The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Family Project

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Chapter XII of the P. and G. Klopp Story – Part IV

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Exploring Germany by Bike

Summer 1959

In preparation for our ambitious goal to travel by bike all the way down to Lake Constance with stopovers in Bad Kissingen and Freiburg at Aunt Meta’s place, Rainer and I had a lot of things to do. We planned to camp in the fields and woods along our route and stay away from the campgrounds to save money. I already owned a two-person tent, for which Mother had so lovingly sewn together a sheet of cloth that could be draped over the tent for extra protection against the rain. Rainer, being the son of the owner of a lucrative car repair shop, had access to telephone and quickly set the approximate date of our visit as promised by Christine’s father the previous summer. For food we limited ourselves to non-perishable goods, such as canned sardines, meat, even pumpernickel, and fruit for dessert. For entertainment I took along my harmonica and also a novel written by Jerome K. Jerome at the turn of the century with the title ‘Three Men in a Boat’. In English class we had to read excerpts from the book and we had so much fun with many of the hilarious passages that I decided to buy the book in German translation. At the end of a long and tiring day on the saddle we would crawl into the tent and I would read aloud from this delightful traveling book. We often had to pause to recover from our fits of laughter over a particularly comical description of the three boaters and their temperamental dog.

Peter after his Bike Accident

Peter after his Bike Accident

The Lower Rhineland and the adjacent Ruhr industrial area are almost level. So traveling was easy and light for the first couple of days, even though our bikes were loaded to the maximum capacity with supplies. But when we were nearing the halfway mark to Bad Kissingen we were in the hill country. The slope was getting steeper. Riding old-fashioned bicycles without being able to shift into a lower gear, we often had to get off our bikes and push them with the heavy luggage several kilometers uphill. Oh, how I wished then to be back again in the cool refreshing breeze of the Baltic Sea. Eventually though we were rewarded for our hard labor with a comfortable coasting down into the valley bottom. On one of these pleasant downhill rides not too far from our first stopover I lost control on a sharp curve and took a nasty spill over loose gravel. I badly scratched up my right knee and was bleeding profusely. Other than feeling the stinging pain I got away without any major injuries. Fortunately, the bike had not suffered any damage. So Rainer and I, disheveled and myself a little bit shaken up, arrived at our first major destination. Dr. Baudach took immediate care of my knee and applied a stinging disinfectant and a healing cream to my wounds from a little tube that was worth fifty marks, the equivalent of 10 days of my traveling budget. Bad Kissingen is a spa town and a world-famous resort town in the Bavarian region of Lower Franconia about 300 km southeast of Wesel. We were thankful for the opportunity to recover from our arduous climbs over the hill country and thoroughly enjoyed the hospitality in the doctor’s home during our three-day resting period. When we said good-bye and our heart-felt thank-you to Mr. and Mrs. Baudach, we promised to write as soon as we had finished our journey. We also promised Christine to start as pen pals a correspondence with her. After all she was the one who initiated our invitation from her dad in the previous summer.

Bad Kissingen - Photo Credit: wikimedia.org

Bad Kissingen – Photo Credit: wikimedia.org

Having already been almost two weeks on the road, Rainer and I decided to drop Lake Constance from our itinerary and ride on in a southwesterly direction to Freiburg. Because of the sultry and hot weather we did not average more than sixty kilometers a day. More and more often we had to walk our bikes, as the road was getting steeper. When we had finally reached the famous Black Forest Highway, we realized that the toughest part was still to come. We had to overcome the difference in elevation of more than five hundred meters in order to reach the top of this arduous mountain road. Our progress dwindled to a mere thirty kilometers a day. We would need seven days or more to get to Aunt Meta’s place in Freiburg.

On a particularly long and steep stretch we almost despaired and were ready to buy train tickets in the next major town to escape what appeared to us to be self-inflicted torture rather than a fun-filled journey through one of the most beautiful parts of Germany. While we had parked our bikes on the roadside and contemplated what to do next, we noticed how sluggishly the big trailer trucks were crawling up the mountain road. Necessity is the mother of invention. Seeing the trucks rumbling by at a very slow pace sparked the idea. We would pick one with a trailer and attach ourselves to its back-end. At less than twenty kilometers per hour we figured we would be able to hang onto it with one hand and steer the bicycle with the other. Totally ignoring how dangerous and unlawful it would be, we tried out our plan on the next curve, where we could be sure not to be seen in the rear view mirror of the truck driver. It worked marvelously. Even though we had to switch trucks several times to give our arms a rest, we reached the summit of the North Black Forest road in a matter of a few hours. Tired and exhausted, but happy and content we set up our tent in a cool forest meadow near a mountain creek, whose gentle murmuring quickly lulled us into a deep and well-deserved sleep.

Blackforest with Mountain Bikers - Photo Credit: breisgau-schwarzwald.de

Blackforest with Mountain Bikers – Photo Credit: breisgau-schwarzwald.de

Well rested we made excellent progress on a relatively level stretch of highway on the Black Forest plateau. We refrained from hitching onto the much faster moving trucks this morning. Turning west near the picturesque town of Hinterzarten we were now heading toward the Höllental (Valley of Hell). Below these high-lying hollows of the town the federal highway B31 winds downhill in spectacular loops. Riding on this road turned to be a fantastic joyride, even though in hindsight it could have easily turned into a disaster, if the simple back pedal brakes had failed. After the railway station Hirschsprung with its steep slopes up to six hundred meters high came a section with towering cliffs known as the Höllenpass (Hell Narrows). The narrowest part of the gorge is called the Hirschsprung (Deer’s Jump). A common tale reports that a deer escaped hunters by jumping over the nine-meter wide gorge. Enjoying more the exhilarating high-speed ride than the magnificent scenery all around us we zipped by in typical teenage fashion toward the widening valley of the Freiburg district. It was late afternoon when we arrived at Aunt Meta’s place, where we received the warmest reception and for the first time in days had a decent meal again.

Since my last visit in 1953 Aunt Anna after the death of her husband Baron von Waldenfels had been living with Aunt Meta at the same apartment. Her colorful life as baroness, a very interesting piece of family history, can be read in the voluminous book ‘Familienchronik Klopp’ written by Eberhardt Klopp, a distant cousin of mine. Having grown up in the nationalistic era of Imperial Germany, she was still filled with the fervor of German patriotism. While we were savoring Aunt Meta’s delicious cake at the coffee table, her passionate plea to us strapping young men to embrace and adhere to the archaic concepts of blood and honor is still ringing in my ears after all these years.

Rainer made a phone call to his mother describing to her the fun we had but also the ordeals we experienced in pedaling through mountainous terrain. Whether it was compassion for her son or whether she just wanted to take a break from her household chores, I do not know. But she decided to pick us up in her VW beetle. We took our bikes to the railroad station and had them shipped to Wesel. The trip home with Rainer’s cheerful mom along the scenic River Rhine with its impressive mediaeval castles brought another adventure to a most pleasant conclusion.

Chapter IX The P. and G. Klopp Story – Part IV

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 Succulent Peaches and Playful Friendship with a French Girl

The yard around the house at Maria-Theresia-Str. 4 was beautiful indeed. A hedge completely surrounded the property except for the iron wrought gate near the main entrance of the house. Various fruit trees decorated a good part of the yard, and the peaches were reaching full maturity. There was nobody who expressly told me not to eat them. I ate them, because they were there and because they tasted delicious. With each new bite the juice was squirting into my face and running down on each side of my mouth. My taste buds were so delighted that I overindulged in the pleasure of eating the succulent fruits, until my stomach began to grumble and was sending warning messages, which I chose to ignore. Too late! At first I barely made it up the two flights of stairs to get to the bathroom on time. Then the visceral revolt became too strong, I ran behind a bush to relieve myself. A woman from a next-door balcony watched in horror the revolting sight and rushed over to complain to my aunt, “This boy did not have the decency to go to the washroom and he disgusted himself on the lawn.” This was the way she described it in her excessive sensibility regarding bodily functions with that the rare German expression ‘Er hat sich verekelt.’

 

House, where Aunt Meta lived - Photo Credit: Google Earth

House, where Aunt Meta lived – Photo Credit: Google Earth

On the ground floor lived a high-ranking officer of the French occupation forces with his wife and a daughter, who was about my age. She often came out on the yard to play with me. There was no language barrier. We played all the simple games we had learned in school that required no or very little equipment, such as hopscotch, throwing pebbles into a circle, hide-and-go-seek, etc. Prejudices of our two different nationalities did not exist in our young hearts. The extent of my French vocabulary after three months of instruction was still under one hundred. However, under the tutelage of this vivacious little girl bubbling over with words and gestures my stock of words grew by leaps and bounds. When I made my first attempt to use some of the new phrases I had learned from her, she giggled goodnaturedly over my enthusiastic effort to communicate in her mother tongue. I have very fond memories of my summer holidays in Freiburg, and they will remain as one of the pleasant highlights of my childhood years in Southern Germany.

St. Martin Church Messkirch - Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

St. Martin Church Messkirch – Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

Upon my return to Messkirch things were looking up for awhile. My homeroom teacher Fräulein Welte was quite pleased with my sudden interest in French and with the general improvement in the other subjects as well. My more positive attitude was in part prompted by the so-called ‘blue’ letter. It was sent home to inform parents about their child’s poor performance in school. Now I was no longer in danger of failing the grade. Also there was a more pleasant atmosphere at the Stoll family. They must have enjoyed the break from having to deal with me during the summer holidays. The focus was now on the upcoming joyful event. For the baby was due in less than two weeks.

The P. and G. Klopp Story – Chapter IX Part III

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Stress Free Summer Holidays in Freiburg

 

The summer holidays came as a relief from the mounting anxieties that I felt in school and at the Stoll’s. My parents put me on the train to Freiburg, where Aunt Meta lived at Maria-Theresia-Str. 4.

Freiburg - Photo Credit: newline-magazine.com

Freiburg – Photo Credit: newline-magazine.com

The city has now a population of 200,000 people. Historically, Freiburg has acted as the hub of the Breisgau region on the western edge of the Black Forest in the Upper Rhine Plain. One of the famous old German university towns, archiepiscopal seat, the city was incorporated in the early 12th century and developed into a major commercial, intellectual and ecclesiastical center of the region. Freiburg is located in the heart of a major wine-growing area and serves as the primary tourist entry point to the scenic beauty of the Black Forest.

When I arrived at my aunt’s apartment, I immediately felt that a great burden had been taken off my shoulders. Aunt Meta, Father’s youngest sister, cheerfully received me into her pleasant home and the love, which I had been so sorely missing for the last three months, she lavished upon the youngest child of her youngest brother Ernst. Her husband, Professor Vincenz Mülbert, had been suffering from a lengthy illness and was in the hospital during my entire stay. Meta Emma Klopp made me feel right away at home, and even though she had no children of her own, she was like a mother to me. And when I needed correcting for something in my conduct that she strongly disapproved of, her kind words flowing from a warm and understanding heart accomplished much more than the harsh treatment that I had endured at the carpenter’s house in Messkirch.

Aunt Meta

Aunt Meta

In the spacious living room stood a grand piano. Tante Meta allowed me to play on it, even though I had never received any lessons. What attracted me were not its sheer size and unusual shape and the looks of the mysterious white and black keys. Rather I was fascinated by the discovery that by simply pressing the keys of the piano I entered a world hitherto unknown to me, the amazing world of musical sounds. Each individual note or sequence of notes created a pleasant sensation, which made me search for other notes to reinforce it. I once sang Kindergarten songs to seek comfort from the fear of darkness, I played a kazoo to express the joy of being part of a group, but the notes I played on the piano had a more profound impact. They provided a first glimpse into the power of music to open the doors to my inner being, the very gateway to my soul. However, for someone else, especially for Aunt Meta my musical explorations on the keyboard must have been horrible to listen to. Her patience and understanding were truly admirable.

Freiburg Cathedral - Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

Freiburg Cathedral – Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

On Sundays Aunt Meta took me to the church service in the famous Münster of Freiburg. Everything in the cathedral, the towering stone columns, the stained glass windows, the altar, indeed the entire building itself inside and outside point heavenward towards God. You stand there in awe of the splendor created to the glory of God by generations of craftsmen. The priest delivered a sermon whose content I have long forgotten. It must have been a very simple homily. For almost every sentence emphasized the need to pray and the need to be thankful. And that was I guess the essence of what the priest conveyed to his flock in church.

The P. and G. Klopp Story

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Conclusion of Chapter 6

Chart I – III

My very first memory goes back to the tumultuous time, when Mother, my brother Gerhard (Gerry) and I were on a train crammed with refugees. I do not remember any specific details, such as the name of the railroad station, where we must have stopped, the town, the time of the day, etc. What I do remember is that I was standing at the edge of the platform with hundreds of people frantically milling about. I do not know why I was standing there in a strange, noisy station surrounded by strange, noisy people. Then quite unexpectedly the train began to move ever so slowly at first. Panic stricken I looked around and searched in vain for Mother. In agony I cried out for her. While the train on its way out of the station was gradually picking up speed, the fear of being left behind, the feeling of complete, utter abandonment struck me like a ton of bricks. Suddenly I felt being lifted up from behind and passed through the open compartment window into my mother’s arms. This traumatic event left such a vivid impression on me that even though it was devoid of concrete details the inner experience was so real that I have not forgotten it to this very day.

Expulsion from the Eastern Provinces - Photo Credit: Wikipedia.org

Expulsion from the Eastern Provinces – Photo Credit: Wikipedia.org

We arrived in Schleswig-Holstein at one of the many refugee camps set up for the thousands of displaced people from the eastern provinces. But it was only a temporary stay. The authorities urged the newcomers, after they had recovered a little from the ordeals of their long journey, to move on to areas in Southern Germany, which had been less affected by destruction and would more readily have accommodation available for us. So Mother, Gerhard and I traveled into the French occupied zone to Freiburg, where my father’s sister, Aunt Meta, lived with her husband Professor Vincent Mülbert. On a stopover in Offenbach, Baden-Würthenberg, Mother made arrangements for me to be baptized. I often pondered later in my adult life on the reasons why it had taken more than four years to receive my baptism, one of the essential sacraments in a Christian’s life. I see an important lesson for all of us, who have grown up in the rapidly changing era of modern Western civilization with its great emphasis on materialism. The root of evil is not money itself, but, as the Bible states so clearly, it is the love of money. It is the desire to find happiness in the acquisition of material things. Looking back at Gutfelde with this critical perspective in mind, I cannot help, but observe a drifting from the true faith, in which Mother had been nurtured in her father’s home, away to a faith-like trust in the security offered by material possessions. We lived in a mansion that did not belong to us. Father was a good administrator of the lands and fields of dispossessed Polish farmers. Yes, he was kind and helpful to all the people working under his authority. But it does not detract from the rightful charge that the farmland was worked in a system that heavily relied on a master-servant relationship in order to make it work. With the collapse of the Third Reich that was supposed to last a thousand years and the loss of our beloved Gutfelde came the sober realization that their little ‘paradise’ in the east had been nothing but a pipe-dream, a house not built on rock, but on the shifting sands of man’s earthly aspirations.

Freiburg City Center 1944 - Photo Credit: City Archive

Freiburg City Center 1944 – Photo Credit: City Archive

We received a warm reception at my aunt’s place in Freiburg, a city with a population of over 100,000 inhabitants before the war. By the end of the Second World War 80% of the city lay in ruins. An air raid as late as November 27th, 1944 made 9,000 out of 30,000 apartments uninhabitable, killed 2,000 people and all that was left of the city center was the cathedral. The Münster of Freiburg was built across a span of several centuries and exhibited a range of architecture from late Romanesque to Late Gothic and even a tad of Rococo. Its single tower with a lacy spire was the first of its kind. The building remained mostly unchanged since its completion in 1513. Miraculously, unlike so many great cathedrals and churches in Germany, it was not entirely destroyed during the severe Allied bombing of Freiburg and its ensuing firestorm, although the whole area around it was reduced to rubble. The city fathers had expected an aerial attack, even though strictly speaking Freiburg was a non-industrial town and practically useless as a military target. So they put their heads together to find a way to save the cathedral from destruction. My aunt told me, when I came to visit her later as a ten year old, that they had fir trees attached to the pinnacles and other high points of the cathedral so that like Christmas trees they would with their bright green colors of hope alert the pilots to the city’s urgent plea to spare the 500 year old precious piece of architecture. I could not verify the story, but I too found it amazing that everything else in a large diameter around the building was completely flattened by the Allied aerial attack, but the church itself had remained virtually unscathed.

Coal-mining Spoil Tips along the Kalmius River

Coal-mining Spoil Tips along the Kalmius River – Photo Credit: Wikipedia.org

In the meantime Father had a major accident, while he was working in the coalmines in the Donbas region of the USSR. He received treatment for his head injury and would have been sent back to work, if he had not feigned continual headaches. Thus, he succeeded in getting an early release and was sent back to Germany. When he arrived at Uncle Günther’s place in Erfurt, he heard that the entire family had survived the war. He established contact with Mother and the children and in 1947 moved to Rohrdorf, a small village in Southern Germany between the River Danube and Lake Constance. There he found employment with the regional branch of the Fürstlich-von-Fürstenberg forest administration. Eventually the entire Klopp family was reunited. Although now extremely poor, often hungry, and dispossessed, we were together and could attempt a new beginning.

St. Peter and Paul Church Rohrdorf - Photo Credit: Wikipedia.org

St. Peter and Paul Church Rohrdorf – Photo Credit: Wikipedia.org

There were indeed very few refugee families who were fortunate enough not to have lost any family members during the horrible expulsion from their eastern home provinces. Volumes have been written on the topic of the greatest mass migration in modern Western history. I will relate only the bare facts as they pertain to my own family. Father belonged to that segment of civilian population that was deported in large numbers to the Soviet Union to do as it was called ‘reparations labor’. The German Red Cross estimated that 233,000 German civilians were deported to the USSR, where 45% were reported either missing or dead. As to Mother’s expulsion from the eastern provinces, the numbers are truly mind-boggling. The movement of Germans involved a total of at least 12 million people. Official sources, like the German Federal Archives, estimate that at least three million people perished in their flight from the Red Army, in labor camps, through starvation and disease, through murder in retaliation and revenge for atrocities committed by the Nazis during the war years. I mention these gruesome statistics only to emphasize the great miracle of the survival of the Ernst Klopp family amid all the odds stacked against them.

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