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

From Graduation into Carnival

Wesel 'Berlin Gate' - Photo Credit:

Wesel ‘Berlin Gate’ – Photo Credit:

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


Peter’s Home Town Wesel (Willi Brordi Church) – Photo Credit:

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 V

Learning to Dance

In the year before graduation social convention for students attending high school required that they attended a school for formal ballroom dancing. The purpose was that under the tutelage of a competent instructor we would not only learn the various types of dances both classical and modern, but also to teach us good manners and etiquette. The list of dances offered in the program was quite extensive including the slow waltz, the Viennese waltz, the foxtrot, the rumba, the cha-cha-cha, and the tango. Our dance instructor, a lady not disdaining modern trends, did not exclude the twist and rock ‘n’ roll from her impressive repertoire.

Dance Graduation Class at Wesel - Peter in the Upper Row on the Far Left - 1962

Graduation Class of Ballroom Dancing at Wesel – Peter in the Upper Row on the Left

Clumsy as I was in those days I looked at first at dancing as a dreadful extension of the P.E. program at school. At least in the gym class I could show off my expertise in yoga and compensate a little for my shortcomings. But to dance gracefully and skillfully with young ladies was an entirely different story. I was thrown into unfamiliar waters. I had to swim or sink. Dropping out was out of the question. Aunt Mieze had paid the non-refundable fee. Besides I was not a quitter. Thus I got together with a classmate, who struggled with similar problems in physical dexterity. Helmut B. was a lawyer’s son. He reflected in his appearance and demeanor the stereotypical image of an intellectual. He wore old-fashioned wide-rimmed glasses. His hands were always moist and sweaty, which made him quite unattractive, when German greeting formality required the mandatory handshake. I still cringe when I see in my mind the ludicrous scene of the two of us practice dancing steps and sequences in my tiny bedroom – one, two, cha-cha-cha; one, two, cha-cha-cha. When Helmut had gone home, I tenaciously carried on with the practice, until I felt I could do the required movements in my sleep. The reward of my efforts came at the weekly dance class in the Wesel Community Hall, which was located not far from the main railroad station. A word or two of praise from the dance mistress worked wonders for my low self-esteem and made my peers look up in genuine surprise at my newly found dexterity. Perhaps not noticeable to others I still mechanically went through the motions, but I discovered the joy of dancing to the tune and rhythm of the music that a portable record player provided. It was through this challenge of learning how to dance that I discovered the principle of success underlying virtually all human endeavors. The ingredients are ninety percent hard work and dedication, the rest being taken up by inspiration, talent and intelligence. The success in overcoming a major hurdle gave me confidence that with the same determination I could work on other weaknesses, such as my mediocre school performance. All of a sudden my life had become goal-oriented.

Berlin Gate at Wesel 2012 - Phot Credit:

Berlin Gate at Wesel 2012 – Phot Credit:

As the final day for the grand ball was approaching, we needed a dance partner with whom we could present our dancing skills to parents, relatives and friends. They were going to be invited to the formal graduation festivities. During the course of our practice sessions I had ample opportunity to dance with most of the girls. Even though my skills to move about on the dance floor through my exercises at home had tremendously improved, I still felt shy about the sociable aspects of being so close in touch with the opposite sex. I mechanically followed the rules laid out by our instructor, like walking up to the girl of my choice and saying, ‘May I have the honor and request this dance with you?’ Etiquette required that the girl could not turn me down. So everything on the surface appeared safe. Yet, I felt awkward and could not see within this formal setting the stage for enjoyable personal social interaction. Although I had no problem competing with the guys in the race for a dancing partner, I often turned to the plain-looking and unpretentious girls, whose simple looks and natural composure were more appealing to me. On the suggestion of our dance mistress we often changed partners, which made sure that even the so-called wallflowers would not be neglected. There was one pearl among them. Gerda M. was her name. She was a bit short for her age, but was quite pretty in my eyes. While I was dancing with her, she made me feel at ease with her contagious cheerfulness and her forgiving acceptance of my occasional faux pas in a complicated step sequence. One day after the lessons she offered to share her umbrella on the way home, as it was raining cats and dogs. I accepted the invitation, as we were both heading in the same direction. We strolled down Railway Street and like in a game of hopscotch jumped over the puddles that had quickly formed on the sidewalk. In spite of or rather because of the rain and the occasional gust that threatened to tear the umbrella out of my hand it was a delightful walk. After I had said good-bye at the intersection where our ways parted, I realized too late that she had wanted me to ask her to become my dance partner at the final ball. The following week Wilhelm von N. accomplished to my great disappointment what I had failed to do. Losing Gerda as my partner was the price I had to pay for my procrastination. Now I had to hurry, for we were told that if we had not made any arrangements on our own, the dance instructor would make the decision for us. The threat of winding up with a randomly selected partner prompted me to ask Margret X., a tall girl about my size, with whom I had danced a few times before. Having had similar concerns and being quite comfortable with me for the dancing test, she readily agreed, and the matter was settled for the final ball as well. Poor Helmut, who did not have the courage to ask out of fear of rejection, approached me during the break and entreated me to make the arrangements with Fräulein Z. for him. Somewhat reluctantly I walked up to the girl that Helmut had indicated to me and passed on his invitation to become his partner, which she joyfully accepted. She did wonder aloud though, why on earth he would use me to ask her, which I discretely left unanswered.

Downtown Wesel in the early 1960's

Downtown Wesel in the early 1960’s

The final ball proceeded with much pomp rivaling in decorum and detail a high school graduation ceremony. The event was definitely a crowd-pleaser for participants and invited guests alike. When it was our turn to show off our newly acquired skills in a mock test (nobody actually failed), Margret and I did the slow waltz as our first number and then the rock ‘n’ roll dance to the beat of contemporary rock music. We had not left out any of the prescribed dance sequences, such as the spin, change of hands behind the back, two hands wrap and turn, and many variations to the rotations of my partner and myself, but best of all the pretzel, which because of its difficulty I have never used since. What I liked about this dance was the freedom to choose any combination of the learned sequences so that each dance felt like your own creation. To show their appreciation for our creativity, the audience rewarded us with a longer than usual applause.

Thus an important formative segment of my life came to a satisfying conclusion. Many of the dance skills acquired during that period eventually faded with the passage of time. Like with so many other skills the truth of the saying remains, “Use it, or lose it.” But the memory being rekindled through my writing here will stay. This coming-of-age phase, when I was about to turn twenty, was going to play a significant role in my metamorphosis from adolescence into adulthood in the years that followed.

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. Klopp Story – Part I


Summer Employment, School, and Ballroom Dancing


“Let us read, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.”



Berlin Gate of Wesel - Photo Credit:

Berlin Gate of Wesel – Photo Credit:

On a side street not too far from the post office and the Berlin Gate – not to be confused with the Brandenburg Gate of Germany’s capital – was a small electronics store. The owner was also a contractor who did most of the electrical wiring jobs for the apartment buildings, which were popping up like mushrooms in the early sixties. I was well known to the staff as I had often dropped in to ask for nonworking radios, which I would then cannibalize for parts. One day I felt especially courageous and asked if they had a job for me. To my great surprise the boss immediately hired me to work as an electrician’s helper on the various construction sites in Wesel. For the next week or so I had to punch holes into the concrete walls using hammer and chisel. For the first time in my life I began to see the connection between hard work and earning money. Being quite unaccustomed to this type of work at first, I often hit my hands and fingers leaving bluish and bloody reminders of my clumsiness at the end of the day. I worked under pressure, because the rectangular holes had to be ready for the certified electrician to wire the junction boxes. One day the foreman asked me to run over to the shop and ask the boss for construction holes, as they would be needed immediately. Very proud of having received such an important assignment, I ran as fast as I could to make the request for something that sounded quite mysterious to me. When the boss had received the message, he asked his employees with a twinkle in his eyes if they had seen any of those construction holes lying around.

          “I believe that some of those holes are on the top shelf over the counter”, the lady of the sales department answered. The boss reached for them and placed them into my outstretched hands. In total disbelief I stared into my empty palms. Then I realized that I had been fooled, when he said, “Here are half a dozen of these holes. Now rush back to the construction sites and make sure you don’t lose any.” With this remark the entire staff could no longer restrain themselves and burst out into good-natured laughter indicating their prank had worked  on the novice employee. For my part I was quite a bit annoyed that I had become the laughing stock, but took some consolation in the fact that every newcomer in this business had to undergo the same humiliating initiation.

Peter's Notebook on Electronics Theory

Peter’s Notebook on Electronics Theory

At the end of one of my shifts a young aggressive salesman, who had been standing outside the store, cornered me on my way home and bombarded me with an endless stream of words extolling the advantages of becoming a member of the Bertelsmann Book Club. It represented one of the largest publishing houses in Germany, the young man asserted. Eager to get home and totally unaware of the financial consequences, I signed on the dotted line of the contract. As long as we lived in Wesel Aunt Mieze (Marie Kegler) paid the quarterly membership fee. She assumed correctly that if I was going to do a lot more reading as a result of this commitment, it would help improve my language skills not only in the remaining school years, but would hopefully create an appreciation of good literature.

Membership Card for the Bertelsmann Book Club

Membership Card – Bertelsmann Book Club

In the meantime my boss had been informed by the safety board that it was illegal to have an electrician’s helper at my age working on a construction site. Apparently it had to do with laws governing safety and liability issues. However, he kept me in his employ at the store, even though there was absolutely nothing for me to do. For most of the day I hung around in the store, where pop music from the latest stereo equipment attracted a lot of potential customers, mostly women deeply touched by the sentimental love songs in vogue in those days. Occasionally I ran an errant for the people working in the repair and service department. During those days I discovered that working life is boring if one does not have anything meaningful to do.

Old Radio with Valuable Parts for Peter's Hobby - Photo Credit:

Old Radio with Valuable Parts for Peter’s Hobby – Photo Credit:

One day I saw a short piece of solder on the floor. No cow was attached to it like in Rainer’s birthday speech. I put it in my pocket thinking it might come in handy when working on my electronic projects at home. A few minutes later one of the technicians, who had watched me pick it up, reported the incident to the boss. It is quite possible that my employer was truly outraged over my pilfering or perhaps it provided the perfect pretext to let me go from a place where I had outlived my usefulness. Whatever it was that made him fire me, something good came out of it. It created a moral sensitivity in me with regard to theft. No matter how small, petty, insignificant an item seems to be, whether it is piece of solder or a pen belonging to an office, in the realm of absolutes there are no gray areas. Theft is theft.

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

Visitors new to this blog can read earlier chapters on the Klopp Story menu item.

Bike Ride to Xanten and Kleve

Roman Amphitheater at Xanten - Photo credit:

Roman Amphitheater at Xanten – Photo credit:

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:

Schwanenburg_(Swan Castle) at Kleve – Photo credit:

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 …