We have documentary evidence, on the other hand, for Hoppe’s childhood years in Canada, the house in Brantford (Ontario), ‘my first igloo’, the ice palace of the only child of an ‘inventor father’ who leaves the house at seven in the morning and is seldom back before seven in the evening, while Felicitas attends school in the mornings, and in the afternoons, unknown to her father, goes on the ice: ‘It was Wayne [this is probably the Canadian ice-hockey player Wayne Gretzky /fh], who persuaded me to go with him. He was small, thin as candlewick [only one of Hoppe’s many allusions to her favourite book, Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio /fh], he knew Ukrainian songs, and was a genius at fixing victories on the ice from the back, while he was unpredictable behind the goal.’
Above all, he had genuine siblings and a mother who could cook. Hoppe is nearly six and in love. She begs her equipment item by item, first the gloves (second-hand), then the stick (on loan in return for her pocket-money), and after her first fall (which leaves a scar below her right eye) her father, who until now claims to have known nothing about this activity of hers, ‘grinding his teeth, makes her her first helmet cage, so that she won’t end up like Sawchuk’. [This is probably Terry Sawchuk /fh]. He did not take much interest in the rest of it: ‘While he checked patents for the Bell Telephone Company of Canada, I invented the luminous puck. For my father insisted that you had to invent everything for yourself: “Never use anything that you didn’t invent.”’
A work entitled My Sunday Inventions is eloquent evidence that Hoppe took her father’s admonitions very seriously. She notes, in alphabetical order, everything that seems to her a personal necessity, at the same time recording her private complaints and wishes. Under A (as in asthma) a device for ‘supplying fresh air in an emergency’, without which she never boards a plane in later years (her fear of flying is inherited from her father, who was in an air crash in the fifties and travelled overseas exclusively by ship for the rest of his life); under B (as in bed) the ‘Canadian hot-water bottle’; under C (as in Canada) a ‘map for first-time visitors’, with the comment: ‘Just in case any more of them come.’ Under D (as in dark), a luminous conductor’s baton for use in the orchestra pit in the event of a power failure. And under H, Hoppe’s legendary hockey gloves, which, improved and further developed, will lead a Swiss ladies’ team to success in later years. To this day, the equally legendary luminous puck cannot be found listed among Hoppe’s Sunday inventions, and its official invention is credited to Eberhard von der Mark fifteen years later (1983) because Hoppe failed to apply for the patent. (An ordinary hard rubber disc, fitted with light diodes, sets off a blinking red signal lasting several seconds when it is struck, and is patented in Europe under the number 0 273 944.)
By Felicitas Hoppe
Translated by Anthea Bell
Written by Felicitas Hoppe
Translated by Anthea Bell
Published by S. Fischer Verlag (2012)
Read The German Riveter in its entirety here.
Find the books from The German Riveter on the Goethe-Institut page.
Felicitas Hoppe is an award-winning German writer whose prizes include the Aspekte Literature Prize, the Georg Büchner Prize and the Erich Kästner Prize for Literature. She has taught at various universities in Germany and the USA and lives in Berlin.
Anthea Bell OBE was a literary translator working from French, German and Danish. She translated around 250 books over the course of her career, including numerous children’s books. She is perhaps best known for translating the French Asterix comics together with Derek Hockridge.