The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Family Project

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Chapter XIX of the P.and G. Klopp Story Part II

9

One Drink Too Many

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Peter’s Home Town Wesel (Willi Brordi Church) – Photo Credit: hanse.org

When I returned from my brother’s wedding, I resolved to be more goal-oriented, to study hard, to raise myself above mere mediocrity to an academic achievement I could truly be proud of. On the wall hung the work schedule, which I had imposed upon myself outlining a rigorous timetable: getting up at six, attending school from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., taking some time off till three, doing homework and studying till five. After supper followed another two hours of intensive study. I had a lot of catching up to do. An hour before it was time for me to go to bed. usually around ten o’clock, I critically reviewed my day. And if according to the work schedule I had passed the test, I rewarded myself (and only then) with a small shot of vodka and let the pleasant warmth penetrate my body as a form of instant relaxation. The master allowed the slave to temporarily forget the self-imposed burden. At moments like these I would grab my guitar, play a few simple classical pieces composed by Carulli, or take out the harmonica and strike up a potpourri of folksongs, pop music or my favorite scouting melodies.

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At times when I felt in a creative mood, I would open the metal box with a dozen or so water colors and try my untrained hands to paint a picture often with a futuristic theme inspired by my voracious reading of science fiction novels. One picture (see above) depicts a romantic scene showing a young couple sitting on a park bench under the light of the full moon. High above the horizon towers the head of a helmeted space woman of a distant century in the future, whose envious eyes are glaring down on the romantic couple below.

          Wilhelm, my classmate, came to school from a neighboring town. His father produced apple juice, with which he tried to compete with the popular Coca Cola product that was making economic inroads into the German beverage market. Wilhelm once demonstrated in our school how corrosive coke was by filling two glasses, one with his father’s apple juice and the other with coke. He then threw an iron nail into each glass. In the following week, when we entered the chemistry lab, we were astounded by what we saw. The nail in the glass filled with coke was completely encrusted with rust, whereas the one in the apple juice was still shiny and unaffected. However, we failed to see the connection to the possible ill effects that the popular drink might have on our sensitive stomach linings.

          It was about two weeks before Christmas, when Wilhelm came up to my apartment and brought me a 10-liter jug of apple juice. I placed it on the hot water radiator. Without the aid of a wine making kit with its expensive accessories we embarked on producing a cider by letting Mother Nature do the job. After only a few days I could report to my friends in school that bubbles were rising in the bottle, a certain indication that the process of fermentation had begun. Hans, Helmut, Wilhelm and I were already looking forward to our Christmas break party with the potent apple wine in the making. Soon the bacteria finding ample food in the juice and turning the sugar into alcohol multiplied a million times over generating CO2 at first weakly fizzing, then growing into a crescendo very much like the sound of rushing waters. Finally the bacteria had done their duty, and the homemade cider was ready for the party. School was out. In the New Year the final race would come to the finish line. The dreaded written and oral exams were looming on the horizon. So we four all felt the need to let go and put aside for a while our worries and graduation blues. I had put the jar outside into the wintry air on the balcony to chill the brew into a refreshing drink. We made ourselves as comfortable as possible in my tiny room. My three friends were sitting on the couch that converted into a bed and I sat on the only chair at my desk, whose prominent occupant was the giant jug with its delicious content. I poured the cider into coffee mugs. There were no glasses in the mini-kitchen. At first we had a serious talk about our plans for the future. The classroom genius Hans wanted to enroll at the Marburg University to study nuclear physics; Helmut, the lawyer’s son, was seeking a position in economics; Wilhelm planned to embrace a teaching career, and I had set my eyes on becoming an electronics engineer specializing in high frequency technology.

Aus Elektronik 62

Peter’s ‘Engineering Notes’ on Basic Electricity – 1962

 I poured us another cup of that deceptive cider that tasted like a refreshing fruit drink but carried a powerful punch. Hans tuned my guitar and starting picking a few melodies. Most Siemens workers in the building had gone home to their families. The apartment building was almost devoid of people. So there was nobody we would disturb with our singing. After another cup we had reached the point where singing had become the necessary ingredient for the continued success of the party. The vocal chords well lubricated by the smooth drinks were ready to metamorphose us into a cheerful bunch of young men.

Wine Jug

Our home made cider would not have earned any prizes. But it was potent.

To the great delight of my friends, after we had gone through our favorite scouting and traveling songs, I offered to sing a spiritual to express my sentiments over our oppressive teachers in school: “When Israel was in Egypt’s land, let my people go. Oppressed so hard, they could not stand …”, which I sang with the deepest voice I could muster without floundering. Now Hans injected rhythm into the life of the party and played masterfully one of the Flamenco style pieces with the beats being pounded vigorously on the guitar body. “That was the rendition of our friend and maestro worthy of another drink”, I said. By now the content of the 10-liter jug had dropped to about the halfway mark. Suddenly Helmut got up and said he had to go to the bathroom. The way he staggered into the hallway made it clear that he had already had too much to drink. Someone said, “I hope he’ll find the toilet in time. He looks ‘blau’ (German slang for drunk) to me!” Now one must know that in Germany you locked the bathroom door with a key. Poor Helmut must have taken it out and dropped it on the floor. All of a sudden we heard him call, “Let me out! You locked me in!” We rushed into the hallway and tried to convince him that he was the one who locked himself in and that he would have to find the key. “It is not in the lock”, he complained.

          “Then it must be on the floor. Look for it”, we replied. Finally he located the key. What came next is incredible. Helmut’s level of intoxication was so far advanced that his eye-hand coordination was severely hampered. He was unable to insert the key into the keyhole. Imagine the hilarious scene, in which we three friends tried very hard to give him directions how to put the key into the hole. I was just about going to call the janitor for help, when Helmut managed to open the door. He looked pale and disgruntled, whether it was out of embarrassment or intoxication, we could not tell. Without saying good-bye he took his coat and left. Needless to say the bathroom incident had put a damper on the jolly time we were having. Nobody felt like having another drink. The party was over.

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

6

My Twentieth Birthday Celebration

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In contrast to the war games my birthday parties with Hans, Klaus and Rainer took place in a rather amicable atmosphere. Mother, who liked my friends very much, was very supportive and ensured that we boys would have fun in celebrating my special day. She even contributed a bottle of fine Mosel wine. Since each guest also brought a bottle, Mother hid them and mad sure that only one bottle at a time would be on the living room table. She did this to alleviate my aunt’s concern over our overindulgence in alcoholic beverages. Before the actual party began, Mother and Aunt Mieze joined us for coffee and cake. All eyes were fixed on the main object of attraction, a visual feast, which made our mouth water in delightful anticipation. Mother had known my preference for the same cake during the past four years and had done it again for my 20th birthday. In the middle of the table she had placed the beloved Grillagetorte, which she had ordered from the local bakery and pastry shop. As soon as you mention this cake outside the Lower Rhineland, you encounter blank faces, because nobody seems to have heard of it. But for decades the Grillagetorte had been the center of many traditional coffee parties and the focus of family get-together and festive days. The cake is the product of high-level pastry making, a pastry composition made from half-frozen cream and meringue. This was heavenly cake for us. It had a fresh and crisp taste, crunchy and rich with its layers of cream and pastry, in short it was fit for the celebration of the first twenty years of my life. How much we enjoyed the feast can only be measured by what little was left over on our plates, which looked as if we had licked them clean. Mother and Aunt Mieze now withdrew to the kitchen so that the all-boys party could begin. We opened the first bottle of wine, filled our glasses to the rim and said cheers.

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It’s Time to Hand out the Sweets – Hans Holding his Guitar on the Right

It was the tacit understanding that each guest would have to make a presentation worthy of the occasion. Rainer took on the role of a nonagenarian and delivered a comical review of his long life in a slapstick mix of prose and poetry, which, because I remember it so well, I will attempt to translate into English.

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Rainer and the Birthday Child Having a Fun Time with Song and Drink

“Today I am celebrating my 90th birthday. I don’t feel that old yet, but I always say, what is gone, is gone. When I was born, there was nobody at home. On the table lay a note that said, ‘The milk is in the oven’. My mother’s maiden name was Federal Railway, for that name was written on our towels. We did not have a clock. When the chamber pot was full it was six o’clock in the morning. But when my father had gone boozing, the pot was running three hours fast. When I was six years old, I went to a special needs school. What my special needs were, I still don’t know to this day. The teacher was quite dumb and asked a lot of questions. One day he asked one student, ‘What do you know about the ancient Romans?’ The student answered correctly, ‘They are all dead.’ Then it was my turn, ‘What do you know about the ancient Wends (a Germanic tribe that sounds like walls in German)?’ I answered, ‘The plaster keeps falling off from them.’ He must have liked my answer, for he pressed his hand into my face. After I had completed my education, I started to work in a photo shop. There I could not develop, because my boss was constantly fixing me. One day a woman came into the shop and asked me to enlarge her family. I told her to kindly go to the man who had started it all. Each time I opened the cash register I got a cramp in my fingers. My boss did not like it and I was voluntarily forced to leave. Then I went on a long journey with my older brother. All the things he found, other people hadn’t even lost yet. One day we found a rope with a cow attached to it. The judge would not believe that we just wanted the rope and he gave us three years of free board and room. During that time I discovered my poetic talents and wrote a number of fine poems, one of which I would like to share with you now.

‘Ein Stinktier saß auf einer Bank und stank.

Es hatte keine Eile, es stank aus langer Weile.

Und als die Sonne war versunken,

da hat das Stinktier immer noch gestunken.’

 

Roughly translated into English, it reads like this:

‘A skunk sat on a bench and stank.

Away it wouldn’t scurry.

It wasn’t in a big hurry.

And when the sun had finally sunk

The skunk on the bench still had stunk.

The translation provides a little bit the flavor of the story, which was very well received by the entire gang and cheered with another glass of wine from a new bottle of slightly inferior quality. Hans for his contribution played three pieces of classical guitar music composed by Sor, Carulli, and Albinoni. This was truly a feast for our ears, even for Rainer not accustomed to this musical genre. Hans, an absolute genius in so many fields of endeavor and autodidact in the fine art of playing the guitar, performed later in his university years on his simple six-string so expertly that a wealthy aficionado gave him as a gift the best classical guitar money could buy. What amazed then and still amazes me today is how a single instrument can sound as if there were three: one for the melody, another for the accompaniment, and a third for the rhythm provided by the tapping of the free remaining fingers on the hollow body of the guitar.

Rainer and Peter Singing a Duette

Rainer and Peter Singing a Duette of our Opera

Mother brought another bottle with a happy smile as if she was reminiscing about the good, old days in Gutfelde, where liquor also flowed in abundance to serve as a social lubricant. Then Klaus, apparently ill prepared, suggested that we all produced a totally improvised opera with the lofty theme of an emperor going to the bathroom. By this time we had imbibed so much wine that we most enthusiastically accepted the challenge to do a mini-opera without an orchestra guiding us from scene to scene except for Hans’ intermittent strumming on the guitar. We sang solos, duets, every possible combination of roles and characters describing graphically in a down-to-earth language the emperor’s pains and troubles on the toilet seat. As it was also loaded with words that would never surface in a properly written school essay, I will spare the reader any further details of our otherwise artfully created opera.

Peter Pouring another Glass of Wine

Peter Pouring a Glass of Wine to Celebrate another Black Poker Mark

After we had emptied the third bottle and our cheerfulness had turned into a cacophony of uninhibited song, fragments of classical music, and pop music from the radio, we transferred our party to my room at the opposite end of the apartment as not to disturb the elderly tenants below. With wine being consumed more in gulps than in sips, the level of our inebriation had reached its climax. We played a round of strip poker, in which for each lost game the player had to surrender one piece of clothing on his upper body and be marked with a black cross from a chunk of charcoal. Finally it was time for my friends to go home. I guided them down the two flights of the creaky wooden staircase making sure that nobody would fall over their wobbly legs and also would not make a racket that would incur the wrath of the landlady. She had once asked me rather innocently how I liked the new apartment. Not expecting any guile, I naively replied, “Oh, I love the new place very much.” Then in a threatening tone she retorted, “Then make sure that you will keep it!”

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