For our wedding on May 21, 1966, my mother wrote a touching poem, which she also spoke on tape. She was unable to attend the wedding. So Biene and I could at least listen to and enjoy her voice. Chronologically, her message belongs to Book III of the Klopp family chronicle, but her good wishes and heart-felt words are a very fitting conclusion to the trials and tribulations we had to endure before we could finally tie the knot.
The three Brothers from Left to Right; Peter, Adolf and Gerry
Arriving in the late afternoon at Gerry’s place on Fyffe Road in Calgary, I felt as if I was receiving a warm welcome way back home in Germany. Gerry greeted us in German. He introduced me to his wife Martha, who also spoke German in a strong southern dialect. The only one I could practice my English language skills with was their three-old son Wayne. Gerry, always straightforward and forthright, told me that he had some work for me. He wanted me to paint the house, while I was searching and applying for a paying position on the job market. I was eager to get my hands dirty and do something real useful after all this loafing around during the past two weeks. I really surprised him with my cheerful reply, “Why, can I start tomorrow?” Well, it turned that he had to buy paint, brushes and other equipment first, before I could start doing the paint job.
Gerry and his Beautiful Wife Martha
My sister Erika, who had come by train a few days before us, had already run afoul of Gerry’s house rules, not the least of which was that he and Martha alone were in charge of their son’s upbringing. Any criticism no matter how constructive that might seem to be to our sister was therefore not welcome. As I have indicated in previous chapters, as long as I could remember, she was always inclined to speak her mind, indeed a valuable attribute of one’s character. However, when her tongue was faster than her mind that was supposed to control the former, the problem could easily escalate to a downright family feud. Fortunately for her, she soon moved out, as she had found work as a nurse’s aid in a rural hospital in the small prairie town of Bassano 143 km southeast of Calgary. She had found out that recognition of her German qualifications as an RN would depend upon the successful completion of her senior matriculation. So she had a long arduous road ahead. Tenacious and ambitious like all of us Klopp children she went back to school, attended night classes and studied hard to obtain her grade 12 diploma. This was all the more remarkable, as she did not have the advantage of having learned English in school.
Painting my brother’s house was more involved than I had anticipated. First, I had to sand the old flaky paint off the wood sidings, which was a dusty and laborious task that would take days to complete. While the job was time consuming, standing on a ladder and holding the electric sander above my head to reach the soffit boards was very tiring and not altogether pleasant with paint and dust particles flying into my face. The thought occurred to me that Gerry definitely got his money’s or, more accurately stated, his food’s worth of work out of me. Yet, I was enthusiastic about a job, where one could see its result for years to come. The best part of it was that I could take as many breaks as I felt necessary during which I drank some refreshment, which my sister-in-law so kindly provided from time to time.
Everyone was at work. When Gerry came home from work, he checked the progress I had made during the past eight hours and most of the time commented approvingly on the quality of my workmanship.
On the second week since our arrival in Calgary I was ready to paint. I enjoyed that part the most, because with each passing day the new white color had advanced a noticeable distance on its tour around the house. Not familiar with the use of brush and roller, I stained myself at the beginning with the paint dripping and splattering on my hands, face and clothes. But as my work progressed, I gradually looked more like an experienced painter at the end of the day. By the time June came around I had put on the second and final coat and Gerry’s home turned out to be most beautiful among the bungalows on the Fyffe Road loop.
Occupational Dreams and a Trip to the Dairy Queen
Downtown Calgary in the Mid 1960’s
Every morning before breakfast the newspaper boy came by on his bicycle and dropped off the Calgary Herald at the front entrance. Actually he only dropped it off on rainy days, which happened very rarely in this semiarid climate. On all other days he would not even get off his bike. He would grab a paper from his bag and in a precisely calculated arc would land it right in front of the door. Before you knew it, he was already on the way to the next house. Later in the morning, when I granted myself a break from painting Gerry’s house, I would rush into the house and grab the Calgary Herald, which my brothers had left on the kitchen table. There was only one section in which I was really interested. I did not care about local, national or international news. Instead I quickly thumbed through the thirty odd pages of this massive newspaper until I reached the classifieds. There I soon found out what was hot on the job market. Day after day I noticed that there was an incredible teachers’ shortage in the province as evidenced by the large number of teaching positions in practically all subject areas, but especially in math both at the junior and senior high school level. The children of the baby boomers were flooding the school system, while many teachers were retiring.
Peter’s Nephew Wayne 1965
But I did not ignore the ads from the mining, oil and other resource based companies, which were trying to attract high school graduates offering free training in their respective fields with pay. Reading about all these promising positions was like entering a dream world. In a sense it actually was a dream world, more accurately put a fantasy world. I did not recognize in my unrestrained enthusiasm that it was a long, hard road from the effortless reading of an ad to landing the job of my dreams. I found out much later that the positions had often been filled at the time, when they finally appeared in the newspaper. However, as to the openings in the teaching profession, I had a fairly realistic picture in my mind. I further learned that the farther one was prepared to move away from the few major cities into isolated areas, where young city slickers would not be eager to live, the greater were the monetary and housing incentives that school boards were willing to offer. It was not uncommon in those days to offer $500 up front for each year a candidate would commit himself to teach with subsidized housing and isolation allowances to sweeten the pot.
Of course, in spite of Biene’s and my agreement we had made with each other to wait for two or even three years, deep inside we were always hoping for a quicker way of getting us two back together again. The first hint that Biene shared the same desire perhaps even more so came when I wrote her that I had almost made a foolish mistake in my career planning by responding to an ad from the IBM Company, which was looking for trainees in the fledgling computer industry. Indeed I felt, I would be the right candidate with my high school diploma and aptitude in math and analytical thinking. From Biene’s reaction expressing regret that I did not commit such foolishness, I could see that she too was counting on a shorter waiting period for our wedding date. In spite of these occasional flights of fancy that I allowed myself to paint a different future for Biene and me in Canada, I squashed any ideas that smacked of immediate gratification with regrets to follow in its footsteps. I realized that I could only be a good husband, father and family man, if I found fulfillment and satisfaction in my professional life. As one of Gerry’s friend so correctly once stated, work you enjoy doing is not work at all, rather it could become a source of relaxation and happiness. It was my hope and aspiration that one day teaching would do the same for me, and so also for Biene and the family.
Peter’s Brother Gerry and his Wife Martha – 1965
One day, after I had finished my paint job to Gerry’s complete satisfaction, he drove the family and me to the nearest Dairy Queen. He mentioned to me that I had a special treat waiting for me. I did not quite understand what he was ordering and wondered as to why he kept repeating the word Sunday. ‘What a strange world, in which one had to order a dairy product two days in advance’, I thought to myself. But then what a delightful surprise it was first for my eyes, then for my taste buds, after Gerry handed me on a large cardboard tray with a gorgeous ice cream sundae served with syrup, whipped cream, chopped nuts and strawberries! It was truly a heavenly treat, even richer, creamier and more delicious than my grillage torte my mother used to order for my birthday parties in Germany.
Splendour of the Rocky Mountains and Disappointment at the Employment Office
On the weekend before I began to actively look for work, Gerry took his family and me for a ride into the Rocky Mountains. Even though the mountains were partially concealed in a shroud of low clouds and fog, the stark unspoiled beauty of the wild scenery was stunning. Half way up to Banff, Gerry suddenly stopped the car at a viewpoint at Lac des Arcs. There we took a long admiring look at the majestic beauty of the Three Sisters, a trio of peaks in the Rockies named Faith, Charity, and Hope. Then my brother handed me the car keys and encouraged me with his peculiar tone of voice that did not leave much room for refusal, “Now Peter, you drive.”
Except for one day of driving lessons in an army truck I had never sat behind a steering wheel before. I received a one-minute lesson on the use of the power brakes, gas pedal and the simple way of putting the automatic transmission into gear. As it turned out, driving an eight-cylinder American car was a piece of cake. I enjoyed it so much that I did not notice how fast we were going on the four-lane superhighway, until Gerry remarked, “Watch your speed, Peter. For a greenhorn like you this is way too fast.”
At the gate of the Banff National Park Gerry took over the driving again, and I had time to marvel at the mountains that began to close in on us from either side of the highway. Words cannot describe the splendour of the landscape with its rivers, mountain streams, lakes, and forests. I mailed Biene a booklet about the park, so she would be able to experience vicariously what I had seen with my own eyes.
Peter at Lac des Arcs – June 1965
On Monday morning bright and early I joined the ranks of the job seekers at the Canada Employment Office. While waiting in the long line-up for my turn to register, I listened in to the conversations among the men in front of me. What I heard and what little I understood was not very encouraging. The government workers here received daily memos from companies, which were looking for skilled, certificated workers, preferable journeyman ticket holders with years of experience.
“How would I ever get experience, if nobody hires me?” I heard one man in his thirties complain.
“They drop your name and application form into a file and tell you that if anything comes up they will notify you. It’s like playing in the Irish Sweepstakes. If you are lucky, they pull your name out of the hat,” said another.
“Then tell me you know-it-all. Why are you wasting your time here?”
“Because I sometimes get lucky playing the lottery!” was his smug reply.
When I had finally advanced to the front desk, I had from all the talking around me the distinct impression that I would be going nowhere with my search for work at least not here, where the only people who had work were the government employees. In a sudden surge of sarcasm I felt that they were being paid for the number of applications they processed in any given day, for shuffling papers from one stack to another, and then burying them in their gigantic filing system, thus squashing the hopes and aspirations of people like me. I filled out the forms that the main clerk had handed to me and filled them out as well as I could. I wondered who would ever find the time to look over the detailed responses we were expected to provide. With a feeling of gloom and doom I stepped out of the Canada employment office into the sweltering heat.
Happy Family Life at Gerry’s Place in Calgary
“Welcome to the Calgary slave market!”
Learning the Difference between Up and Down
Calgary Hudson’s Bay Department Store 1965
Leaving the office building, I noticed a commotion at the street corner to the left. Someone near me shouted, “Quick! They are hiring over there.”
I ran as fast as I could to see what was going on. Half a dozen men were standing on the back of a half-ton truck, which was parked at a slant with two wheels on the sidewalk. The brawny looking men apparently were the lucky ones, who had been hired. A short man with the looks of an aggressive army sergeant was carefully examining those left standing on the sidewalk as to their suitability for hard labour. His keen eyes immediately spotted me and noticed that I looked healthy, well fed, and physically fit for the kind of work he had in mind. He merely pointed to the six men on the truck and said, “Up you go!”
In utter surprise by this speedy hiring process all I could do was stammer questions in my peculiar Oxford English mixed in with a strong German accent, “What kind of work is it? What is the pay? Aren’t there papers to be signed?”
Instead of answering my questions he barked, “Do you want a job or not?”
When I climbed onto the truck, he only answered my last question in a vague sort of way, “We will do the paper work later.”
When the man, who turned out to be my future boss, had collected altogether eight strong men, he critically looked them over once more weeding them out in his mind and fired half of them before they even had done any work. I was not among those who had to jump off the truck.
“Welcome to the Calgary slave market!” whispered a husky young fellow with a heavy foreign accent into my ear. I had just become a labourer in the work crew of Milne Construction Limited.
Barely thirty minutes later we arrived at the construction site, where an upscale apartment building was to be encased by a wall of bricks instead of the usual wood panel sidings. Mr. Milne assigned me to the foreman for placement at the site. He was from Yugoslavia, as were most of the steady labourers, who spoke only a few words of English, and therefore, as far as I could see, had been enslaved to provide cheap labor within the narrow confines of a construction company. Two masons were already clamouring for bricks and mortar. It did not take very long to recognize that this was not merely an introduction to my work routine, after which I could go home to have lunch, put some work clothes on and report for work in the afternoon. No, I was expected to start my job immediately and provide mortar and bricks to the impatient looking masons. Apparently my predecessor had been fired or did not show up for work this morning. After I had with the help of a pulley hoisted up a pail of mortar, I picked up the first two bricks with my bare hands and laid them on the heavy board, on which the masons were standing. In no time at all I had figured out the rhythm of providing a pail of mortar followed by twenty or thirty bricks in thirty-minute intervals. By the time lunchtime came around, I was very hungry and thirsty. One mason with a heart seeing that I had nothing to eat threw me a bologna sandwich over to the pile of lumber where I was sitting. I wolfed it down with plenty of water from the tap. He also talked to me in detail of what my job was all about. This was not a union outfit. If I didn’t like it, the only way for me to file a complaint was to quit. Also this was the beginning of a new building project. So at first, work would be relatively easy. But he warned me that once the wall would grow higher, the masons would continue building it at the same pace. That meant only one thing, with all my climbing up the scaffold I would still have to provide the same number of bricks within the same time frame. Mr. Milne came by to tell me that I was hired at $1.80 an hour and could keep it for as long as the masons weren’t complaining about me. That was indeed good news. For the next day I decided to buy some durable work pants and a pair of leather gloves to prevent my hands from bleeding.
Peter during Happier Times in the Canadian Wilderness
A few days later my mason friend entrusted me with the preparation of the mortar. That gave me a little break, because during that time another labourer had to move the bricks to the ever increasing new heights on the scaffolding. I also received my first lesson on the proper use of language on a Canadian construction site. My school English, especially when presented with a strong German accent, would just not do around here. My friend almost had a laughing fit, when he heard me ask, “Sir, shall I fetch a bucket of water and shed it on the mixture to soften the mortar?”
Good-naturedly he replied but with the intent of teaching me a valuable lesson. “Peter, you don’t talk like that. Your Yugoslav coworkers will not understand a single word you saying in your stilted Shakespearian language. This is how you should put it, ‘Hey you! Should I get a pail of water, pour it over this f…g mix, and stir till it turns into that soft sh*t the masons like to work with?’ I got the drift. This was the real world with hardworking people with both feet on the ground without that highfaluting talk raining down from academic ivory towers.
Another time, when the midday heat was almost unbearable, I was dragging two heavy boards up the rickety scaffolding frame. I was standing on the third tier taking a short break to catch my breath. Standing near the new stone wall with its heat radiating back, I was about to lift the boards one level higher into the steel frame above my head, when the boss looked up and to his dismay saw me what he thought to be loafing on the job. Pointing to the load I was carrying, he hollered, “Up!”
Noticing my hesitation to respond to his simple command, he shouted all the louder, “Up!”
What he did not realize at that very moment was that I was engulfed in a state of total confusion. ‘Ab’ means ‘down’ in German. I was thinking, ‘Even if the order makes absolutely no sense at all, I must obey. After all he is the boss. He must have his reasons’. By now the boss was seething with anger about the delay and he screamed at the top of his voice one more time, “Up!”
What happened next, he had not expected at all. “There,’ I cried and let the boards drop to the ground. It turned out that Mr. Milne in spite of his stern, autocratic style also had a sense of humour. He laughed and laughed, as he walked away from the scene of my embarrassment, ordering a little more kindly, “Of course, Peter, it goes without saying, you still have to deliver these boards all the way UP there”, pointing to the masonry people on the fourth level.
There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
Travel Preparations and a Farewell Speech on a Vinyl Record
The day after Biene had returned home, Adolf took my sister Eka and me on a whirlwind tour to Berlin, where we saw for the last time Aunt Alma and her family. On the way back we dropped in at the apartment of our brother Karl in Braunschweig, where he had recently embarked on a banking career at a local bank. There in the beautiful apartment we spent a few days with our brother, his wife Ingrid and their little baby daughter Annekatrin.
Back at home we directed our attention to the task of getting our belongings packed and ready. Our tickets for the voyage to Canada included the shipping charges for the wooden crates that contained all our personal effects. Almost too late we found out that we were responsible for moving them to the travel agency in Giessen. Almost instantly arose a heated argument among the hot-tempered siblings, myself included, as to whose fault it was for having overlooked such an obvious problem. Accusations were flying back and forth. It seemed that each one of us was on a faultfinding mission. Of course, no matter how hotly we debated the issue, the heat of the arguments would not move our big, heavy crates to Giessen.
Fortunately our cousin Jürgen arrived just at the right time and helped diffuse a potentially explosive situation. He suggested a cooling-off period for the enraged brothers. In Giessen we dropped in at the ‘Vienna Forest, a popular restaurant, where they served us grilled chicken and beer. Tension and lingering hostility abated quickly at the same rate as our stomachs filled with delicious food and copious amounts of beer. Now we were ready to tackle the shipping in a more amiable environment. Jürgen had just made the acquaintance of a fellow student, who would be willing to provide his old and dilapidated VW bus for the crates. After a few more drinks at a roadside fast food outlet we were going to announce the good news at home. However, the pub, ‘The New Homeland’, was still open in Watzenborn. We thought a few more beers would not hurt and would definitely clear away the last little bit of rancour, before going home. So we finally arrived in a fairly boisterous mood. Everybody had already gone to bed. But this did not prevent us from loudly announcing to Eka that we had found a solution to the shipping problem. We all withdrew into the furnace room, which with its excellent sound-proofed walls offered a modicum of protection against the noise. Befuddled by all that beer I played the guitar rather poorly often missing the correct fret, while Adolf sang the song merrily out of tune with the chords I was playing. In the meantime Jürgen and Eka had an animated discussion on the poor timing of our nocturnal arrival. Not receiving the appreciative reception that we were expecting, we decided to spend the night at Jürgen’s place in Giessen and slept for want of something more accommodating all three in one bed, but not before having a taste from the bottle of whiskey that happened to be there for this crazy occasion. Next morning (or was it noon?) Adolf and I, feeling somewhat remorseful for our rambunctious behaviour the night before, drove home quite willing to accept any criticism with a repentant heart and to make amends by getting the crates ready for shipment.
In the turmoil of the endless visits of well-meaning relatives and friends, who all came to say good-bye, I still managed to keep up the correspondence with Biene, although it was almost impossible to find a quiet corner in the house. I had made a recording of a few simple classical guitar pieces that I felt were good enough for her to listen to. In addition, I recorded a farewell message on tape and mailed it together with the music to a company in France to have it pressed onto a vinyl record. A few days before our departure date the record arrived, which I embellished with some pretty labels and redirected it to Biene’s home address. It so happened that on the very day we boarded the Canada bound vessel, the ‘Ryndam’, she received my gift.
The recording sounds a bit scratchy. But what do you expect from a 50-year old vinyl record?
Farewell to Germany
Career planning for his daughter was on Papa Panknin’s mind, when he asked Biene to have a serious talk with him. He was not fond of seeing her becoming a teacher. He felt that it would be too stressful for her. Sitting endless hours in lecture rooms, bending over and studying textbooks would lead to even getting more stressed out, when after her university training Biene would enter again the educational treadmill. In his opinion the best thing for her to do would be to get a job and earn money as quickly as possible. Being a little tightfisted and in control of the family purse strings, he may also have been thinking of the expenses, which a prolonged period of university training for his daughter would incur. In contrast to North American practice German law required that parents were at least in part financially responsible for their children’s post-secondary education. In addition, there was probably on his mind his son Walter, Biene’s twin brother, who was embarking on a six-year program at the Institute of Engineering at the University of Hanover. Biene, with her eyes firmly set on getting married, agreed to a compromise that her father had proposed. She would start immediately her teacher’s training at the university of Wuppertal, but at the same time apply at the German airline Lufthansa to enter a training program to become a stewardess at the age of twenty-one. In my eyes this was a good plan. I really wanted her to become a teacher. So I took comfort in the fact that thousands of young girls were dreaming about becoming a stewardess and only a few had their applications accepted every year. Therefore, I had no difficulty of sending my wholehearted approval and let Biene romanticize about working for Lufthansa and flying to Calgary, where she could visit me on her stopover flights to Western Canada.
At last, the day arrived when Adolf, Eka and I were on our way to Rotterdam, where we would board the passenger ship Ryndam that was to carry us to Canada. Mother woke us at 3 a.m. to make sure we would have ample time to enjoy a solid breakfast before we parted. One hour later we sat at the breakfast table. Aunt Mieze read from her devotional booklet and included us in her morning prayers, with which she had been greeting the day for as long as I can remember. The outside world was still shrouded in darkness, which put us all into a somber mood. The thought that we would not be seeing Mother and all the other dear relatives for a very long time was weighing heavily on our mind. Later on, we were occupied loading Jürgen’s car with our possessions, five suitcases, my tape recorder, guitar and a gigantic duffel bag with personal belongings too valuable to be trusted to the wooden crates. The heavy work made us forget a little the pain of leaving home. We even managed to put on a cheerful face, when we said our good-byes adding comforting words like ‘We’ll meet again in beautiful Canada!’
The Trans European Express train (TEE) was racing at an incredible speed towards the Dutch border stopping only at major urban centres. At Wesel, my previous hometown, which had grown into a city of almost 50,000, the train did not stop either. Shortly after noon we arrived in Rotterdam, where a taxi took us to the harbour, which was and still is one of the biggest and busiest ports in the world. There our ship was waiting for her passengers to come on board. In the harbour inn Adolf and I sat and drank beer, while Eka had a coffee to perk up with after such a long train ride. We were quite annoyed at the delay of our departure caused by the much larger sister vessel of the Holland-America line bound for New York, which happened to leave port on the same day. Finally we were allowed to embark. Before heading out into the Atlantic Ocean, the Ryndam, for the next ten days our home, hotel, restaurant, and entertainment centre, had to make two ports of call, Le Havre and Southampton. From England I mailed Biene my first letter written at sea.
Two Letters and a Poem
April 28th, 1965 Le Havre
My dear Biene,
We just left Le Havre and are heading towards England. Thousands of impressions hit me all at once. I feel as if I had already been on board for a very long time. It is like paradise. Yet, I am restless, because you cannot experience all this with me. I’d like describe to you how a typical day is panning out for us travelers. The tinkling of bells wakes us up in the morning. It is also reminds us in this gentle way to show up for breakfast soon. Then I climb down the ladder. For I sleep in the upper bunk, while Adolf sleeps below. We can shower or take a bath for as long as we like. Then we march off to the dining room. Never before have I seen a greater variety of food. When we return to our cabin, the steward has already made our beds. The cabin is very small, and if one had to share it with a stranger, that would definitely not be a pleasant experience. We all have our own peculiar habits, which someone else would have to get used to.
The entertainment program is so rich and varied that one does not know which item to choose first. You can watch English movies, go to the library, play all kinds of games. The big hit here is Shuffleboard. After lunch you can attend a concert, go dancing in the evening or have a beer in the bar. And now I experience all this without you! That makes me a little sad and pensive. When I turn melancholic, I gladly withdraw from all these fun activities and write in my travelogue.
Oh this heavenly weather! People are presently sun bathing and there is no rough sea, not even a trace of a swell. I wanted to experience a real storm. But my brother said that it would come soon enough, if I were really that keen on getting seasick.
Your picture stands on my little desk. When at night I look down to you from my bed, I feel infinitely happy. I wished I could do the voyage all over again with you, when I have enough money to pick you up in Germany.
In a few days you will begin your studies, whereas I while away the time here doing nothing. Tackle your academic work as if you never applied for the stewardess program and as if you pursued a life’s career. You should know that you can help me also as a trained teacher, perhaps later assist me for a little while, in case my own studies should be dragging on.
What would I give to be able to kiss you now! Until next time greetings to you and your parents!
On the same day Biene also wrote me a letter, which of course I was unable to read, until I arrived at my brother’s place in Calgary. I only included excerpts here to avoid breaking the chronological order of the family history.
April 28th, 1965 Velbert
My dear Peter,
Again you have made me cry. But don’t you worry, Peter. I did not have to cry out of sorrow (it was only lingering at the back of my mind), but from an overwhelming feeling of joy, happiness and unfathomable love. I listened to your guitar music and to your voice on the record you had sent me. I could not grasp it! I just sat there, and tears were streaming down my cheeks. I once read that only a few people really understand how to say good-bye, and you knew how, Peter. Never will I forget this!
Dear Peter, now you have been on board for one day and with every minute you are getting closer to your destination. And when you read this letter, the long sea voyage and the road trip across Canada will already be behind you. Tell me Peter, isn’t it an incomprehensible feeling to be on the high seas and to experience the vastness and beauty of the ocean? When I experienced the sea for the first time, I was deeply moved. It was in the year we had met. My family and I were spending our vacation on the island of Corsica. Toward evening we had landed on the island. It was night, when we reached after an adventurous trip through the mountains our vacation village at the sea. Completely exhausted we immediately fell into a deep sleep, from which I awoke unusually early in the morning. In eager anticipation to finally cast my eyes onto the sea, I quietly sneaked out, because my brother Walter was still fast asleep. Outside the air was cool and still. The sun had just risen above the horizon. The beach spread before me still completely untouched. I went a few steps down the slope and then I took in the full view of the sea! Somehow I was like in trance and could not move another step forward. Although the view was overwhelmingly beautiful, the infinite vastness also instilled in me a little bit of fear. I sat down very quietly in the sand and remained there, until the first beach guests, who frolicked in the water, broke the charm that had kept me spellbound. You alone, dear Peter, would not have dispelled the magic atmosphere.
Inspired by her memories Biene wrote the following poem and entered it into the Book of Dreams.
I will forever love the sea,
Even when the gulls scream
Above thousands of storm-tossed waves.
I love the play of colors in the surf,
The billowing clouds, the sun, the warm sand, …
How much would I like to sit with you
On a lonely beach, at the sea
With its music
Rather than being
Separated from you
So infinitely far away
On the other side of the ocean.
On board of the Ryndam I also romanticized the sea as if in response of her letter that I had not even read yet.
Gale Force 7 in the North Atlantic
After a few days of calm and sunny weather a violent storm broke out, which put an end to the leisurely lounging on deck and made most passengers withdraw into their cabins. I entered into my travelogue:
“ Today is an especially stormy day. Most passengers don’t dare to come on deck. They play cards instead or while away the long hours in some other way. But outside awaits the intrepid traveler an indescribable experience. I believe, if you fellow travelers were not afraid of becoming seasick, you would, like my brother and I, be eager to see what a storm Poseidon can whip up for you. At the stern of the ship we view how one of the most awesome spectacles are playing out in front of our eyes. Presently we have wind force 7 on the Beaufort scale, and the waves are piling up high threatening to engulf the Ryndam. In the dark all this takes on an all the more eerie appearance. The waves are bedecked with white foam. And it seethes and hisses like in a witch’s cauldron. When the crests reach a certain height, they seem to lose by the sheer wind force their support and dissolve into sheets of spray, which drift like blowing snow up against us. Feeling the mighty wind and tasting salt in our mouth, we are invigorated in body and soul. A great sea voyage turns into an inner experience.”
World literature is replete with fascinating stories dealing with violent storms at sea. Confronted with the raw unbridled forces of Mother Nature man seems so small, so weak and insignificant. In the early days of exploration sailing ships were being tossed about like little nutshells by mountainous waves and hurricane-force strong winds. In ballads, short stories and novels the authors extol the indomitable human spirit that pushed man beyond what was thought to be possible. Standing with Adolf at the stern, hanging onto the safety ropes, and leaning against the wind that threatened to knock us down, we caught a glimpse of what it must have been like to be a sailor on a small sailing ship. On the other hand the Ryndam passengers hardly noticed the storm that was howling on the outside of the steel hull. The 200 m long vessel pitched and rolled just a little. None of the entertainment programs were cancelled. Most passengers continued to play cards, watch movies, danced, or sipped whiskey in the bar. They all missed out on the adventure of a lifetime.
It was Sunday. I attended the church service provided by a Dutch minister in a large stateroom that served as church on this particular day. It was only a few months ago that I had bought a New Testament book in Latin with the twofold purpose of reading its message and keeping my ancient language skills alive. For similar reasons I felt attracted to the religious service. I wanted to hear God’s word and at the same time reinforce my English that had been getting rusty from lack of practice, since I graduated form high school. Was I ever into a treat on both counts! The minister spoke with a strong Dutch accent but very clearly. He explained how the Jews were devastated, after the Romans had utterly destroyed their temple in 70 AD. They believed that God had lost his dwelling place on earth and therefore could no longer live among them. The pastor emphasized that God had never lived in a temple. No man-made structure would be adequate to contain the glory of God. Instead he lives in the hearts of those who are seeking His presence and accept His Son Jesus as their personal savior. Hearing these words it felt like water was being poured on the parched soil of my impoverished soul and the seed that was once planted had just received the spiritual nourishment to grow and develop in the New World that I was about to enter.
A Mysterious Thing Called Love
We had already set back our time on board by three hours, which meant that we had covered more than half of the total distance of our route to Canada. Like a giant magnet the approaching American continent channeled and directed my thoughts and feelings towards it as to make me feel at home before we even arrived at the port of entry. At Adolf’s portable radio, which he had bought on board at the duty-free shop, we picked up the first Canadian stations and eagerly listened to music and news from the island province of Newfoundland. Yet, in spite of my joyful anticipation of soon setting foot on my new homeland, there were also moments, when being alone in our cabin I began to examine in a critical manner my motives for leaving Germany.
For my brother Adolf the voyage was simply a return to where he belonged after the successful completion of his journeyman program as a machinist. My sister Erika, a fully trained and certified nurse, wanted to escape the deplorable working conditions in the German hospitals, where she was overworked and underpaid.
But what about me? Wasn’t I a fool to leave Germany, where I could have enrolled in any of the post-secondary programs leading to a diploma in my favourite field in high frequency technology? The words of the kind army major at the basic training camp were still ringing in my ears and entered my thoughts about a great opportunity I may have missed. He had urged me to consider a career in teaching at the technical army schools as a high-ranking and well-paid officer. I could have also gone into teaching with excellent prospects in Germany. Seeing all these real opportunities I realized the painful irony of my situation. Even though I had never met Biene’s parents except for a brief encounter at the Baldeney campground, I was unknowingly sharing their conservative – we would say old-fashioned today – expectations for their future son-in-law. I felt like they did that to be acceptable to marry their daughter I would have to be able to support her. To achieve this goal, I needed a minimum of six years at a German university in order to become a high school teacher or an engineer in electronics. At the time of my immigration to Canada, there existed a two-years teachers’ training program. This would have been a crash course, which upon successful completion allowed the student to go out and teach as long as he or she was willing to put in the extra course work in summer sessions to complete the diploma requirements. So the main reason for me to emigrate was not to seek better jobs, to enjoy a greater sense of freedom, or to experience the grandeur of the Canadian wilderness, albeit very appealing in and of themselves, but that it was a means to an end, i.e. to get married to Biene as soon as possible. It was truly paradoxical that in order to be close to Biene in the future, I had to be far away from her, At this point in time we couldn’t even dream of meeting in the next couple of years.
It is a strange thing about love. We feel its power, yet we cannot describe it. It has no physical location, even though we assert we feel it in our hearts. It has no substance, yet we say metaphorically love is in the air. However, we know it exists whenever we are in it and feel its tug at our heartstrings. We begin to see things associated with our beloved that we did not see before. So it was the case with Biene and me. I was on my way to Canada. All of a sudden this relatively unknown country from a German perspective had taken on an entirely new meaning for Biene. If love had not established a connection to this alluring country across the Atlantic, she would not have cared much about it, when her sister Elsbeth in Gotha romanticized about Canada and the wonderful things she had seen on TV. But now the floodgate of associations was wide open. Anything that had even remotely to do with Canada filled her heart with joyous anticipation. Somehow its name had taken on an auspicious meaning for her. She bought travel books on this second largest country in the world. Soon she described herself tongue-in-cheek as an expert on Canadian affairs. Whenever something related to this country came up on the radio, she perked up and eagerly listened to the news. On her daily trip to the teacher’s college in Wuppertal she walked by a large clock that indicated also the times in many other locations in the world. Of course, she would be interested in knowing the time in Calgary, where I would soon arrive by car with Adolf. When a seminar with slide presentation on travels in North America was offered to the general public at a community college, Biene attended the session. The presenter Martin Winter had traveled across all the Americas. He showed his slides of the Canadian wilderness, the majestic Rocky Mountains, serene lakes and raging rivers. When he talked about Calgary and the Stampede, the greatest rodeo spectacle on earth, Biene was so thrilled, she went to see him after the presentation and told him that her fiancé was just then on his way to Canada. ‘One day’, she wrote me in her enthusiasm for this wild and beautiful country, ‘you must take me camping to one of these glorious mountain lakes.’
Arriving in Canada in our Sleep
In the meantime on board of the Ryndam we could tell that we were approaching Canada’s territorial waters. The storm that had been stirring up the ocean moved on eastward and made room for sunny sky and calm conditions. The temperature plunged to 2° C. On deck we had to wrap ourselves in woolen blankets to enjoy a short sunbathing session in the cold air. The Ryndam seemed to have reduced her speed although there were hardly any waves. Suddenly we heard a message over the intercom speakers to alert us to an iceberg that was floating by less than one km to the right. As we were coming closer, we marvelled at the beauty of the mountainous object that glittered in the bright sunshine like a diamond of gigantic size. Knowing that ninety percent of an iceberg is submerged and invisibly spreads into all directions, we now understood why the captain had decided on a slower pace. Fifty-five years ago about the same time and in the same waters a single iceberg had sent the ‘unsinkable’ Titanic in less than three hours to the bottom of the sea.
The next morning three fishing vessels were slowly passing by on starboard, a sure sign that we were not far from land. Seagulls suddenly appeared as if from nowhere and trailed our ship at the stern expecting to find scraps of food that someone might have thrown overboard. Then the first offshore islands emerged from the hazy horizon. They looked desolate and uninhabited. They were all covered in snow. The icebergs, the snow on the islands and the chill in the air made us feel that spring had not yet come in this part of Canada.
My sister suffered from a sore throat and decided not to accompany us in the car to travel across the continent, but to take the train instead. In the evening Adolf and I went into the bar that was more crowded than usual to say good-bye to our friends and table companions. At three in the morning, I am not sure after how many shots of whiskey and how many glasses of beer, we were finally done with saying our good-byes. After getting only a few winks of sleep, we awoke this time not by the familiar tinkling of the breakfast bell, but by an eerie quietness. Still groggy from all the partying the night before we however managed to jump into our clothes at lightning speed and rushed on board. We were anxious to find out what kind of calamity the Ryndam had gotten itself into. Perhaps the engines had broken down. Or did those dreadful icebergs surround us? What a pleasant surprise was unfolding before our eyes! The Ryndam peacefully lay securely tied to the pier posts at the Quebec Harbor. What a shame! While sleeping we had arrived in Canada.
After breakfast Erika and I with all the other immigrants walked over the gangway past large cargo and shipping facilities to the federal office building. There a friendly bilingual customs and immigration official greeted us and carefully examined our passports and the flimsy unassuming piece of paper we had received from the Canadian embassy in Cologne. The terrorists of today would be laughing at the simple document of fifty years ago. A photocopy on ordinary paper would have sufficed to let them slip by our border checkpoints. While we were waiting to get our documents stamped and approved, a charitable organization offered us our first cup of coffee on Canadian soil. It turned out to be a typical brew as offered then in most American coffee shops, so weak and bland you could be drinking it all day without any adverse effect, as some people were in the habit of doing. A Catholic priest asked us about our plans and provided us with useful information on Alberta, British Columbia and the other provinces of Canada. Then quite relieved that we had successfully jumped the first hurdle and had officially become a member of the Canadian society with all its rights and responsibilities except for the right to vote, we returned to our ship to reconnect with Adolf. The French-Canadian officials at the pier smiled, when I played the German folk song ‘Muss i denn, muss i denn zum Städtele hinaus’ on the harmonica. Elvis Presley sang this lovely tune while with the American Armed Forces in Germany. Wooden Heart was its English title. The sentimental Germans who themselves were beginning to forget and to neglect their very own folk songs liked the Elvis version so much that the song maintained the number one position on the German record charts for several weeks in a row.
Now we were at liberty to visit Quebec City. Adolf, who as Canadian citizen did not have to go through the immigration procedure, joined us to explore the only walled city in all of North America. We took a taxi to the city centre. We traveled past wooden houses painted in bright, sometimes garish-looking colors offering a bewildering sight for the new immigrants from the Old Country. When my sister and I noticed the ugly power poles often leaning at a precarious angle in the back alleys with wires seemingly helter-skelter stretching out in all directions, we broke out in irreverent fits of laughter. Adolf was quite annoyed, as we had touched a sensitive nerve. After all it was his home country that we were insulting with our disrespectful conduct.
We got out of the taxi at the statue of Samuel de Champlain, the French explorer, founder and first governor of Quebec. There Adolf and I decided to separate from Erika and her companion Beate, as they were more interested in shopping. We two brothers, however, wanted to have a good look at the ramparts and fortifications of this historically rich city. So we took a tour of the classical 17th century defense systems with its mighty walls, which unfortunately in the end did not prevent the British redcoats from taking over all the French colonial possessions in North America.
When hunger pangs reminded us that it was time to have lunch, we dropped in at one of the many restaurants catering to the tourists that were flocking to Quebec City by the tens of thousands every year. We ordered steaks, large enough to fill out the entire plate and at $2.00 a bargain even at the then current dismal German Canadian currency exchange rate of four marks to one dollar. I had trouble communicating with the waiter with my Parisian school French. So I could not figure out, why they could not serve us any beer, which would have complemented nicely the fabulous meat dish. To quench our thirst, it felt odd that we had to move on in search of a beer parlor. To call it a pub would have definitely been a misnomer. The place was filled with dense cigarette smoke wafting above oversized round tables, the jabbering of hundreds of people echoing from the bare walls gave more the impression of a large waiting hall at a German railroad station than that of a cozy inn, like the one where Biene and I had spent a romantic afternoon on Mount Vogelsberg. These beer parlors had been built based on the mistaken belief that their grotesque ugliness would deter people from gathering and drinking beer. Great was my amazement to watch the clients order half a dozen glasses of beer all at once, not caring about their drink getting stale. Some even sprinkled salt on their brew or ate heavily salted peanuts to increase their thirst for more. Adolf was quite used to this custom, which seemed to me a relic of the past. It was a bit of a culture shock to me and I was happy when we returned to the Ryndam, where we enjoyed the sumptuous farewell dinner that the cooks had prepared for us, truly a culinary experience par excellence.
There were many last times on this floating hotel and entertainment centre that had safely carried us across the Atlantic, the last dinner with our table companions, the last game of chess with a Yugoslav doctor, the last card game of Mau Mau, the last visit to the bar, the last time I climbed up to my upper bunk, a last glance from above on Biene’s portrait on the cabin’s tiny desk, the last time the little room bell tinkled and called us for the last breakfast on board of the Ryndam. My heart filled with a sense of nostalgia and bittersweet feelings of regret. I had to leave this wonderful ship with her dedicated staff behind. I felt sad that I had not been able to share all these memorable experiences of the eight days on board with Biene.
Dear blogging friends, you may have heard that I am having problems with the Internet connection. I depend on the goodness of my neighbours whose Internet is still working. In the meantime I will have only time to publish a post at odd times and perhaps give a quick like for your posts. Please do give comments as before. As soon as things turn back to normal I will try to respond to all of them. Thank you!
Three Options for Biene
February 25th, Calgary
My dear Biene,
Actually I was less disquieted by your second last 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 in all letters was consistently ringing the alarm, namely 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
you will fly to me in the spring and look at land and people,
decide to marry me and stay
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.
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 or whether we move (by the way I found a three-room apartment with a balcony, shower, bath etc., which will become vacant in the spring), 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.
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 in private 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.