Chapter XV of the P. and G. Klopp Story – Part 1

Chess, War Games and Birthday Parties

“When you see a good move, look for a better one”
Emanuel Lasker

Since Father had taught me to play chess, the royal game, as he called it, I took every opportunity to challenge my friends and classmates to hone my thinking skills. What I liked about it was that its outcome did not depend on luck. As a matter of fact, the game was for me like a metaphor for life containing all the ingredients necessary for success, such as planning ahead, anticipating good and bad situations, making decisions, keeping a solid grip on your emotions, distinguishing between a real mistake and a bait or trap, being gracious and humble in victory and defeat. The chess literature offers a plethora of anecdotes making fun of the foibles of human nature among chess players, especially among those suffering from an excessive amount of vainglory and self-importance. One character can be added to this list in the following true story.

Peter with Spiked Haircut Playing Chess with a Friend

Peter with Spiked Haircut Playing Chess with a Friend

Whether ancient languages, mathematics, physics were the subjects, or playing classical guitar or practically anything else Hans took on, he excelled and was superior to anyone around him during the nine years I happened to know him. Being so good in everything, he could afford to be humble. But when I had beaten him in chess three times in a row, his reaction was definitely not a modest, humble acknowledgement of defeat. He exploded, “I cannot understand how somebody as dumb as you can beat me in chess!” I was so content with my victory over the genius of the Wesel High School that I was not even insulted. Actually I took his disparaging words as a compliment.

Typical Commercial WW2 Board Game - Photo Credit:

Typical Commercial WWII Board Game – Photo Credit:

The chessboard is like a miniature battlefield except that the opposing armies are at the beginning identical in position, numbers, and strength. But with trillions of possible moves for the average game of thirty moves and counter-moves, the scales begin to tip in favor of the player who has the superior strategy and avoids making mistakes. Somehow it was this combative game that inspired me to create my own war game for four players. From chess I learned that a good game should not depend on luck, on the roll of dice, or cards pulled randomly from a stack. In the final version that would take three to four hours to play, transport vessels and battle ships, tanks, trucks and soldiers had their own movement and attack properties, very much like pawns, bishops, knights, rooks, queen and king in the chess game. On a large piece of  cardboard I had drawn a giant grid of 600 squares, on which I placed the four countries with their respective capitals around the inner sea in a perfectly symmetrical fashion. The successful occupation of a capital by any enemy piece would be equivalent to checkmate with one particular twist: all the lands, islands, the wealth of resources, war material and money would become immediate property of the player who captured the capital. Reflecting realistically the pattern of conquest throughout the history of mankind, the game had to include precious resources not available at the beginning within the borders of the four countries. Gold, iron, and other vital ores were located on the islands at the center of the ocean. To access any of the islands, the player would have to send his transport ships and occupy them. So war was inevitable. Each player depended on the resources to manufacture weapons or to turn them into money whose value fluctuated with the growth or decline of the island possessions. Add to this the player’s ability to form alliances, to make treaties, or arrange secret deals under the table, and we had an exciting game that was in its simplicity of rules and in complexity of scenarios years ahead of the commercial war games, such as ‘Rommel in the Desert’, ‘Eastern Front’, ‘The Battle of the Bulge’, and many others.

Year End School Party with Classmates

Year End School Party: Peter with raised Stein on the Right

As for me, the inventor of the game, I had the distinct advantage of knowing how to deploy the army and navy units most effectively. So it was no surprise that for most games I emerged victorious either as an ally with a willing partner or daringly going forth all alone. One day I arrived a little late for our weekly war game at Rainer’s place. I immediately sensed that my three friends had come to some sort of agreement to form an alliance against me that was supposed to hold at least until I was defeated and eliminated from the game. I saw my suspicion confirmed, when the two players whose countries were adjacent to mine almost immediately prepared an attack with their ground troops at the two borders, while the third player was directing his naval fleet towards my favorite island amounting to a declaration of war. It was plain to see that Hans, Rainer and Klaus had prearranged this maneuver, because the ships were loaded to their maximum carrying capacity with tanks and trucks, while the borders remained virtually unprotected. Never before had I been in such a precarious scenario, in which I had been outnumbered three to one in a war against all three playing partners. Once the enemy forces would have occupied the islands and cheap production of more war material would have begun, the odds would even be worse. I had to act swiftly and decisively. I suspected that Hans had devised this Machiavellian scheme, since in the past he had always been at the losing end of the stick. Although he amassed his troops at my border, he merely engaged in minor skirmishes. He was obviously hoping that the major battles would be fought by his allies who near the end would be so worn-out that all he would have to do was to let his units undiminished in strength and number march into the poorly defended capitals and taste effortlessly the sweet glory of victory. To his dismay I concentrated most of my forces at his border and forced him into battle. While his allies were making good progress facing only token resistance at land and at sea, Hans suffered heavy losses against an experienced general and began to grumble against his allies. When I cheerfully encouraged Rainer to capture my undefended capital, he was convinced that he had been double-crossed. Although their unexpected success was due to my strategy, he called them traitors and hurled undeserved and unmentionable expletives at their faces. No longer able to control his temper he swept the playing pieces off the game board. Thus, I managed to escape the humiliation of certain defeat at the hands of my three friends and enjoyed the honor of the details of this particular game being discussed by my friends for a long time afterwards.

Happy Times: Class on a Hiking Field Trip

Rare Happy School Moments: Class on a Hiking Field Trip

Chapter XII of the P. and G. Klopp – Part I

Summer Vacations

Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend. Albert Camus

Hamburg 1956

Among our family acquaintances and friends I had a few aunts to whom I was not related. Out of convenience and lack of a better word I called them so. One was Auntie Pippi, who had known me from the time in Gutfelde (Zlotniki). She had lost her first husband in January 1945 and had married Ernst Grohmann, a well-to-do master of the chimney sweeper guild in Hamburg. From her first marriage she had a son whose name was Thomas about my age. Since Mother and Auntie Pippi were very good friends, they decided that I should travel to Hamburg and spend my summer holidays with Thomas. Auntie Ella, another of Mother’s close friends, agreed to provide bed and breakfast for me in a nearby district of the city.

City of Hamburg - Photo Credit:

City of Hamburg – Photo Credit:

Thomas and I had a great time together. We played outdoor games in the yard, climbed trees, or played chess when it was raining. But what I regretfully remember most are the utterly foolish and thoughtless things we did in the name of having fun. Relatively mild in retrospect were our chess games we conducted over the phone. Using the European method, we identified each move by a combination of letters and numbers. Moving the king pawn two squares from its original position would be e2 – e4. What we did not realize in our enthusiasm for the royal game was that a local call at that time was charged by the minute. As all chess players know a good game lasts at least one hour. After a dozen games that we played during my stay in Hamburg the telephone bills must have been quite a shock for poor Auntie Ella.


Playing Chess with a Friend a Few Years Later

Getting bored with spending the afternoon hours on trees and itching to do something more exciting, we decided to build traps for imaginary wild animals in the neighborhood. We dug 30 cm deep holes, covered them carefully with twigs and dead branches and camouflaged them with clumps of grass to blend in nicely with the lawn. Just as we were digging another hole at the far end of the yard, Auntie Pippi stepped out from the backdoor and walked across the lawn to bring us some refreshment. She was a heavy lady weighing at least three hundred pounds. Not that she was overindulging in calorie rich food; on the contrary she was literally starving herself to keep herself from gaining more weight. She was suffering from a severe case of malfunctioning thyroid glands. In horror we saw her walking straight to the first trap. Why we did not call to warn her is hard to understand. Perhaps we were stunned, perhaps we hoped that she would miss the trap and we would not be scolded for digging unsightly holes. But she stepped right onto the camouflaged twigs and plunged her right foot deep into the hole. With a loud terrifying shriek she dropped the tray and managed to land on both hands cushioning the impact of her massive body on the ground. She could have easily broken her ankle. Great was her anger over our stupidity and thoughtlessness. For punishment we had to restore the lawn to its original state of perfection, which we gladly did.

Typical Autobahn Bridge - Photo Credit

Typical Autobahn Bridge – Photo Credit:

One day we went to a pedestrian overpass to watch cars and trucks traveling north and south on one of Germany’s busiest freeways. It is one thing to throw flat stones onto the surface of a lake to make them skip, but it is unquestionably a most reckless prank to lob small pebbles onto the cargo areas of passing trucks from an overpass. In our adolescent fervor to seek excitement at all cost we were blind to the grave danger of causing damage, injury or even death to the drivers below. We had not dropped too many pebbles, most of which had luckily fallen onto the pavement, when one landed with a loud clang onto the top of a truck’s cabin. Before we had time to rejoice over the successful throw, the truck pulled over to the emergency lane and came to a complete stop. The driver emerged from his vehicle and seeing us young punks at the railing immediately started racing up the hill that separated the overpass from the highway. In our attempt to escape the angry truck driver, we broke all athletic school records in the one-kilometer run for our age group. Even though we managed to escape, I often felt guilty and even more so considering what could have happened if the truck driver had not taken any action and had not stopped our dangerous game. To this day I am being reminded of this event and cringe when I hear reports in the news of similar mindless behavior on our city bridges and overpasses.

Chapter IX of the P. and G. Klopp Story – Part II

Progress at School with Father’s Help

Our school and its yard was surrounded by a brick wall about two meters high and looked more like a prison than a place of learning. The huge iron gate would open fifteen minutes before school started. At eight o’clock sharp the janitor locked the gate and any late student would have to ring the bell at the main entrance, over which was chiseled in stone ‘NON SCHOLAE SED VITAE’ (NOT FOR SCHOOL BUT FOR LIFE). The janitor would then take the delinquent scholar to the vice-principal’s office, where he had to explain the reason for his tardiness. After a severe dressing down and reprimand, he would receive a slip of paper signed and stamped which allowed him to enter his classroom.


Berlin Gate at Wesel 1956

My second year at the Wesel High School turned out for me to be a very happy one. Having been placed back to the first high school grade the year before helped me overcome my deficiencies in Latin and made me feel superior in all other subjects, especially in Math. I quickly made friends with three other students. Being one year older and quite a bit taller, I took on the delightful role during recess and lunch breaks of the big, bad wolf and chased my friends, the three little piglets, all over the schoolyard. In the German comic books published under the worldwide license by the Walt Disney Company the wolf’s name was Ede. From this time on my nickname had been Ede for all those who belonged to the inner circle of my friends.

Berlin Gate at Wesel 2012 - Phot Credit:

Berlin Gate at Wesel 2012 – Photo Credit:

Great was my joy, when Father arrived. After two years of living only with Mother and Aunt Mieze this was a welcome change for me. What I didn’t know at the time was that my parents were drifting apart due to circumstances beyond their control. Mother having no employable skills had allowed herself to be bound completely to Aunt Mieze’s generous arrangement by taking over housekeeping duties in exchange for room and board, all expenses for herself and me. Father suffering from periodic back pains and other health issues could no longer find meaningful employment. His former administrative talents in agriculture were not in demand, especially not in the city of Wesel. Mother expected him to take up any employment. Even sweeping the streets or working for the sanitation department would have been all right in her eyes, she once confided to me. So as time went on, Father was facing a dilemma, either to continue to depend on Aunt Mieze’s charitable hospitality or to seek work completely out of line with his agricultural expertise.

But while he stayed with us, half a year or more, he did his best to create a sense of togetherness between himself and me, a kind of late bonding between father and son. He took great interest in my studies at the high school. He had heard of my difficulties in Latin and devised a motivational scheme to help me with grammar and vocabulary, which he himself had never learned. He also noticed that if I did get into trouble at school or at home it was primarily due to the fact that I, often wrapped up in my dream world, lost track of time. His plan, which I immediately embraced with great enthusiasm, was that I should earn my very first watch by studying Latin with him. For every exercise from my text-book, for every successfully completed vocabulary drill, for each translation into Latin he awarded me one point and recorded it meticulously with date and type of work into a little writing booklet. Once I had obtained the grand total of 500 points, he would give me the promised brand-new watch. When he left, I was not only the proud owner of a watch, but also more importantly my marks in Latin had soared to the second highest level one could get on the report cards. Moreover, I had accumulated so much knowledge that I was coasting along for four more high school years before slipping back to the more common satisfactory standing. It was also during Father’s short stay that he taught me how to play chess. His legacy was not only that I had developed a lasting passion for the ancient language of the Romans and the royal game of chess, but also that I harbor only the fondest memories of and feelings for my father. Little did I know that I was not going to see him again for six long years.