Sex Education and Other Memories of My School Days in the 50’s

Life was school and school was life for me in those days.  Everything revolved around school.


Gymnasium Velbert

Every morning, except on Sundays school started exactly at 8:00 a:m. and the big portal with the stained glass motto “Not for School but for Life”  was locked by the caretaker.   If you were late you had to ring a bell.  The custodian would open for you and ceremoniously accompany you to the principal’s office at the top floor of the school.  Frau Lindemann reigned like a queen at her huge shiny mahogany desk.  She was a short, round lady with snow white hair, bright blue eyes and very  red cheeks.  She looked kind, but that was deceiving.  She was a tough disciplinarian.  The first time you were late she would give you a severe reprimand. If you were late three times you would be suspended for a week.  If you had three suspensions you would be dismissed from school. We feared Frau Lindemann and would only enter her office with great trepidations.

Our classrooms looked austerely functional. There were  huge blackboards on the front and side wall opposite the big windows.  We would sit in neat rows of two side by side desks  facing the main black board in front and the teacher’s work station. The room was bare of pictures, displays, plants or any decorative items.  There was nothing to distract us.

desksHowever, in this boring physical environment we had the most exciting experiences.  We would vicariously relive mankind’s quest for scientific knowledge and spiritual truths.  Most of our teachers were passionate about expanding our minds.  They tried to teach us skills to foster critical thinking, problem solving and effective oral and written communication.

We read works of  world literature, first in German and then in English and French and in the last three years a few excerpts in Latin. We would discuss, debate and talk about the great themes which moved and influenced man’s quest for the meaning and purpose of life.

I loved our philosophical discussions and would always actively participate.  Although our teachers were in many respects very authoritarian they encouraged free thinking.  We were expected and allowed to have our own ideas and opinions as long as we could back them up with strong arguments to prove their validity.

We were fortunate to have “Mecki” as our classroom teacher.  He was very eloquent in expressing deep thoughts and guiding us through difficult discussions.   He was a great model.

The emphasis of our school was on language arts, while science related subjects were somewhat neglected.  Our physics teacher did not expect much of us.  He would spent most of his lessons telling us interesting  and entertaining anecdotes of his life and war experiences.  Maybe he did not want to waste his efforts teaching science to girls who would never pursue a career in that field.  This  was still the pervasive opinion at that time.  Although I was not scientifically inclined i once delivered an amazing  technical drawing of a Wankel motor.  That was my one and only success in science and I earned the respect of  my teacher. I have to admit remorsefully  that my brother had helped me with it.


Our chemistry teacher liked spirits.  She would tell us more about beer brewing techniques and wine and  liqueur making than chemical formulas.




Biology was another neglected subject.  Our squeamish elderly teacher was supposed to provide sex education.  She would show us a film of a pregnant mare who miraculously all of a sudden had a newborn foal beside her.  The actual birthing scenes were left out.  We were left in the dark.



Another substitute teacher took over  the topic by telling us a Greek legend of a pot which eventually finds it’s matching lid.  It sounded  all Greek to us and we were quite bewildered . Eventually we had to search for answers in real life not at school.


greek pot















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.










Getting to Know my New Hometown Velbert and Surrounding Area in 1954

Velbert.hagdVelbert  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 interesting locks and keys in the local museum.


Velbert has a primarily small based metal industry which 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,

forge 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 of Europe was located.  My dad found employment in the dental laboratories of the 400 year old Krupp dynasty of steel manufacturing.

Papa labor

My Dad at the Krupp Dental Laboratory in Essen 1954.



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, which treated their employees well.


Symbol of the seamless railway wheels patented by Alfred Krupp.

Krupp plantFor 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 felt honored by this caring and generous treatment of my dad’s employer.

Essen_Gussstahlfabrik_Krupp-Denkmal_um_1910Located near the city of Essen is the beautiful lake Baldeney, a dammed reservoir of the Ruhr river.  It was the destination of one of our first family excursion on a sunny spring day.  It would become our favorite 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 up our otherwise drab existence in the Old House.

see Werden  A few times my dad and I walked the ate approximate 16 km distance through forests and fields.  I felt very proud that I could keep up with my dad on these long hikes.  My brother who was not fond of swimming in cold water and hated exertion would seldom accompany us.

wanderweg VelbertOn those hikes my dad and I would often daydream about the future.  We would envision a beautiful home built on a hill surrounded by forests and overlooking a big lake.  Far in the future 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 dream for a short time with us.

2009-09-27_0132_Baldeneysee__speziell_0900_0700_svThe 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 full production and there was heavy pollution around Essen.   Blue skies as seen on these pictures were rare in my childhood but all the more appreciated when we had them.

This is the house and the lake of our dreams in Fauquier, B.C. at the Arrow Lakes.

our house