The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Family Project

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Chapter XIII of the P. and G. Klopp Story – Part 4

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Finding Stability during Adolescent Restlessness

Shopping at Arnhem, Holland - Photo Credit: holland.com

Shopping at Arnhem, Holland – Photo Credit: holland.com

When it came to matters concerning the entire tribe Zoska, Günther with the uncomplimentary nickname Little Chicken was in charge and took care of the organization of the big events. Two things stand out for me as truly memorable: the bike ride to Arnhem in Holland and the regional jamboree at the youth hostel in Wesel. Arnhem is the first major city in the Netherlands not far from the German border about an hour’s drive by car from Wesel. The country is as flat as a pancake, especially on the Dutch side of the border where bicycle trails are often totally separated from the noisy traffic arteries. On these trails the combined clans were pedaling in a giant snake-like formation towards our destination, the youth hostel in Arnhem. It was a beautiful sight to behold, some fifty boy scouts in their traditional black attire. Those wearing their uniform-like khaki shirts proudly displayed their honor badges they had earned in the last couple of years. I was at the tail end of this giant human snake winding through the gentle curves on this wonderful bike trail. My job was to make sure that we would not lose any stragglers on our one-day journey. While the sightseeing in Arnhem and the communal life with all its exciting games and best of all the singing were fun, it was the trip itself, the getting-there as one body and soul that I remember best and treasure most as a powerful metaphor for my own journey through life.

Lining Up Part of Tribe Zoska

Lining Up Part of Tribe Zoska

The year 1960 was going to be my last full year of service within the Union of the European Scouts. I had just turned eighteen, brimming with physical strength and vigor, yet very clumsy at sports, full of ideals to create a better world, yet often confused by my own contradictory behavior.  I again began to slip academic achievement, which became more and more important in the senior years. I also lived in an artificial world not of my own making, but by a society that was still stubbornly clinging to archaic traditions in a rapidly changing social environment. One of the traditions was the complete separation of boys and girls in the high schools. There was no provision for interaction with the opposite gender. We boys lived in a bubble filled with an explosive mix of ignorance, half-truths and acute awareness of our own adolescent stirrings. Lacking any objective knowledge either from home or school, we gathered information about sex mainly from highly questionable sources. The rumor about a pregnant student at the girls’ high school at the opposite end of town and her subsequent expulsion ran like wild-fire through the gossip mills in the senior grades at recess and lunch. Sex was on everybody’s mind, surfacing thinly concealed even in our monthly student newspapers. Some would-be scholars made an attempt to lend a degree of academic respectability to the topic by passing notes around in the classroom mostly during the boring geography lessons. It was a never-ending stream of  Latin phrases of highly questionable content. As witty as some of them were, they could only warp even more the already distorted views we held on the topic. The meaning of a healthy relationship that goes beyond the physical to embrace the social even spiritual aspects of a lifelong partnership was completely foreign to us.

The Girl Scouts from the neighboring Town of Geldern

The Girl Scouts from the neighboring Town of Geldern

A source of true comfort and stability continued to be my involvement in the scout movement. It provided an anchor in the turmoil of the emotional storm in which I was being tossed about. Commitment to a worthy cause, action repelling the evil spirit of idleness, order being pitched against chaos, in which a multitude of vices surface and thrive. In short, these virtues provided fixed reference points, which I could use for my own moral orientation. Little Chicken organized a regional jamboree at the Wesel Youth Hostel, to which he had also invited an all girl contingent from the town of Geldern. Except for my elementary school years in Rohrdorf I had never participated in an event on a large scale such as this, where boys and girls were doing things together on an egalitarian basis. While the playing of the customary games, the presentation of humorous skits, the singing of our favorite camp songs pretty near followed the familiar pattern, the girls added a new dimension to our gathering.

Jutta and another Girl Scout Playing the Guitar

Jutta and another Girl Scout Playing the Guitar

Jutta, their leader, impressed me with her gentle firmness in her voice, with which she directed her clan in the various activities. To exercise her authority, she did not need to raise her voice. Her strength lay in the calm assured manner, in which she delivered her instructions. Perhaps more importantly I discovered in the girls a kind of beauty, which distinguished itself through their simple attire and appearance. Just like flowers displaying their natural beauty, these lovely human counterparts needed no artificial hair color, rouge, lipstick, perfume and other distracting accessories to cover up what was already inherently beautiful. Thus, I had developed a liking for natural beauty in girls and this attitude became a guiding principle in my search for a spouse in the following years.

Final Assembly at the Wesel Youth Hostel

Final Assembly at the Wesel Youth Hostel

Chapter XIII of the P. and G. Klopp Story – Part 3

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Dangerous Play with Ammunition

The Siegfried Line (Westwall) was a German defense system covering a distance of 630 km with over 18,000 bunkers, tunnels and tank traps, the so-called dragon’s teeth. It started in Kleve on the border with the Netherlands along the western border and went as far south as the town of Weil am Rhein on the border with Switzerland. Touted by the Nazi propaganda as a unbreachable bulwark, the Siegfried Line was only able to delay the Allied advance to the center of Germany for a very short time in early 1945.

Fixing a Flat Tire on the Way to our Hide-Out

Fixing a Flat Tire on the Way to our Hide-Out

On our way home taking another route away from the main highway we discovered deep in the forest of the Reichswald a number of bunkers from that famous last line of defense. Their walls and ceiling were 1.5 meters thick and had once offered room for a dozen soldiers each. This would be an ideal shelter and hideout for my clan, I thought. Far from the major traffic routes we would be shielded from curious eyes. There in the densest part of the forest we selected the least damaged bunker that would serve as a permanent base for our outdoor activities. I instantly realized the advantage of a bunker over a tipi. The communal tent would have to be laboriously set up. Young trees would have to be cut to provide the poles for the tipi that was barely large enough to accommodate the clan. Of course, enthusiasm among the scouts was high. Attendance went up and new members showed up for our weekly sessions in the citadel. After two or three weekend trips to our fortress, we had transformed the austere looking concrete dwelling into a cozy shelter complete with beds, table and chairs all made of dead wood that we had picked up from the forest floor. We even had turned a barrel into a primitive stove, which provided warmth during the chilly nights of the approaching fall season.

Hans and a Fellow Scout Preparing a Meal for the Clan

Hans and a Fellow Scout Preparing a Meal for the Clan

Fifteen years after the war great dangers were still lurking in this section of the Reichswald. Heavy fighting must have taken place around our bunker. For we found unexploded shells, so-called duds on the forest floor. One young scout stumbled over one of these rocket-shaped shells and tossed it against the concrete wall. I guess in his total ignorance of the potentially fatal consequences he expected it to blow up like a giant firecracker. Fortunately for us it did not go off. When I had somewhat recovered from the initial shock, I blew the whistle as a signal to the scouts to assemble around me. Then pointing to the shell I gave them a stern lecture on the danger to life and limb and ordered them not to touch any of these explosive devices. As punishment for the reckless boy I ordered that they should throw a rope over a sturdy tree branch and attach to it a stick, on which the delinquent would have to sit. In a somber, authoritative voice I pronounced the verdict. The boy shall be pulled up three meters above the ground, where he will have time to reflect on his reckless behavior and serve as a warning to all others who might be tempted to imitate his foolish act. While I maintained a straight face, the entire clan including the culprit took the whole proceedings as excitement and fun. With shouts of hooray they pulled at the rope to raise the boy to the desired height. There he was swinging back and forth until his release from his lofty prison.

Peter's Clan Relaxing in a WW2 Bunker

Peter’s Clan Relaxing in a WWII Bunker

Had I learned my very own lesson about safety regarding WWII projectiles? Looking back, I would say no. For on the day we were breaking camp, I secretly wrapped one of the best looking shells in a towel, placed it deep inside my luggage bag and took it home. There it stood for a while like a trophy in my room on the windowsill. With a new coat of red paint it looked shiny and new and attracted the attention of my visiting friends. It was a very fitting display at a time, when the Russians were launching with great fanfare the first man-made satellites, their famous Sputniks.

Two Scouts Posing in front of Our Bunker

Two Scouts Posing in front of Our Bunker

On the next bike trip to our bunker we were in for a great disappointment. Someone had discovered our weekend base and reported it to the police as a potential hideout for fugitives from the law. Thus, being alerted, they began patrolling the access roads to the Reichswald. How surprised were they when instead of nabbing a gang of criminals they caught a bunch of teenage boys dressed in neat scout uniforms. Unlike the irate youth hostel man the officer told us in a calm, professional manner how dangerous it was to camp out here with all those explosive devices lying all over the forest floor. He also gave us a scare when he recorded all our names and addresses with a warning that he would notify our parents and that there would be possible fines for trespassing. Luckily, the letters never came. But the encounter with the police made us go to safer wooded areas and sleep again in our tipi. As for me the leader of the clan, I now realized that even though I had taken vigorous measures to alert the scouts to the dangers of the shells I should have avoided the bunkers in the first place. In retrospect it was like divine intervention that the police had put a sudden stop to our adventurous trips to the Siegfried Line. That very same weekend I took the ‘rocket’ and threw it in the garbage can. For all I know it still rests somewhere in the Wesel garbage dump.

Chapter XIII of the P. and G. Klopp Story – Part 2

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Bike Ride to Xanten and Kleve

Roman Amphitheater at Xanten - Photo credit: wikipedia.org

Roman Amphitheater at Xanten – Photo credit: wikipedia.org

Our weekly gatherings in the citadel provided opportunities for learning sessions, singing of scout-oriented hiking songs and preparing our favorite monthly weekend excursions on bicycles. These sessions were cheerful and noisy. The singing, which my new friend Klaus accompanied with his guitar, was especially enjoyable. Our voices reverberated powerfully from the ancient stonewalls in the large assembly hall. But nothing would surpass the anticipation and enthusiasm for the actual camp life in the nearby forests. Before we ventured out into the wilds, we biked to Kleve, a town on the other side of the River Rhine near the Dutch border. The road, a biker’s dream, so level that one would have to search hard to find even a hillock, passes by the town of Xanten and Kalkar before ending at Kleve, where a large youth hostel was located. Even though the total distance from Wesel was only 50 km, we spent all day getting there.

On the Road to Kleve an Orienteering Lesson

On the Road to Kleve an Orienteering Lesson

There was so much to see, especially in the archeological park of Xanten. Here the Roman legions had their headquarters. The centerpiece of the Roman town was the amphitheater, which used to be the focal point for entertainment in every city of the Roman Empire. When we glanced at the circular arena, we conjured up in our youthful imagination gory scenes of Germanic barbarians struggling against wild beasts, gladiator fights, and the bloodthirsty spectators yelling and screaming from the tiered rows of benches. When we arrived at the amphitheater, there were very few other visitors, no park warden and entrance fees to be paid. Today Xanten attracts an incredible crowd of over a million tourists a year. Late in the evening we rolled into the large yard of the Kleve youth hostel, single file on our bikes, very proud in our black scout uniforms decorated with badges, but also very tired after so much sightseeing on the way.

Schwanenburg_(Swan Castle) at_Kleve - Photo credit: Wikipedia.org

Schwanenburg_(Swan Castle) at Kleve – Photo credit: Wikipedia.org

The man in charge of the hostel looked annoyed, when he saw a bunch of boys dropping in so late in the day to disturb his peace and quiet. He immediately singled me out with his keen eyes as the leader and pounced on me giving me a severe dressing down for failing to give him advance notice of our arrival. When I meekly showed him the youth hostel membership card that Hühnchen had given me with the prospect of easy access to food and lodging, he exploded in anger and with his yelling and screaming almost scared me out of my wits. I learned from his verbal attacks that using somebody else’s ID is forbidden. He made me feel so guilty that all I could do was to remain silent. At last he ended his abusive tirade, which included scornful remarks about my shabby appearance. Having thoroughly blown his stack, he felt much better and to our relief calmed down, even managed to give us a smile. He instructed me to inform my ignorant boss not to hand over his membership card to others and, with a hint of reconciliation, asked us to come in and register for the night.

To be continued …

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