Chapter 19 of the P. and G. Klopp Story – Part III

From Graduation into Carnival

Wesel 'Berlin Gate' - Photo Credit: wikimedia.org
Wesel ‘Berlin Gate’ – Photo Credit: wikimedia.org

When school continued in the first week in January, I avoided all distractions and focused all my energies on last minute studies. By now the school administration had let us know the subjects and topics, in which we were to receive our oral examinations. For me it was Charles V in History and Calculus in Mathematics. In the remaining four weeks I emptied an entire bottle of vodka, which one could take as evidence for my industriousness. I rarely missed to fulfill my daily work quota. Indeed I would go sometimes overboard and even skip my time for relaxation with guitar or harmonica. One morning I woke up late. I was shocked to discover that I had forgotten to set the alarm clock. School had already started, so I quickly jumped into my clothes, grabbed my books, and without having had breakfast I raced to school in record time and barged into the classroom, where my homeroom and German teacher Herr Aufderhaar had just begun a lesson on German romanticism. Because he was bald and also taught religion, we had given him the nickname ‘Kahler Jesus’, which means Bald Jesus in English. He took one look at me and instead of being angry about my tardiness showed remarkable understanding for my circumstances. He teased me good-naturedly and remarked to the entire class, “Klopp is not just late for class. He did not even shave!”

My Notes on Charles V
My Notes on Charles V

 For the oral exam in History I was well prepared. The main topic that I was given was the era of Reformation with special consideration to the way Emperor Charles V dealt with the schism that threaten to tear apart the Holy Roman Empire of German Nations. I had about thirty minutes to write down a few notes for my presentation. Then when my turn had come and I was led into the somber exam room, I described in poignant details the political struggles of the emperor against France and the Turks and the frustrations he, as a good catholic, experienced with the rapid spread of the protestant revolt against the corrupt Church of Rome. I was no longer the timid student who once stood trembling with fear in front of our history teacher. I boldly and convincingly expounded all the pertinent factors that determined Germany’s future historical and religious landscape. I took the entire time allotted for the oral exam. So the committee of principal and teachers had no time to ask any unsettling questions at the end. I walked away with the confident feeling that I had consolidated my satisfactory standing in History. Also in Math I was able to prove that I deserved a better final grade. My task was to find a solution for the total amount of work required to dig a cylindrical hole of a certain depth. Herr Müller, my beloved math teacher in the senior division, guided me through this difficult problem of integration. He so cleverly posed the right questions that they contained valuable hints allowing me to bring the session to a successful conclusion. It would have been nice to express my gratitude to an excellent teacher some fifty years later. Unfortunately, while I was searching the school Website I found out that he had passed away the year, before I started to write our family history.

Front Page of my Graduation Diploma
Front Page of my Graduation Diploma

With the prestigious graduation certificate (Abitur) in our possession we had access to many postsecondary programs offered by the German universities. As for me, two years of military service at the Bundeswehr (West German army) had to come first. In those days it was still possible to enlist as a volunteer for a period of 24 months instead of the mandatory 18 months with the advantage of receiving a handsome salary, becoming an officer of the reserve, and being able to choose an army unit in keeping with one’s technical abilities. I opted for service in the signal corps, a choice that definitely reflected my interest in electronics and communication technologies.

Newspaper Clipping with Names of the Graduates
Newspaper Clipping with Names of the Graduates

It so happened that the graduation exercises had ended exactly at the start of the carnival season. Being together one last time with my friends and classmates, before we would scatter into all directions, I made full use of the golden opportunity to celebrate the great milestone and to lose myself in the relaxed atmosphere of the dance hall, forgetting the trials and tribulations before graduation and not worrying for the time being about the future. When the time of drinking, dancing and attending late night parties was over, I was physically exhausted, but for the moment I felt free as if a heavy burden had been taken off my shoulders.

Biene with her first pair of skis - Winter 1963
Biene with her first pair of skis – Winter 1963

I had not forgotten Biene. Now with more time at my disposal I wrote her a letter bringing her up to speed on my success at school and the tumultuous days at the carnival festivities. But what mattered the most I found the courage to express my feelings about what was so special about her in my mind. At the campground in the spring the year before I had discovered in her appearance the natural beauty that needed no cosmetic enhancement with rouge, lipstick or artificial hair color. Biene for me embodied the ideal image of a girl. In the letter I gave her my father’s address hoping that she would reply.

Chapter XIX of the P.and G. Klopp Story Part II

One Drink Too Many

550_6_historische-rathausfassade--grosser-markt-flaggschiff-film
Peter’s Home Town Wesel (Willi Brordi Church) – Photo Credit: hanse.org

When I returned from my brother’s wedding, I resolved to be more goal-oriented, to study hard, to raise myself above mere mediocrity to an academic achievement I could truly be proud of. On the wall hung the work schedule, which I had imposed upon myself outlining a rigorous timetable: getting up at six, attending school from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., taking some time off till three, doing homework and studying till five. After supper followed another two hours of intensive study. I had a lot of catching up to do. An hour before it was time for me to go to bed. usually around ten o’clock, I critically reviewed my day. And if according to the work schedule I had passed the test, I rewarded myself (and only then) with a small shot of vodka and let the pleasant warmth penetrate my body as a form of instant relaxation. The master allowed the slave to temporarily forget the self-imposed burden. At moments like these I would grab my guitar, play a few simple classical pieces composed by Carulli, or take out the harmonica and strike up a potpourri of folksongs, pop music or my favorite scouting melodies.

Bild 62

At times when I felt in a creative mood, I would open the metal box with a dozen or so water colors and try my untrained hands to paint a picture often with a futuristic theme inspired by my voracious reading of science fiction novels. One picture (see above) depicts a romantic scene showing a young couple sitting on a park bench under the light of the full moon. High above the horizon towers the head of a helmeted space woman of a distant century in the future, whose envious eyes are glaring down on the romantic couple below.

          Wilhelm, my classmate, came to school from a neighboring town. His father produced apple juice, with which he tried to compete with the popular Coca Cola product that was making economic inroads into the German beverage market. Wilhelm once demonstrated in our school how corrosive coke was by filling two glasses, one with his father’s apple juice and the other with coke. He then threw an iron nail into each glass. In the following week, when we entered the chemistry lab, we were astounded by what we saw. The nail in the glass filled with coke was completely encrusted with rust, whereas the one in the apple juice was still shiny and unaffected. However, we failed to see the connection to the possible ill effects that the popular drink might have on our sensitive stomach linings.

          It was about two weeks before Christmas, when Wilhelm came up to my apartment and brought me a 10-liter jug of apple juice. I placed it on the hot water radiator. Without the aid of a wine making kit with its expensive accessories we embarked on producing a cider by letting Mother Nature do the job. After only a few days I could report to my friends in school that bubbles were rising in the bottle, a certain indication that the process of fermentation had begun. Hans, Helmut, Wilhelm and I were already looking forward to our Christmas break party with the potent apple wine in the making. Soon the bacteria finding ample food in the juice and turning the sugar into alcohol multiplied a million times over generating CO2 at first weakly fizzing, then growing into a crescendo very much like the sound of rushing waters. Finally the bacteria had done their duty, and the homemade cider was ready for the party. School was out. In the New Year the final race would come to the finish line. The dreaded written and oral exams were looming on the horizon. So we four all felt the need to let go and put aside for a while our worries and graduation blues. I had put the jar outside into the wintry air on the balcony to chill the brew into a refreshing drink. We made ourselves as comfortable as possible in my tiny room. My three friends were sitting on the couch that converted into a bed and I sat on the only chair at my desk, whose prominent occupant was the giant jug with its delicious content. I poured the cider into coffee mugs. There were no glasses in the mini-kitchen. At first we had a serious talk about our plans for the future. The classroom genius Hans wanted to enroll at the Marburg University to study nuclear physics; Helmut, the lawyer’s son, was seeking a position in economics; Wilhelm planned to embrace a teaching career, and I had set my eyes on becoming an electronics engineer specializing in high frequency technology.

Aus Elektronik 62
Peter’s ‘Engineering Notes’ on Basic Electricity – 1962

 I poured us another cup of that deceptive cider that tasted like a refreshing fruit drink but carried a powerful punch. Hans tuned my guitar and starting picking a few melodies. Most Siemens workers in the building had gone home to their families. The apartment building was almost devoid of people. So there was nobody we would disturb with our singing. After another cup we had reached the point where singing had become the necessary ingredient for the continued success of the party. The vocal chords well lubricated by the smooth drinks were ready to metamorphose us into a cheerful bunch of young men.

Wine Jug
Our home made cider would not have earned any prizes. But it was potent.

To the great delight of my friends, after we had gone through our favorite scouting and traveling songs, I offered to sing a spiritual to express my sentiments over our oppressive teachers in school: “When Israel was in Egypt’s land, let my people go. Oppressed so hard, they could not stand …”, which I sang with the deepest voice I could muster without floundering. Now Hans injected rhythm into the life of the party and played masterfully one of the Flamenco style pieces with the beats being pounded vigorously on the guitar body. “That was the rendition of our friend and maestro worthy of another drink”, I said. By now the content of the 10-liter jug had dropped to about the halfway mark. Suddenly Helmut got up and said he had to go to the bathroom. The way he staggered into the hallway made it clear that he had already had too much to drink. Someone said, “I hope he’ll find the toilet in time. He looks ‘blau’ (German slang for drunk) to me!” Now one must know that in Germany you locked the bathroom door with a key. Poor Helmut must have taken it out and dropped it on the floor. All of a sudden we heard him call, “Let me out! You locked me in!” We rushed into the hallway and tried to convince him that he was the one who locked himself in and that he would have to find the key. “It is not in the lock”, he complained.

          “Then it must be on the floor. Look for it”, we replied. Finally he located the key. What came next is incredible. Helmut’s level of intoxication was so far advanced that his eye-hand coordination was severely hampered. He was unable to insert the key into the keyhole. Imagine the hilarious scene, in which we three friends tried very hard to give him directions how to put the key into the hole. I was just about going to call the janitor for help, when Helmut managed to open the door. He looked pale and disgruntled, whether it was out of embarrassment or intoxication, we could not tell. Without saying good-bye he took his coat and left. Needless to say the bathroom incident had put a damper on the jolly time we were having. Nobody felt like having another drink. The party was over.

Chapter 16 of the P. and G. Story Part IV

Terror in the Classroom

Wesel High School for Boys - Now the Court House
Wesel High School for Boys – Now the Wesel Court House

There were also the weak and incompetent teachers, who should have chosen a different profession. If they had only known the tortures from revengeful students, who focused with uncanny precision on their weaknesses! These were the teachers, who would not dare to report any unruly behavior to the vice-principal out of fear of being accused of having no control over their students. Dr. R. was teaching mainly Math and Science to the lower grades, but unfortunately for him was assigned to our class for Social Studies, in which he enlightened us with what he had recorded in his dilapidated thirty-year old notebook about the Soviet Union as an underdeveloped country. Strictly speaking he was not teaching us anything. With his back turned to the class he simply copied his outdated information on the blackboard, which we in turn copied into our notebooks. Any experienced teacher worth his salt would know that turning your back to the class is an open invitation to disaster. Upon a finger signal from the leader of the pack the entire class acted in complete unison, where each individual was hiding behind the anonymity of the mob finding protection from punishment through group solidarity. The inner voice of conscience that tells us what is right and what is wrong was drowned by the rush of emotions, that temporary high of having power over somebody who is invested with authority, but who is incapable of exerting it over a bunch of immature adolescents. One – the left finger of the ringleader went up, all students as if driven by a magical force grabbed their textbooks with their right hand. Two – the middle finger went up, that was the sign to lift the heavy books above our heads. Three – the leader’s left hand spread wide open, and in unbelievable synchrony of motion the books slammed the student desks sounding like the explosive bang of a single gunshot. Dr. R. swiftly turned around. There was terror and bewilderment written on his face, as he looked at a well-behaved class very attentive and ready to take more notes. All eyes were fixed on the board, as if the terrifying explosion had not happened at all. We students offered a picture of exemplary behavior, with which Dr. R. would have been delighted and proud. If the principal had walked in this very moment, he would have praised him for his excellent control. However, it was only an illusion. The diabolical game went on, until the poor teacher could not take it any more. He left the classroom and mustered enough courage to report to the vice principal that he could no longer control these louts. He asked for and received a reassignment to a more manageable class. Now it was our turn to find out what it meant to be harassed. For the dreaded vice principal well known for no nonsense army-style teaching methods took over the Social Studies instruction.

Old Fashioned Classroom of the 1930's
Old Fashioned Classroom of the 1930’s

At the far end of the building at a good distance from the regular classrooms was a tower, which housed the room for music instruction. We climbed up the stairs twice a week for our lessons, which we did not find overly inspiring, because our teacher, Mr. T., wanted us to sing for the most part old-fashioned folk songs, to which he played the accompaniment on the piano. While singing in school was a time-honored tradition in all German schools, we openly rebelled against the idea of using our beautiful male voices on silly little songs we remembered from our elementary school years. As it turned out, Mr. T. had never learned to control a rebellious class like ours. The physical distance to the principal’s office was an additional disadvantage. But by far the biggest handicap was the poor selection of songs, which one would describe in modern jargon as inappropriate for our age level. Testing the teacher’s patience we started off by changing the lyrics of the song “High on the yellow coach”. The chorus line at the end of every verse, “But the yellow coach is rolling”, was transformed into “But the Harzer cheese wheel is rolling” (Harzer cheese is one of the more odiferous cheeses and originated in the Harz Mountains). Each time we repeated that ridiculous line, we sang it a little more loudly and more boisterously. The music teacher tried to ignore the adulterated version of one of his beloved folk songs. Revealing his true weakness, he incited us to seek stronger measures. Soon we were deliberately singing off key and as far as our deep voices would allow in high-pitched tones like a clutter of cats whose tails had just been stepped on. This was too much for our music teacher to swallow. His anger gave him courage to rant and rave calling us names we had never heard coming out of the mouth of the normally placid and rather peaceful teacher of music and religion. His whole body convulsed, his eyes wide open with utter contempt glared at us, and he screamed out the word that described us best, “SADISTS!!!”

His mouth so far ajar could no longer hold his dentures in place. They popped out and landed with a clatter on the floor. Nobody moved. There was dead silence in the classroom. We were stuck in a morass of embarrassment. We had gone too far. I felt guilty and still feel guilty thinking about it today that I had not opposed the shameful escalation of psychological violence perpetrated against a defenseless human being. After Mr. T. had sufficiently calmed down, he bent down and picked up his dentures off the floor, and without saying so much as another word left the music room, quietly closed the door behind him, as if not to disturb our remorseful silence. The next day he did not show for work. The rumor had it that he had suffered a nervous breakdown.

Chapter 16 of the P. and G. Story Part III

Roman Thermal Baths at Trier- Photo Credit: wikipedia.org
Roman Thermal Baths at Trier- Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

A Failing Grade in English

Although I had developed quite early in my life a knack for languages, I was not doing very well in the English course. In spite of my efforts, especially in the last two senior grades, I failed to obtain a passing grade.15a To overcome my apparent deficiencies I even enrolled in an independent commercial correspondence course. I began to read English novels, exchanged notes and worked with friends, wrote a research paper on the British welfare system, all to no avail. Mr. M., our English teacher, used a rigid, my-way-only teaching approach, which I dreaded and which caused me to have nightmares. This young and inexperienced teacher had a peculiar way of marking our written work. For each grammatical error he would put a big cross in red ink on the margin of the test paper. No matter how good the essay was, no matter how well the student expressed his thoughts, the final grade would never be better than a mere satisfactory mark. But if one received two of those red marks, as was often the case with my work, the best one could hope for was a D (a 5 on a scale from 1 to 6). This method was stifling my creativity. For me the only way to squeeze out a satisfactory result was to write as little as possible in an effort to avoid those fearful crosses. Mr. M., of course, noticing my attempts of circumventing the grammatical pitfalls, now zeroed in with vengeance on the sketchy details and evaluated my writing as scanty and deficient. It became very clear to me then that I could not develop my true potential in an atmosphere of paralyzing fear and indeed I wound up with an unsatisfactory grade on my graduation certificate.

Filed Trip to Trier, the Imperial Summer Residence of Roman Emperors
Filed Trip to Trier, the Imperial Summer Residence of Roman Emperors

We had teachers, whom we feared and despised, teachers, whom we feared and respected, and teachers, whom we loved and respected. One of the latter was Mr. Müller, our math teacher in the senior grades. He presented his lessons on analytical geometry and calculus with clarity and a sense of humor. Being still in his early thirties, he was in touch with what made an adolescent mind tick. He gained our respect through his profound knowledge of the subject matter, his enthusiasm for mathematics and his ability to infuse in us understanding and even love for the queen of science. He often introduced a new topic with a joke. To warm us adolescents up to the trigonometric functions hinting with a meaningful twinkle in his eyes at their beautiful curves, he told us the joke about a teacher in an all-girls high school in the lower grades. One day the young girls asked him a question during the math lesson, “What are sine functions, Mr. T?”

Sine wave

He promptly answered while revealing his knowledge of ancient languages, “The word ‘sine’ is derived from the Latin ‘sinus’ and means bosom. But you will get that later in the upper grades.” No doubt, that joke and many others of this kind appealed to us boys being in that volatile stage of development sandwiched between child- and adulthood.

To be continued in the New Year …

Chapter XIV of the P. and G. Klopp Story – Part 5

School Visit of the Berlin Wall (1961)

Our High School in Wesel built in 1912 - Now Court House Building
Our Former High School in Wesel built in 1912 – Now Court House Building

It is not surprising that the Wesel High School amongst many other schools in North Rhine-Westphalia organized, one year before our graduation, a field trip to the capital of Germany to provide the students with first-hand experience of the wall that was going to separate Germans from Germans for almost 30 years. The day after our class had participated in a guided tour of a small section of the wall, the teacher in charge of our group granted me permission to go see my relatives in East Berlin. Mr. Zorn with the Latin nickname Ira was personally responsible for our safety. I often wondered how he could have allowed me to cross the border on my own with all the horror stories circulating in the daily newspapers about harassments, arrests, even disappearances of people from West Germany. At the checkpoint I had to list all my personal belongings. I had nothing to declare except my cheap DM 20.00 camera.

Boat Ride in Berlin
Boat Ride in Berlin – Peter on the Second Last Bench on the Far Left

Again I enjoyed a most pleasant visit with Aunt Alma and her family. I cannot recall having announced my coming, but I must have sent them a card, because the whole family had assembled in the living room, when I arrived at their door. Uncle Artur with his biting sarcasm softened only by a disarming sense of humor was again, as on my previous visit, at his best poking fun at the political system in general, but especially at the wall very much to the chagrin of his party-loyal sons-in-law. He asked whether I knew why there were so many round holes in the wall. When I shook my head, he answered the question for me, “To let off the cabbage steam.” Now this riddle makes only sense in English if one knows that cabbage steam (Kohldampf) was a euphemism for ravenous hunger.

Peter Klopp at Age 19
Peter Klopp at Age 19

Now the sons-in-law had their turn to inform me from their perspective the raison d’être for the wall. It was built, so they insisted, to protect the citizens of the GDR from the attacks of the Western imperialists. Surely I must have seen the tank traps and the barbed wire in front of the wall facing west. They would serve as the first line of defense. If they were intended to keep people from leaving their socialist country, they would have been set up behind the wall. I remained unimpressed. Their fervor for the system showed me that they had pulled blindfolds over their eyes. They believed what they wanted to believe on the principle that you do not slap the hand that feeds you. With Uncle Artur`s help the family finally steered away from the political hogwash and focused on their guest.

Berlin Wall - Photo Credit: hstrclgrl.blogspot.ca

Berlin Wall – Photo Credit: hstrclgrl.blogspot.ca

When I told them about my trips to Spain and Yugoslavia I indirectly conveyed to them the kind of freedom I enjoyed on the other side of the Wall. Also I enthusiastically talked about my career plans, namely to study high frequency technology. Uncle Artur, a leading scientist in a related field, a son-in-law already involved with electronics in the NVA (National People’s Army), Anje, the second youngest daughter also planning to become an electronics engineer, we all warmed up to this refreshingly apolitical topic with Aunt Alma cheerfully chiming in, “Wouldn’t it be nice, if Peter and Anje could study together in the exciting world of electronics!” With this comment Aunt Alma more concerned about good family relations than about politics made a profound statement about the tragedy of a divided Germany.

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