The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Family Project

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The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Chapter XXVI

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Of a Young Man’s Needs and Faithfulness

Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for. Epicurus

Biene’s Second Visit to Gotha

Beautiful Stained Glass Windows at the Erfurt Cathedral

During the last three weeks of my military service I took the time to write a report on my army experiences. I intended to mail it to the ombudsman, whose job was to receive and act on the written complaints from soldiers about alleged abuses and injustices in the West German army. Having gained the much-needed distance from the upsetting transfer episode and having received fair and respectful treatment at my final army post at Marburg, I was in the right frame of mind to describe in an emotionally neutral and objective manner some of the deplorable conditions at the Koblenz barracks, where low ranking army personnel were fraternizing, drinking, and getting drunk with common soldiers and thus tarnishing the public image of the Armed Forces. I also pointed out the errors, which the officer in charge – whether intentionally or not I could not say – committed to bring about my transfer to Maxhof. Furthermore I made it clear that while I lost out on a chance of becoming a lieutenant of the reserve, the army itself would suffer in the long run from such careless and wasteful practices. Biene helped me by typing up the handwritten draft copy of the report.  She was quite impressed how I managed to control my anger and yet decidedly communicated my legitimate concerns to the ombudsman. Being aware of the fact that for the first time we worked together to address and solve a problem, she remarked in her letter that all her thoughts were directed to a time in the future with me. She wanted to do her part that our life would not turn to be something, upon which we would look back with regret, rather a life that was perhaps difficult, but would fill our hearts with joy, because we mastered it together.

Lingerie Boutique in East Germany 30 Years after the End of World War 2

About a week before my birthday Biene and her twin brother Walter traveled to Gotha to visit their sister Elsbeth in the GDR behind the Iron Curtain. In those days, when a fence heavily guarded by the National People’s Army (NVA) divided the two Germanys, a person needed a traveling visa and a residence permit in order to cross the border and visit close relatives. What made the application process so frustrating for so many West Germans was not the hefty fee they had to pay, but the arbitrariness in the approval process by the East German authorities. Only in the event of a severe illness or death of a close relative could one be fairly sure to get that all important entry document. So Biene and Walter were lucky indeed to make their journey to their former hometown Gotha and to be together with sister Elsbeth and her family at their birthplace. The apartment, where Elsbeth, her husband Paul Werner, and their two sons Norbert and Christian lived, was located in a beautiful house that had escaped the destruction of the Allied bombing raids during the war. The home offered the warm, cozy feeling of a secure harbour, where the family found refuge from the desolation of the outside world, the depressing sights of dilapidated houses all around the neighbourhood. While West Germany had experienced an incredible economic boom with an unprecedented growth in prosperity during the past twenty years, not much had changed on this side of the border and large parts of the major cities still lay in ruins. There was a shortage of the most basic consumer goods that forced shoppers to buy, whenever and wherever they happened to be available in the drab city stores.

Biene and her two Nephews Norbert and Christian – 1965

On Biene’s previous visit in the summer of ’64, the two sisters had already formed a close bond with each other. Now Elsbeth was jealously watching that nobody spent too much time with her cherished guest. Together they traveled to Erfurt to visit the famous cathedral, where Martin Luther was ordained in 1507. Inside the 1200-year-old Gothic church they marveled at the beauty of the altar. Biene was impressed by the rich colors of the stained glass windows that let the vibrant light stream into the interior. In the evening the entire family would sit around the table and play a round of the German card game Doppelkopf, which was also our favorite game at the Kegler Clan. Of course, her two nephews were delighted, when they were allowed to spend a little bit of time and go for a sightseeing tour around town with their elegantly dressed and pretty Aunt Biene from the West.

Biene’s Birth Place in Gotha

Elsbeth had watched on East German TV many interesting documentaries on the landscapes and people of Canada. She confided to Biene that if she could live her life over again and had the freedom to travel, she would immigrate to this fascinating country with its magnificent scenery and its promise of a better future. When Biene told her that I was going to Canada in a matter of a few weeks and that we had promised to be faithful to each other, Elsbeth voiced her skepticism and did not mince words in sharing her opinion on what a man of my age needed. She warned her younger sister that I would be looking for a girl who would offer more than she had been able to give. Biene was quite troubled by her sister’s pessimistic views on men’s desires for sex and their  potential lack of faithfulness. True to our promise of always sharing our thoughts and concerns with each other, she immediately communicated her worry regarding these disturbing insights in a letter directly from Gotha and asked me to respond and hopefully reassure her.

A Delicate Question Answered

Gertrud (Biene) Panknin’s Graduation Class – Who can find her?

On my 23rd birthday with less than a week left before my release from the military service, I sneaked away from the electronic maintenance job, which had been completed long ago and only existed for one purpose to keep us busy and to kill time. I sat alone at the table of Room 328. No sergeant, drillmaster or officer would bother me here. The carrier frequency equipment, for which I had been responsible for its smooth operation, was in top shape and my absence would not be noticed anywhere at the Falkenstein Barracks. I wanted to do something special on my birthday. The daily celebrations, the drinking and carousing to mark the remaining ‘glorious’ days in the army were not that special anymore.

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Endless Celebrations: Less than Ten Days Left of Military Service

I longed for quiet, a time to reflect on this idle Wednesday morning. I wanted to respond to Biene’s anxious questions and genuine concerns. Here at the soldiers’ simple living and sleeping quarters no loud talking and singing were distracting me, I found the ideal space to grapple with the contentious issue raised by Biene about faithfulness. It was good to know that Biene trusted me to provide an honest answer. I was proud of her courage to touch on the topic of sexuality, which we two had been too shy to discuss at our few encounters. I took out from my closet pen and paper and began to write down my thoughts. It turned out to be a very long letter, in which I, trusting Biene as much as she trusted me, did not hesitate to truthfully lay bare my innermost feelings. The following are excerpts taken from my lengthy reply.

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Peter and his Buddy at the Last Military Exercise – March 1965

“March 24th, 1965

 My dear Biene,

Yesterday I received your letter from Gotha. Your sister seems to have a rather strange opinion on men. I am glad that you broached the delicate subject of sexuality. But I found it a little troublesome  that you let yourself get so easily misled. But I don’t want to reproach you; for I myself had often to deal with opinions of young married and unmarried men who asserted that a girl could only be faithful and true to her partner, after she had gone to bed with him. Please forgive me this drastic manner of expression, but why should I beat around the bush? You see the accusations are coming from both sides. As for me, I refuse to accept any form of generalization, when people say, that’s how women are, that’s how men are.

 But now to your concerns! You would like to know how I think about it, dear Biene. Like in all men there is undoubtedly a force that drives me to the opposite sex. Yes, furthermore I concede that the drive is not necessarily directed to a particular person. Dear Biene, you must absolutely believe in what I am writing you now. Let no ever so bold opinion throw you off balance again, if you truly love me. Sexuality does not stand on its own, otherwise we would be like animals, but it is intertwined most intimately with the entire personality of the human being. There will always be tensions, in which we have to struggle to maintain the balance and keep this vital force under control.

 Whoever surrenders in this battle and needs to run to a woman to relieve his tensions is in my opinion a weakling and a coward no matter how assertive and self-assured he might otherwise appear. And in what comes now, you can totally put your trust. Since we love each other, this battle for me is over. I have been able to have this uncanny force coexist in harmony with myself. It is always there, lurking behind the scenes, surprising me at times, but it does not bother me any more. When I read a book, look at pictures, walk in the streets or watch a movie, it often and unexpectedly flares up, and then in full awareness of control I have to smile at myself. Don’t you think that one has overcome much, if one can smile at oneself? Do you still worry about me, even when I tell you that I am strong enough to wait for you and through you alone I have become so strong? As long as I can hope for the fulfillment of my ideals, which I have set for myself, you may chase your worries away. You stand in the midst of this sphere, dear Biene, whether I am in Canada or at the end of the world.

 How beautiful it is that we are so frank with one another! This will not only keep us together, but also bring us ever closer together. Do we want to show this spiteful world that one can wait for one another for years without so-called ‘side leaps’, do we want to, dear Biene, do we want to?

 Finally I would like to say one thing, your sister will one day have to concede that there are some exceptions among men, who will turn out to be ‘miracle men’. Now you will smile; thank you so much! Be completely reassured!

          Your Peter”

The modern reader may scratch his or her head over the outdated notions about love and faithfulness expressed in our letters over fifty years ago. Yet, in our mind they remain completely unchanged and have been our beacon of hope even through the darkest and most turbulent times in our life-long relationship.

Last Rendezvous in Germany

Peter on the Left Walking out of the Falckenstein Barracks

The day of our official release from the West German Army had finally arrived. For the last time we stood in attention in front of the main building. One could easily spot the reservists and distinguish them from the soldiers on active duty by just looking at their clothes. We wore civilian clothes, while the others were standing in their uniform. In spite of all the drudgery during the past two years, it now felt good to have served one’s country. To prevent a war through the presence of a strong army as a deterrent to a would-be attacker was in my opinion far more important than being involved in a conflict with its horrors at the front line and with its casualties among the civilian population. I was grateful for the opportunity to spend my final six months in Marburg. I felt enriched by the outstanding technical training, blessed with a company of cheerful comrades, respected by a competent staff of officers and sergeants. Last but not least I was awarded a fine testimonial, which gave credit to my successful teaching assignments. Soon after the brief farewell speech and words of encouragements and good wishes by the commanding officer we walked through the open gate into momentary freedom until new duties and responsibilities – some of our own choosing, others forced upon us by circumstances beyond our control – would limit our choices all over again. But at this very moment we were truly free. I took the very first available train to take me home to my mother in Watzenborn. In an almost nostalgic mood I hummed in my mind: Parole heißt Heimat, Reserve hat Ruh!

Card Sent Home to announce my Coming

Biene’s reply to my long-winded exposition on love and faithfulness was very encouraging. She also confided to me that only two years prior to meeting me she was not even allowed to step outside the door. Her mother, to whom I will remain for ever grateful, worried a lot about her, kept a watchful eye, and thoroughly investigated, where she was going and with whom she was getting together. At that time quite a few dramas were rolling over the home stage. Biene admitted that during that time she was often in danger of being swept up by her impulsive and passionate feelings. Mother Panknin kept her from getting lost on the wrong path and made sure that her precious daughter would not be led astray by false emotions. But now it seemed that she had trust in her daughter. And even though she had never really got to know me, through the eyes of her daughter she seemed to have developed a favorable image of me. How else, so I asked myself, could she let her travel to me and allow her to stay overnight at a distant location? On Biene’s last visit, before I departed for Canada, with full support of her parents, she came to visit me for an entire week. Perhaps Herr and Frau Panknin shared Biene’s older sister’s view believing that once I was off to another country far away from Biene, our relationship would eventually fizzle out and die a natural death.

Peter and Biene in Front of Erna’s House in Michelbach

On Monday, April 5th, Biene arrived by train in Giessen, where I met her at the station. From there we traveled together to Michelbach near Schotten at the foot of Mount Vogelsberg. The week before I had given Erna, Father’s second wife, advance notice that we were coming for a visit. She knew that this would be the very last time Biene and I would be seeing each other before my voyage to Canada. Even though she was still mourning over Father’s sudden and unexpected death the year before, she did her best to make us feel welcome in her so typical cheerfulness. Everything was prepared for a comfortable and enjoyable stay for us. I was going to sleep in Father’s bedroom upstairs, while Biene was sleeping in the guest room.

Erna, Father’s second Wife, on the Left with her Friend Friedchen Langlitz

After a good night’s rest and a hearty breakfast, Biene and I decided to hike up to the Hoherodskopf, one of the higher peaks of the Vogelsberg Mountains, a 2500 square km terrain that was formed totally from volcanoes some 19 million years ago. This volcanic region has been long extinct. It had created one of the most amazing basalt rock formations anywhere in the world. But on this wonderful April day we were not going to study geology, we had better things in mind. We were more interested in each other’s company, living in the here and now, savouring each precious moment. It was cool, but the sun shone brightly over the park like landscape. Thunderclouds arising above the western horizon lent the vernal panorama a dramatic effect. We were grateful that we encountered very few people on our leisurely stroll, as it was early in the season. There was nothing that would disturb the warm, tender feelings we felt for one another. This was also not the time to look back at all the obstacles, challenges, and problems that we had to deal with in the past. We had mastered them and had set them aside not allowing them to interfere with our blissful state of mind.

Biene on our Hike to the Vogelsberg Peak

There was no need to talk. Our hearts and souls felt at one. We reached the top just in time to find some shelter from a heavy downpour that was threatening to spoil our outing. Near the peak of the Taufsteinhütte we stepped into a cozy restaurant by the same name, when the first raindrops began to fall. The dining area created that special kind of ambience so conducive for a romantic get-together, each table place at a window with a view over the spectacular scenery. Just then lightning lit up the dark clouds. Then followed the rumbling of thunder in the distance. I ordered a bottle of Mosel wine to celebrate and drink to our love that had carried us so far and would help us bridge the long time of separation ahead. For on this day we had not only climbed Mount Voglsberg, but even more importantly we had also reached a new pinnacle in our relationship. The rain was now coming down in buckets. Thunder and lightning engendered an electric atmosphere. In a strange mixture of fear and passion it made us move closer together. In the spirit of ‘carpe diem’ we did not gulp down our wine as if in hurry, instead we sipped the sweet wine from the Mosel valley to make the moment last. We almost wished that the storm would last forever. At least for the moment, time appeared to stand still. When we tasted the last drop, the storm and rain had subsided and had moved on. Erna, having worried about us, had sent a neighbour to pick us up in his car. We reluctantly got up and with a feeling of regret let the neighbour drive us back to Michelbach.

Schotten – April 1965

On the following day Biene and I promenaded down to the quaint town of Schotten with their timber-frame houses so typical of this region. Biene was quite excited and full of anticipation. For I had announced that I would buy her a mystery gift. Of course, I could not tell her what it was; after all it was supposed to be a mystery gift. Biene behaved as if she knew the secret. Therefore, she kept her innate curiosity for all things unknown to her in check. If I had a picture of us two walking into town, I would in a comic-book-like fashion place two speech bubbles above our heads. The one above Biene would say, ‘Today is the day Peter will buy me an engagement ring. I will be so happy!’ And my bubble would say, ‘Today is the day I will buy her a genuine Hohner harmonica. She will be so happy!’ Had I not played the mystery game, had Biene said just one word, I would have bought the ring and put it on her finger for everyone, her parents, friends and all would-be suitors to see that she was engaged. Instead she was now in possession of a fancy harmonica that could be played on both sides in keys C and G. Biene looked pleased and even appeared happy, but I am sure that deep inside she was also a bit disappointed. What I could vaguely at the time was that we could have saved ourselves a lot of pain and agony in the not too distant future, if we had been able to communicate with each other just a little better.

Michelbach, the Little Village, between Schotten and Vogelsberg Mountain

It was the night before we had to head back to Mother’s place at Watzenborn Was it the moon, or the noisy cats prowling and meowing in the attic, or fear of the unfamiliar surrounding, or romantic passion stirring in us? Perhaps all of these things! The plain fact, however, was that we could not sleep. With the two upstairs bedrooms so close to each other it would have been so simple on any of the three nights to yield to temptation. But we did not. I would be a hypocrite, if I was going to explain our conduct in terms of a moral victory. It just happened, almost certainly for our own good.

The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Chapter XXIII

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The Complexities of the Heart

 The heart has its reasons which reason knows not. Blaise Pascal

 

Marburg Castle - Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

Marburg Castle – Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

Biene and I had met twice in the early summer of 1964, each time for only a few hours, as I had a long train ride to get back to the barracks before midnight. Being completely incapable to feel happy for any length of time until then, I was amazed how my restless heart and mind could be in perfect harmony to permit that elusive sensation of happiness during those five wonderful hours I had spent with Biene along the shores of Lake Baldeney. This blissful feeling was further enhanced when Biene wrote that she now knew that I was no longer just a fantasy person, but a real human being she could love and be happy with.

Alas, barely two weeks later, while I was still deeply immersed in a state of euphoria, a letter from Biene arrived with an obscure message out of which I could make very little sense.

“Dear Peter,

You will probably ask yourself why I haven’t written to you sooner. Indeed, you may ask this question. It is strange with me; for I can’t get rid of my sadness. When everything outside looks so peaceful and when I think of you, it is getting even worse. I would rather crawl into my bed being so much in pain and cry. How beautiful it is outside! The sun is shining and the wheat fields have already turned completely yellow and the stalks are swaying in the wind and making a gentle sound. Normally wheat fields fill me with joy and let me dream many a beautiful dream. And now?

I would like to talk to you about everything that moves me. But it is not because of you that I cannot do it. I have a great longing to be with you. But I cannot tell you what I want to tell you. It would increase my sadness, because I would hurt you, and I would like you so much to be happy, if you think of me. Please forgive me that I write nothing that would cheer you up. Normally, I am not like that. Now even beautiful memories don’t comfort me. I don’t want to think about anything of the past …”

Uncle Günther and Peter

Uncle Günther and Peter

I reread this passage at least half a dozen times in an effort to penetrate the veil, with which Biene may have covered a secret of the past. With all the talk in the male-dominated army, where many a room buddy had made himself an expert on what made the girls tick, on how to deal with their capricious behaviour, on how to please them, what to do and what not to do, with all that half knowledge of the opposite gender floating around in the gossip mills, not one of the so-called specialists ever mentioned the devastating influence of the monthly period. I was completely ignorant about what most women had to put up with, their mood swings, feeling psychologically and physically down, often bordering on severe forms of depression. More likely than not, the topic was one of the few remaining taboos left in the otherwise rough and tumble world of the military environment. If only I had had an inkling of those terrible days, often labeled ‘the evil days’, then truly I would have worded my reply with greater understanding. But not knowing the true nature of her problem I merely encouraged her to unburden herself of her troubling past.

Do you really believe, dear Biene, that I could be happy at your expense? I know that so much of your past has been left unexplained and remains shrouded in darkness.  Now you write that the ‘before’ oppresses you or whatever else it might be. But you won’t say, because you don’t want to hurt me. How sweet of you! But you must understand me right. If you are not happy, I cannot be happy either. It makes no sense to shield me from your pain. On the contrary, the silence is more torturous. I start to dig in my memories and try to figure out what it is that bothers you. And someone, who contemplates, gets too many ideas.  I’d rather be sad with you than to wander about in fateful darkness, where there is no room for true happiness. Does it have to do with Henk? Or haven’t I understood you yet? Are you afraid that I would some day be lost to you forever? A thousand questions that make me sick! Dear Biene, I ask you, be of good courage and write what oppresses you. Otherwise, I don’t feel happy any more …”

Then there was Biene’s question about my brother Adolf.

“Sometimes I think of your brother from Canada. I cannot understand that no girl would want to be his wife. If two love each other, it does not matter where the two are together, and if it were at the end of the world. Don’t you think so?”

It was obvious that Biene used the example of my brother Adolf to indirectly tell me that if I was going to Canada and stayed there, she would be willing to follow me and be my wife. However, dense as I was then with regard to her hypothetical questions, I failed to read between the lines – the very same ineptitude, of which I had often accused Biene in the past. Or was it that we both suffered from the same tendency to back off whenever we came dangerously close to making a commitment? So I lamely replied as if Adolf had truly been her main concern.

Family Gathering: Aunt Mieze, Eka (Lavana), Mother, Peter and Adolf

Family Gathering: Aunt Mieze, Eka (Lavana), Mother, Peter and Adolf

“You wonder, dear Biene, why Adolf can find no girl, who is willing to follow him to Canada. Have you ever put yourself into this position? Think about what a girl would have to give up: her parents,  friends, dear acquaintances, her home country, etc. Girls cling much more to matters of the heart than boys.  Adolf knows this …”

So we two continued to beat around the bush. We only indirectly described to each other our innermost desires and hopes and out of fear of appearing too bold, we foolishly held back and failed to openly state what really was important to us, our love for each other.

Biene’s Visit to her Birthplace in Gotha

and her Vacation on the Island of Majorca, Spain

In the meantime Biene traveled to Gotha, where her half-sister Elsbeth and husband Paul Werner with their two children Norbert and Christian lived. Biene grew up in Gotha, until her parents and family escaped to West Germany. After a lengthy ordeal at the refugee camp in Aurich her parents eventually succeeded in receiving a decent apartment in Velbert.

Castle Friedenstein, Gotha - Photo Credit: thueringerschloesser.de

Castle Friedenstein, Gotha – Photo Credit: thueringerschloesser.de

Biene reported enthusiastically about her former home province Thuringia. They made many excursions into the surrounding area of Gotha, even visited the famous castle, the Warthburg, where Martin Luther within the safety of the massive walls translated the Bible into German. But what mattered most to Biene was that she and Elsbeth became close friends. They spent as much time as possible together.

biene

Biene with her sister Elsbeth

While everyone was sound asleep, Elsbeth, twenty years her senior, would share her most precious memories with her. The two would often talk into the wee hours. Biene learned that Elsbeth loved to pen stories and even contemplated writing a book. After the wedding she was deeply saddened that her husband did not share her passion for writing. He was a very practical man with both feet on the ground and was focusing only on what had to be done to survive in the postwar communist society, where most basic consumer commodities were scarce. Paul ignored what was dearest to his young wife’s heart and treated with contempt what was in his eyes useless, sentimental tripe. He callously burned her entire portfolio of creative and much cherished writing leaving her nothing of her priceless collection except for a very few stories, which she managed to save from the senseless destruction. Overall, Biene had spent a wonderful time at her birthplace, that quaint house and apartment, where little had changed, since Biene and her family had escaped from the socialist ‘paradise’ in 1954.

The House in Gotha - Biene's Birthplace

The House in Gotha – Biene’s Birthplace

Within barely a week upon her return to Velbert she was getting ready to fly with her friend Gisela to the Spanish Isle of Majorca. There in the company of other young girls and boys she enjoyed two relaxing weeks at the sandy beaches of the Mediterranean Sea. This was the first time Biene was allowed to travel alone without parental supervision. Her mother had always kept a watchful eye on her stunningly beautiful and romantically inclined daughter, who had given her in the past much grief with her dangerous, almost fateful attraction she exerted on her male admirers. But as it turned out, Biene returned home safe and sound, tanned by the southern sun so dark she could have easily been mistaken for a Spanish senorita.

Biene on Vacation on Majorca Summer 1964

Biene on Vacation on Majorca Summer 1964

Apart from lounging at the beach and going swimming, Biene had once gone scuba diving in the crystal clear waters to explore the mysterious seascape, which gave her quite a thrill. However, as she soon discovered, diving and depending on the vital air supply from the oxygen tank on her back was not entirely without danger. While she took in the wonders of the strange world under the sea, the air supply suddenly dwindled forcing her to quickly surface. There was plenty of oxygen left in the tank. Perhaps Biene had put a kink into the connecting hose. Fortunately she had kept her cool and after being confronted with imminent danger did not panic. After this scary experience Biene decided that it was safer to stick with the more relaxing beach routine. Their flight back to Germany had been delayed by more than a day due to the loss of a plane, which the small tourist airline had suffered in a plane crash elsewhere. When they finally arrived in the dead of night at the Düsseldorf Airport, no busses were running any more to take them home. Biene and her friend were stranded. They were waiting at the dreary railroad station for the morning to come. Then a small miracle happened, which I let Biene describe in her own words.

Beach on Wild Coastline of Majorca - Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

Beach on Wild Coastline of Majorca – Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

          “In the bungalow village was also a young girl who was teased by all, especially by the boys. She was strutting about in an extravagant attire entirely too dressed up. Nobody liked her. I had only once exchanged a few words with her. When Gisela and I were now waiting at the station for the morning and had gone outside to catch a little bit of fresh air, she suddenly walked up to us. She knew that our plane had landed late. When she learned that our bus would arrive only in the early morning, she took us without hesitation to her place not far from the station. She gave us each a couch, where we totally exhausted slept until she woke us with coffee and buns. You wouldn’t believe how lovingly she cared for us. I had never before noticed so prominently how much one lets outer appearance deceive oneself. I was really stunned by such kindliness.”

The Pain of Indecision

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Romantic University City of Marburg, Hesse, Germany  1964

Love that is engulfed by fear is not perfect. It cannot grow in the darkness of uncertainty, where doubt enters the heart and where there is no commitment. In my excessive sensitivity towards Biene’s past distressing experiences of love coming too early and too suddenly, but also out of the horrid fear of rejection, I never found, as I should have, the courage to ask her point-blank to marry me. With a clear yes or no, we both would have been able to carry on with our lives and make plans for the future with or without being together. There is infinite wisdom in the convention to have a formal engagement when both partners gather with their families, relatives and friends, exchange rings, and promise before witnesses to marry each other. In as much this formal coming together was lacking, doubtfulness and its evil ally distrust cast a dark shadow on our relationship in spite of our declared love for each other. Until we met again in November, the pretence to be happy with a mere friendship on my part caused us both to sit on the fence. Frustrated with the regression to a mere amicable correspondence between two very good friends, I responded to Biene’s lamentation over the power of Fate, which was threatening to separate us,

          “Leave Fate, dear Biene, out of the picture. Fate in our case is not a blind, impersonal power, to which we must submit. We all create it with our own desires and action. When you say that Fate will one day separate us; that we have to knuckle under; that we have to be happy with what we have given to each other, then you don’t mean Fate, but you yourself and your hidden wishes. What should separate us? Is it perhaps my voyage to Canada? This is not Fate’s power, but my own wish. My wish is also to return if necessary, and yours could be simply to follow me. Why am I harping on it so long? Because I remember all too well our agreement right from the beginning to be honest and truthful, even if it meant to hurt one another. Please don’t be angry with me that I am writing to you so openly… I do not stand terrified and inconsolable before this mysterious force called ‘Fate’. No tyrant, nor any distance, nor any ocean can separate us. We alone separate each other.”

Marburg, Germany on the Lahn River - Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

Marburg, Germany on the Lahn River – Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

          There is some truth in my reflections of some fifty years ago. People do indeed use this irrational force as a pretext to excuse their own lack of courage, inability to act when action is required, their self-doubt and uncertainty about that portion of their personal life that could be given direction and purpose if there was a will. However, truth becomes tarnished when mingled with disingenuous motives and intentions. Such was the case when I accepted the boundary that Biene had set for our love, although in reality I had always wanted to cross that boundary. Instead of giving a pedantic lecture on Fate, why didn’t I tell her that I loved her, asked her to marry me, and then, if she said yes, point out that we needed to make plans to turn our dreams into reality? With horror I look back and realize how much I had been willing to risk with my provocative letter, in which I had renounced my true intentions. But I was young and inexperienced, only a little over a year out of high school. I was groping in the dark. I had nobody to turn to for advice. I only had Biene’s responses and reactions, which were often just as bewildering and confusing to me as were my letters to her. The problem was that we were so much alike in our fear of the pain of permanent separation, which was looming more and more ominous with each passing month that we were erecting walls to protect ourselves, when we should have been busy building bridges of love and faithfulness. Thus, it is not surprising that Biene shrouded in darkness about my true feelings for her would not be writing very encouraging words to bolster our relationship.

          “Alas, I also hope, as you do, that everything will work out nicely between the two of us, before you depart, although then the good-bye will be even harder. I thank you that you want to grant me my wish (respecting the boundary) and imagine, sometimes I even wish the opposite. Oh Peter, it is so confusing. Please forgive me! I don’t understand it myself. The more I want to free myself from you, the more my longing for you increases.”

          Were these lines popping up sporadically in her letters not an urgent plea to me to make a move, to take the first step to reach out to her, to comfort her with a word of commitment? In the culture of traditional values and conventions of the mid-sixties Biene expected me to take the initiative and break the stalemate. But shy like a little schoolboy I kept beating around the bush. The word marriage was not part of my vocabulary. However, mindful of my good friend Dieter’s advice, I began to arrange another rendezvous with Biene. She was eager to prepare our meeting and combine it with a visit to the Wuppertal Opera House. We both were looking forward to it. We sincerely felt that seeing each other again would chase away those gloomy thoughts and ominous forebodings about our impending separation and potential break-up of our tenuous, yet so cherished relationship.

Chapter 26 of the Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Part I

13

Of a Young Man’s Needs and Faithfulness

Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for. Epicurus

Biene’s Second Visit to Gotha

Beautiful Stained Glass Windows at the Erfurt Cathedral

During the last three weeks of my military service I took the time to write a report on my army experiences. I intended to mail it to the ombudsman, whose job was to receive and act on the written complaints from soldiers about alleged abuses and injustices in the West German army. Having gained the much-needed distance from the upsetting transfer episode and having received fair and respectful treatment at my final army post at Marburg, I was in the right frame of mind to describe in an emotionally neutral and objective manner some of the deplorable conditions at the Koblenz barracks, where low ranking army personnel were fraternizing, drinking, and getting drunk with common soldiers and thus tarnishing the public image of the Armed Forces. I also pointed out the errors, which the officer in charge – whether intentionally or not I could not say – committed to bring about my transfer to Maxhof. Furthermore I made it clear that while I lost out on a chance of becoming a lieutenant of the reserve, the army itself would suffer in the long run from such careless and wasteful practices. Biene helped me by typing up the handwritten draft copy of the report.  She was quite impressed how I managed to control my anger and yet decidedly communicated my legitimate concerns to the ombudsman. Being aware of the fact that for the first time we worked together to address and solve a problem, she remarked in her letter that all her thoughts were directed to a time in the future with me. She wanted to do her part that our life would not turn to be something, upon which we would look back with regret, rather a life that was perhaps difficult, but would fill our hearts with joy, because we mastered it together.

Lingerie Boutique in East Germany 30 Years after the End of World War 2 

About a week before my birthday Biene and her twin brother Walter traveled to Gotha to visit their sister Elsbeth in the GDR behind the Iron Curtain. In those days, when a fence heavily guarded by the National People’s Army (NVA) divided the two Germanys, a person needed a traveling visa and a residence permit in order to cross the border and visit close relatives. What made the application process so frustrating for so many West Germans was not the hefty fee they had to pay, but the arbitrariness in the approval process by the East German authorities. Only in the event of a severe illness or death of a close relative could one be fairly sure to get that all important entry document. So Biene and Walter were lucky indeed to make their journey to their former hometown Gotha and to be together with sister Elsbeth and her family at their birthplace. The apartment, where Elsbeth, her husband Paul Werner, and their two sons Norbert and Christian lived, was located in a beautiful house that had escaped the destruction of the Allied bombing raids during the war. The home offered the warm, cozy feeling of a secure harbour, where the family found refuge from the desolation of the outside world, the depressing sights of dilapidated houses all around the neighbourhood. While West Germany had experienced an incredible economic boom with an unprecedented growth in prosperity during the past twenty years, not much had changed on this side of the border and large parts of the major cities still lay in ruins. There was a shortage of the most basic consumer goods that forced shoppers to buy, whenever and wherever they happened to be available in the drab city stores.

Biene and her two Nephews Norbert and Christian – 1965

On Biene’s previous visit in the summer of ’64, the two sisters had already formed a close bond with each other. Now Elsbeth was jealously watching that nobody spent too much time with her cherished guest. Together they traveled to Erfurt to visit the famous cathedral, where Martin Luther was ordained in 1507. Inside the 1200-year-old Gothic church they marveled at the beauty of the altar. Biene was impressed by the rich colors of the stained glass windows that let the vibrant light stream into the interior. In the evening the entire family would sit around the table and play a round of the German card game Doppelkopf, which was also our favorite game at the Kegler Clan. Of course, her two nephews were delighted, when they were allowed to spend a little bit of time and go for a sightseeing tour around town with their elegantly dressed and pretty Aunt Biene from the West.

Biene’s Birth Place in Gotha

Elsbeth had watched on East German TV many interesting documentaries on the landscapes and people of Canada. She confided to Biene that if she could live her life over again and had the freedom to travel, she would immigrate to this fascinating country with its magnificent scenery and its promise of a better future. When Biene told her that I was going to Canada in a matter of a few weeks and that we had promised to be faithful to each other, Elsbeth voiced her skepticism and did not mince words in sharing her opinion on what a man of my age needed. She warned her younger sister that I would be looking for a girl who would offer more than she had been able to give. Biene was quite troubled by her sister’s pessimistic views on men’s desires for sex and their  potential lack of faithfulness. True to our promise of always sharing our thoughts and concerns with each other, she immediately communicated her worry regarding these disturbing insights in a letter directly from Gotha and asked me to respond and hopefully reassure her.

Chapter 23 of the Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Part II

9

Biene’s Visit to her Birthplace in Gotha

and her Vacation on the Island of Majorca, Spain

In the meantime Biene traveled to Gotha, where her half-sister Elsbeth and husband Paul Werner with their two children Norbert and Christian lived. Biene grew up in Gotha, until her parents and family escaped to West Germany. After a lengthy ordeal at the refugee camp in Aurich her parents eventually succeeded in receiving a decent apartment in Velbert.

Castle Friedenstein, Gotha - Photo Credit: thueringerschloesser.de

Castle Friedenstein, Gotha – Photo Credit: thueringerschloesser.de

Biene reported enthusiastically about her former home province Thuringia. They made many excursions into the surrounding area of Gotha, even visited the famous castle, the Warthburg, where Martin Luther within the safety of the massive walls translated the Bible into German. But what mattered most to Biene was that she and Elsbeth became close friends. They spent as much time as possible together.

While everyone was sound asleep, Elsbeth, twenty years her senior, would share her most precious memories with her. The two would often talk into the wee hours. Biene learned that Elsbeth loved to pen stories and even contemplated writing a book. After the wedding she was deeply saddened that her husband did not share her passion for writing. He was a very practical man with both feet on the ground and was focusing only on what had to be done to survive in the postwar communist society, where most basic consumer commodities were scarce. Paul ignored what was dearest to his young wife’s heart and treated with contempt what was in his eyes useless, sentimental tripe. He callously burned her entire portfolio of creative and much cherished writing leaving her nothing of her priceless collection except for a very few stories, which she managed to save from the senseless destruction. Their son Norbert kindly contributed for my blog one of her story in German entitled Sein Letzter Besuch (His Last Visit – Christmas 1942). Overall, Biene had spent a wonderful time at her birthplace, that quaint house and apartment, where little had changed, since Biene and her family had escaped from the socialist ‘paradise’ in 1954.

The House in Gotha - Biene's Birthplace

The House in Gotha – Biene’s Birthplace

Within barely a week upon her return to Velbert she was getting ready to fly with her friend Gisela to the Spanish Isle of Majorca. There in the company of other young girls and boys she enjoyed two relaxing weeks at the sandy beaches of the Mediterranean Sea. This was the first time Biene was allowed to travel alone without parental supervision. Her mother had always kept a watchful eye on her stunningly beautiful and romantically inclined daughter, who had given her in the past much grief with her dangerous, almost fateful attractiveness she exerted on her male admirers. But as it turned out, Biene returned home safe and sound, tanned by the southern sun so dark she could have easily been mistaken for a Spanish senorita.

Biene on Vacation on Majorca Summer 1964

Biene on Vacation on Majorca Summer 1964

Apart from lounging at the beach and going swimming, Biene had once gone scuba diving in the crystal clear waters to explore the mysterious seascape, which gave her quite a thrill. However, as she soon discovered, diving and depending on the vital air supply from the oxygen tank on her back was not entirely without danger. While she took in the wonders of the strange world under the sea, the air supply suddenly dwindled forcing her to quickly surface. There was plenty of oxygen left in the tank. Perhaps Biene had put a kink into the connecting hose. Fortunately she had kept her cool and after being confronted with imminent danger did not panic. After this scary experience Biene decided that it was safer to stick with the more relaxing beach routine. Their flight back to Germany had been delayed by more than a day due to the loss of a plane, which the small tourist airline had suffered in a plane crash elsewhere. When they finally arrived in the dead of night at the Düsseldorf Airport, no busses were running any more to take them home. Biene and her friend were stranded. They were waiting at the dreary railroad station for the morning to come. Then a small miracle happened, which I let Biene describe in her own words.

Beach on Wild Coastline of Majorca - Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

Beach on Wild Coastline of Majorca – Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

          “In the bungalow village was also a young girl who was teased by all, especially by the boys. She was strutting about in an extravagant attire entirely too dressed up. Nobody liked her. I had only once exchanged a few words with her. When Gisela and I were now waiting at the station for the morning and had gone outside to catch a little bit of fresh air, she suddenly walked up to us. She knew that our plane had landed late. When she learned that our bus would arrive only in the early morning, she took us without hesitation to her place not far from the station. She gave us each a couch, where we totally exhausted slept until she woke us with coffee and buns. You wouldn’t believe how lovingly she cared for us. I had never before noticed so prominently how much one lets outer appearance deceive oneself. I was really stunned by such kindliness.”

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