The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Family Project

Reflections on Life, Family and Community

Tag Archives: Erika Klopp

Translation of Mother’s Poem for our Wedding

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So many followers of my blog had asked me for a translation of my mother’s wedding poem that I decided to get to work. The poem is quite poetic and uses my wife’s nickname Biene (Bee) as a metaphor for her flight from Germany to Canada in 1966. There was no way to preserve the rhyme and rhythm of this wonderful poem. The translation therefore can only give a crude impression, but at least you will know what this poem is all about.

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My Mother’s Wedding Poem loosely translated into English

It whispers here, it mutters there.

It happened to my youngest son.

He wanted to study in Canada

to get himself a really good job.

 

The exams taken in quick succession

did not bother and confuse him at all.

Also what comes now is not a lie.

Something buzzing came flying to him.

 

A little bee (Biene) tender and excited,

of a very special kind was she,

flew from the Rhine on and on,

totally joyful and spontaneous,

sometimes high and sometimes low,

almost singed her wings, oh no.

 

From Montreal to Calgary,

tireless like never before,

the little creature totally exhausted

landed at Peter’s basement door.

 

Peter showing respect for any kind of life

did not leave the insect unattended.

He took care of the Little Bee,

stroking her wings so tenderly.

 

Indeed with so much tender-loving care

she turned into a princess without delay.

A young maiden well known to me,

he took her quickly to the marriage office.

 

On the 21st of May you will be a couple.

That is clear to the people in ‘Born, Germany.

Not too long ago Peter as scout lived in tent.

And now Biene flew to him in a great hurry.

 

Here are the greetings to all the siblings

from all the uncles and all the aunts.

That all may go well wishes your mother

from the bottom of her heart.

selective focus photo of yellow sunflower

Photo by Karol Wiśniewski on Pexels.com

 

 

The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Chapter XVIII

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On my Moped to Father in Michelbach

It doesn’t matter who my father was; it matters who I remember he was.

Anne Sexton

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My Father in front of Erna’s House in Michelbach near Schotten

It had been more than five years, since I had seen Father. He had left one day looking for work at friends and relatives. Considering his poor health and age, he was faced with the dilemma of having to return to Wesel, where he would be dependent on Aunt Mieze’s financial support or else be content with the odd casual work, which barely supported his livelihood. Furthermore considering his intensive pride as a former successful agricultural administrator and the pain he must have suffered from the dismal failure of his farming venture in Southern Germany, I can understand his anguish and feelings of having become utterly worthless in his own eyes and in the eyes of his family. Pride and failure have never been good bedfellows in a man’s heart, and Father was no exception. As for me, I missed his presence a lot, but I was too timid to ask as to when he would come back and did not know what was going on behind the scenes. Much later I found out that with Uncle Günther’s support Mother had initiated divorce proceedings. On the basis of the law that required common residence and conjugal relations Mother was able to get a divorce in exchange for waiving any rights to financial support from Father. So to make this sad and depressing story short, Father after the divorce joined and not long afterwards married Erna Krämer, an old acquaintance from the Warthegau days, who lived in her rustic and cozy home in the village of Michelbach at the foot of Mount Vogelsberg north of Frankfurt.

Schotten_Uebersicht_Kirche

Picturesque Schotten – Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

The last summer holidays before graduation were only a few weeks away. It was also to be the last year Mother and Aunt Mieze would reside in Wesel. Uncle Günther and Aunt Lucie had invited them to live with them in Watzenborn-Steinberg (now Pohlheim), where all four would share the rent of a brand-new house that had been built by a teacher as a retirement home in the distant future. Naturally there was a lot of joyful excitement among the three Kegler siblings having been raised together at the parsonage in Grünewald and now having the chance of living once more under one roof. There was just one problem. How would I fit into the grand plan of bringing the family members together? A transfer to a high school in another province with different graduation requirements was out of the question. The solution was an obvious one. I had to stay behind and continue my studies later on in the fall, while they would move to the land of the Hessians. The decision to finish my secondary education in Wesel proved to become one of the great milestones and turning points of my life.

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Twenty-year Old Peter

But for now at the beginning of the six-week break from school I had other things on my mind. I had to think of visiting Father. One of my old scout buddies sold me his moped for DM 50.00, a true bargain at the equivalent of ten monthly allowances. It had a peppy engine and in spite of being quite old was in excellent shape. The best part was that I did not need a driver’s license. Having always envied Klaus for his scooter, I now had my very own motorized transportation with which I could travel to Michelbach to see Father and his new wife Erna.

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Philosophical Discussions with my Father

At a maximum speed of 50 km/h it took me all day to reach the scenic hill country around Mount Vogelsberg. Father and Erna gave me a warm welcome alleviating immediately all fear that Father might have turned into a stranger. I had departed from Wesel with these somber feelings, which had been building up due in part to our long separation, but also due to Mother’s bitter and regretful remarks that she had sometimes made about the divorce. So it was a great relief to be greeted so cordially and be welcomed as son and friend into their cozy old farmhouse. Here then I was going to spend the next six weeks, would become reacquainted with a rural environment slightly reminiscent of Rohrdorf, would get to know Father more closely through our philosophical and historical discussions, would begin to like his wife, would be introduced to her friends and relatives in the village, would taste her hearty meals albeit a little too rich in fat, in short I was here to relax and feel completely at home in an atmosphere of genuine friendliness and camaraderie.

Joy at my Father’s Home

Right from the beginning of my visit Erna and I got along very well. Her cheerful and lively disposition did not allow me to lose myself in gloomy moods, as I was occasionally prone to do, especially during prolonged periods of idleness and aimlessness. I could even see, even though I was reluctant to admit it, that Erna was the right person for Father. She was the sunshine that had brought lightness and contentment to his sunset years. From her radiated a contagious joyous spirit that created the in-peace-with-the-world atmosphere so conducive to Father’s healing process from a torturous past, from which he only now began to recover. I definitely do not remember him as a man broken in body and spirit, as my distant cousin Eberhard Klopp described him in his book of the Klopp Family History.

Schotten - Photo Credit: vogelsbergtourist.de

Town of Schotten – Photo Credit: vogelsbergtourist.de

Erna also had a moped of the same make and the same 49 cc class as mine, on which she would travel down the steep hill into the town of Schotten to buy the few things she needed for the small household in Michelbach. When there is company, one always seems to find the time to show off the beauty surrounding one’s home turf. Without visitors one tends to delay and leave such outings for another day. Erna was no exception. Now she was eager to travel with me to the nearby-forested hills, up the scenic Nature Park around Mount Vogelsberg, down winding country roads into the lush verdant valleys neatly tucked in between minor mountain ranges. There was no better form of transportation than our two mopeds. With a lunch pack clamped to the rear luggage rack we were ready to dart off into the wonderful Hessian landscape. Father a little overweight for these light machines gladly stayed behind looking after a few chores still to be done on this mini-farm with just a few goats to feed and milk,. Just as we were revving up the engines, Father came to the road to congenially shout over the noise, “Have a good trip!” At the end of my vacations thanks to our weekly excursions into the hill country, I had acquired a solid geographical knowledge of the region. As I was internally preparing myself to leave the Rhineland for good after my graduation, I had already created a new base to drop in as son and stepson, a place I could truly call home.

Landscape of Vogelsberg Hill Country - Photo Credit: vogelsbergtourist.de

Landscape of Vogelsberg Hill Country – Photo Credit: vogelsbergtourist.de

In the long summer evenings after supper we three would sit in the living room leisurely sipping homemade apple cider. We would talk until it was time to go to bed. More accurately speaking it was Erna, who did most of the talking. She truly had the gift of the gab. With the unerring memory for minutest details spiced up with colourful expressions and peppered with the melodious dialect of her village she was the born storyteller. I will never forget how she described the chaotic scene of the German Reichstag of the roaring twenties. She and her friends were sitting in the same living room forty years earlier and acted out the ugly political debates they had heard over the radio. And they did this with such exuberance, with so much mock yelling and screaming that the poor cats terrified by the brouhaha created by the inflammatory speeches sought refuge under the sofa and added to the parliamentary cacophony with much hissing and growling.

Incredible Rock Formations near the Top - Photo Credit: myheimat.de

Amazing Rock Formations near the Top – Photo Credit: myheimat.de

Is it Love?

Within the scope of the family history I would go too far if I included Erna’s side of the family except the ones that I came into contact with. There was the Langlitz family, Walter, Frieda (Friedchen) and their two daughters Helga and Anita. Walter had become a successful contractor who ran a prosperous business with his impressive array of trucks,

Church of Michelbach now part of Schotten - Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

Church of Michelbach now part of Schotten – Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

caterpillars, backhoes and other heavy machinery that he had acquired to assist in the government sponsored land reform program. In contrast to the northern provinces of Germany, where the eldest son inherits the farm, inheritance laws in the south required equal division of the fields among all the children of the deceased farmer. Thus, over time emerged a chaotic patchwork of tiny fields often less than one ha in size, which made farming more and more inefficient and unproductive. So Walter profited from the reallocation of land by owning the right equipment at the right time. The two daughters, Helga and Anita, age 12 and age 10, whose exact degree of relationship to Erna I do not recall, often showed up to play board games, such as chess and checkers with the newcomer in Father’s home.

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Peter Basking in the Sun – Summer 1962

Erna was also anxious to have me meet her 16 year-old niece Roswitha, who lived a few houses down the street with her widowed mother. Even though I did not recognize it at the beginning, it was clearly a matchmaking effort supported by Father. In collusion with her sister-in-law, Erna invited her niece over for coffee and cake to make sure we would see each other as often as possible. Roswitha in terms of the standards I had set for what a girl should look like fell well within the range of acceptability. However, inner qualities, such as interests in activities that one could do together, readiness to share and exchange thoughts and feelings, to support them and if necessary even to oppose them, such qualities, which began to gain more and more in importance for me, were severely lacking. In a way my encounter with her helped me set the bar a few notches higher, which further limited the number of choices for my future mate. I vaguely felt for the first time that only love could help jump the hurdle. But what is love? I could not tell, because I had not experienced it yet. So what Erna had hoped for, did not happen. We were friends, who did things together for a while. We walked down the steep hill down to the town and district swimming pool in Schotten and on Saturday evenings we went dancing in the nearby villages. The music was not exactly rock ‘n’ roll, but we could dance to it, whenever a fast beat would permit. The performance of the band improved with each refill of the giant beer mugs during the frequent breaks. Thanks to the loud music there was no opportunity to talk, and there would not have been much to talk about. On our long walk home in the moonlight I explained to her how the stars would move like the sun following the rotation of the earth. For everything I said during my scientific dissertation she approvingly giggled. Only once did she protest to express her utter disbelief, when I insisted that the moon shining so brightly now onto the forests and meadows would also show its pale face during daytime.

My brother Adolf relaxing at the Schotten Swimming Pool

My brother Adolf relaxing at the Schotten Swimming Pool

With my first visit to see Father after such along gap inconceivable in the light of today’s custody laws that require visiting rights at regular intervals, I accomplished much more than just reconnecting with him. The ice had been broken. Other family members now were eager to come in a spirit of reconciliation that was shared even by Mother albeit somewhat reluctantly. Near the end of my holidays my brother Adolf dropped in for a visit. He had returned from Canada to Germany on a temporary basis to learn a trade in an apprenticeship program at the Honeywell Company at Hanau. There he eventually acquired a journeyman ticket as a trained machinist that would – so he was hoping – land him a good paying job upon his return to Canada. Adolf endowed with a witty sense of humor and an extroverted personality was the life of the party no matter where he went. In formal or informal gatherings, in suit or in jeans, with academics or with factory workers, he was the born entertainer who made people cheer up when they were depressed, got things rolling when they appeared to be stuck. Everybody liked him. He had many friends and few enemies. There was just one problem with this gregarious likeable brother of mine. He seemed to be shy, yes even afraid of unmarried women, who might take too much of a liking to him, pursue him with the full force of passion and lock him up in the golden cage called marriage. When we received an invitation to a social evening by Roswitha’s mother, Adolf felt safe, because his youngest brother was with him. On the surface it looked like we were the suitors, Roswitha being courted by two promising young men. In reality in a strange reversal of the customary roles it was the other way around. As we gathered in the living room, Frau K. served us wine, crackers and cheese, spent a few perfunctory minutes in conversation with us and discretely withdrew with a few cheerful words meaning that we now were on our own. I found the situation very odd and to some extent embarrassing, because I had expected her to stay. It was Adolf who saved the day or more accurately the evening with his social skills that helped to get the ball rolling. He asked Roswitha about school, hobbies, her likes and dislikes, the weather, and all the other trivia that he was so apt in using as a social lubricant. To her replies often accompanied by the aforementioned giggles he added humorous comments that made us laugh and feel at ease. Eventually even I emerged out of my taciturn shell and presented to everyone’s amusement a few jokes and riddles. Around eleven o’clock Adolf ironically remarked that it was time for us ‘boys’ to go home. We politely said good night and cheerfully departed to have another drink of a more potent kind at our Father’s place.

Happy End to a most Enjoyable Visit

Then my sister Erika dropped in for a brief visit. When she heard that I had been going out dancing with Roswitha, she mockingly and contemptuously commented on her in Father’s presence, “Ho! Ho! Peasant duffer! (Bauerntrampel in German)” By now I had become quite accustomed to the unpredictable outpourings of her sharp tongue. Her caustic and biting remarks at Mother’s place in Wesel had been edged forever into my memory. However, Father was livid. Having respected all his life the hard honest work of the farmers from whom we receive our daily bread, he was deeply insulted by that derogatory remark. He gave her a severe dressing-down for displaying unjustified disdain for such an honourable class of people. Never since my early childhood days, when he had read me the riot act for stealing eggs from Mother’s henhouse, had I seen Father so angry. If I did not know the meaning of holy wrath, I knew it now.

My brother Karl and his wife Ingrid with an aunt in front of Erna's house

Erna Klopp with her neighbor’s baby in her loving arms

Erna’s house was at least half a century old and the electrical wiring was outdated and no longer in compliance with the latest electrical code. It required that all circuits be properly grounded. It made me feel good that I was not just there to enjoy a relaxing summer visit but also had the opportunity to make myself useful. Father had bought the three-prong wire, and I installed it and connected it to the junction boxes, outlets and switches. When I showed reluctance to take the twenty marks Father wanted to give me as pay for my work, he lectured me somewhat like this, “Listen, Peter, if someone offers you money, not dishonest money mind you, but money earned for work you did, do not hesitate to accept it. For you not only cheat yourself out of the reward that is rightfully yours, but you also insult the generosity of the giver.” To such a powerful argument I had nothing to reply and took the twenty marks.

Together with Helga and Anita in Michelbach

Together with Helga and Anita in Michelbach

At times when Father’s back pains were hurting too much, he stayed in bed for most of the day. Adolf and I were sitting at his bedside to keep him company. Then Father and I would often talk about the great empires of the past and the lessons one might learn from the causes of their decline. I really warmed up to this topic as I had recently taken a keen interest in the history of the Roman Empire. We came to the conclusion that if one allows foreign religious and ethnic elements to penetrate the cultural core of the nation, it will sooner or later lose its identity, its values and strength and will eventually have to face first decline and then total collapse. Germany according to Father has not learned her lessons and was headed in the same direction. He pointed to the record player on the night table remarking, “The record is turning, the needle appears to be progressing even though it is running in circles, but in the end it will be starting all over again symbolizing the eternal recurrent of the same in world history.” Adolf feeling a little left out in this highfalutin talk said he would buy himself a couple of history books to study up on the things he had missed in school.

Reading and Relaxing - Summer of 1962

Reading and Relaxing – Summer of 1962

 

Chapter 27 of the Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Part VII

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First Impressions

Picturesque Quebec City – May 1965

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.

City Hall Quebec City

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.

Samuel Champlain – French Explorer and First Governor of Quebec

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.

Cannons and Fortifications – My Brother Adolf on the Left

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.

 

Chapter 22 of the P. and G. Klopp Story – Part I

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From Darkness into Light

 

Immature love says: ‘I love you because I need you.’ Mature love says ‘I need you because I love you.’

Erich Fromm

Filing a Complaint

Beautiful Feldafing at Lake Starnberg - Photo Credit: bergfex.com

Beautiful Feldafing at Lake Starnberg – Photo Credit: bergfex.com

Soon after my return to Maxhof, Gauke and I received the order to report to the commanding officer. I wondered what could be so important that we would be sent away from our very first driving lesson in the New Year. The young clerk in uniform behind the massive office counter told us that the captain was expecting us in his office. With a heavy heart we entered. After the perfunctory military salute the captain asked us to take a seat. I had the ominous feeling that we might have unknowingly broken some rules resulting in a disciplinary issue that the sergeant at the driving school could not handle himself. Without giving any explanation the officer informed us that we would be transferred back to our unit in Koblenz as of April 1st. We were stunned. But when the officer asked us whether we had any questions, Gauke inquired, “Why are we being sent back, if the purpose of the transfer was to have us trained as certified truck drivers?”

Villa Waldberta Feldafing - Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

Villa Waldberta Feldafing – Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

The officer was a little taken aback, as soldiers are only allowed to ask questions, but not to question orders. But he must have realized that in this case we were entitled to know. For he said, “Soldiers that were transferred to my unit were supposed to be already fully trained as truck drivers. That was my request. Instead THEY send you! Dismissed!” From the furious tone of his voice, with which he pronounced ‘they’, it seemed to me that he was not angry at us, but at the system that cheated him out of two valuable truck drivers. Because of this ridiculous transfer I had not only lost out on the officer’s training program, but now I would also be deprived of the golden opportunity of getting my driver’s license. But what bothered my sense of justice the most was that we had been lied to, that the promise to provide driving lessons in January had been broken. In a violent outburst of angry words I released my frustration in a ten-page letter to Mother, which she acknowledged in a postcard expressing her hope that I had been able to calm down. In her motherly wisdom she had also destroyed the letter because of its incriminating content that she did not want anyone else to read.

Portrait of my mother - Erika Klopp

Portrait of my mother – Erika Klopp

Gauke and I had a good talk over a mug of beer in one of the local pubs and discussed what our next move should be to address the unfairness of our transfers. I suggested grieving the matter at the next higher authority. Gauke agreed and encouraged me to write the letter of complaint,  since with all my novel-writing I should have the better writing skills. Then we ordered another beer to drink to what sounded to us as a good decision. Within less than a week our grievance to the major in charge of the signal corps was in the mail.

 

Chapter 21 of the P. and G. Klopp Story – Part II

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To my dear blogging friends: Please note there will be only two posts next week. The one on Tuesday will continue with Anke Schubert’s submission in German: Eine ergreifende Liebesgeschichte, and the one on Thursday will be the next episode of the P.and G. Klopp Story. Canada is celebrating Victoria Day with one extra holiday for the month of May.

Discussion with a Friend on the Nature of Love

Mother had just returned from a visit to Gerry, daughter-in-law Martha and her one-year old grandson Wayne in Medicine Hat, Alberta. It so happened that I was on a ten-days leave and spent a relaxing vacation with her and Aunt Mieze, Aunt Lucie and Uncle Günther at their wonderful house in Watzenborn-Steinberg (Pohlheim). Mother talked a lot about her exciting trip to Canada. The proud grandmother had traveled with Gerry’s family over the Rocky Mountains all the way to beautiful British Columbia. Gerry described the countryside with its lush valleys, wild rushing streams, spectacular scenery and mild climate as God’s country. True to a long family tradition in the Kegler branch of the family, Mother wrote a report of her experiences of her journey to the land of the beavers.

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Mother Erika Klopp with Gerry on her visit to Canada

Biene’s school holidays were approaching. In 1962 her family had spent their vacation on the Mediterranean island of Corsica. Now they were planning to spend a couple of weeks at Lake Ammer in Bavaria. Even though I felt my love for Biene was getting stronger with every passing week, I did not openly declare it to her, because I erroneously assumed that she would already know. When she once asked me if I had ever been in love, I missed the golden opportunity to reveal what was on my heart. Instead I used a ride on my brand-new bicycle as a metaphor to describe in the most abstruse way the chaotic state of my inner being. I described how I got lost in the woods. I did not know which way to choose to get out. I dug deep into my psyche, too deep for comfort. Not yet realizing that the good and the evil lie close together within each and every human being, I criticized the world for failing to give me directions. Blind as a bat to my own flaws and weaknesses, I declared the entire world with its political systems, the church, and the army rotten and corrupt. These pathetic meanderings of my mind did very little to express my true feelings for her and would have been better left unsaid.

28a

Peter on his brand new bicycle

For the remaining three or four days I went on a bicycle tour with Dieter, my new army buddy. We traveled first up the River Moselle, then climbed up into the Eifel Mountains and stopped at a beautiful campsite named Pomerania, which reminded me of my grandparents’ lost home province in the east. At nightfall we sat in front of our tent looking at the rising moon in a cloudless sky. The day before I had bought a bottle of Moselle wine, a Riesling well-known for its distinguished qualities due to the grapes, which incredibly ripen more fully during extended periods of autumnal fog in the river valley. Gazing at the crescent of the rising moon I remarked, “If me girl-friend in Velbert also looked at the moon this very minute, our eyes would be fixed on the same heavenly object and in some esoteric way we would be connected with one another.”

X294

Famous Moselle Valley with Germany’s finest Vineyards

Dieter chortled a few times, before he retorted, “But my friend, don’t be an idiot. That is not the same as being physically present. When I kiss my beloved Heidi, I know real love, love that you cannot even fathom with your strange romantic ideas in your head.” And that was the beginning of a long discussion on the nature of love. When we had savored the last drop of the wine and were ready to crawl into the tent, we had moved away from our opposite points of view and found some middle ground. We agreed that in order for a relationship to be meaningful both the physical and spiritual dimensions would have to be present. We learned something important from each other. As for me, I resolved to arrange a rendezvous with Biene at the first opportunity that would offer itself in the near future. But you never know to start with, how things turn out in the end.

Chapter 20 of the P. and G. Klopp Story – Part I

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Basic Military Training

 

The soldier is the Army.  No army is better than its soldiers. The soldier is also a citizen. In fact, the highest obligation and privilege of citizenship is that of bearing arms for one’s country.

George S. Patton Jr.

 

The train wound its way through the picturesque Lahn valley to my destination in Koblenz, where I was to receive my basic army training. I had celebrated my 21st birthday in the new home that Mother, Aunt Mieze, Uncle Günther, Aunt Lucie were renting in Watzenborn-Steinberg. After the traditional coffee and cake party we played several rounds of our favorite card game ‘Doppelkopf’ in the evening.

Chief of the Kegler Clan, Mother, Aunt Lucie, and Aunt Mieze- Pohlheim near Giessen 1963

Chief of the Kegler Clan, Mother, Aunt Lucie, and Aunt Mieze- Pohlheim 1963

Aunt Mieze was not fond of playing cards, so I had become a valuable game partner now and for all future occasions when I came for a visit. My aunt would rather sit a good distance apart from the noisy bunch in an easy chair and read a book. Often she would fall asleep in spite of the racket we made around the card table. Then the book she was reading would slip out her hands and fall on the wooden floor with a loud thud. Mother suggested to her to go to bed. However, she rather wanted to have the feeling of being part of the family than to give in to nature’s urgent call to sleep. Now on my way to the barracks I had the train compartment all to myself and while passing by ancient castles on the hillsides above the lazily meandering river below I had time to contemplate about the military service that I was about to render to my country. I was now of age, had the right to vote, could do things on my own, I was free, and yet, as I was approaching the city of Koblenz, I felt that I was not. I had simply traded one set of responsibilities for another. And I wondered whether that would always be that way.

German Corner (Deutsches Eck) Koblenz - Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

German Corner (Deutsches Eck) Koblenz – Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

In the early afternoon of April 1st I walked through the barracks gate carrying my suitcase with the few personal belongings we were allowed to bring during the training period. After I identified myself to the guards on duty as one of the new recruits, I proceeded to the building, where I was told I would find further instructions on the bulletin board located on the ground floor. There were about a dozen buildings all in the nondescript shape of rectangular boxes placed around a huge yard that served as the ‘playground’ for the military practice and drill sessions. The entire area was almost devoid of people. The previous generation of soldiers had been successfully ‘calved’ and been transferred for further training to the three major technical companies of the Signal Corps located in the city. Expecting the place to be brimming with activity where there was none gave me an eerie feeling as if I had erred perhaps on the start-up date or worse had fallen victim to a nasty April Fool’s trick. When I looked through the names list of some 120 men, I found it somewhat reassuring that Klopp was indeed on the roster. I even had a rank, which I shared with the other newcomers. From now on until I had advanced to the rank of a private, I would be Fu Peter Klopp, Fu not standing for a four-letter word, but rather more appropriately for ‘Funker’ (radio operator). I was assigned to Room 203, which meant Room 3 on the second floor in the three-story building. The extremely wide staircase surprised me and I wondered about the waste of space until I discovered that there was a method to the madness of the architect’s design of the overly generous width of the staircase and of the hallways. How else during an alarm could 120 soldiers rush out of the building in the required three minutes?

Peter as Civil Servant in Uniform 1963

Peter as Civil Servant in Uniform 1963

I was the first to enter Room 203. Although later on I had sometimes regrets about my eagerness to report for duty, my early arrival had the advantage that I could pick and choose the best location for my bed and closet. The room was definitely not set up for comfort. In the middle of the austere room stood a long table, around which 15 chairs were placed. Five bunks with three beds each were pushed against the walls. Each soldier would have for his personal belongings, army clothes and equipment a lockable wooden closet. The placement of these lockers was such that they formed a partial visual barrier between some of the bunks, thus granting a modicum of privacy. I chose the bottom bed of the bunk nearest to the left window and the closest locker for easy access. I was happy about my choice. The window would provide fresh air and the bottom bed would to some modest degree protect me from the disgusting bodily fumes permeating the entire room, especially after the soldiers returned from the local pubs, where low quality beer was being served.

Crest of the Fifth Tank Division - German NATO forces in Koblenz

Crest: Fifth Tank Division – German NATO Forces in Koblenz

I opened up the closet and stowed away my clothes, toiletry items, Mommsen’s ‘History of Rome’ and a few other books, which I intended to read during the weekends, during which we were not allowed to leave the barracks. There was plenty of room left. The empty shelves were waiting to be filled with army garb from the quartermaster on the very next day. When my belongings were neatly put away in the closet, I locked it securely with a padlock. It was considered just as great a crime to tempt your fellow soldier with an unlocked closet, as it was to steal from it. I put a pocketbook on the pillow of my spartan bed as a sign that I had claimed it as my own. Then I went outside and enjoyed sitting on the retaining wall of large circular pond in the late afternoon sun watching as the other recruits came trickling in at first, then eventually swelling to a human flood, as the deadline of the arrival time was rapidly approaching. Today we were still civilians. Tomorrow we would be soldiers wearing uniforms (derived from Latin ‘una forma’, meaning one form, one shape), individuals still on the inside, but a gray mass of young men pressed into the same mold of dress code, rules, military routines and activities. With the total uniformity of regulated daily life came the assault on our individuality with its profound effect on character and soul. Life in the army became the crucible, in which our character was put to the test, and for me, even though very painful at times, the process brought about refinement, which prepared me well for the many challenges further down the road in my personal life.

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