Chapter XI of the P. and G. Klopp Story – Part VI

Breeding Gold Hamsters

Taking care of a pet is not the same as looking after a car, a yard or a household. The main difference is that people have an opportunity to interact with a living organism. So it was with me and the fish in the aquarium. To make them thrive, I had to feed them, replace the water every month or so, scrape off algae that grew on the walls and make sure the sand at the bottom was free of gunky waste material. I committed myself to do this chore, because I liked the little acrobat. By responding and interacting with me, it had won my heart.

Golden Hamster - Photo Credit:

Golden Hamster – Photo Credit:

It was not too long before I could afford to buy a different kind of pet, a sweet little golden hamster in a large cage. The pet store sold only females to prevent customers from breeding and competing with their line of business. The average life expectancy is between two and three years, so customers sooner or later would have to come back and buy a replacement. My hamster was a cute, lively and healthy creature making me quickly forget my tiny pike. My friends were delighted as well taking turns holding her and letting her tickle them with her whiskers.

Deutschland, DEU, Cuxhaven: Weiblicher Goldhamster (Mesocricetus auratus) links bei der Abwehr eines Männchens. | Germany, DEU, Cuxhaven: Golden Hamster (Mesocricetus auratus), female on the left discouraging male on the right. |

Getting Acquainted – Photo Credit:

During the twilight hours she became most active. Often she would climb into the exercise wheel and turn it at an incredible speed for more than half an hour at a time. During the day she would snuggle up in her cozy nest made out of wood shavings. One day I brought her a male companion from a pet vendor at the Wesel kermesse. After a friendly greeting ceremony and a get-acquainted ritual of touching and sniffing, they discovered that they were of opposite sex. Without further ado they mated in front of my surprised eyes. They obviously thoroughly enjoyed what they were doing and took their time to prolong their pleasure of communing together. After the two were done celebrating their union, each withdrew to its own nest at opposite corners of their cage.

Golden Hamster Babies -

Golden Hamster Babies –

Now golden hamsters have the shortest gestation period of all mammals, a mere sixteen days to produce a litter. Word spread quickly among my friends and in turn to their acquaintances that I was breeding the cutest pets they had ever held in their palms. Before the pups were even born, they were sold to six prospective buyers at two marks a piece. Great was the disappointment, when the first litter contained only two. I learned first-hand what the economic law of supply and demand really meant. There were four pups in the second litter, and they sold well with a 50% increase in the price. In the following litter there were eight, and when on the fourth cycle sixteen pups were born, my mathematical mind saw the pattern of a geometric progression and predicted thirty-two the next time around. Well, there was no next time. Mother hamster had enough. She figured the best birth control would be to kill her partner on his next amorous approach, with which by now she was completely familiar. And that’s what she did. My poor golden male hamster died shortly afterwards succumbing to the lethal wounds and lacerations from her razor-sharp teeth. The population explosion had come to a sudden end.

In the evenings Mother and Aunt Mieze had often company. My brother Karl and sister Eka (Lavana) now and then came for a visit. I felt quite frustrated that my bedtime was still nine o’clock. I was excluded from the after-supper conversations that would have granted me interesting insights into the world beyond my little town. So during the day equipped with a sharp and wide-blade screwdriver I attempted to drill a hole through the wall to participate at least passively in what was being discussed. Two years later I would have had enough know-how to install a hidden microphone in the living room. But drilling a hole through a concrete wall proved to be too much of a challenge. I had barely penetrated the plaster. No matter how hard I pressed my ear against the hole in the wall, I could not pick up a single word. But for now, I had to wait for a bedtime extension a few years down the road.

When Aunt Gertrud, who had been head nurse in an East German hospital, managed to escape the communist state and slip across the German-German border, she found immediate employment in the Wesel Senior Citizen Home. She often dropped in at our apartment and bitterly complained about the chaotic conditions at the home for the elderly and grieved about the lack of respect for her as a person and leader. The staff envied her position that in their opinion should have been filled by a local administrator and not by a ‘foreigner’ from the German Democratic Republic. All alone against the backdrop of daily insubordination and insidious backstabbing, she became quickly depressed and despondent. Cases of severe depression were well-known among the members of the Kegler branch of our family. Less than a year after she had entered the ‘Golden West’ with high hopes to find freedom and prosperity she couldn’t take it any more and committed suicide. Not being particularly close to my aunt with the bushy eyebrows and not quite realizing that death meant final separation from our earthly existence, I went about my daily life as if nothing had happened (See also post on Gertrud Kegler of May 5).

Gertrud Kegler 1896 – 1957

Life-long Service to the Sick and Wounded

Chart II a – II

On March 27, 1896, Gertrud Kegler, second daughter of Pastor Carl Kegler, was born at home in the parsonage of Grünewald, Pomerania. She attended the local elementary school from 1902 to 1905. For the following three years she received private instructions in a neighboring village to prepare her for the all girls’ high school in Stettin (Szczecin). Like all the other Kegler children she was confirmed by her father in the village church of Grünewald. It must have been a great joy for Pastor Kegler to see his three lovely daughters sitting in the front pew, while he was delivering his Sunday sermon from the pulpit. He endearingly called Marie, Gertrud and Erika (my mother) his three lilies.

The Three 'Lilies'

The Three ‘Lilies’

After graduation from high school she took nurses’ training in Neustettin (Szczecinek) and obtained certification as a registered nurse in 1919. For almost 20 years she worked as a member of the sisterhood of the Johanniter Order. The Order’s regulations have worded this command as, “The Johanniter answers the call, where the suffering of his neighbor awaits his act of love, and where the irreligion of the afflicted demands that he witness his faith.”

Saint Catherine of Alexandria church Photo Credit:

Saint Catherine of Alexandria church in Thorn – Photo Credit:

During the Second World War she worked from 1939 to 1945 in a military field hospital at Thorn (Torun) tending to the needs to the sick, disabled and injured. This came to a sudden end, when the advancing Red Army forced the medical administration to close down the hospital. Gertrud fled with her colleagues and managed to reach Stolpmünde (Ustka), where my grandmother Elisabeth and Aunt Marie were renting a small apartment. Shortly after,through a kind of ethnic cleansing all Germans in Pomerania and all the other eastern provinces were expelled from their homeland. So the three eventually arrived in Middle Germany, what later  came to be known as the German Democratic Republic.


Mother and Aunt Gertrud on the Right

After the war from 1945 to 1947 Gertrud Kegler continued to work as a nurse in Belsen-Bergen, where nearby the infamous Nazi concentration camp was located. In 1948, the chief physician, who had worked with Gertrud in Thorn, West Prussia, remembered her as a highly qualified and competent nurse. He asked her to join his staff at the hospital in Malchin. There she was employed as head nurse. She helped under most difficult circumstances to build up the medical facilities of the hospital.

My wife Biene already described in her fascinating blog ‘This Miraculous Life’ at the lure of the ‘Golden West’. In addition to the attraction of greater freedom and prosperity in West Germany, there was a third factor that prompted my aunt to cross the Iron Curtain. Her sister Marie, who lived with my mother and me in Wesel from 1956 to 1962, had noticed an ad in the local newspaper for the position of a head nurse in a senior citizens’ home and alerted her Gertrud to the opportunity to start a new life in Wesel. When my aunt arrived in 1956, the three sisters were finally reunited.The Dom in 2001

However, what could have been a joyful period for the three, ended in tragedy. On her time off from work, Gertrud would often drop in at our small two-bedroom apartment on the street corner of ‘Auf dem Dudel 1’. Stress from the new and very challenging position as head nurse was written all over her face. It was not just the tremendous workload in a totally different environment that caused her a lot of grief. It was rather the envious and ill feelings her staff had toward the Ossie (slang for someone from East Germany) that gave her so much pain. Also they may not have liked the conscientious attitude of their supervising nurse, who put the care and well-being of the elderly front and center before comfort and ease at the work place. Gertrud did not mince words when it came to correct sloppiness and negligence in the treatment of the most vulnerable in her care. She may also have suffered under depression, which had struck on and off quite a few members of the Kegler family when they had been under great duress and mental strain. After one year of suffering she could not take it anymore. She committed suicide on February 21, 1957. I was not yet 15 years old at the time. Not having a concept of death as a final event for us here on earth, I was not overly shocked by her parting. I remember her as the kind aunt with enormous eye brows, who liked to listen to me, when I was reading aloud from my Latin reader.