The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Family Project

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The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Chapter XX

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Basic Military Training

The soldier is the Army.  No army is better than its soldiers. The soldier is also a citizen. In fact, the highest obligation and privilege of citizenship is that of bearing arms for one’s country.

George S. Patton Jr.

The train wound its way through the picturesque Lahn valley to my destination in Koblenz, where I was to receive my basic army training. I had celebrated my 21st birthday in the new home that Mother, Aunt Mieze, Uncle Günther, Aunt Lucie were renting in Watzenborn-Steinberg. After the traditional coffee and cake party we played several rounds of our favourite card game ‘Doppelkopf’ in the evening.

Chief of the Kegler Clan, Mother, Aunt Lucie, and Aunt Mieze- Pohlheim near Giessen 1963

Chief of the Kegler Clan, Mother, Aunt Lucie, and Aunt Mieze- Pohlheim 1963

Aunt Mieze was not fond of playing cards, so I had become a valuable game partner now and for all future occasions when I came for a visit. My aunt would rather sit a good distance apart from the noisy bunch in an easy chair and read a book. Often she would fall asleep in spite of the racket we made around the card table. Then the book she was reading would slip out her hands and fall on the wooden floor with a loud thud. Mother suggested to her to go to bed. However, she rather wanted to have the feeling of being part of the family than to give in to nature’s urgent call to sleep. Now on my way to the barracks I had the train compartment all to myself and while passing by ancient castles on the hillsides above the lazily meandering river below I had time to contemplate about the military service that I was about to render to my country. I was now of age, had the right to vote, could do things on my own, I was free, and yet, as I was approaching the city of Koblenz, I felt that I was not. I had simply traded one set of responsibilities for another. And I wondered whether that would always be that way.

German Corner (Deutsches Eck) Koblenz - Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

German Corner (Deutsches Eck) Koblenz – Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

In the early afternoon of April 1st I walked through the barracks gate carrying my suitcase with the few personal belongings we were allowed to bring during the training period. After I identified myself to the guards on duty as one of the new recruits, I proceeded to the building, where I was told I would find further instructions on the bulletin board located on the ground floor. There were about a dozen buildings all in the nondescript shape of rectangular boxes placed around a huge yard that served as the ‘playground’ for the military practice and drill sessions. The entire area was almost devoid of people. The previous generation of soldiers had been successfully ‘calved’ and been transferred for further training to the three major technical companies of the Signal Corps located in the city. Expecting the place to be brimming with activity where there was none gave me an eerie feeling as if I had erred perhaps on the start-up date or worse had fallen victim to a nasty April Fool’s trick. When I looked through the names list of some 120 men, I found it somewhat reassuring that Klopp was indeed on the roster. I even had a rank, which I shared with the other newcomers. From now on until I had advanced to the rank of a private, I would be Fu Peter Klopp, Fu not standing for a four-letter word, but rather more appropriately for ‘Funker’ (radio operator). I was assigned to Room 203, which meant Room 3 on the second floor in the three-story building. The extremely wide staircase surprised me and I wondered about the waste of space until I discovered that there was a method to the madness of the architect’s design of the overly generous width of the staircase and of the hallways. How else during an alarm could 120 soldiers rush out of the building in the required three minutes?

Peter as Civil Servant in Uniform 1963

Peter as Civil Servant in Uniform 1963

I was the first to enter Room 203. Although later on I had sometimes regrets about my eagerness to report for duty, my early arrival had the advantage that I could pick and choose the best location for my bed and closet. The room was definitely not set up for comfort. In the middle of the austere room stood a long table, around which 15 chairs were placed. Five bunks with three beds each were pushed against the walls. Each soldier would have for his personal belongings, army clothes and equipment a lockable wooden closet. The placement of these lockers was such that they formed a partial visual barrier between some of the bunks, thus granting a modicum of privacy. I chose the bottom bed of the bunk nearest to the left window and the closest locker for easy access. I was happy about my choice. The window would provide fresh air and the bottom bed would to some modest degree protect me from the disgusting bodily fumes permeating the entire room, especially after the soldiers returned from the local pubs, where low quality beer was being served.

Crest of the Fifth Tank Division - German NATO forces in Koblenz

Crest: Fifth Tank Division – German NATO Forces in Koblenz

I opened up the closet and stowed away my clothes, toiletry items, Mommsen’s ‘History of Rome’ and a few other books, which I intended to read during the weekends, during which we were not allowed to leave the barracks. There was plenty of room left. The empty shelves were waiting to be filled with army garb from the quartermaster on the very next day. When my belongings were neatly put away in the closet, I locked it securely with a padlock. It was considered just as great a crime to tempt your fellow soldier with an unlocked closet, as it was to steal from it. I put a pocketbook on the pillow of my spartan bed as a sign that I had claimed it as my own. Then I went outside and enjoyed sitting on the retaining wall of large circular pond in the late afternoon sun watching as the other recruits came trickling in at first, then eventually swelling to a human flood, as the deadline of the arrival time was rapidly approaching. Today we were still civilians. Tomorrow we would be soldiers wearing uniforms (derived from Latin ‘una forma’, meaning one form, one shape), individuals still on the inside, but a gray mass of young men pressed into the same mold of dress code, rules, military routines and activities. With the total uniformity of regulated daily life came the assault on our individuality with its profound effect on character and soul. Life in the army became the crucible, in which our character was put to the test, and for me, even though very painful at times, the process brought about refinement, which prepared me well for the many challenges further down the road in my personal life.

Getting to know my Army Buddies

We did not have much time to really get to know each one another in Room 203. But before we settled down for the first night, I had learned that most of us came from the same region in Northwest Germany. However, nobody came from the same town no matter how big and, as I discovered later, no more than two were high school graduates. It seemed to me that someone in the personnel department had done a good job in creating groups from social and regional backgrounds as diverse as possible. This was to prevent cliques from forming and to promote harmony. The other high school graduate was a violinist . He planned to further his musical talents after his mandatory 18 months by studying at a music conservatory. He had applied for a transfer to the band division of the army before he arrived in Koblenz showing convincingly that regular army service would ruin the dexterity of his delicate fingers needed for becoming an accomplished violinist. I took an instant liking to him and, enthused about his virtuosity, recorded on quiet weekends many of his solo pieces on my tape recorder. Overall the troop in Room 203 fitted nicely together. Perhaps the only thing that made me feel slightly uncomfortable when conversing with my comrades was that in contrast to the heavy Low German accent of the Ruhr industrial area (the Ruhr Pot) I spoke the standard High German, which made me stick out like a sore thumb in the otherwise very congenial group. But that did not seem to bother them in the least. They would often good-naturedly tease me or would say, if they had a problem or question, “Let’s ask the professor. He will know.” In short, I had the good fortune to be among a good bunch of people. And if there was any misery coming our way– to be sure there was going to be lots of it -, it would come from the drill sergeants, whose job was to toughen us up for the tasks ahead.

Old City Center of Koblenz - Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

Koblenz at the Confluence of the rivers Rhine and Moselle – Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

At the morning line-up we were standing on the pavement neatly arranged in a triple row from the tallest to the shortest. I occupied a fairly safe position from the critical eyes of the corporals in charge of the inspection. I stood in the third row on the left being one of the tallest in the company. The soldiers in the front row were the most vulnerable to harassment, where a missing button on the uniform, an half-open fly, dirty boots would come under an instant scathing rebuke peppered with such earthy language, were it not delivered half in jest with great exaggeration, it would have scared us right out of our wits. We at the back internally chuckled, when the sergeant noticed that we were not perfectly lined up and scornfully shouted, “You are standing there like the bull pisses!” or at the fly that a soldier had not completely buttoned up, “You pig, it smells like leather around here!” If one had learned to develop a thick skin, these verbal assaults were of little consequence. They simply put you on the alert to make sure that at line-up time you looked prim and proper by military standards. If you were found with dirty boots, the consequences were of a more serious nature. You usually wound up losing a weekend leave over such an outrageous crime against the honor of the army. On rifle inspection days you could expect similar punitive action, if you allowed a few dust particles to settle inside the shiny barrel of you rifle. Comments describing in most hyperbolic terms the lack of care for our most precious weapon were quite common like, “It looks like a herd of elephants has been stomping through your gun barrel!” Finally the captain as if on cue arrived. After his noncommissioned underlings had done the dirty job of whipping us into shape, he could afford to play the nice guy. With his kind, encouraging remarks he radiated the image of a loving surrogate father. He even suggested during one of the assemblies that, if we had a problem, which kind of problem he did not care to specify, his door to his office on the ground floor would always be open to us.

Army Buddies of Room 203 - Peter at Center Back (1963)

Army Buddies of Room 203 – Peter at Center Back, the Violinist at the Far Left

I was always looking forward to the afternoon line-up. Not only did I feel well rested after the noon break and pleasantly drowsy with a nutritious meal in my stomach, but also I was also full of anticipation that there might be a letter from Biene. At least once a week the sergeant would call out my name, and I would happily emerge from the back row to receive my mail. If a red wax seal adorned the backside of the envelope, I knew it was a letter from her. I buried it deep into the side pocket of my army pants, so I could secretly read it during the boring afternoon lessons on the organization and structure of the fifth tank division, to which we belonged.

Gertrud (Biene) with Papa Panknin in the Gruga Park

Gertrud (Biene) with Papa Panknin during a walk in the Gruga Park

There was only one other soldier, who received letters with the same frequency as I did. One evening, when all the other comrades were out for a beer, he proudly showed me the content of his girlfriend’s letter, which I was not in the least interested to see. From the top to the bottom of a piece of foolscap she had written repetitively just one single sentence: I love you. My roommate looked at me with that special kind of vulnerable expectancy that warned me to be careful with my response to this rather bizarre love-letter. He had to share his happiness with someone like me of whom he was almost certain, but not quite certain that I would not mock his tender feelings apparently so out of line with the rough environment of our life in the army. After a long pause of hesitation, which must have heightened the young man’s tension almost to the breaking point, I simply remarked, “A very powerful message!” Of course, I kept Biene’s letter in my pocket, her words were so precious to my heart that I would not have shared it even with any of my best friends. For it contained her responses to the world of thoughts and feelings about each other on a more elevated plane, where the word love had not yet surfaced and its presence could only be fathomed on second and third reading somewhere hidden between the lines.

The Good Samaritan of Room 203

By the beginning of May the intensity of military training increased dramatically. We were going on long marches clothed in battle fatigues carrying heavy equipment on our back and the rifle slung over the shoulder. During the training exercises we were crawling through dirt and mud on elbows and knees. All such activities plainly showed that the honeymoon was over. It is said that the best sleep is the one before midnight. One night we had just fallen asleep, when a piercing whistle blow in the hallway ripped us out of the deepest slumber.

Koblenz_im_Buga-Jahr_2011_-_Festung_Ehrenbreitstein_45

Koblenz with view to Fortress Ehrenbreitstein – Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

“Get up! Hurry! Muster completely dressed in combat uniform!” Threatening voices were echoing through the hallways. The lights had been switched off. It was pitch dark. If you ever tried to get dressed in complete darkness, you will know the state of utter chaos and confusion we found ourselves in. There were quite a few soldiers who pulled their boots on their bare feet, because they could not find their socks. After three minutes we lined up at the courtyard in a relatively straight line with helmet, rifle, and full marching gear.

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“Back in three minutes in your sports attire!” shouted the sergeant. Then we knew that this was going to be one of those ridiculous chicaneries that had no value except perhaps to test our willingness to obey without questioning orders no matter how senseless they appeared to be. The masquerade, as we would call it, lasted till one o’clock in the morning leaving us only a few hours of sleep. The very next morning we marched to a remote hill near the Moselle river where we ‘practiced’ the fine art of lying down and getting up and similar grotesque exercises. Like the rest of my comrades, I found them very tiring and annoying.

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More enjoyable for me were the long marches. We had learned a large number of marching songs. They were peppy, they had rhythm and with their frequent reference to a soldier’s sweetheart tended to romanticize the otherwise unromantic world of army life. They lent to a marching column of soldiers the spirit that brought joy and strength to endure the drudgery of marching for endless miles in the heat and dust of the country roads. To make sure that the entire company would know which song to sing the soldier on the left in the front row would holler at maximum volume the title of the song, which would be repeated by the men behind him, until it had reached the very end of the marching column. The soldiers at the rear would then shout, “Song through!” That was the signal to all to start singing on the next step. The singing soothed the strain of the march, alleviated the fatigue, and let us forget the pain and discomfort of the heavy load on our back very much like the spirituals once providing relief to the black slaves working in the cotton fields of colonial America.

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After such ordeals we frequently had a party in Room 203, seeking comfort in the merry companionship enhanced by drinking copious amounts of the cheap Koblenz brew available in the large half litre bottles. We sang our favourite army songs and shared the latest jokes not necessarily all clean. The corporal responsible for order on the second floor would occasionally join us and in my view was a freeloader with easy access to free beer. A roommate who had been barhopping returned just as we were cleaning up. He was so intoxicated that he could barely stand. The ten o’clock deadline was approaching, at which time we all had to be in bed except for the soldier on duty that week. The room had to be spick and span for the upcoming nightly inspection. Since the party had produced quite a mess, we all chipped in and helped to wipe the table clean, removed the empty bottles, and swept the floor. Meanwhile our drunken comrade barely managed to slip into his pajamas and then with great difficulty crawled into his bed, which fortunately was at the bottom of the bunk. The corporal who had participated in the drinking and carousing was grateful enough to overlook a multitude of infractions against the rules of cleanliness, such as the ashtray that someone had forgotten to empty. He had just closed the door to move on to Room 204, when a retching sound came from the corner, where our intoxicated friend had rolled out of his bed and fallen limply onto the wooden floor with a dull thud. He was unable to get up. The room was swirling around him. He made a desperate attempt to crawl on all fours to the door hoping perhaps that someone would be so kind to open it for him. He badly needed to go to the bathroom. But it was too late. He gagged in convulsive spasms. The stomach could no longer hold its disagreeable content and ejected it like in a violent volcanic eruption. Presently the stench of the vomit permeated the entire room. If we had not become somewhat accustomed to other unpleasant smells, of which beer farts were the worst kind, we too would have been sickened by this odoriferous environment. Horrified by sight, sound and smell we lay frozen in our beds and did nothing. How quickly could the boozer have received help, the floor cleaned up and the room aired, if we all had been ready to help? Then a miracle of tender love for one’s fellow human beings unfolded before our very eyes. The violinist – I later called him the Good Samaritan – climbed down from his bunk, opened his closet and took out some towels and a washcloth. From the bathroom down the hallway he brought a pail of water. Within the next few minutes he had the poor fellow all cleaned up, had helped him into a clean pair of pajamas and had gently heaved him back into his bed. Then he opened all the windows, wiped the smelly vomit with his own towels off the floor, went back to the bathroom to return the pail and wash up. Finally he came back and quietly climbed into his bed. From that night on, my friend, the violinist had gained my highest respect and admiration for the love that he had shown to one of his comrades of Room 203.

Biene’s Moroccan Pen Pal

One Saturday morning, not long before the short weekend leave, the corporal nervously entered our room and told us that the captain himself would be checking out hallway, room and closets. “Don’t disappoint me,” he demanded half pleadingly, half threateningly. We were eager to oblige being interested only in one thing, the pass that allowed us to go home. So we scrubbed and polished the wooden floor, mopped the tiles of the hallway especially well. For weeks I had specialized in cleaning the windows. I discovered that the toilet paper available in large quantities worked best to give the glass that desirable sparkling look. Of course, the closet had to be immaculate. Over one speck of dust a grumpy sergeant could deny your weekend pass or at the very least cause a delay of several hours.

Biene, Papa Panknin, and Twin Brother Walter

Biene, Papa Panknin, and Twin Brother Walter

The captain, however, not only represented the kind and benevolent father figure to us, but also had recently become the proud father of twins, the event that among us soldiers earned him the title Scatter Gun (Streubüchse). He now entered the room. We stood at attention next to our closet. It was clear from the way the captain approached the first soldier that he was more interested in passing on a few words of wisdom than in the inspection of our open closets. So when it was my turn, I was quite relaxed. He must have gone through our personnel files, for he said, “Klopp, I see that you are a high school graduate. What are your plans for the future?” Without waiting for an answer, he continued, “When you are young, you must have a dream. Without a dream you are nothing but a hollow entity. Understand me right; I am not talking about a fuzzy dream about getting rich and famous. What I mean is the dream of becoming a valuable member of society and a contributor to the common good.” With about these words the officer, turned philosopher, spoke to me. Now he reminded me that he had not answered his question.

“I love electronics and would like to become a high frequency engineer,” I stated emphatically.

As if ignoring my reply, the captain went back to the importance of having a dream. “A dream is nothing but an idle pipe dream, if you cannot find the means to realize it. You must have a plan backed up by a number of concrete steps. You must always keep your goal no matter how distant before you inner eyes, so you don’t miss your target.”

Then he came to the point, “So you want to become a high frequency engineer. That’s your dream. Well, here is a plan for you to consider. The Bundeswehr (German army) will send you to a postsecondary technical institute all expenses paid. In return, you commit yourself for ten years of service or if you wish, you can opt for a permanent career as officer and instructor. Think about it and let me know when you are ready to talk.” With these words he moved on to the next soldier, who had a picture of a naked woman taped to the inside of his closet door. The captain took one look and to our surprise did not reveal the slightest trace of anger, when he addressed him with a soft voice, “Say, young man, how would you feel to see a photo of your sister in the nude on somebody else’s closet door?” and with that remark he moved on to the next soldier. Needless to say we all got our weekend pass including the one with the pornographic picture. In a general assembly of the company our leader once spoke about his dream to read and understand Immanuel Kant’s ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ before his retirement. To be sure, it was a far loftier goal than mine of becoming an electronic engineer. The book that he was referring to is to the understanding of philosophy what Einstein’s theory of relativity is to the understanding of physics.

Falckenstein Barracks still in Use Today - Photo Credit: wikipedia .org

Falckenstein Barracks still in Use Today – Photo Credit: wikipedia .org

In the meantime Biene’s letters kept coming with the regularity of a clock and brought the sunshine of her empathy for the hardships of a soldier into my heart. We agreed to write one another in such a way as if we had known each other for a long time, to treat each other with honesty so that in the absence of face-to-face encounters no false impressions developed in our minds. Even secretiveness would be a form of dishonesty I noted in one of my letters. Being sincere was the necessary ingredient for the development of a true friendship leading so I was hoping to something more permanent. All Biene and I had for now were the letters, in which we expressed our feelings in the discussions of poetry, movies we had seen, or simply the daily obstacles that fate would throw into our path.

Up to this moment I had also maintained a loose correspondence with my dance partner Margret, who was working as a nurse’s aid in the Wesel hospital with the goal of becoming a registered nurse. The letters we wrote read more like newspaper reports and contained for the most part our criticism of the rotten world around us that we could not change. In short they were devoid of any feelings expressed or implied. In response to the dilemma that could only grow worse over time, I decided to write her a short note explaining to her in keeping with our sober writing style matter-of-factly as to why I did not wish to carry on with our correspondence. She acknowledged receipt of my message in a final postcard. I was relieved that she took my note with a sober mind and in the end did not get emotional about it.

Morocco's Beautiful Coastal City - Photo Credit: wikipedia.com

Morocco’s Beautiful Coastal City – Photo Credit: wikipedia.com

In the meantime Biene was raving about the sunshine, warmth, beauty of a rocky coastline in a distant land in North Africa. I attributed the sudden and unexpected passion for Morocco to the extended periods of rain and depressing overcast skies we had experienced of late. But later she wrote about her grave concern for her pen pal. He had suddenly become ill and wanted her to come and visit him presumably in the hope for a miraculous recovery. The news came like a cold shower and considerably dampened my spirits. I realized that while I had read perhaps too much between the lines, Biene might have read too little. But who was I to assume that just because I had broken off the correspondence with Margret, Biene should do the same with her pen pals? So I did the right thing and expressed my sympathy with the fatally ill young man of Morocco. ‘Thousands of people’, I wrote, ‘die every day and it does not affect us. But if a friend or close relative passes away it is as if our world is falling apart. The bridges we so lovingly and carefully built to reach across suddenly collapse and only memories remain at the end.’

Final Photo of the entire Company - Who can find Peter?

Final Photo of the entire Company – Who can find Peter?

In the meantime my basic training was coming to an end and I was getting ready for the transfer to the Falckenstein barracks. There was a lengthy pause in the flow of mail. Biene’s high school class went on a field trip to Paris, which was intended to be a short immersion into French culture. Upon her return she sent me a long letter describing her exciting adventure with her class in France, but did not mention her Moroccan friend any more. I carefully avoided the topic. Instead, knowing that Biene was taking Latin classes at high school I boldly sent her a signal in Latin: Amor qui non agitur moritur, which means ‘Love that is not active dies.’

Chapter 22 of the Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Part X

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koblenz-altstadt

City of Koblenz – Photo Credit: Ferienwohnungen.de

Vittorio’s Entanglement in Sex, Love and Marriage

In our room there was a 17-year-old volunteer with the Italian sounding name Vittorio. At this tender age he was the youngest soldier in the signal corps. He had committed himself to a five-year service in the army and was obviously seeking a life long career with the Armed Forces. As a government employee in uniform he had a sizable income at his disposal, which he squandered with his buddies in the local bars and in establishments of questionable reputation. So it was no surprise to any of us in the room that eventually he fell victim to one of the ladies of the night that was plying her trade in the lucrative barracks city of Koblenz. What I found bizarre, even shocking was that he was openly bragging about his amorous adventures with a prostitute, who had apparently singled him out as an easy target. Even the most hardened comrades in our room gave him contemptuous looks when he treated his sordid affair as if it was true love. At the end of a long weekend he felt especially inclined to proclaim from the top of his bunk his progress with the most wonderful woman he had ever met. I wondered how many women he could have possibly met considering that he was only seventeen. A more outspoken roommate asked him in a sarcastic tone, “Are you paying for her services?”

“Not any more than what you would if you took your girlfriend out on a date,” Ramona was quick to reply.

“Well, well, you don’t seem to understand. Let me put the question to you a bit differently. Are you paying to have sex with her?” Everyone in the room was itching to know how the argument about this hot topic would end.

falckenstein-army-barracks-koblenz-casino-falckenstein-kaserne-koblenz-org

Falckenstein Barracks – Photo Credit: casino-falckenstein-kaserne.org

Vittorio was not easily intimidated. He knew how to fight back. He was aware of the saying that a good offense is the best defense. So he countered, “If you were a volunteer soldier and had a tidy income like me, wouldn’t you make her gifts and give her money because you love her?”

I was sure that our roommate must have felt a bit nettled by Vittorio’s suggestion that as a draftee with a mere pocket-money he would be in no position to argue with him on this matter. Unable to respond to this powerful argument, he resorted to the most obscene and offensive language I had ever heard. If this had been the end of the story, I would not have considered it worthy of being part of my autobiography. As a matter of fact, the story was just beginning.

In the weeks that followed Vittorio was getting more and more quiet and was no longer bragging about his most wonderful woman. I thought that he was afraid of our unnamed roommate. But I was wrong.  One Sunday evening he returned much earlier than usual to our room. He appeared to be in a very agitated state of mind. Not caring whether we wanted to listen to him, he started ranting and raving about the woman he once loved so dearly. We were stunned by the complete reversal of his opinion and wondered whether or not we heard him talk about the same woman. His language now was just as crude and offensive as if his antagonistic roommate was still lecturing him on the definition of women of ill repute. He described the most wonderful woman in the world as a crooked slut, who first was content with twenties, then wanted fifties, and now demanded his entire monthly income.

“I am finished with her,” he screamed, “I will not see her again; she is a whore; she can go to HELL!” Then he threw himself on his bed and cried like a little boy that he actually still was.

aaltstadt_koblenz

City of Koblenz – Photo Credit: Wikipedia.org

It was near the end of the summer shortly before my transfer to Marburg, when a woman walked through the barracks gate and requested to see the commanding officer of the second company of the signal corps. The above lieutenant learned that one of his soldiers, Private Vittorio to be exact, was the cause of her being with child. The officer concerned about the honor and respectability of the army in general and of his unit in particular had Private Vittorio called in and confronted him with the woman he had vowed never to see again. The officer after having established the truth of the woman’s claim suggested in unmistakable terms – one might say he decreed that Vittorio marry the woman who was expecting his child. Upon proof of marriage Private Vittorio would receive two weeks of paid leave for their honeymoon.

Vittorio told us later how things had been arranged in the office and that he was going to get married. Having flip-flopped once more he proudly announced that he was the happiest man in the world to have such a wonderful woman for a wife and soon to have a family. His words were gushing out in a sentimental torrent. This time nobody dared to interrupt him; even the quarrelsome roommate kept quiet. Vittorio had chosen a dubious path. I felt pity, even compassion for the young man who had in my opinion such a small chance of success in his upcoming marriage. I never found out what became of him and his wife to be.

Shortly afterwards I was on my way to Marburg. I left Koblenz with mixed feelings. Not aware that with the recommendations from the commanding officer I would soon be teaching again I looked back with regret at the rewarding instructional sessions, which I had enjoyed so much. I would also miss Josef Hegener and our nature excursions into the local hill country . On the other hand I felt relieved to get away from the revolting environment that our room had become of late. Even though I had been open-minded about listening to and jokes, I knew that Vittorio’s story was not a joke. It was a personal tragedy that shocked me to the core. If there was one good thing that came out of this sordid affair, it made me more determined than ever before to seek and strive for a better world. While an ideal by its own definition remains unobtainable, it nevertheless provides a vision and a goal worth aiming for. To the extent we struggle and make the effort to approach the ideal, we define our human character. With a fresh new sense of optimism I was looking forward to spend the remaining 180 days of my army time in Marburg. I promised myself to meet Biene again, as soon as an opportunity would present itself. For me she represented the embodiment of the light and the hope for a better future.

Chapter 22 of the Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Part IX

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The Romantic Soldier

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Beautiful City of Koblenz – Summer 1964

I often wondered how it was possible that at certain times all troublesome events seemed to come together to create one powerful drama. Such was my deplorable situation between Christmas and Carnival, when I could barely stem the tide in a string of fateful events, such as the fatal accident of Sergeant Wohl on the icy roads of Feldafing, the loss of my father, emotional upheaval over the injustices caused by red tape in the army bureaucracy, and above all the almost certain demise of a shaky relationship with Biene. And now barely six months later, emerging from an apparently bottomless pit, it seemed as if all favorable currents had joined forces to lift me out of my deep depression into the blissful realm of true happiness in quick succession of small but significant steps: a book written exclusively for Biene, clarifications of the intentions of my heart and their acceptance albeit somewhat hesitatingly by Biene, two rendezvous to show that we were real human beings, not phantoms of our distorted imagination, the discovery of the joy of teaching, the instructional sessions in the afternoons, and the recognition of my newly discovered talents by my superiors. All these events in combination raised my self-esteem so much that I almost regretted having requested a transfer to the Tannenberg barracks in Marburg.

The most enjoyable outings with my brother Adolf on the weekends tore me away from my history books. With his congenial companionship he gave me a renewed spirit with emphasis on the social aspects of life that I had been neglecting far too long. When Adolf was unable to come and I for one reason or another wanted to spend the weekend in the barracks, I would still read Roman history books, but with a focus on topics that were more relevant to my own life and closer to my heart. Instead of dwelling on Roman conquest with the inevitable theme of death and destruction, I now learned about the importance of values, particularly of those pertaining to marriage, family and the raising of children. On sunny days I would find a cozy spot on the lawn near the 400 m oval racetrack. There I would open Mommsen’s chapter on the status and significance of the family in the Roman Republic and would read with increasing interest about the family as the smallest unit, upon which the entire state depended for its health and its very existence. I marveled at the role that the wife (domina) played in running a large and complex Roman villa and in nurturing and imparting values onto her children, while her husband (dominus), being still intimately connected to the soil, would work the fields to provide food and income for the family. Like myriads of individual healthy cells make up a strong body, so the Roman family units protected by law and honored by society provided the moral fiber, which made the early Roman republic so strong and powerful. After such undisturbed moments of contemplation on matters so distant and yet so relevant I returned to my room with the distinct realization that I had received valuable clues for the unfolding of my own personal life in the not too distant future.

roman_family

Roman Family

If there was ever a period in my early adult years that reflected the spirit of 19th century German Romanticism, it was during the summer months of 1964, while I was awaiting my transfer to the Tannenberg barracks at Marburg. My new friend Josef Hegener and I made use of every free moment to escape the stuffiness of the poorly ventilated barracks rooms. Away from the noise and heat of the city we found refuge in the nearby wooded hills, where hiking trails invited us to explore nature in the cool of a Sunday morning. We delighted in the colorful sight of a mountain meadow bedecked with innumerable wild flowers. The buzzing of bees and bumblebees, the happy chirping of birds at the edge of the forest, the murmuring of a brook, the croaking of an army of frogs making their presence known from a pond were together with all the other joyful sounds music to our ears. From a footbridge we gazed at the athletic performances of water striders skimming gracefully over the surface of the gently flowing waters. Joyously we followed the trail to a hilltop, where our eyes feasted on the magnificent mosaic of woods, fields and villages below. Down in the valley a church bell was ringing inviting us to attend the church service and give thanks to God for His wonderful creation. As we entered the village church, the congregation had just started singing ‘Now thank we all our God’, a hymn that became one of my favorite songs of praise both in German and in English. I felt elated after having been granted such a rare glimpse into the connectedness between the grandeur of nature and God’s presence in it. In my exuberance over this wonderful experience I quickly wrote a postcard to my folks back home in the form of a wedding announcement: We have been united in marriage signed Nature and I.

dandelion

Dandelion Flower

The following Monday I met Sergeant Otto Schmidt, as I was crossing the huge center yard on my way to the building, where I was going to deliver another lesson on basic electricity. The sergeant was beaming with pride, because he had just received praise and recognition from his superior officer for his success in running an outstanding instructional program for his unit. He was actually very generous in giving me some of the credit. Then I noticed how his facial expression suddenly changed. Otto Schmidt about a head shorter than I was no longer looking up into my eyes, but gazed straight ahead in utter amazement and bewilderment at my uniform jacket. Had a button come off or had I left the shirt collar too casually unbuttoned? No, these minor flaws in my outer appearance had never been a problem with this friendly sergeant. There was something that he had most likely never seen before. In total disbelief his eyes were fixed on the humble head of a dandelion flower, which I, following my current romantic inclinations, had placed conspicuously on my uniform. Sergeant Schmidt was almost speechless. All he could do was shake his head and stammer, “Klopp, Klopp, what is the meaning of this all?” To his great relief I removed the objectionable flower and hurried off to my electricity class. A symbol of love, a symbol of peace was on the uniform of a German soldier!

 

Chapter 22 of the Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Part VIII

13

Exploring the Moselle Valley with my Brother Adolf

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Moselle River – Summer 1964

My brother Adolf was in the final year of his apprenticeship program at the Honeywell Company in Hanau. This city north of Frankfurt was not far from Koblenz. When the weather was fine, Adolf would make it a weekend practice to pick me up at the gates of the Falckenstein barracks. From there we went on trips in his venerable old VW beetle to explore together the beautiful Lahn and Moselle valleys. The summer of 1964 brought an exceptionally long period of sunshine quite unusual for this western part of Germany, when cloudy skies and rain often drove sun-seeking German tourists south to the Mediterranean beaches of Italy and Spain. On one of these fabulous weekends Adolf suggested a wine sampling tour all the way up the River Moselle to Trier, the ancient location of the imperial summer residence of the Roman emperors.

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Peter Relaxing in the Famous Wine Region of Germany

Having finally moved by two rendezvous with Biene at Lake Baldeney beyond a mere fantasy world to a more solid relationship, I felt carefree and cheerful. I readily agreed to Adolf’s proposal, and off we rolled into a westerly direction. Small towns and quaint villages, medieval castles on hill tops, the meandering river, the hills covered with the light green carpets of vineyards offered a magnificent view. At the town centers often located near the local fountain, vintners with samples from last year’s vintage were catering to the traveling tourists in the hope of selling their fine bottled wine. The labels on the bottles were just as alluring as they were their precious content. Some had grotesque, unusual, even titillating names, such as Zeller’s Black Cat, Bare Bottom, Dear Woman’s Milk, just to name a few. Adolf and I took full advantage of the incredibly inexpensive samples of the finest wines in the country. In high spirits we drove on to the next ‘watering hole’, sampled another exquisite wine, and kept on going from town to town, from sampling station to sampling station, like bees flitting from flower to flower savoring the delicious nectar. We happy-go-lucky brothers were singing, joking and drinking all the way to Trier, where Adolf feeling generous invited me to have dinner in a cozy restaurant not far from the historic Porta Nigra and the famous ruins of the Roman thermal baths.

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The Imperial Baths of Trier

It felt good to enter the cool premises of an inn after such a long ride through the sweltering summer heat. After a hearty meal we lingered over a cool refreshing beer while waiting for the heat in the valley to come down to a more tolerable level. Air conditioning in a VW was virtually nonexistent in those days.

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My Brother Adolf at the Thermal Baths at Trier

There I sat, a bit sleepy and drowsy from the wine and beer, listening half-heartedly to Adolf’s tirades against the American imperialists, the war in Vietnam, the killing of innocent women and children perpetrated by the American ice cream soldiers as he contemptuously called the GI’s, the exploitation of the working people, the advantages of socialism for the common people and the evils of capitalism. When Adolf was talking politics, a passionate fervor seized his entire being; his words poured out as if he had experienced all these real and imagined injustices himself. When the verbose eruption of truths, half- truths and lies had finally subsided with no notable effect on me, the apolitical person that I was at the time, Adolf returned to his congenial and humorous self again, ordered another beer for us from the pretty and courteous waitress and described her benevolently as a ‘nice kid’. Now it was time to introduce me to the kind of vocabulary that would definitely not be very useful for my later academic career. The stock of swearwords coming from the oil patch environment was quite impressive.

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Peter on a Sightseeing Tour with his brother Adolf

When he changed topics and began to talk with extravagant enthusiasm about Canada, I was all ears, even though he described a totally different country from the one I had learned from books. Adolf’s opening line for almost anything that had to do with Canada was, “Peter, with us in Canada things are like this.”

x293

Adolf taking a Roadside Break at the River Moselle

Before coming to Germany for a three-year stay, he had worked in the oil fields at Swan Hills in northern Alberta, where work was hard and money was plentiful. He loved to tell me stories of the rough-and-tumble of camp life. At payday many workers would rush to Edmonton, the capital city of Alberta, to spend their hard earned money on booze, women, and cars. Adolf having a good grip over his finances was not entirely immune to the lure of owning a shiny new car. In a sudden wave of nostalgia for the good old days at camp he described how he had once walked into a car dealer’s showroom and pointed at the latest model of an eight cylinder muscle car that he wanted to purchase on the spot. When the delighted salesman asked him how he intended to pay for it, Adolf’s moment of glory had come, which he now revived by telling the story to his kid brother.

“Why,” Adolf answered, “in cash, of course!” And with these words he pulled out a bundle of hundred dollar bills and counted out the full amount of the purchase price on the counter of the astonished salesman. Adolf never failed to make critical remarks about the painfully slow German bureaucracy that he had to put up with, when he bought his VW beetle in Germany.

“Peter, with us in Canada things are like this,” he used his opening pet phrase again. “With all the paper work done and the registration and insurance papers signed I drove that beauty of a car out of the dealer’s parking lot within less than an hour.” Having learned how things were done in Canada, I remarked that it was time to return to my barracks. The evening sun flooded the eastern mountains in a sea of gold. When Adolf and I arrived in Koblenz, the sun began to set and only the pinnacles of the volcanic Eifel Mountains were still reflecting the last rays of the day.

Chapter 22 of the Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Part VII

11

 

Career Planning and a Painful Self-Assessment

creative-work-by-my-friend-hans-fricke

Art Work  Entitled ‘There are many ways’ by my Friend Hans Fricke

My brother Gerry, who lived in Medicine Hat during my service in the West German army, is not exactly known among family members as an avid letter writer. All the more I was surprised to receive a detailed answer from him to my question regarding teacher’s training in Alberta, Canada. Driven by youthful desire for adventure but also by a kind of escapism that was getting stronger with each additional month in the army I wanted to explore a possible teaching career in Canada.

my-brother-gerry-and-wife-martha-in-the-early-60s

My Brother Gerry and his Wife Martha at Medicine Hat

Equally important for the understanding of my sudden interest in a totally different profession was that my staff sergeant in Koblenz had taken notice of my knowledge of basic electricity and electronics and had given me the task to instruct the new recruits. This went over so well that I was given more and more time off from regular duty to prepare my lessons and teach. So it happened that I discovered a talent, which I thought I did not have. Gerry accurately explained the requirements for entering the teaching profession in Alberta. I had to have my German high school diploma validated, had to give evidence for proficiency in the English language, and had to  complete a minimum of two years university training. With this information I was able to do some serious planning for the future. Suddenly a most fortuitous train of thoughts popped up in my mind that greatly increased my longing to go to Canada. Exciting ideas followed in rapid succession: immigration, teachers’ training at the University of Calgary, a teaching career, an income with the prospect of pay increases with more training, getting married to Biene and having a family.

mother-and-daughter-in-law-martha-in-medicine-hat

Mother and Daughter-In-Law Martha at her Home in Medicine Hat

I am still thankful to the captain from the basic training period for instilling the desire for good planning in order to achieve a dream The target I aimed for was still years ahead. It was actually a twin target of a rewarding career and life with Biene at my side. To hit the bull’s eye at such a distance would require a great deal of determination and persistence. Would I have those qualities, but most importantly would Biene support me in something – I am ashamed to admit – I had not even mentioned to her yet? So this would be a good time to have a critical look at myself. In my own eyes I had become a mature young man years ahead of my comrades in terms of acquired wisdom and good planning. But when I looked at the erroneous assumptions I had made about the world around me, about Biene and myself, I marvel at the way all my dreams had eventually become a reality.

Firstly, in my letters to Biene I had written about love, but never about marriage. I assumed that my ‘I love you’ would translate into ‘Will you marry me?’

Secondly, what was Biene to make out of my long-winded flowery dissertation on love between a man and woman?

Thirdly, Biene had already been frightened by the painful events leading up to and following the break-up of her engagement with Henk. Now I came and frightened her some more by openly writing about my passion for her without revealing or at least hinting at my genuine intention to marry her.

Fourthly, it was preposterous to assume that just because I was willing to marry her she would want to marry me too. This was truly the mark of an egocentric ass that I was at the time.

Last but not least, twelve months in the army and my comrades’ boastful talk about their amorous adventures should have taught me that being married and making love do not necessarily belong together. How was Biene supposed to know what was on my mind about a topic that had been a taboo throughout our childhood years?

So in summary I had built a dream castle with love, marriage, family and career on the preconceived notion that Biene had read all this and much more between the lines. It was then one of the great miracles of our relationship that no storm tide came rushing in at that particular juncture and made the castle collapse like a deck of cards.

In a postcard Biene briefly assured me that she no longer wanted a mere soul-mate relationship. She wrote that many of the questions and problems that were troubling us would be resolved once we had met again. And indeed we met exactly two years after we had our first encounter at Lake Baldenay. This brought some sunshine into my heart. My brother Adolf contributed a great deal to enhance that joie de vivre, which I felt all the more intensely, whenever I went with him on an excursion in and around the Rhine, Moselle and Lahn valleys.

Chapter 21 of the P. and G. Klopp Story – Part IV

12

One Misfortune Never Comes Alone

I was still reeling under the blow of the unexpected military transfer to Maxhof, Bavaria, when another one hit me like a bolt out of the blue. Biene wrote that she had met a young Dutch man by the name of Henk, to whom she was now engaged. They were dreaming about their own home at the edge of a forest near the city of Arnhem and were planning to get married. The news nearly tore me apart, all the more as Biene described our relationship as merely a nice correspondence between friends. Although my emotions were running high, I immediately responded to her letter and thanked her for being honest. It was a miracle of sort that I agreed to keep writing her. That promise was so terribly out of character, so contrary to what my pride and sense of honor would have allowed me to do that there was only one explanation. I was still in love with her.

Biene on Vacation at Lake Ammer 1963

Biene on Vacation at Lake Ammer 1963

Sleepless nights followed. I held endless conversations with myself. At times I would place the entire blame on my shoulders. Dieter was perhaps right, when he said that a kiss is more powerful than words, passion stronger than tender sentiments expressed merely in letters. Then the American folk song ‘On Top of Old Smokey’ was going through my mind during those agonizing hours of wakefulness. The apparent truth of the line ‘I lost my true lover for courting too slow’ hit me especially hard. Suddenly the pendulum swung into the opposite direction. For a short while, I found relief by putting the blame on Biene. ‘Surely, one does not get engaged overnight’, I argued. ‘Why didn’t she write me sooner? Why did she allow the correspondence to drag on so long? What about her other pen pals, the young man from Morocco for example? Does she want to keep all her options open? Is she like a bee, as her name implies, flying in a kind of romantic dance from flower to flower to see where she would find the sweetest nectar?’ Having experienced both ends of the emotional spectrum, I finally settled for a more balanced view. The wildly swinging pendulum was coming to rest in the middle. Concern for Biene pushed anger and jealousy aside; she might have responded to the lure of marital bliss too quickly. These internal monologues went on and on through several nights, at the end of which I was completely exhausted. But I had calmed down enough to finish my letter to Biene with the words, “Just one thing you must promise me. If you perceive a danger for your happiness in that you cannot distinguish between true friendship and love between a man and a woman or if your future husband does not like our correspondence, then have the courage to say goodbye. For I do not want to destroy your happiness.”

Frauenkirche, Munich, Bavaria - Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

Frauenkirche, Munich, Bavaria – Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

With my Phillips tape recorder in one hand and a heavy suitcase in the other, train tickets and army papers in my wallet, I stepped on the Intercity train to Munich. Private Gauke, whose first name I no longer recall, accompanied me to our destination. We were both in uniform, as this was a requirement when traveling on official assignments. While the high-speed electric train was rushing toward the Bavarian capital, Gauke tried to cheer me up by pointing out all the advantages of the prestigious truck driver’s license later in civilian life. But he succeeded only partly in pulling me out of my morose taciturn shell. He did not yet know about the other problem, for which the possession of a driver’s license offered no solution. In Munich we had to catch a local train to Starnberg. Thousands of passengers were milling about the main station. At the crowded automated billboard announcing arrival and departure times I spotted the wrinkled face of my former scout leader, Günther von A. He was as surprised to see me, as I was to see him. What were the chances of this occurring? Once in a million or less. And what were the chances of still being in love with Biene? The question made me think about fate and destiny, a topic that philosophers and theologians great and small have been grappling with for centuries, a can of worms, which I decided in my present state of mind to leave unopened.

 

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