It didn’t take us long to overcome our initial shyness, and we started to get to know each other during recess. Towards the end of the week, Angelika asked if I would be allowed to visit her on the last day of the school week. We could walk together to her place, and her dad would drive me home at night.
My parents had no objections, and on Saturday, after early dismissal, we walked together to her home. It was a long walk to an unfamiliar part of town. There were lots of trees and beautiful yards. In Germany, most people do not own houses but live in apartments. Angelika stopped at a big cast-iron gate and opened it with a key. We walked through a long garden path to a big house with many windows. A slender young lady opened the front door. She had raven black hair and pale blue eyes. She kissed Angelika on the cheek with a gentle smile and then greeted me. I hadn’t expected Angelika’s mother to look so young. She served us some delicious little pastries in a bright sunroom. The delicate cakes looked like the ones I had longingly admired in the window of the fancy pastry shop in town. Finally, I tasted these small fruit tarts covered with strawberries and topped with whipped cream. Frau Janzen asked me many questions about my family, interests, hobbies, and school. She had a gentle voice and kind eyes. After our refreshments, she showed me all the rooms in the beautiful house, and I was reminded of our big, wonderful home in Gotha, which we had lost. Our room at the Old House where we lived now was about the size of this sunroom.
Gauke and I were dining at the Gasthof zur Post, a small inn not far from the beautiful Starnberg Lake. We savored the tender pork roast served with the traditional dumplings and salad. It was midweek and hardly any tourists ventured out from the big cities to see the lake country in the dead of winter. So we had the cozy dining area all to ourselves in the ideal ambience, where the refreshing Bavarian beer and conversation make a great pair to enhance friendship and companionship. We had decided to accept the captain’s advice and make the best of our remaining time in Bavaria. I was still reeling under the effect of the double whammy of a lost opportunity for advancement in the army and the specter of unrequited love. But the fine food and drink started to ease the tension and made me at least for the moment forget both the headaches and heartaches of the past three weeks. My friend started talking about his sweetheart in a town near Frankfurt, with whom he got together almost every other weekend. The previous summer they had gone on a bicycle tour out from the searing city of concrete and steel. Following the picturesque River Main they found an idyllic spot at one of its tributaries, where they pitched their tent. They had a most wonderful time at the campfire gazing at the stars, listening to the nearby murmuring brook, then huddled together, as the chill of the cloudless night made them seek each other’s warmth. Hearing Gauke so passionately describe his summer weekend with his girlfriend, I almost choked. There was my friend and comrade sitting across from me with a romantic spirit just like me although with one painful difference. What he had so vividly portrayed that I could almost sense their happiness, he had experienced in the real, tangible world in perfect harmony of body and soul. In my dream-like fantasies I had visions of similar experiences. But they were mere figments of my imagination coupled with the hope that somehow or someway, if I waited long enough, they would as if by the stroke of a magic wand become reality.
Gauke not knowing the feelings he had stirred up within me kept on talking. “Now, Peter, do you know what the sweetest moment is when I come home on the weekends?” He was so eager to tell that he did not wait for me to answer. “When the train arrives at my hometown just a few minutes before midnight and I step off the train, I see at the end of that long empty platform behind the iron gate my girlfriend with her long black hair fluttering in the night breeze.”
I wanted to shout at him, ‘Stop it! You are torturing me with your romantic talk!’ Instead I quickly grabbed the stein of beer and gulped down the cool liquid in a desperate effort to quell my emotions. As if Gauke had read my mind, he briefly interrupted his ardent story telling and ordered two more mugs of beer. Then perhaps sensing my embarrassment and uneasiness over all this romantic talk he quickly added in conclusion that he was invited to meet her parents this coming weekend and being only an ordinary soldier he was quite a bit nervous about it. I was thankful to Gauke about his tactfulness. For his talk reminded me of everything I had done wrong in my relationship with Biene and it confirmed what Dieter Krug had already stated on our scenic bike tour up the Moselle valley. To capture the affection of a heart and to desire to be loved, the two need to be together to feel each other’s presence and to experience each other through the five senses. This can never happen in and through letters. Remove the sight of your love walking with you on a shady trail on a warm summer day, remove her cheerful laughter, pleasant voice, her songs, remove her touch, a walk with her arm in arm, remove the sweet taste of her kiss, remove the fragrance of her hair and skin, and you will have blocked the gateway to each other’s soul, doomed to wither and die. We had been drinking our beer in silence, when Gauke indicated that now it was my turn to talk. After a long pause I told him that I had nothing to say.
“I noticed that you were writing a novel about her. And you want to tell me that you have nothing to say?” he rebuked and teased me in a jokingly disarming manner. Then he began to extract bit by bit like an experienced lawyer the details of my relationship with Biene and in doing so put them like little pieces in a mosaic clearly before me. He was surprised to hear that I had met her only once; he was even more surprised to hear that I loved her on the basis of mere letters; and he was most surprised to hear that she was engaged to a young man in Holland. He shook his head in utter disbelief. He ordered another beer for us. The he spoke kindly and softly no longer like a lawyer. With his balding head and the concerned looks on his face he actually looked more like a counselor.
“Peter, I urge you. Let go of her. The love you feel for her has no foundation. The love you think she feels for you is not based on reality but comes out of the make-believe world of sentimental novels or movies. Let go of her. You are heading for disaster. A girl who is engaged to marry another cannot possibly love you. And if she does, she is as crazy as you are, and she too will be heading for disaster. As a friend I give you my advice, let go of her, Peter.”
We sat for a while and silently finished our beer. Gauke was sensitive and kind. He did not speak another word. On the way back to the barracks I thanked him for his friendship and told him I would take his advice very seriously. I slept well that night as if a great burden had been taken off my chest. How could I have suffered so much about something that did not exist? With such rhetorical musings I drifted off to sleep.
Tinkering with Radios – Early Learning in Electronics
One of the ‘little piglets’ from our schoolyard games was Hans. He belonged to the so-called Ancient Language branch of the high school program with ancient Greek and Hebrew in addition to Latin as part of the prescribed curriculum. He was one of my closest friends. He excelled in every subject and later on graduated with the highest average mark the school had not seen for many years. In contrast to the rest of us he did not have to work in order to achieve such fame and glory. Barely an hour after school while I was still laboring over a math problem or hastily finishing a Latin translation, Hans stood two stories below on the sidewalk and whistled our secret code tune by which we recognized each others’ presence. He held an electronic kit under his arm and waited to be let into the apartment building. By this arrangement he did not have to ring the bell and disturb Mother in her sacred afternoon nap.
We spread out all the electronic parts needed for the next experiment on the kitchen table, studied and discussed the instructions in the voluminous manual, and then went ahead with the experiment of the day. After several weeks we have come to the last and most demanding project in the kit, the building of our first radio. Unlike today’s kits with their ready-made plug-in parts, ours was primitive. We had to wind our own coils on cardboard spools, which we procured from the empty rolls of toilet paper. We scraped the lacquer off the copper wire to make the ends conductive. But most challenging of all was the endless tinkering with the crystal that served as a diode that even then would have been available in electronic hobby shops in the big cities for as little as a dime. To make a long story short, we never got the radio to work no matter how hard we tried. But what we gained instead was far more valuable, a meaningful friendship and companionship that lasted until we lost track of each other when I immigrated to Canada. As for me, I had just added another fascinating hobby that engendered a passion for the world of electronics, a field that on a number of occasions promoted personal and professional growth and almost became a life-long career and had certainly – no maybe in this case – an all important impact on the direction that the trail of my personal life would take me.
Quite early into my adolescent years Mother and Aunt Mieze decided to pay me a monthly allowance the equivalent of about ten dollars in today’s buying power. The purpose of this generous plan was to teach me to handle money in a responsible manner. Indeed I quickly learned to save money only for more valuable items rather than to spend them on candies and ice cream. Typically my first purchases were books on electronic circuits and theory. Then I spent a few marks on discarded unrepairable radios, which the local radio and TV stores wanted to get rid of. It did not take me very long to have in my possession one of the fancier American models, which even had a so-called magic eye indicating the strength of the tuned-in radio station. Aunt Mieze, always prim and proper with rules and regulations, promptly registered the radio, which with a little bit of tinkering was working very well. She paid the monthly fee at the Post Office, at the time in charge of licensing the use of radio and television reception. Unfortunately, only a few weeks later, she had to cancel the subscription, because of the ‘improvements’ I had made to the radio. After another debacle resulting from obsessive tinkering, Aunt Mieze had enough and bought a very fine Grundig radio with FM, which was placed safely out of my reach in her room. One day a promotional LP from a record company arrived in the mail. Of course, now I had to have a record player. I pestered the three electronic store owners in town, until one of them let me have an old broken-down record player without amplifier and loudspeaker. I played the record and listened to the faint, but quite audible sound of the Hallelujah Chorus from Händel’s Messiah. To make the music louder I took an empty open cocoa can, attached a record needle near the bottom and the entire contraption to the take-up arm of the record player. The sound of the classical music was now considerably louder, but also tinny and unpleasant to listen to. So this prompted me to build my own amplifier complete with volume control from the leftover parts of all my ‘improvement’ projects. My friend Hartmut was impressed, except that he did not like the Hallelujah Chorus, with which I greeted him each time he dropped in to borrow some money to go to the movies.