Smelly Childhood Prank (1957)

Dear friends,  after digressing from my childhood memories for  several posts I am now back on track and will continue to tell you about my journey through this miraculous life.

As you may remember I had a fairly strict upbringing.  At the time of my growing up children lived under an authoritarian regime especially at school.  We had to treat our teachers with utmost respect.  Their word was law except at classroom debates and discussions.   If we had sound arguments and could back them up effectively we were allowed to express contrary opinions.

However, children at all times did outrages and even cruel  things and we were no exceptions.   I am still ashamed to remember the prank our whole class played on a teacher.

Our art teacher was a middle aged lady of great proportions  who loved to eat.  She would sit at her front desk in the art room munching away on enormous sandwiches filled with strong smelling  cheeses or odiferous garlic sausages and cold cuts.


Bacon sandwich

Bacon sandwich


Instead of giving us inspiring instruction of drawing or painting techniques  or providing us with shining examples of fine arts she would devour her heavy lunches  leisurely reading the newspaper. Absentmindedly she would sweep away crumbs from her desk with her sausage-like fingers.

sandwich 2

We had the freedom to draw or paint whatever we fancied.  She never showed any interest in our  “masterpieces”.  Her sole interest was directed to her prolific victuals.

Because of our teacher’s  lack of good modeling behavior and lack of interest  one of our class mates was inspired to rouse her out of her lethargy. She wanted to  pay her back on her assaults on our aesthetic sensibilities.  This inspired student asked us to bring smelly soft cheeses to school for the next day.  And I have to admit we all followed her lead without any reservations or scruples and did what she told us. Before our art lessons started  the next morning she directed us to quickly smear the smelly soft cheeses on all the surfaces of the art room especially on  our teacher’s chair and desk.

We could hardly cope with the overpowering stench ourselves  before our teacher entered the room.  Maybe she was already desensitized by these odors. To our secret delight she sat down on the greasy chair without noticing the unusual sheen and smell.

When she calmly started unpacking her lunch,  we politely asked her if something was spoiling  in her bag.  Suddenly she seemed to become aware of the stronger than normal aromas. Bewildered she looked around and  seemed to notice that they came wafting from all sides and not just from the usual place in front of her. That’s when she smelled the “rat”.She left the room and returned in a short while with the principal who was a very proficient “rat smeller”.

Our classmate who had hatched the idea of the plot bravely and willingly accepted the role as scapegoat in spite of our strong protests.  She took her lashes in front of the class with dignity and even humor as we noticed a twinkle in her tearing eye and a tiny smile in spite of the obvious pain and humiliation.


Photo Credit:

The rest of us had to scrub and clean the art room and polish the furniture without the aid of  disintegrating  aromatic cheeses.

From that day on our art teacher seemed to have lost her appetite during art lessons.   She even started teaching us techniques as for example in different  perspectives.

In spite of my  sketchy art lessons I have developed a lifelong love and appreciation for art.  In retrospect I thank my teacher who gave us the freedom and opportunity  to explore our own creativity.



Non Scolae Sed Vitae or We Do Not Learn for School But For Life (1954-65)

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

Only a small 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 honor 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  hard to achieve goal.

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

For the first time in our life,  my twin brother and I would attend different schools.  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 in close proximity,  we had no contact with students of the opposite sex for our entire high school life except for a short extra curricular 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.  That was “sensational” for the boys and she enjoyed a special status.  The boys “adored” her like a queen.

Gymnasium VelbertThis is the beloved school I attended for nine years.  Over the entrance was a stained glass window which read “Non scholae sed vitae.” I hardly ever missed a day and was always eager to go and learn for life.

We started out with 45 girls in grade 5 and after nine years only 15 of us graduated. Our homeroom teacher  was called Mr. Meckenstock.  He mentored us for the entire  school time.  We fondly nicknamed him  Mecki after the beloved little stuffed hedgehog toy of our generation.

MeckiMecki did only faintly resemble the little toy because he had lost most of his hair.   Although he was very strict (like almost all German teachers),  he was also kind and warmhearted.   Above all, he was a unique character full of contradictions, He taught us English and French with lots of enthusiasm. He was proficient in both languages, even though he had never studied them in the native country.  In fact, he had never been abroad, until we went on a field trip to Paris with him in grade 11.  The comical adventures of that memorable trip I will never forget.  But I will talk about them in detail later.

Mecki laid great stress on oral participation in classroom discussions which I really liked.  I enjoyed sharing thoughts and opinions on ideas or books we had to read eventually in English and French.

Our math teacher, nicknamed Ata (father), was also popular, This  short,  round, red-cheeked jovial man was a wizard with numbers.   Every math lesson he magically turned into a fun experience by engaging us in group math competitions at the  blackboard.  He really cared that we understood and freely helped us when we had problems.  We tried very hard not to disappoint him.

These two outstanding teachers probably had the greatest influence on my academic achievement.  I will talk more about other teachers in the near future,

Teachers at my time were highly respected.  When they entered the classroom, we had to rise and greet them in unison.  Whenever we volunteered an answer, we also had to stand up.  In their presence we had to act and speak politely and respectfully.  But life is full of paradoxes.  We girls were not as docile and disciplined as was expected.

Before concluding this post,  one more afterthought on our school building.  As I mentioned, the boy’s high school was adjacent to ours.  The schools were so close that we had to cross the boys school yard to go down some rock steps to our own yard.

We were not allowed to talk or interact with the boys when walking to our yard below.   The boys would stand at the retaining wall and look down on us.  Maybe that reflected an attitude symbolic for that time.