The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Family Project

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Chapter 34 of the Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Part I

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Storm Clouds on the Horizon

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Key Player #1 in Chapter 34: Gertrud (Biene) Panknin 1965

As the drama unfolds I will introduce for each part of this chapter one person, who played a major role in our desperate struggle for being reunited in Canada.

We define our identity always in dialogue with, sometimes in struggle with against the things our significant others want to see in us.  Even after we outgrow some of the others – our parents, for instance – and they disappear from our lives, the conversation with them continues within us as long as we live. Charles Taylor

The Letter to Biene’s Parents

To merely summarize the troubles we experienced, the opinions we voiced, the arguments we had and the decisions we made, the agonies and struggles of the heart would have distorted the true picture we had created through our correspondence between October 1965 and March 1966. On the one hand an objective approach, if it were possible at all, would never have succeeded in describing the passionate appeals we fervently made to one another in the face of dire adversities. On the other hand a purely emotional account would most certainly have embodied on my part a lot of bias and subjectivity. So for the next two chapters I mostly let the letters speak for themselves. They include more and more often our first attempts to correspond with each other in English. Here and there I corrected a few grammatical errors and edited out some awkward expressions without changing the intended meaning.  The letters in a sense are also a fine record of our progress in the use of the English language. As to those still written in German it is my hope that not too much of their emotional impact has been lost in translation.

September 25th Didsbury

My dear Peter,

…From my mother I had an immediate reply to my letter, which was going to prepare her for the letter from you. With her words my mother has taken a big burden off my heart; for she writes that she is glad that things are working out for us and that she would help us in as much as she could. She congratulates you to your success at your entrance exam and is confident that we somehow will make it together. Strangely, I felt my heart ache, even though I was happy all the same. Please, dear Peter, write to my parents soon; for now they have been prepared. How I wished I were already with you! Then I would know that everything was true and not just a dream.

Be lovingly kissed, Your Biene

October 15th Calgary

My dear Love,

There are a lot of important things I have to tell you. But first of all I have to apologize that my letter is so late. It is quite possible this will happen again and again for the next couple of months, because the academic work is overwhelming. Only with a time schedule from dawn to dusk I am likely to pass the final examination in the spring, Therefore, dear Gertrud (I guess it sounds better in English to say your real name), remember that I am working hard, that I am devoting more love to you by spending every minute available to me for studying.

About a fortnight ago, I wrote a long letter to your parents. I am still waiting for an answer. I don’t know what they will think of me, and in which way they will react. I only hope positively. I explained the situation and spoke of you as Biene without recognizing that, because this name had become so familiar to me, I had forgotten at this moment that a little more formality would be required. I hope they will not mind it. Canada was shown not in terms of a paradise for their daughter, but as the place to start a completely new life with all the uncertainties of the future, which I cannot anticipate now. They have seen the financial problem as well as the problem of my professional career. Now it is up to them to make their decisions, I hope, in favour of both of us…

With a thousand warm kisses, Your Peter

The letter I wrote to Biene’s parents does no longer exist. As the events unfolded it became very clear that I had made a grave mistake by describing honestly and realistically all the challenges we would be facing in a letter that was supposed to make them agree to let their daughter go to Canada and marry me.

Chapter 27 of the Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Part III

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Two Letters and a Poem

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Meal Time on the Ryndam – Adolf, Eka and Peter at the Back

April 28th, 1965 Le Havre

           My dear Biene,

           We just left Le Havre and are heading towards England. Thousands of impressions hit me all at once. I feel as if I had already been on board  for a very long time. It is wonderful. Yet, I am restless, because you cannot experience all this with me. I would like describe to you how a typical day is panning out for us travelers. The tinkling of bells wakes us up in the morning. It also reminds us in this gentle way to show up for breakfast soon. Then I climb down the ladder. For I sleep in the upper bunk, while Adolf sleeps below. We can shower or take a bath for as long as we like.  Then we march off to the dining room. Never before have I seen a greater variety of food. When we return to our cabin, the steward has already made our beds. The cabin is very small, and if one had to share it with a stranger, it definitely would  not be a pleasant experience. We all have our own peculiar habits, which someone else would have to get used to.

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Shuffle Board on the Sun Bathed Deck

          The entertainment program is so rich and varied that one does not know which item to choose first. You can watch English movies, go to the library, play all kinds of games. The big hit here is shuffleboard. After lunch you can attend a concert, go dancing in the evening or have a beer in the bar. And now I experience all this without you! That makes me a little sad and pensive. When I turn melancholic, I gladly withdraw from all these fun activities and write in my travelogue.

          Oh this heavenly weather! People are presently sun bathing and the sea is not rough, not even a trace of a swell. I want to experience a real storm. But my brother says that it will come soon enough, if I am really that keen on getting seasick.

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Peter Strumming on his Guitar

          Your picture stands on my little desk. When at night I look down to you from my bed, I feel infinitely happy. I wished I could do the voyage all over again with you one day, when I have enough money to pick you up in Germany.

In a few days you will begin your studies, whereas I while away the time here onboard doing nothing. Tackle your academic work as if you had never applied for the stewardess program and as if you pursued a life’s career. You should know that you can help me also as a trained teacher, perhaps later assist me for a little while, in case my own studies should be dragging on.

          What would I give to be able to kiss you now! Until next time greetings to you and your parents!

          Your Peter

           On the same day Biene also wrote me a letter, which of course I was unable to read, until I arrived at my brother’s place in Calgary. I only included excerpts here to avoid breaking the chronological order of the family history.

April 28th, 1965 Velbert

           My dear Peter,

           Again you have made me cry. But don’t you worry, Peter. I did not have to cry out of sorrow (it was only lingering at the back of my mind), but from an overwhelming feeling of joy, happiness and unfathomable love. I listened to your guitar music  and to your voice on the record you had sent me. I could not grasp it! I just sat there, and tears were streaming down my cheeks. I once read that only a few people really understand how to say good-bye, and you knew how, Peter. Never will I forget this!

Dear Peter, now you have been on board for one day and with every minute you are getting closer to your destination. And when you read this letter, the long sea voyage and the road trip across Canada will already be behind you. Tell me Peter, isn’t it an incomprehensible feeling to be on the high seas and to experience the vastness and beauty of the ocean? When I experienced the sea for the first time, I was deeply moved. It was in the year we had met. My family and I were spending our vacation on the island of Corsica. Toward evening we had landed on the island. It was already night, when we reached our vacation village at the sea after an adventurous trip through the mountains. Completely exhausted we immediately fell into a deep sleep, from which I awoke unusually early in the morning. In eager anticipation to finally cast my eyes onto the sea, I quietly sneaked out, because my brother Walter was still fast asleep. Outside the air was cool and still. The sun had just risen above the horizon. The beach spread before me still completely untouched. I went a few steps down the slope and then I took in the full view of the sea! Somehow I was like in trance and could not move another step forward. Although the view was overwhelmingly beautiful, the infinite vastness also instilled in me a little bit of fear. I sat down very quietly in the sand and remained there, until the first beach guests, who frolicked in the water, broke the charm that had kept me spellbound. You alone, dear Peter, would not have dispelled the magic atmosphere.

          Inspired by her memories Biene wrote the following poem and entered it into the Book of Dreams.

The Sea

 I will forever love the sea,

Even when the gulls scream

Above thousands of storm-tossed waves.

I love the play of colors in the surf,

The billowing clouds, the sun, the warm sand, …

Oh Peter!

How much would I like to sit with you

On a lonely beach, at the sea

With its music

Rather than being

Separated from you

So infinitely far away

On the other side of the ocean.

On board of the Ryndam I also romanticized the sea as if in response to her letter that I had not even read yet.

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

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Light at the End of the Tunnel

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Peter Reading Biene’s Letter while Tuning his Electronics Gear

Late Sunday night Private Gauke entered our room after spending the long weekend at his girlfriend’s home. He was so excited about it that he felt justified in waking me up. Even though I was still half asleep I could tell that my friend was beaming with joy. He had good news to tell me. He had met his girlfriend’s parents who were delighted to get acquainted with the young man their daughter had been telling them about so much. He was amazed almost embarrassed how much they knew about him. For them the most important thing was to see their daughter happy. In their eyes he seemed to be the right man for her. My companion would have gone on to share his happiness with me, but when he looked at my sleepy and grumpy face, he stopped. I was annoyed and wondered why he could not have waited with all that chatter till next morning. Then I would have perhaps appreciated his latest romantic tale with a wakeful mind. I made no effort to suppress a loud yawn to indicate that I wished to get back to sleep. However, Gauke had still something else on his mind that was supposed to cheer me up.

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Biene quite in Tune with the Fashion of the Sixties

“Peter,” he started again with undiminished exuberance in his voice,   ”my sweetheart back home has a wonderful girlfriend who is just like you; she loves poetry, even writes her own verses …”

“I’m not interested,” I interrupted him gruffly.

“Peter, don’t get me wrong. You need to break out of your doom and gloom. I invite you to come with and spend the weekend at my parents’. We could go out together and meet …”, I interrupted him again raising my voice just a notch higher to make it clear that I had had enough of his idle talk.

“Well, suit yourself”, he replied. All I wanted is to advise you to keep your options open. It is not a good idea to have just one egg in your basket. In case it breaks, you know.”

Poor Gauke, he tried so hard. He was a nice chap and a good friend. He was truly trying to help. I was stubborn or insanely in love, or both. It took me a long time that night before I managed to catch a few winks of sleep.

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Biene (Gertrud)

In the second week of February, just when I had given up ever receiving a message from Biene again, her letter arrived, which I expected to be the final farewell letter. Instead it contained a bombshell. I read with relative calm that her engagement with Henk had been broken off. Her dream about a life together with him had been shattered through unfortunate events and circumstances, which she was unable to describe except to say that Henk had loved her so much that she for a while believed to love him too. However, what led up to the actual break-up, she left unsaid setting in motion an avalanche of speculations on my part. In vain I tried to penetrate the veil that shrouded the circumstances that she was alluding to. Had Henk revealed an aspect of his character that made her shudder? Had he been too aggressive and demanded of her too much, too soon? Many more questions were racing through my head, for which I found no answer, creating a jumble of mixed emotions. If she had given me a few concrete details no matter how shocking, I would eventually have accepted with love and understanding her tragic experiences. As I continued reading I noticed how much she was troubled by my plans to emigrate to Canada.

“How can we possibly meet again, when you are so far away,” she asked, “and disappoint each other? Do you really believe ‘disappoint’? I cannot imagine it; but I would not be afraid to see you again.” At that moment my heart beat a little faster. The horizon began to brighten up with the rays of hope and eager anticipation. Unfortunately, like a bolt out of the blue, without any merciful transition, Biene continued, “Imagine this, my pen pal from Morocco intends to come this summer to get to know me and Germany. Will he be like I imagined him to be? My parents don’t agree with the idea; for they fear we could fall in love with each other.” I felt that the tenuous thread that so far had held us somehow together was ready to snap. What prevented this from happening was a mental trick that moved my mind to a distant vantage point from which I looked down upon the bizarre soap-opera-like comedy show below. The Moroccan pen pal had miraculously risen from the dead and imbued with renewed zest for life was eager to see her, to meet her, to get to know her, while her poor parents having just been saved from one disaster were heading into the next. I could not help but internally smile and laugh. My friend Gauke would be laughing too, He was absolutely right in his urgent plea to let go of her and also in his opinion to have more options than one. In an ironic twist it was Biene, who obviously had more than one egg in her basket. One broke, but she had two or more eggs left to break. I tried to probe into the possible reasons as to why in this particular moment she would tell me this. Was she trying to goad me into action? Her concluding sentence seemed to confirm my speculation, “Sometimes, even though you wouldn’t like it, I would really like to see you again.” A new seed had been planted. It was now up to me to water it, to nourish it, to make it grow in the fertile soil of reality. To accomplish it, a rendezvous with Biene was the key and time was of the essence. To blaze a trail to the doorsteps of her heart, I made some unusual preparations.

Chapter 2 of the P. and G. Klopp Story

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Chapter 2

The Plan

A goal without a plan is just a wish.  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

One day while cleaning up the closet in our spare bedroom, I came across half a dozen boxes overflowing with photos, documents and letters. Although some items, especially those bundled together and secured with elastic bands, were in a fairly recognizable chronological order, most were in a state of extreme disarray. Having endeavored to bring order to chaotic situations throughout my thirty years of teaching, I immediately felt the need to peruse, sort, and arrange this long forgotten wealth of family information. A formidable task lay before me. What could I do, when I had already filled my waking hours with must-do activities? To prioritize is the name of the game. Oh, how I hate this word, even though it is derived from my beloved ancient language Latin! Something ‘prior’ is something that comes before else. It became obvious to me that sorting hundreds, if not thousands, of pictures and papers would be very time-consuming and would be strictly an indoor activity for the long, dreary winter months, when my only outdoor jobs would be splitting and stacking firewood, shovelling snow and knocking off sheets of ice off the roof.

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