The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Family Project

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

7

New Year’s Eve Party

Chief Günther Kegler provides some much needed distraction

The stupendous outpour of pent-up emotions alleviated the anger and the pain. I began to enjoy the almost daily outings with my friend Gauke. But in spite of the pleasant distractions the visits to the pubs provided by the excellent beer, wholesome food, Bavarian music in the background, and the pretty waitresses in their traditional dirndls, I could not push the troubling specter of my lost love out of my mind. I had asked her for a farewell letter or card to end amiably what had started amiably. Two months had passed. The silence became unbearable. So against my own conviction like a moth attracted to the flame of a burning candle I wrote her another letter from home before Christmas, in which I reiterated how much I appreciated her supportive letters during the hard days of my basic training, Then all of a sudden as if triggered by the emotionally cry of despair on the last pages of my novella, I let the proverbial cat out of the bag, “… Add to that the devastating fantasy, which produced during our correspondence the strangest imaginary flowers. At times I saw you – please don’t be alarmed, dear Biene – in my arms, then at my side travel to Canada, study with me in Marburg or Berlin, and in the more distant, but all the more brighter future spend a life with you through joy and sorrow. All these fantasies essentially destroyed our relationship…”

Biene and Mother ß Christmas 1963

Biene (Gertrud) and her mother  Elisabeth Panknin – Christmas 1963

Again I urged her to reply, even if she had no desire to write, just one more time. Before I sealed the envelope, I inserted a short story, which I had especially written for her. I hoped that it would in allegorical terms evoke the tender feelings we had once felt for one another. I did not mention the novella, which as an unedited rough copy I did not yet consider complete. Within three days and just in time for Christmas a miracle occurred. The letter that I no longer expected, but had hoped for arrived. And what it contained surpassed all my expectations. Instead of a farewell message, she wrote that my story about little Irwin had moved her to tears, but more importantly that she had once entertained similar thoughts and dreamed similar dreams about the two of us living a life time together. Even though she too had also allowed her fantasy to go too far and expressed doubts about the fickle nature of dreams, which often do not bring the fulfillment one had longed for.  She placed her trust in the mysterious force called Fate that one day things would work out between the two of us. The way she was wording her sentences I sensed that she had gone through some troublesome times during that long period of silence in our correspondence. Some way or another the anguish was connected to her fiancé Henk, whose father had suddenly and unexpectedly passed away. Nevertheless the news that our friendship at least at the correspondence level had been restored gave me a big boost.

Helga Kegler - daughter of General Gerhard Kegler

Helga Kegler – daughter of General Gerhard Kegler

I participated eagerly in the preparations for the New Year’s family party planned by the ‘chief’ of the Kegler clan, Uncle Günther. In the large vestibule of the basement suite we set up a bar, which we dubbed the Flamingo Bar. The good uncle had it well stocked with choice wine and beer as well as nonalcoholic drinks for this festive occasion. We decorated the wall with pictures, photos and old movie posters. I even contributed my painting of the 21st century space woman now looking down on a happy party crowd. Happy and diverse indeed was the crowd ringing in the New Year, young and old celebrating in perfect harmony, Uncle Günther, Aunt Lucie, Mother and Aunt Mieze, Adolf, Eka (Lavana), my cousins Helga and Jutta, two young ladies, the daughters of a pastor’s couple, whose names I can no longer recall, and my humble self. My tape recorder provided the background music for the party, and whenever there was a call for a dance I cranked up the volume and switched the music to a livelier beat.

From left to right: Helga, Uncle Günther, and my sister Eka (Lavana)

From left to right: Helga, Uncle Günther, and my sister Eka (Lavana)

At midnight we raised and clinked our champagne glasses wishing each other a Happy New Year. With Biene’s letter tucked away in my suit pocket I looked with confidence into the future. I felt that 1964 was going to be a great year for me. However, if I had read Goethe’s autobiographical novel ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’ and understood how I, like Werther, was also entangled in a love triangle, I would have been less optimistic. The frayed thread on which our love was hanging was ready to snap any time. Whether I would have shot a bullet through my brain on a night watch in the army, if Biene had married Henk, was doubtful. Eventually I would have found and married another girl. But the oppressive awareness of having lost my first love would have lingered on my consciousness for the rest of my life.

Jutta Kegler - Youngest daughter of General Gerhard Kegler

Jutta Kegler – Youngest daughter of General Gerhard Kegler

Chapter 20 of the P. and G. Klopp Story – Part I

8

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 favorite 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.

Chapter X of the P. and G. Klopp Story – Part I

0

Problems with Latin and Yearnings of a Miller’s Maid

 

One cannot answer for his courage when he has never been in danger.
Francois de La Rochefoucauld

 

Mother had taken a new position in a senior citizens’ home in Rudersberg near Stuttgart. Aunt Mieze (Aunt Marie), her eldest sister, found a teaching position in Brünen near Wesel in the province of North Rhine Westphalia. In the mid-fifties the rebuilding of the 98% bombed-out Wesel was in full swing. Aunt Mieze had applied for an apartment and for a transfer to the Wesel Elementary School. About the same time she must have invited Mother to run the household in exchange for free lodging for her and me, the youngest son. This arrangement would become reality, as soon as the apartment already under construction would be available. How Father on a long-term basis would fit into these plans, I have never been able to figure out. While Mother was still working for another year in Rudersberg, I was going to live with my aunt at the farm-like residence across from the historical Wefelnberg mill that had lost its wings, but with the aid of electric motors was still turning grain into flour until the early seventies.

Staatliches Gymnasium Wesel

Staatliches Gymnasium Wesel

From here I took the bus to attend the high school for boys in Wesel. In those days smoking was still permitted on public transport. I often felt sick from breathing in the lingering smoke of cigarettes and cigars. Things did not go very well at school either. I had started with French as the first foreign language. Here at the ancient language school, Latin was taught first and carried on for nine long years. Although I had received some private tutoring in Latin, it became abundantly clear after my first report card with an F in Latin that I had to repeat the grade. In order to survive in a school, whose claim to fame was being the toughest in the region, there was no other option.

Historic Wefelnberg Mill now used for Kindergarten School

Historic Wefelnberg Mill now used for Kindergarten Classes

At the opening assembly Dr. Marx, the principal, announced that out of the hundred students there would only be one-quarter left at graduation nine years later. There was no doubt in our minds that the process of weeding out the feeble and incompetent would be ruthless and merciless. My high school years were going to be fraught with stress and anxiety. At least at the miller’s home in Brünen I had a good life. Aunt Mieze was strict, but fair. When she felt the needed to teach me a lesson, I deserved the punishment. When she gave me on rare and exceptional occasions a spanking, it was intended to correct unacceptable behavior. Love and care for her nephew were her main motivation, not anger and rage as I had experienced at the Stoll house.

Post Card of Brünen near Wesel

Post Card of Brünen near Wesel

There were at least seven people in the Wefelnberg household: Aunt Mieze and I, robust widow Wefelnberg in her early sixties, her daughter, who had remarried, after she had lost her first husband in the war, a 10 year old daughter from her first marriage, and Leni, the maid. The couple had their bedroom next to mine. The new husband and experienced miller had taken over the duties of running the mill. With so many widows eager to remarry and competing for the few men that survived the war, it seemed that the young man had made a good choice. My tiny room of less than six square meters, even judged by the standards of the cramped living conditions in postwar Germany, would hardly qualify as a bedroom. It used to be a storage facility located under the slanting roof and was now skimpily furnished with a cot, a chair and a small desk on which I could do my homework. The door on the left of the wooden staircase was in the shape of a square just large enough for me to crawl through. On the upper floor to the right were Aunt Mieze’s office, living room and bedroom all combined in an area not larger than twenty-five square meters. At the far end on the right was Leni’s bedroom. She was responsible to assist Mrs. Wefelnberg with general household duties and was happy like most unmarried young women to have employment for free room and board and a little bit of extra pocket-money.

Protestant Church in the Village of Brünen - Photo Credit: See caption above.

Protestant Church in the Village of Brünen – Photo Credit: See caption above.

          Aunt Mieze’s room in spite of its shortcomings was a very cozy place and created with a comfortable sofa, coffee table, desk and books on the shelves a pleasant ambiance that my Spartan attic room could not match. Here I sat often in the evening hours, when my aunt, a very conscientious teacher, had gone back to school to prepare her lessons for the next day. Leni, who had taken a liking to me, often, especially when nobody was around, dropped in to chat or to play a game of checkers with me. The latter I liked very much. Although being at least ten years younger I was able to beat her by managing to convert my pieces into kings more quickly than she did. For someone who was at the time in school emotionally wrapped-up in a fierce struggle of survival, the survival of the fittest, our principal would say, these small victories and the praises Leni lavished on my battered ego were indeed balm for my soul.

          One day after being defeated again and providing heart-warming accolades for my strategic prowess, Leni unexpectedly slid over to my end of the sofa. What followed would have been a perfect scene for a comedy hour. The miller’s maid generously endowed by Mother Nature burning with desire of which I did not have the slightest inkling sat uncomfortably close to me, the twelve-year-old boy, and almost in a whisper asked me to kiss her. As for me having been raised in a family, where physical closeness, such as kissing, embracing and hugging, was rarely experienced, where aloofness and demureness were the norm rather than the exception, I was shocked at the maid’s incomprehensible request. For five marks as a prize I once ate an earthworm sandwiched between two slices of bread. But to touch those lips longing to be kissed, for my lips to make actual contact with her mouth was a most horrifying thought to me. When I refused, she pleaded with me, this time more urgently with a considerably louder voice, “Please do me this small favor. Please, please I want you to kiss me …” Suddenly the door burst open. At the door stood the miller’s wife and ordered Leni in a stern, authoritative tone to get into her room and never ever be seen again in Frau Kegler’s room. Whether she had been eavesdropping or even spying on us through the keyhole, I do not know. But to this day I am grateful to her for rescuing me from one of the most embarrassing moments of my life.

Günther Kegler, Chief of the Kegler-Clan (Part IV)

1

Günther Kegler Struggling Through the Postwar Era

From June 1946 to April 1975

Charts II a & b – II

In June 1946 former Lieutenant-Colonel Günther Kegler had the humiliating experience of two long years of unemployment, which in all likelihood was forced upon him by the new Soviet rulers of East Germany. On rare occasions he was able to hire himself out privately as a common laborer or as a helper in all kinds of pest control in and around Erfurt. During this time, as reported in Chapter 6 in the P. and G. Klopp Story, his nephews Karl and Adolf and later his niece Eka (Lavana) quite unexpectedly arrived at his doorstep. The Klopp children had no idea of the whereabouts of their parents. It was a miracle that the entire Ernst Klopp family was reunited in 1948 in the small village Rohrdorf in Southern Germany.

Erfurt Cathedral and Severi Church - Photo Credit: Wikipedia.org

Erfurt Cathedral and Severi Church – Photo Credit: Wikipedia.org

Finally in March 1947 Günther Kegler found employment at his son-in-law’s beverage plant in Erfurt and in 1950 within the same company became its bookkeeper. Thus, he could make use of his skills in accounting, which he had practiced between the two World Wars. On April 28, 1955 he fled with his wife Lucie to West Germany leaving behind all his furniture and other bulky belongings. Fortunately, he found immediate employment at the newly established beverage company that was owned by his son-in-law A. Lotz, who also had fled from East Germany. In 1956 his status as a refugee from the GDR was officially recognized. In the same year he was able to retire with a pension that at last provided a comfortable standard of living for the rest of his life.

The Rental House in Watzenborn-Steinberg (now Pohlheim)

The Rental House in Watzenborn-Steinberg (now Pohlheim)

However, his plan was not to live out the remaining years in meaningless idleness. On the contrary, he helped many people with advice on legal issues, accounting problems, and above all he gave assistance in their struggle with the notoriously slow  bureaucracy of the West German government offices. In 1962 he invited his sisters Marie and Erika to join him and share a beautiful rental house in Pohlheim (former Watzenborn-Steinberg). That’s where his wife Lucie after a lengthy illness passed away in 1968. My uncle spent the next decade with his second wife Elfriede in their seniors’ apartment in Kassel-Wilhelmshöhe. I will write about Elfriede in another post.

65

New Year’s Eve Party 1963 – Helga Kegler, Uncle Günther, and Eka (Lavana)

I remember Uncle Günther as a dear friend, who was also a fun loving individual. He enjoyed a good beer and passionately played the German card game ‘Doppelkopf’. In our correspondence we exchanged all kinds of humorous tales, while I was a soldier in the West German Armed Forces. He held the family together in a spirit of giving and outstanding hospitality. He truly deserved the prestigious title ‘Chief of the Kegler-Clan. Long after I emigrated to Canada, he sent me in keeping with his admirable Prussian sense of duty documents, which he had carefully arranged by date and importance. With the help of these papers I was able to draw some forty years later a small pension for my military service in Germany. Every month I buy two cases of beer with that money. And when I drink the refreshing brew, I often think of my dear old uncle in Germany.

Günther Kegler, Chief of the Kegler-Clan (Part I)

Our Uncle and his Profile (1894 – 1986)

Charts II a & b – II

by Peter Klopp

In the first part of the report on my uncle’s life I will focus on the profile that he had written  about himself in his  Kegler Family Chronicle. In subsequent posts  I will publish a few of my own ‘memory fragments’. They will show how  the threads of our lives intersected on many occasions. Being together with him at his home in Watzenborn during my army years enhanced my sense of belonging to the Kegler-Klopp family. Uncle Günther definitely deserves the title ‘Chief of the Kegler Clan’, by which he was known among family members.

From left to right: Erika Klopp, Lucie, Günther and Marie Kegler

From left to right: Erika Klopp, Lucie, Günther and Marie Kegler

Günther was born October 1, 1894 in Grünewald, county of Neustettin (Szczecinek). He married Lucie Kegler (1898-1968) in Elsterberg on June 21, 1925. He attended the elementary school in his hometown from 1900 to 1906. Then for his high school education he joined the military academy first at Plön near the Baltic Sea from 1907 to 1912, then at Großlichter-Felde southwest of Berlin from 1912 to 1914. As cadet at the beginning of World War I he was assigned to Infantry Regiment 149 at Schneidemühl (now Pila, Poland ). From 1914 to 1917 he served with Infantry Regiment 14 (Graf Schwerin) at many battle fields in Western and Eastern Europe.

In January of 1915 he advanced to the rank of lieutenant  and in 1916 he became commander of a M.G.K. (machine gun company). As such he participated in various theaters of war, such as Flanders, Russia, Carpathian regions, Galicia, and back to the western front in France at Verdun, Aisne and Champagne.

In May of 1917 he was seriously wounded. Actually, according to a story not mentioned in his profile he was already in a military hearse among many dead soldiers, when fortunately someone discovered that he was still alive. After a long stay at a hospital he finally recovered from his wounds, but having lost a kidney he was no longer fit for continuing his military service.

To be continued …

Marie Kegler, Stalwart of Christian Faith – Part II

Aunt Marie (Tante Mieze)

In a previous post I described how Marie Kegler got to look after me for an entire year in 1954. That was the year when she resumed work as teacher at the Elementary School in Brünen. She had found modest accommodation at a miller’s farmhouse. You can read more about it in greater detail in an upcoming chapter of the P. and G. Klopp Story.

Marie Kegler on the Balcony of our Wesel Apartment

Marie Kegler on the Balcony of our Wesel Apartment

In 1955 she managed to land a teaching position in the nearby city of Wesel on the River Rhine. At a time, when there was a great housing shortage in the bombed-out city, she located a two-bedroom apartment. At last, Mother, who had become Tante Mieze’s housekeeper in exchange for room and board, was able to reconnect with me. Marie Kegler retired in 1957 and in 1962 the two sisters accepted my uncle’s invitation to share a rental house in Watzenborn-Steinberg. The new place turned out to be a veritable beehive of relatives and friends dropping in for a taste of the pleasant hospitality, which Uncle Günther, Chief of the Kegler Clan and avid Doppelkopf player, his wife Aunt Lucie, Aunt Marie, and my mother were tirelessly offering to their guests. I have the fondest memories of my frequent weekend visits during my army years. Aunt Mieze as during the time in Wesel continued to provide spiritual leadership by daily reading from a devotional booklet and saying grace and thanks to God at breakfast, lunch and dinner time.

Pretending to Play the Guitar

Trying out my  Guitar

Alas, Aunt Lucie passed away after a lengthy illness. When Uncle Günther remarried and moved with his new wife Aunt Friedel to Kassel, a very happy period of family togetherness came to a sudden end. Tante Mieze could not afford to pay the rent. Even if she had had the means, the house in Watzenborn was too large for just two people. So they moved to Bad Ems in the beautiful Lahn Valley, where they lived in Haus Abendfrieden (House Evening Peace) for another six years. In 1980, Tante Mieze became very ill. The Senior Citizen Home, where they stayed, had no intensive care facilities. Thus, they had to move to Gladenbach close to the picturesque medieval city of Marburg. Shortly after Tante Mieze had been taken by ambulance to the Old Folks Home, she died at the age of 89.

Südfrankreich 1965 Gerhard Margit Günther Lucie Erika Johanna Mieze

Günther, Gerhard, Mother, Johanna. Margot, Lucie, Marie Kegler in Southern France

Deeply steeped in the Christian faith, she led a life that in my view was exemplary. When she saw other people in need, she was always ready to help.Thankfully I will always remember her kindness to invite Mother to join her in Wesel. With her financial help I was able to finish my German High School diploma. without which my teaching career in Canada would have been unthinkable. After we emigrated to Canada, she kept mailing devotional booklets to her niece and nephews in the hope to provide some spiritual guidance. I must admit I did not take the time to read them. My brother Gerry too was not too interested either and irreverently called them flyswatters (Fliegenklappen).

In the world we live in we appraise a person’s success in life by standards, such as wealth, status, popularity, etc. God on the other hand looks at the motives and favors the purity of the heart. Aunt Marie’s actions always spoke louder than words. Love and compassion for her fellow human beings were the guiding principles throughout her entire life.

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