam die 3.Kompanie des IR 386 und die 2.Batterie des AR 216, nach Bleichheim die 3.Kompanie des IR 386, nach Schweighausen der Reg.stab des IR 386 mit Nachrichten-, Reiter- und Pionierzug. Der Regimentskommandeur des IR 386 war Oberst Manitius.

Laut Forum der Wehrmacht (FdW) hatte damals ein Infanterie-Regiment hatte ca. 3000 Mann, ein Bataillon ca. 860 Mann, eine Infanterie-Division über 10.000 Mann.
Die Unterbringung erfolgte bei den Einwohnern der Orte, in Schulen, anderen öffentlichen Gebäuden, oder es wurde biwakiert.
Eine Übersicht über den Oberrhein gibt das folgende Bild:

Übersicht Oberrhein

Übersicht Oberrhein

Der Angriff

Hier der Bucheinband zu dem bereits genannten Buches von Josef Göhri:

Breisgauer KTB Göhri

Breisgauer KTB Göhri

Josef Göhri schreibt, dass die deutschen Angriffstruppen in Bleichheim in wenigen Tagen enge Freundschaft mit der Bevölkerung geschlossen hatten, aber die vollbehangenen Kirschbäume bald wie leergefegt waren. Die Dorfbewohner schauten mit einem lachenden und einem weinenden Auge zu, “wir Buben hatten das Nachsehen”.
Am 10.Juni wurde die Division in den Angriffsraum vorgezogen, die Führungsstaffel der Division rückte nach Wagenstadt, einem Stadtteil von Herbolzheim, vor, der Rest des Stabes wurde nach Ettenheim verlegt.

Befehl Angriffsraum 10.6.1940

Befehl Angriffsraum 10.6.1940

Aus den beiden folgenden Dokumenten geht hervor, dass die schwere Artillerieabteilung 806 meines Vaters der 218.ID zugeordnet wurde, sie von der 218. ID verpflegt wurden und die Munition für den Angriff in Weisweil erhielt. Die 806 rückte am 14.Juni aus Oberachern nach Kappel vor.


Die beiden folgenden Bilder zeigen eine motorisierte Artillerie-Einheit bei Bleichheim, es handelt sich dabei um eine Batterie 15cm s F.H.18 (schwere Feldhaubitzen), diese Einheit kam wie Rolf auch aus dem Artillerie-Regiment 65 in Mühlhausen.

Die 218. ID gehörte ebenso wie die 221. ID und 239.ID zum XXVII. AK (Armeekorps)von General Alfred Wäger,
nördlich davon stand das XXV.AK von General Ritter von Prager mit der 555.ID und der 557.ID, südlich davon XXXIII. AK von General Brandt mit der 554.ID und der 556.ID.

Den deutschen Truppen in diesem Gebiet standen die V. und VIII. Armee Frankreichs gegenüber.

Im Vorgriff wurde die Bevölkerung in den Gemeinden zwischen Rhein und den geschützten Lagen im Schwarzwald evakuiert.

Im Rücken der französischen Armeen an der Maginotlinie war bereits die Panzergruppe Guderian unterwegs, um diese einzukesseln, am 9. Juni 1940 hatte die zweite Phase des Westfeldzuges mit der Durchbruchsschlacht durch die französische Aisne-Front begonnen. Am 12. und 13. Juni schloss sich der Kampf um Châlons s.M. und den Rhein-Marne-Kanal sowie bis zum 17. Juni die Verfolgungskämpfe über den Rhein-Marne-Kanal bis zur Schweizer Grenze bei Pontarlier an.

Am 15.6.1940 begann der deutsche Angriff auf die französische Maginotlinie um 10 Uhr mit schwerem Artilleriefeuer aus 300 Kanonen insbesondere gegen die feindlichen Bunker, um den Rheinübergang der deutschen Truppen vorzubereiten. Daran waren auch die Geschütze des Westwalls und das Eisenbahngeschütz “Kurzer Bruno” beteiligt.
Den Tätigkeit eines vorgeschobenen Beobachters (VB), die mein Vater bei der 806 hatte, wird durch das folgende Bild vom Bundesarchiv veranschaulicht.

Russland, Artillerie-Beobachtung

Russland, Artillerie-Beobachtung

Nach dem Artilleriefeuer begann der Sturm der Einheiten über den Rhein, der geplante Einsatz von Stukas konnte wegen des schlechten Wetters nicht erfolgen. Der Rhein führte Hochwasser, Flußbreite ca. 210m, Wassertiefe 5-6 m, Strömung 3-4 m/sec, ca. 40 sec dauerte die Fahrt mit einem Sturmboot.
Ich habe die Übersetzstreifen der 218.ID einmal in der Übersicht dargestellt, vom IR 386 waren 2 Bataillone eingesetzt, Bruno war also nicht dabei. Eine Vorstellung über den Rheinübergang vermitteln die folgenden 3 Bilder von Josef Göhri, ein Bild des Bildarchivs zeigt ein Sturmboot im Einsatz.

Das IR 386 startete aus dem Raum westlich von Wyhl und sollte sich in Richtung Mackenheim vorkämpfen. Es wurden 500 Mann mit 60 MG in 6 Etappen übergesetzt. Die Fahrt über den Rhein war sehr verlustreich, vom Regiment wurden 33 Mann vermisst. Im Verlaufe des Tages wird ein kleiner Brückenkopf bis zu 500 m Tiefe gebildet.
Wenige Tage später erfuhren die Bewohner von Bleichheim von einem zurückgekehrten Unteroffizier, dass viele Soldaten in ihren Booten ums Leben kamen, “der Rhein war vom Blut rotgefärbt”!
Am 15.Juni begann durch das Pionierbataillon 685 (der 239. ID unterstellt) der Aufbau einer Pontonbrücke über den Rhein bei Sasbach, nahe den Überresten der Limburg.
Am 16.Juni hat das IR 386 Marckolsheim erreicht, es gab Unterstützung durch Stukas.

Göhri Stuka

Göhri Stuka

Zerstörte Bunker aus dem Buch von J.Göhri:

Am Abend überquerten die Truppen den Rhine-Rhone-Kanal und eliminieren weitere französische Bunker.
Am 17. Juni wird Marckolsheim eingenommen, am 17.Juni 8 Uhr ist die Pontonbrücke fertig und schwere Waffen können übergesetzt werden. Am Abend des 17.Juni wird Colmar besetzt.

Bruno war in eine große Vorausabteilung, gebildet aus den IR 386 und 397, eingeteilt, diese Abteilung sollte eigentlich am 15.Juni übersetzen und die Spitze der ID 218 bilden, das hat nicht wie geplant geklappt. Ich berichte im 3. und letzten Teil meines Beitrages detailliert über einen Bericht, den ich in den Unterlagen der 218. ID darüber gefunden habe.

Die Einheit meines Vaters wurde, wie aus Unterlagen des XXV. Armeekorps hervorgeht, in der Nacht vom 16. zum 17.Juni der 557. ID zugeführt und unterstellt, am 18.Juni überquerte sie in der Dringlichkeitsstufe an 10.Stelle die Pontonbrücke Sasbach.
Diese 557. ID/ XXV. AK agierte im Raum Rhinau im Bereich der V. französischen Armee.
Von der Rheinüberquerung 4 Bilder meines Vaters:


Von der Operation “Kleiner Bär” gibt es einiges im Axis-History-Forum und bei Feldgrau zu lesen.

Es geht bald weiter.

Soaking in the Nakusp Hot Springs

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Birthday Trip to the Hot Springs

by Peter Klopp (Chart I – III)

Yesterday I found my mailbox flooded with Happy Birthday messages. Also on Facebook there was a long line of congratulatory notes. So the news is out. I can no longer hide the fact. It was my birthday. It is impossible for me to respond individually to all these heart-warming greetings from all over the world (Germany, France, Mexico, USA and Canada). So I will post a small photo gallery that will show what Biene (Gertrud) and I were doing on my special day. Since we hadn’t been to the Nakusp Hot Springs for such a long time and I had quite a few attacks of rheumatism as of late, my little wish was to go and soak my aching bones in the mineral rich pool. This turned out to be just what the doctor ordered and we both returned home having relished a truly relaxing afternoon. Thanks to you all for your good wishes on my 73rd!

 

William Laux – His Art, His Castle and a Tower of Bats – Part II

From the archives of the Arrow Lakes Historical Society

Author Unknown

On Thursday, the 7th of October 2004, Bill Laux, resident of 42 years on the lake shore south of Fauquier, succumbed to advanced lung cancer. Bill, when first diagnosed with the dreadful disease, had resigned himself that his life was nearing its end, but picked up a hopeful attitude again when chemo-therapy and blood transfusions gave him back some strength. He even went to visit some friends again, albeit with the oxygen bottle in a little backpack. He could continue to write some more on the early Kootenay mining and railroad ventures, which had been subjects close to his heart. He had been an avid collector of historical facts about the Kootenays.

Bill Laux

Bill Laux

Bill was bom in La Crosse, Wisconsin, 28th Feb. 1925. He served in the American Army in the last two years of the Second World War and then studied various subjects, majoring in English. His father had been a professor for European history. While Bill’s brother James followed their father’s footsteps and became a history professor too, Bill ventured out into the great outdoors, taking employments in the US Forest and National Parks Service, in particular in Yosemite Park, where he met his wife Adele. They both had artistic inclinations, which came to the fore when they met Jack and Janie Wise, who were running a batik factory in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

The militarily charged atmosphere in the US drove the two couples in the early 60’s to British Columbia, where they settled on the shores of the Lower Arrow Lake south of Fauquier, building up a new Batik workshop and studio under the name “Vaki Batiks”, in which they designed and produced many fine batiks, which were sold at first mostly to California and later also in Vancouver, Banff, Calgary and other art markets.

The first batik workshop, then on what is now Cedar Springs Farm, was located in an old chicken brooder house that had a masonry stove with a large platform, ideal to keep dye vats at the right temperature. One day hot melted wax must have leaked onto the red-hot heating elements of a little hot plate and set the whole building ablaze in seconds, a great loss for the hard-working artists.

Bill and Adele not only did their art and crafts work, but all the other chores associated with “living off the land”: a large garden, firewood, fences, waterline, road work, hauling in supplies and shipping off art supplies; for over the years, Vaki had become a trademark not only for batik but also for the fine aniline dyes, that were imported from Switzerland and sold out of Fauquier to batik makers over all of North America to give batiks those subtle or brilliant colors.

Jack and Janie Wise left after the initial years (Jack becoming a renowned painter on the west coast, known for his holistic miniature mandalas), while Bill and Adelle continued with Vaki Batiks. In late fall of 1967 Bill suffered the tragedy of the death of his wife Adele, who succumbed to a virulent infection before the illness was correctly recognized and antibiotics could be administered.

The following year Bill was joined by a young woman, Lynne Gilroy, who had worked in a bio-technical laboratory and was familiar with meticulous work. She got into the craft of Batik very quickly and became Bill’s right hand helper, not only in the batikery but also in constructing the large home-made brick structure, that is locally known as Bill’s castle. Indeed, Lynne was so inspired that she, after 8 years with Bill, entered UBC’s School of Architecture and became a graduate architect.

Bill, with and without various apprentices, also gave workshops in several towns and cities of BC and Alberta, teaching the art of batik. To the local people of Fauquier, Bill must have appeared quite a bit as a recluse, because he was so taken up with his work and projects (as well as his studies, to which his extensive book collection attests).

For one, the “castle”, built of home-made bricks, must have taken hundreds and thousands of hours of hard work. The bricks were made from a mixture of clay and sand with a small amount of Portland cement, that was pressed under 50000 lbs. in a little ingenious hand press, imported from South America. The sand and clay not only were mixed by hand, but had to be screened, which in the case of clay meant pulverizing dry clay lumps first to mix evenly with sand and cement. After the moist mixture was pressed into over-sized bricks, they were cured by turning and wetting again, until they were strong and ready – a very time-consuming effort, but a technique, which Bill embraced whole-heartedly as an alternative to “cookie cutter” construction.

Once the bricks were mortared into the structure, they were then painted on the outside with hot waste wax from the batiking process, which made the wall water-repellent. As the waste on a farm goes onto the compost pile, so Bill’s waste from the art studio went onto his architectural structures. Recyling: organic or ceramic? Bill also branched out into sculpturing, adorning his castle with over-life-sized figures.

Bill’s other constant job and concern was his water supply – over 2 km all the way from Heart Creek, via board flume on small trestles, plastic pipe and ditch to his, literally, “home and castle”. To keep this flow going, he battled not only the bears, who every now and then would rip apart flume sections, but the ups and downs of Heart Creek. Over the years, the intake on Heart Creek was destroyed several times by spring run-off or log-jam floods. When Heart Creek rose 3 meters high over its regular banks following last June’s cloudburst, it totally washed out Bill’s most elaborate intake structure of cemented stones. Bill’s immediate neighbor Logan Bumpus, with the help of several friends, was able to rebuilt a new intake within days, restoring the flow of water.

Bill at times had help with the flume project, since several neighbors drew water from the same aqueduct, it was basically his effort and constant vigilance that kept the water flowing towards those shores of Lower Arrow Lake, which are not blessed with abundant mountain runoff because Mineral Ridge is a barrier to those flows between Heart Creek and Taite Creek.

BC Hydro had not reinstalled the power supply along the lake shore south of Fauquier after die flooding of the valley in 1969. So Bill installed a small turbine and generator and made his own electricity. Here we have a man who did not ask what his government can hand him out for free, he simply helped himself.

And Bill helped others. Until the illness cut him down, Bill had been walking the hills and mountainsides with much younger men in the effort to prevent logging or road building in places that could impair the community watershed of Fauquier. He will be missed in the Fauquier Watershed Committee.

Possibly his longest lasting contribution to the valley is Bill’s introduction of the California Redwood tree, the sequoia gigantea. Several grow around his place as well his neighbors’ and I hear one is doing just fine right down in Fauquier

Although Bill was at times perhaps a grumpy recluse, he has many friends and as he aged, he made more in the local community. I believe none of us ever fathomed his depth completely. I got an inkling of his soul when we talked about music that we both loved. So here is to Bill a verse inspired by Mahler’s last song from the “Songs of a Wayfarer”:

By my house there stands a maple tree, there I worked many hours and I felt so free,

And that maple tree that spread its broad leaves over me.

Then I knew at last how life can be.

All was well, all was well, all was well with me.

Well my pain, well my love, well my world and dream.

By the castle now stand some Sequoia trees they grow in freedom and they grow in peace. And those Sequoia trees they’ll grow for a many hundred years.

A tea in honor of Bill Laux will be held Sunday, October 31st, 1 pm, at the Fauquier Hall.

When writing about the Fauquier Communication Centre in a future post, I will return one more time to Bill Laux and his work. He donated much of his historical research material and the remaining batiks to the Centre. I also need to report here that a few years after Bill’s death his castle burned down. More than ten years later people traveling through still inquire about the castle that is no more.

Günther Kegler, Chief of the Kegler-Clan (Part II)

In 1919 Günther Kegler returned to civilian life after serving in the Imperial German army during World War I. There were two reasons for that. Having sustained severe injuries and having lost one kidney in the battles on the Western Front in 1917, he was considered unfit for active duty. However, he could have easily performed any sort of interior office functions. But following the decrees of the Treaty of Versailles, the German army had to be reduced to 100,000 men.

Bublitz

Bublitz Market Place 1941

So from 1919 to 1921 he took up an agricultural training program at the estate farm of Neuhütten at Bublitz, Pomerania (now Polish Bobolice). Since he was also knowledgeable in bookkeeping and accounting, he soon switched over to a more lucrative employment and worked as senior accountant at various large estates in the county of Sangerhausen about 50 km west of Halle. His income allowed him to save enough money to have a small house built in 1934, which sold next to nothing, when he left the German Democratic Republic in 1956.

Modern Sangerhausen

Modern Sangerhausen

In 1938 he was ordered by the army to join and was assigned to work in the recruiting center of the reserve in Erfurt. He started out as major and quickly climbed up the ranks serving at centers in Erfurt, Kassel and Eisenach. Promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel (Oberstleutnant) he arrived in France on April 1, 1944 at St. Brieuc, Bretagne and Niort. He was primarily involved in the planning of effective defense strategies. Two months after D-Day he was responsible for the orderly withdrawal of Indian troops, Russian volunteers, railway workers, nurses etc. away from the battle fields.

Niort in Central West France - Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Niort in Central West France – Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Here I must digress and point out to a little known fact (perhaps suppressed out of embarrassment for the victors) that troops from India, Russia and volunteers from many Nazi occupied nations were fighting on the German side. See also the report of my brother Karl in Chapter 6 of the P. and G. Klopp Story, in which he wrote about young men from all over Europe willing to fight communism, which in their eyes was the greater evil. However, when I read about Indian troops as being part of the German army, I was in a state of disbelief and decided to check out the story on Wikipedia. And this is what I found and I quote,

Flag_Azad_Hind

The Indian Legion (Indische Legion), officially the Free India Legion (Legion Freies Indien) or Infantry Regiment 950 and later the Indian Volunteer Legion of the Waffen-SS  (Indische Freiwilligen Legion der Waffen-SS), was a military unit raised during World War II in Nazi Germany.  Intended to serve as a liberation force for British-ruled India, it was made up of Indian prisoners of war and expatriates in Europe. Because of its origins in the Indian independence movement,  it was known also as the “Tiger Legion”, and the “Azad Hind Fauj”. Initially raised as part of the German army,  it was part of the Waffen-SS from August 1944. Indian independence leader Subhas Chandra Bose initiated the legion’s formation, as part of his efforts to win India’s independence by waging war against Britain, when he came to Berlin in 1941 seeking German aid. The initial recruits in 1941 were volunteers from the Indian students resident in Germany at the time, and a handful of the Indian prisoners of war who had been captured during the North Africa Campaign.  It would later draw a larger number of Indian prisoners of war as volunteers.

Soldiers of the Legion 'Free India'

Soldiers of the Legion ‘Free India’ – Photo Credit: Bundesarchiv Bild 183-j166

In the BBC news of September 23, 2004, we read the following:

In the closing stages of World War II, as Allied and French resistance forces were driving Hitler’s now demoralised forces from France, three senior German officers defected.

Members of the Free India Legion

Legionnaires were recruited from German POW camps

The information they gave British intelligence was considered so sensitive that in 1945 it was locked away, not due to be released until the year 2021.

Now, 17 years early, the BBC’s Document programme has been given special access to this secret file.

It reveals how thousands of Indian soldiers who had joined Britain in the fight against fascism swapped their oaths to the British king for others to Adolf Hitler – an astonishing tale of loyalty, despair and betrayal that threatened to rock British rule in India, known as the Raj.

The story the German officers told their interrogators began in Berlin on 3 April 1941. This was the date that the left-wing Indian revolutionary leader, Subhas Chandra Bose, arrived in the German capital.

Bose, who had been arrested 11 times by the British in India, had fled the Raj with one mission in mind. That was to seek Hitler’s help in pushing the British out of India.

He wanted 500 volunteers who would be trained in Germany and then parachuted into India. Everyone raised their hands. Thousands of us volunteered
Lieutenant Barwant Singh

Six months later, with the help of the German foreign ministry, he had set up what he called “The Free India Centre”, from where he published leaflets, wrote speeches and organised broadcasts in support of his cause.

By the end of 1941, Hitler’s regime officially recognised his provisional “Free India Government” in exile, and even agreed to help Chandra Bose raise an army to fight for his cause. It was to be called “The Free India Legion”.

Bose hoped to raise a force of about 100,000 men which, when armed and kitted out by the Germans, could be used to invade British India.

He decided to raise them by going on recruiting visits to Prisoner-of-War camps in Germany which, at that time, were home to tens of thousands of Indian soldiers captured by Rommel in North Africa.

Since all this was top-secret at the time my uncle just mentioned in passing the presence of Indian troops in his family chronicle in 1975, this would have been explosive news, if it had found its way into the international press.

To be continued

The Klopp Grandparents VI

Friedrich Klopp and the Demise of the Rope Making Business

Part I – Chart I – I & II

Adapted from Eberhard Klopp’s Family Chronicle

On March 16, 1900 the eldest son Friedrich Klopp (1875 – 1946) 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.

4 Seilerei Klopp

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 his sister Meta Emma (1898 – 1984) 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 neighbor’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.

5 Druckerei Grenzau, links daneben Seilerei Klopp

Printing Business Grenzau to the left of the Klopp House 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.

To be continued …

Chapter VII – Part 2

Young Shoots of Norway Spruce - Photo Credit: Dendroica on Flickr

Young Shoots of Norway Spruce – Photo Credit: Dendroica on Flickr

Mother’s guiding principle was the proverb: Necessity is the mother of invention. She was very resourceful and creative, when it came to providing a little more variety and nutritional value to our meals. It was in the wonderful month of May, when life began to stir. Among the budding trees the most amazing ones to show off vigor and zest are the conifers. First they display tiny brown buds. Slowly they swell, and then their papery brown covering falls away in wind and rain. Mother still remembered some old time-honored recipes she must have learned at Grandmother’s home in Grünewald. She asked us to get out into the woods and gather these limey-colored buds with their tantalizing scent. I had no idea what Mother would do with them. I had seen stranger things than spruce and fir needles on the dinner table. However her plan was to make a simple syrup that we could put on bread and pancakes. We had lots of fun gathering the needles according Mother’s strict instructions: to harvest only the young and tender tips. Little did I know how Mother would turn the fresh needles into syrup. But I remember the fragrance permeating the entire house, while she made the honey-like syrup in the kitchen. So for the reader interested in trying out the recipe here is what I discovered online:

1 cup of spring fir, hemlock or spruce tips

1 cup of water

1 cup of sugar (demerara, turbinado, white sugar)

Place the tree tips in an 8-ounce glass container.  Cover with water, close lid and place in a warm place (preferably in the sun).  Strain and place the liquid in a small sauce pan.  Add sugar, turn on medium heat and stir constantly until the sugar is dissolved.  Place in a glass jar and keep refrigerated.  This syrup will last several weeks.  Demerara is a natural brown sugar and turbinado is raw sugar.  These both have a richer and more complex flavor but white sugar will work fine too.

Since there was no Kindergarten in the Rohrdorf Elementary School, my parents sent me to the one set up by the Catholic Church. There I felt very much at home. Friendly nuns would provide a happy mix of schooling and religious instruction. Playing with the local children of my own age, I quickly learned to converse perfectly in the southern dialect and soon became indistinguishable from the other boys and girls. The teachers within the context of play and learning introduced us to the creative world of music, poetry and drama.

I really liked to recite the poems at home with great enthusiasm, which was only dampened by the constant teasing of my older siblings. I remember distinctly a particularly colorful poem that described the reddening of the evening sky and compared it with flickering flames in a fireplace. My brothers delighted in my heart-felt protests, when they deliberately changed the lines of the poem I was reciting.

At Christmas time the Church planned a concert for the community. Of course, a Christmas concert to be complete must include a Nativity play. Having shown quite early an interest and talent in acting, I was very proud that I was selected for the role of Joseph in the Christmas pageant. What I owe the most to my early childhood education, is that under the nurturing direction of the nuns I developed a liking for singing. Music for me became a liberating force for the soul.

The Church in Rohrdorf in 2003 - Photo Credit: Stefan Klopp

The Church in Rohrdorf in 2003 – Photo Credit: Stefan Klopp

One dark and dreary evening I was all by myself. Nobody was at home. In those days there were no laws ensuring that children under the age of ten be attended at all times. The use of babysitters to protect such children from potential harm was virtually unknown. Mother had tucked me in and had said good night. Perhaps she waited a little longer at the door, until she thought that I had fallen asleep. But I hadn’t. When all was dead quiet in the house, the same feeling of abandonment overcame me just like the year before at the railway station. As twilight turned into complete darkness, I could only see what my fear-driven imagination would conjure up in my mind. A monster ready to devour me was lurking behind the closed door and a wolf with bared teeth sat somewhere in the shapeless room preparing to pounce on me at any moment. The fear of the unknown was growing more and more intense. I lay almost paralyzed in my bed hardly able to move. Suddenly a tiny light began to shine within my frightened inner being. It was very weak at first, then fed by happy memories at the Kindergarten class it became much brighter and started to dispel the terror of those awful beasts that my tormented imagination had engendered. Comforting words, lines, verses and finally entire songs emerged from deep inside me. They put my mind gradually at ease.  Picking up courage I sat up, opened my mouth and began to sing. I sang all the beautiful songs I had learned during the past couple of months. And the more I sang and the more I raised my voice, I knew that by doing so I chased away those scary creatures of my own making. Most of the songs were hymns steeped in the Roman Catholic faith intended to provide comfort and were composed especially for little children. The melody and the lyrics made me forget my anguish and created so much joy that I kept on singing, until my family returned from whatever social engagement they had attended to. They believed that I was a very happy boy that evening. Only I knew, how mistaken they were. I had fought a big battle that night and won in the end with the spiritual help of the comforting words and songs I had learned at Kindergarten.

To be continued …

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