Walter Panknin (1898 – 1977) and His Family Ch6 Part 15

Biene and Her Twin Brother Attending Separate High Schools

Biene wrote this post.

When my twin brother and I were at the end of grade 4,  my parents had to decide if they wanted us to attend high school. After successfully concluding grade 13, we would obtain the senior matriculation certificate, Abitur in German, a prerequisite for post-secondary education at a university.

Biene and her twin brother Walter with their parents

Only a tiny percentage of students would enter high school.  Your elementary teacher had to recommend you based on your performance, and you had to pass a stringent entrance exam.  While all children by law received eight years of free elementary school education,  high school students had to pay tuition fees and finance their books and other educational materials.  It was an honour and a privilege to attend high school.  You belonged to an elite group if you passed your senior matriculation.  Only about half the number of students that started high school would accomplish that goal.

There were scholarships for top students who had financial difficulties paying the tuition fees.  My twin brother and I, plus my best friend Gisela,  were the lucky recipients after completing grade 4 with top marks.

My twin brother and I would attend different schools for the first time in our life.  The two high schools in Velbert were segregated by gender and academic orientation.  I went to the modern language branch for girls and my brother to the science and ancient language branch for boys.  While the school buildings were nearby,  we had no contact with students of the opposite sex for our entire high school life except for a short extracurricular ballroom dancing course in grade 10.

While our school had a high percentage of male teachers, my brother only once,  for a short time,  had a female teacher teaching at his school.  She enjoyed a special status that was “sensational” for the boys.  The boys “adored” her like a queen.

Walter Panknin (1898 – 1977) and His Family Ch6 Part 12

Long Walks with Papa

Biene wrote this post.

Located near Essen is the beautiful lake Baldeney, a dammed reservoir of the Ruhr River.  It was the destination of one of our first family excursions on a sunny spring day.  It would become our favourite recreation spot.  Lake Baldeney has personal significance for me because it changed my life forever.  But I won’t get ahead of myself.

My dad, who loved nature and, above all, water sports, was delighted to have this jewel of a lake in our vicinity.   It would still take some effort to travel there by bus, but these outings were recreational highlights and brightened our otherwise drab existence in the Old House.

 My dad and I walked approximately 16 km distance through forests and fields a few times.  I felt very proud to keep up with my dad on these long hikes.  My brother, who was not fond of swimming in cold water and hated exertion, seldom accompanied us.

Papa Panknin and his Daughter Biene

My dad and I would often daydream about the future on those hikes.  We envision a beautiful home built on a hill surrounded by forests and overlooking a big lake.  Far, in the end, this dream would come true for me at the Arrow Lakes in Canada.  On his last visit to Canada before his death, my father experienced the fulfilment of our vision for a short time with us.

The first time we walked barefoot at the shore of Lake Baldeney, we were puzzled that our feet were sooty black even after a swim in the clear water.  At that time, the coal industry was still in total production, and there was heavy pollution around Essen.   As seen in these pictures, blue skies were rare in my childhood, but I appreciated it when we had them.

Walter Panknin (1898 – 1977) and His Family Ch6 Part 11

Hard Work in the Golden West

Biene wrote this post.

Although the yard was neglected, it was an ideal play area for kids. We had plenty of safe space to engage in ball games, skip rope, play badminton, hopscotch, marbles, tag and even hide and seek in the bushes and behind the old trees. There were even grassy areas where we could put blankets to suntan, read or do gymnastics. We played outside in all kinds of weather until nighttime. The rooms in the Old House were too small for children to play in. Our parents struggled to cope under the primitive and restrictive conditions in the decrepit emergency shelter. However, we had lots of freedom, space and companionship with other kids. We were happy.
Velbert is a big town in North-Rhine Westphalia. Its primary industry is small-scale steel production. It is renowned worldwide for the manufacturing of keys, locks and fittings. You can see all kinds of exciting locks and keys in the local museum. Velbert has a primarily small-based metal industry that evolved from backyard forges. Right beside the Old House was such a small forge. At suppertime, we would see tired, and grimy-looking workers emerge from the dark, windowless stone building to trudge home.

Peter took this photo near Velbert in 1968.

My mother had respect and pity for these hard workers looking emaciated and pale from working long hours in that hellish plant. North of Velbert is the city of Essen, where the largest steel manufacturing plant in Europe was located. My dad found employment in the dental laboratories of the 400-year-old Krupp dynasty of steel manufacturing.

Papa Panknin Working in a Dental Lab

Every morning my dad would leave by bus around 6:00 a.m. to go to work. It would take him about an hour to get to his workplace in Essen. He would return at 6:00 p.m., dead tired but happy to have employment with a prestigious and socially progressive company that treated its employees well. For my parent’s 25th wedding anniversary, a representative of the Krupp management visited my parents at the Old House and delivered some gifts and well wishes. My parents were touched and honoured by my dad’s employer’s caring and generous treatment.

Walter Panknin (1898 – 1977) and His Family Ch6 Part 10

The New School

Biene wrote this post.

The school looked new and bright. Our teacher was a young, tall man with a severe expression. He didn’t smile at us once. About thirty students quietly stared at us when we entered the classroom. I recognized a girl and a boy I had seen last night at the Old House. When our teacher introduced us as refugee children from Thuringia, a tall girl with big brown eyes smiled at me. Gisela was her name, and she eventually became one of my best friends. She still lives close to Velbert, Germany. We have only seen each other twice after moving to Canada, but we have been corresponding for almost 50 years. I soon discovered that she was born in the “East” and from Eisenach, close to Gotha in Thuringia. Eisenach is renown for its imposing Wartburg castle.

Historical Photo of the Castle Wartburg (late 1960s)

When school was dismissed, a girl from one grade higher than us approached me and introduced herself as Margit. I had briefly seen her through the window at the Old House this morning. Margit smiled at me warmly and invited me to walk back with her. She became my closest friend when we lived at the Old House. Margit was mature beyond her age. She was a motherly type and a born leader. We liked her cheerful and outgoing personality. Fights amongst us kids never lasted long because she was a peacemaker, and we trusted in her judgement. 

About 15-20 kids about our age lived in the Old House, and we spent most of our time playing in the big yard around the old building. The Old House used to be a beer garden restaurant with a bowling alley in its younger days. The hedged-in yard with old trees had been the garden area of the venue where people would eat and drink on warm and sunny days.

Chapter 38 of the Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Part III

The University of Calgary campus in the winter of 2015.
University of Calgary –  Image courtesy University of Calgary.

Peter Offers Three Choices

January 22nd 1966, Calgary

My beloved Biene,

I passed the exam, also the one in English. But this appears unimportant to me in the light of your coming this spring; I will write you the details of the exam some other time.

I fear that a few things I wrote must have hurt your feelings. I am sorry and apologize. You are in the least responsible. Rather the causes for all the troubles rest with me. That’s what I think; for I have critically examined myself. You know, when I am separated from people and I am sitting for hours at the same spot and study, then painful loneliness takes control over my heart. It comes from nowhere, from the silence of a tortured soul. However, I am aware that this pain can be alleviated by a sociable life and above all by the giving and receiving of love. You see, dear Biene, in our separation I often did you wrong, when unexpected news and such moods came together in a perilous brew. From now on I will make an effort to separate the two from each other.

O Biene I appear to me like a stubborn grumbler, because I must voice my objections all over again. I worked out with my brother that as a typist in an office you will barely earn enough money for the flight back home. And how do you propose to get to Canada, if your father is not willing to pay a single penny for the fare? Biene, forgive me please, if I seem to be so harsh; but you appear to dream about a happiness that still needs to be acquired with all our strength. The wedding is just the beginning of a lengthy struggle and not the final station of perpetual bliss. Whether we stay in the basement or whether we move (by the way I found a three-room apartment with a balcony, shower, bath etc., which will become vacant in the spring), we will be lacking everything. I am still eating from the plastic plate my mother once gave me when I was a boy scout. We will need tableware, cooking utensils and a few pieces of furniture. My brother is willing to pass on a few things to us. But it goes without saying that he can’t give away everything. I got to know many student couples, who started like this and have been quite happy all the same, because they could watch their day-by-day progress. But they did not start with debts, which would be the case, if we worked all summer not for our apartment, but for your return flight.

I see only three solutions out of this miserable situation: EITHER you follow completely your mother’s advice, come here for the summer, make your decision and work in a household, where you don’t have to pay for room and board, OR we get married after a certain waiting period and we let your father pay for the flights to and from Germany OR in case he doesn’t, you stay in Canada and we invite your parents to come. Later when we are financially better off we could fly together to Germany. I think this is a reasonable and responsible suggestion and I wished you would think it over during a quiet moment.

Peter’s letter to be continued

Chapter 37 of the Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Part VI

118Mountain
Rocky Mountains 1966

What Biene had Arranged with her Mother

January 14th ,1966,Velbert

My dear Peter,

Finally I can take all your fears away. My mother is looking at my departure in a calm and collected manner, because she now knows – which wasn’t clear to her before – that I can return any time in case of an emergency. She had been in the mistaken belief that I would commit myself to some sort of obligation, which would not allow me to come home so soon. My dear Peter, do not take it as my giving in or as a sign of weakness that I promised my mother to come home for Christmas. That way saying goodbye will not be so difficult. She can now hope to see me again in the not so distant future.

Also she has now gotten used to the idea of us two getting married. Only my father remains unbending. He says that he does not want to cast me out, but he would not financially support me in the least. My dear Peter, this is in complete contradiction of what my parents have promised me in the summer. I can only explain it by their desire to console me in my desperation, but they never counted on all this becoming a reality. I know now that in private they believed that while I was in England I would take my mind off our plans.

See dear Peter, I gathered from remarks that my father will write you a letter. I hope he will not hurt your feelings. That’s why I prepared you for it. Whatever he may write, don’t let him offend you.

I enjoy my work at Yale & Towne, an American company, located here in Velbert. Because of my knowledge of English, I do a lot of translations of mostly technical nature,  but also take care of my boss’s correspondence. So in a way I perform my duties almost as a personal secretary. Once I am in Canada, I would like to work in an office and later, when we are doing financially well, I would also like to enrol in a university program to obtain at least the lowest possible teaching diploma.

My dear Peter, I only hope that you are calm again and you have forgiven me. Certainly everything will turn out good in the end.

In love,

Your Biene

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