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 9

Finally Regular School Again

Biene wrote this post.

When I woke up from a deep sleep the following day, I could see through the big window that a clean blanket of snow had covered the drabness of the yard outside the Old House of Rocky Docky.  My father had heard the famous song on the radio and aptly applied it to our new abode.  It would always cheer us up to listen to our “theme song,”  We would sing it with gusto to make the old house rock.

Walter and Elisabeth Panknin smile at the prospect of having their own apartment soon.

The bright morning sun made the snow crystals sparkle and dance; Despite the first signs of spring earlier, winter was not over yet. My parents were already dressed to go out. My mother told us that the manager of the refugee shelter had allocated them some funds to buy household items, utensils and other necessary equipment for everyday living. Our mother told us that before she would go shopping, she would enroll us in the nearby school called Elementary School at the Tree.   Since we had missed classes for more than a month in the transition camp in Massen,  we were looking forward to regular school life again.

Walter Panknin (1898 – 1977) and His Family Ch6 Part 6

Moving to Another Camp

Biene wrote this post.

One day in early spring, our mother told us that we would soon be leaving the camp in Aurich, East Frisia; we would move to Velbert, situated in the Rhineland region of  West Germany.  My mother sounded very excited and joyful because she was born and raised in the Rhineland, a beautiful part of Germany. It meant saying goodbye to my best friend Ingeborg and all our other playmates with whom we had shared so many exciting adventures and experiences.

However, before moving to Velbert, we first had to spend several weeks in a transitory camp in Massen,  a small town near Unna, close to Dortmund,  our second station in the “Golden West.”   I remember from that short stay that my mom was quite upset because we had to sleep in a big dormitory again with lots of strangers.  And to make things worse, we had to lie on straw mattresses.  But my parents consoled themselves with the prospect that we would soon move to Velbert.  That’s where apartment buildings for refugees were being constructed rapidly.

Biene’s Brother Walter Standing in Front of Transitory Camp in Massen

On a bright, sunny day in early Spring, we were loaded with all our luggage and several other families onto the open back of a big, old transport truck with makeshift benches. My brother and I had rarely ridden in a car.  This was my first time in a vehicle. For us, it was exciting!  My mom thought it was odd that we were transported like baggage. She didn’t like that we were all crammed together in this small, draughty and not too clean space. But my brother and I were laughing with the other kids and some boisterous men enjoying the cool breeze and the changing scenery. After a few hours, we were all shaken up by the bumpy ride.  The increasing cool drafts, the loud noise of the motor, and the vehicle’s rattling started to make us feel sick. Suddenly the truck came to an abrupt halt beside an old, dilapidated stone building that looked almost like a dungeon, dark and foreboding.

Walter Panknin (1898 – 1977) and His Family Ch6 Part 1

Memories of the Aurich Refugee Camp 1953/54

Biene wrote this post.

Happy to be reunited with our beloved parents, we had to say goodbye to our new friends in Dortmund. Our parents told us that we would not go back home to Gotha for a long, long time until the two separated Germanys would be reunited again. First, we would have to live in a refugee camp for some time until we would hopefully find a new home in the Rhineland region where my mother was born.  After the destruction caused by the war and the rapid immigration of refugees from the East, housing was in short supply.   There was a construction frenzy all over West Germany to keep up with the urgent demand for housing.  People had to live in temporary shelters often for an extended period.

We were assigned to live in a refugee camp in Lower Saxony.  Abandoned military barracks were converted into a refugy camp in Sandhorst, a small community close to Aurich, a quaint small town. This camp could house thousands of refugees. The buildings looked bright and clean.  Lots of green spaces surrounded them.  Meadows and lush pastures stretched to the endless horizon on this flat landscape. We were assigned to a room with six bunk beds.  Three other families shared the room with us. A door led to another room about the same size as our dormitory.  Occupants of that adjacent room shared our entry to the hallway.  Thus there was much traffic through our room, and there was little privacy. We were told that we should avoid close contact with the people in the neighbouring room because they had a very contagious disease. I noticed that my mother looked quite shocked when she heard that. However, my brother and I were very excited about the prospect of sleeping on the upper bunk beds.

After we stored our small suitcases under our beds, the camp attendant led us to a big hall lined with multiple long racks of clothing of all sizes.  American charities and other organizations donated them, and people from all over the world. We were invited to pick some clothing we needed and liked.  That was exciting for me because I had never had the opportunity to choose a dress on my own.  I had always worn hand-me-downs sent from my mom’s distant relatives. I picked a dress, which the attending lady told us was donated by a family from South Africa. I loved the dress and imagined a girl like me having worn it in a faraway place. The kind lady invited us to pose in our newly chosen clothes for a photo out on the lawn in the mild spring air. We all looked happy in this rare family picture, the first in the “Golden West.”

Walter Panknin (1898 – 1977) and His Family – Ch5 Part 10

Early Childhood Education at Home

Biene contributed this post.

When we turned four years old, my father started teaching us on weekends.  He had a large world map, which covered a wall in his study. He introduced us to geography. We had to point to and name all the continents, major countries, capitals, rivers, mountain ranges and oceans.

We had to draw maps and were rewarded with pennies if they were accurate. Papa explained the solar system to us and allowed us to colour his beautiful pen drawings for the ballads he had written. At bedtime, he would read books of the great explorers and inventors of the past or other historical events.  I loved cuddling close to my father on the bench of the big tile stove and listen to the great stories of mankind. 

Hiking – From the left: little Walter, Gertrud (Biene), Walter and Elisabeth Panknin

I learned to read before I even went to school and have always been a voracious reader from then on. I was six years old when I read my first novel. My mom had the book sitting on her night table. It was a gift from my father, who loved historical novels. Whenever I had the opportunity. I secretly read this big book which intrigued me. It introduced me to an exciting world far beyond my years. To this day, it is my favourite novel. The author is Hervey Allen, and the title is “Anthony Adverse.”  It was translated into German. 

Elisabeth Panknin, the twins and their sister Elsbeth

Although religious practices were tolerated under the new regime, they were not being encouraged. My mother had been strictly brought up in the catholic faith by her guardians.  However, my father was protestant.  Shortly after our birth, even before my dad had a chance to meet us, she had us baptized in the protestant faith out of respect for my father. My mother was always a firm believer in the Christian faith and instilled this faith in me. For her, the differences among the various religious denominations were not of great importance. She believed in a personal relationship with God and salvation through Jesus Christ. She would always encourage us to pray and believe in the power of God’s love.

We were introduced to the word of God by an interdenominational Christian group that read bible stories to preschool children. They must have sown seeds falling on fertile ground. To this day, I have never lost my faith in the goodness and truth of God’s word and the miracle of Christ’s promise of salvation.

Walter Panknin (1898 – 1977) and His Family Ch5 Part 7

Gotha, Thuringia, Germany

Biene contributed this post.

Gotha is a picturesque city located in Thuringia, one of the most beautiful regions of Germany. It is called the Green Heart of Germany because of its vast pine and mixed forests stretching over rolling hills. My dad did not have the outgoing, cheerful personality of my mom. Although he could be humorous and enjoy company, he was more introverted and loved reading, studying, and writing. History was his passion. But he also was an outdoor enthusiast and loved to hike, bike, ski, swim, go camping and boat in his canoe-like paddle boat. My mom and dad explored all the major rivers of Germany by embarking on extensive boating and camping trips in the summer.

Mutti Panknin and Daughter Elsbeth – Paddling on the Danube

Until late in his life, my dad led hiking clubs. He loved exploring and marking new trails. He also loved collecting mushrooms and became an expert in researching new species and cataloging them. He also liked to compose poetry, especially ballads, illustrating with beautiful ink drawings. The only thing he lacked was practical skills. According to my mom, he could not even “cook water.” While my mom was loved, my dad was respected.

 Our family lived on the main floor of a spacious villa not far from the castle and its fantastic park. It is the most famous landscape park in Germany and contains many rare and exotic trees. This wonderful park became our playground. Every weekend through the changing seasons, my father would take us on long walks to this charming place.

Castle Park in Gotha, Germany

Before we even went to school, he had taught us to identify and name trees, flowers, plants and animals, more than I can recognize now. My brother and I would collect colourful leaves, tasty hazelnuts, shiny chestnuts, acorns, pine cones, rose hips, and other seeds and berries. These treasures would delight us more than toys. We loved to watch the birds, chipmunks, insects, butterflies, frogs, toads, snakes, salamanders and other small animals living in this enchanting realm. Two big ponds were another exciting attraction to explore. Some of my earliest memories are holding my dad’s hand and walking in this peaceful and magical place.

%d bloggers like this: