Published on: Mar 3, 2016
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the art of fireA CORPORATE HISTORY OF WOLF STEEL LTD. & NAPOLEON APPLIANCE CORPORATION
DR. ULRICH FRISSE, LL.M.
the art of fire“What the Schroeters have created is inspiring. Napoleon has become a well-respected brand in the industry. The company is
innovative: their hearth products are cutting-edge, both in terms of design and technology. The company is diversified: they not
only produce and sell fireplaces, stoves, and inserts, but also heating and cooling products, barbecue grills, and other outdoor
living products. Lastly, Napoleon is state-of-the-art: both in terms of the physical facilities and how they operate. What is also
inspiring and rare these days is the fact that, despite its size, Napoleon continues to be run as a family business.”
Jack Goldman, President & CEO, Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association
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A CORPORATE HISTORY OF WOLF STEEL LTD. & NAPOLEON APPLIANCE CORPORATION
DR. ULRICH FRISSE, LL.M.
Table of Contents
Introduction, Jack Goldmann, president of HPBA.................................................................................................................................. V
Chapter 1 | Wolfgang’s Story — Growing Up in Germany.................................................................................................................. 3
Chapter 2 | New Beginnings — Immigration to Canada and Early Entrepreneurship............................................................................. 27
Chapter 3 | Lighting the Fire — Building the First Stove and Becoming a Wood Stove Manufacturer ....................................................... 57
Chapter 4 | Why Not Napoleon? — The Birth of the Napoleon Brand and Business Development during the 1980’s............................... 65
Chapter 5 | Fanning the Flames — Napoleon during the 1990’s....................................................................................................... 91
Chapter 6 | Spreading the Fire — Napoleon Becoming a Global Player in the 21st Century............................................................... 121
Chapter 7 | Pillars of Success — The Napoleon Business Philosophy................................................................................................. 153
Chapter 8 | Chris and Stephen Schroeter — The Second Generation of Napoleon Family Entrepreneurs............................................ 179
Chapter 9 | Napoleon in the Community — Involvement, Corporate Philanthropy, Awards and Accreditations.................................... 191
Chapter 10 | Napoleon Today and Outlook into the Future...................................................................................................... 201
© Copyright Ulrich Frisse 2013
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system,
or transmitted in any form or by any means without the written permission of the publisher.
Published by Transatlantic Publishing, an Imprint of Historical Branding Solutions Inc.
93 Anvil Street, Kitchener, ON, N2P 1X8, Canada
For inquiries visit our website at www.historicalbranding.com or email us at
firstname.lastname@example.org or call 519-501-1412.
Printed by Cober Evolving Solutions in Ontario, Canada.
ISBN number: 978-0-9736372-9-8
Cataloging data available from Library and Archives Canada (www.collectionscanada.gc.ca).
I was asked if I would be interested in contributing to the volume being written
about Wolf Steel. My answer was immediate – I would be delighted!
I have been in the hearth industry, with the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue
Association (HPBA), for 12 years, and have learned the “players” in the
industry. You learn which companies are innovative, which companies are
run well, which companies have integrity. Wolf Steel clearly encompasses
all of these traits.
It has been a pleasure to get to know Wolfgang and Ingrid Schroeter, as well
as their sons Chris and Stephen. The pride in their work and what they have
achieved is evident and well-deserved. They have grown a start-up business
into a corporation with over a thousand employees, operating globally. I can
personally identify with their history – as immigrants from Germany – and
the challenges of making such a huge change in their lives. My parents also
emigrated from Germany and made a new life in North America. I know
that starting in a new country involves humility and determination.
What the Schroeters have created is inspiring. Napoleon Fireplaces and
Grills has become a well-respected brand in the industry. The company is
innovative: their hearth products are cutting-edge, both in terms of design
and technology. The company is diversified: they not only sell fireplaces,
stoves, and inserts, but also heating and cooling products, barbecue grills,
and other outdoor living products. Lastly, their company is state-of-the-art:
both in terms of their physical facilities and how they operate.
What is also inspiring and rare these days is the fact that, despite its
size, Napoleon continues to be run as a family business. Over the years,
Wolfgang and Ingrid have shared leadership in the company. As their
sons, Chris and Stephen, have become adults, they have joined their
parents and the family values that Wolfgang and Ingrid have instilled in
the running of the company have been applied to everyone connected to
Wolf Steel – their staff, dealers, vendors, and consumer base. The result
is a strong thread of loyalty throughout the company and to those outside
people who work with the company.
These values are also seen in the Schroeters giving back to the hearth and
barbecue industries, and to society as well. There is a culture of getting
involved in industry issues, and collaborating with other companies in
the industry, through HPBA, for the greater good. Ingrid has volunteered
extensively for the HBPA of Canada, as Treasurer and as a current Board
member; she currently serves on HPBA’s Expo Committee, which helps
guide policy on our important trade show. Other staff members at Napoleon
serve on HPBA committees, such as the Government Affairs and Technical
Committees. Napoleon is also very generous with its time and money, such
as contributing to Habitat for Humanity, to name just one example of many.
I am honored to have been asked to contribute to a volume on Wolf Steel.
More importantly, I am proud to know the Schroeters and other members of
their company. I work in a wonderful industry, and Wolf Steel is one reason
for my feeling this way. Congratulations on your successes and best wishes
for many more in the future!
Jack Goldman, President & CEO, Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association
This book is dedicated to all Napoleon
associates and customers. Thank you for
your support over the years.
The Schroeter Family
W O L F G A N G ’ S
S T O R Y —
G R O W I N G U P
I N G E R M A N Y
Wolfgang changed the spelling of his family name from “Schröter” to “Schroeter” when he immigrated
to Canada. Throughout the pages of this book, the original German spelling of the family’s name will be
maintained for Wolfgang’s parents and relatives in Germany, while the adapted English version will be used in
relation to Wolfgang and his immediate family in Canada.
The wedding party at Wolfgang’s parents’ wedding.
Wedding picture of Wolfgang’s mother and father.
Wolfgang Schroeter, the founder, long-time president and current CEO
of Wolf Steel Ltd. and Napoleon Appliance Corporation, was born on
June 3, 1949 in Benshausen, Germany—the only child of Karl-Heinz
Schröter and Frieda Schröter, née Lapp. From 1949 until the reunification
of the two German states in 1990, Benshausen, located in the state of
Thuringia, belonged to the Communist Eastern German state, the German
Democratic Republic (GDR). The Schröter1
family’s connection with
Benshausen came through Wolfgang’s grandparents on his mother’s side
and Frieda grew up in the community.
Wolfgang’s father was a civil engineer who specialized in building
bridges. Since many bridges and other important infrastructure had been
destroyed during the Second World War, there was no shortage of
reconstruction work to be done in the immediate post-war period. One
of the bridges built by Karl-Heinz Schröter just outside of Benshausen is
still standing today. While Karl-Heinz pursued a career in engineering,
Wolfgang’s mother worked in the office of the Mercedes Company in
Zella-Mehlis. Mercedes (not to be mistaken for the German car company)
was a manufacturer of typewriters.
Wolfgang’s father and grandmother on the motorbike.L to R: Wolfgang’s father, mother and grandmother in their garden in Pforzheim.
L to R: Wolfgang’s mother, Wolfgang and his grandmother.
Wolfgang’s ancestors on his father’s side: Wolfgang’s grandmother is on
the far right, his great-grandparents are in the center.
Move to Pforzheim
In 1949, the year Wolfgang was born, the Federal Republic of Germany
(FRG, that is West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic (GDR,
that is East Germany) were founded as independent states. As tensions
grew between the former Allies of the Second World War, the FRG
became part of the Western Alliance while the GDR developed into an
important part of the Communist Eastern bloc.
Following their wedding, Wolfgang’s parents lived in Benshausen until
Karl-Heinz relocated back to his hometown of Pforzheim in West Germany
to work in his profession as a civil engineer employed by the city. At
that time, Frieda and their infant son, Wolfgang, stayed behind with her
parents in Benshausen. The Schröter family’s connection with Pforzheim
came through Wolfgang’s grandparents on his father’s side, who had
lived there for many years.
Although the border between the two German states had already been
established, it was not yet fortified at the time Wolfgang was born. Until
1952, when the border was closed and a barbed wire fence erected,
this single most important demarcation line of the Cold War was patrolled
by soldiers. As per Stalin’s advice to the East German Government to
“guard the line of defense with their lives,” the border guards on the
Eastern German side had received orders to shoot anyone who tried to
cross illegally into the West.
While living in Pforzheim, Karl-Heinz had traveled back and forth several
times so that he could see his wife and son. As the border between
East and West Germany became more and more heavily guarded,
suggesting that it might close eventually, the Schröters made the decision
that Wolfgang and his mother should cross over and take up residency in
West Germany as well. In September 1949, when Wolfgang was about
three months old, he and his mother joined his father in Pforzheim.
The plan was for Frieda and Wolfgang to cross the border between
the Eastern German state of Thuringia and the Western German state
of Bavaria undetected by the Eastern German guards. Once on West
German territory, they were to proceed to a train station in the nearby
town of Mellrichstadt, Bavaria. From there, they were supposed to take
the train to Pforzheim to reunite with Karl-Heinz. Their first attempt, one
night in September 1949, was aborted when Frieda heard shots while
she and Wolfgang were hiding in the forest close to the border. A week
later they attempted to cross again, and this time made it safely to the
train station on the other side. During the second crossing, Frieda’s brother
Oskar, her sister Lene, as well as Lene’s three-year-old daughter Christel
accompanied her. The plan was for Oskar to help them get to the border;
Lene and Christel were supposed to travel with Frieda and Wolfgang
into West Germany and then return home. After arriving by train in the
East German town near the border, the two women took turns walking
and pushing Wolfgang’s baby carriage and riding as a passenger on
Oskar’s motorbike. When they reached the forest near the place where
they intended to cross into West Germany, Oskar went back home on
his motorcycle, while Frieda and Lene continued walking further towards
the border together with their small children. This time they got across
without incident. Afraid that he might scream and thus attract the attention
of the Eastern German border guards, Frieda had given Wolfgang some
History of Benshausen
Benshausen, located in the valley of the Lichtenau River at the Southern
slope of the Thuringian Forest has a long history. Nearby burial mounds
are manifestations of the earliest human settlement in the area, dating back
to the Bronze Age (1800 - 700 BC). Although it seems that the name
Benshausen was not used in written documents until 1274, historians
agree that Frankish settlers founded the town much earlier, around 800 AD.
The first official mentioning of Ebertshausen (today a part of Benshausen)
dates back to 838 AD. By the 11th
century, Benshausen served as the
seat of regional government and had a court under the presidency of the
local count. During the 15th
century, Benshausen became known as a
wine-trading center. Wine from the Main, Rhine and Mosel areas, which
remain some of Germany’s most renowned wine-growing regions, was
stored by Benshausen’s wine traders in specially-constructed wine cellars
where the wine aged before being sold. The town’s second main area of
economic activity was freight transportation. Since the town was located
right on the trading route to Oberhof, transport was a natural economic
opportunity. Many of the original timber-frame houses with basement vaults
for wine storage are still in existence, serving as markers of Benshausen’s
historical role in the wine trade. In addition to the original timber-frame
houses, the historic town hall square (built in 1423) and large memorials
made from stone and cast iron, represent the prosperity many Benshausen
residents enjoyed throughout the community’s long history. The church in
the town district of Ebertshausen with its Romanic-style elements is one of
the oldest in the entire region. Today Benshausen is home to about 2,500
Wolfgang, who was only three years old at the time of his passing, has
no personal recollection of the event but recounts his mother’s memories
from that time.The night Wolfgang’s father died was one of the worst
moments in the life of Frieda Schröter. Not only had she just lost her
husband, but that same night, their neighbours happened to be having a
large family Christmas celebration. The joyful sound traveled through the
separating wall into the Schröters’ townhouse where Frieda was mourning
the untimely passing of her husband. Karl-Heinz’s funeral was held on
December 31, 1952, in the presence of his brother-in-law, Oskar Lapp,
and his parents-in-law who were allowed by the Communist Eastern
German authorities to attend. Following the funeral, they returned home
to Eastern Germany and Frieda found herself alone with her young son
without the support of family.
History of Pforzheim
Pforzheim is located in the northwestern part of the German state of Baden-
Württemberg on the northern edge of the Black Forest, with easy access to
the cities of Karlsruhe (25 kilometers) and Stuttgart (37 kilometers). A city
of over 120,000 residents today, Pforzheim was founded as a Roman
settlement at a crossing point of the river Enz. The city’s name is derived
from Portus, meaning harbour or river crossing in Latin. During Roman
times, the developing settlement was of significance for the military and
commerce because the crossing was part of a Roman long-distance trading
and military road connecting the cities of Strassburg and Cannstatt.
First mentioned in a document issued by Emperor Heinrich IV in 1067,
the medieval town of Pforzheim received the right to hold a market around
1080, which was crucial for its future development and prosperity. In
1486, following a period of consistent growth, the city came under the
jurisdiction of the margraves of Baden, thus effectively losing its former
independence. Throughout the 17th
century, Pforzheim was destroyed
several times. In 1645, as the Thirty-Years War reached its final stage, the
Pforzheim downtown before the war.
Schnapps so that he would sleep. To her dismay, the alcohol had exactly
the opposite effect and Wolfgang was unsettled and extremely agitated
in his carriage while she pushed him across the border into West German
territory. Upon their arrival in West Germany, Frieda and Lene asked for
directions to the nearby train station in the town of Mellrichstadt from a
local woman. Noticing that the group had fled from East Germany, like
so many other refugees crossing into Bavaria from Thuringia in order to
escape Communism at that time, the woman advised them of a safe route
to continue their journey. In Mellrichstadt, the two women rested on a
bench in front of a monastery, greatly relieved that they had made it safely
across the Iron Curtain. Knowing that they would be valuable to them as a
trading object on the black market, Frieda had brought nylon stockings with
her and she sold them for Western German currency. With West German
Marks in her pockets, Frieda, Lene and their children went to a nearby
inn to eat and stay the night. When they asked for accommodations, they
were told that all the rooms at the inn were already filled with refugees.
The innkeeper suggested that they go back to the monastery and ask if
they could stay the night there. Although the monastery was crammed
with refugees as well, the abbess felt sorry for the two women and their
two small children and took them in. Well cared for, Frieda, Lene, Christel
and Wolfgang ended up staying there for an entire week. As previously
agreed upon, Karl-Heinz had sent West German Marks to Herta Mayer,
a girl friend of Frieda’s in nearby Schweinfurt, to help cover the costs of his
wife and son’s journey. After spending a week at the cloister, Frieda, Lene,
Christel and Wolfgang rode the fifty-kilometers-distance from Mellrichstadt
to Schweinfurt by train, paying for the tickets with the money left from the
sale of Frieda’s stockings. In Schweinfurt they met up with Herta, who had
been worried because she had expected them a week earlier. From there,
Lene and Christel took the train back to East Germany, as planned, while
Frieda and Wolfgang continued by train to Pforzheim, where they were
finally reunited with Wolfgang’s father.
In Pforzheim, the Schröters lived in a townhouse in the subdivision of
Arlinger. Wolfgang’s grandmother on his mother’s side had been renting
the house from the Cooperative of Arlinger (Arlinger Genossenschaft) for
many years. Similar to his work in Benshausen, Wolfgang’s father worked
as an engineer in the construction of bridges in Pforzheim. Since the city
had suffered tremendous destruction during the Second World War, post-
war reconstruction was a matter of particular urgency in Pforzheim and
the surrounding area, affording ample opportunity for an experienced
engineer like Karl-Heinz. An allied air raid on February 23, 1945 had
killed 17,600 people within 22 minutes, as well as destroying 80 percent
of the city and 98 percent of the city’s center.
Wolfgang’s father was highly involved in the local community. A very
active person, Karl-Heinz played a number of instruments (piano, violin
and musical saw), and started the local table tennis club. Unfortunately, life
as a family lasted for only three years, as Karl-Heinz’s health deteriorated
quickly as the result of an injury sustained during the Second World War.
While serving as a German tank commander in Russia, Karl-Heinz was
shot in the chest and, due to its location in the body, the bullet could not
be removed. To make matters worse, Wolfgang’s father was a heavy
smoker, causing his health to deteriorate even more quickly. During the
final months of his life he was hospitalized in the Schömberg Sanatorium,
where Frieda and Wolfgang visited him many times. Karl-Heinz Schröter
died on December 26, 1952 at the young age of 32.
School Years in Pforzheim
While growing up in Pforzheim, Wolfgang attended the Arlinger
Elementary School (Arlinger Volksschule). Being a single mother in post-
war Germany, life was not easy for Frieda. After her husband’s passing,
she took on whatever kind of part-time employment she could find to
provide for her son and herself. Wolfgang still vividly remembers his
mother crying at Christmas one year because all she could afford to give
him as a present was a little jackknife, when she knew that what he had
really been hoping for was a bicycle. It was not until he was twelve years
old that Wolfgang got his first bicycle.
Peter Jankowski, who lived in the house right behind the Schröters, was
a good friend of Wolfgang’s while growing up. When they were young,
the two boys spun a wire across the yard as a “telephone line”, which
allowed them to talk all night. Wolfgang remembers building a lot of tree
houses in his childhood days. On one occasion, while playing in the
forest, the friends found an old machine gun with ammunition in a steel
box from the Second World War. Although they tried their hardest, they
could not get the machine gun to work. They then turned their attention
to the ammunition box. With great excitement, they built a fire, threw the
ammunition in, and hid behind the trees watching as the bullets exploded.
Completely unaware of the danger they were putting themselves into, they
pushed the bullets that had fallen out back into the fire with a stick.
When Wolfgang was seven years old, his mother got remarried to Heiner
Eisele and took her second husband’s name. Wolfgang’s stepfather was
born near Ulm in Southern Germany, one of seven siblings—five boys and
Pforzheim Arlinger, where Wolfgang grew up.
Wolfgang and his mother. Wolfgang, his mother and stepfather
Heiner during an excursion.
Wolfgang’s stepfather Heiner Eisele.
city was burned down by Bavarian troops. Between 1689 and 1697,
during the Palatine War of Succession, Pforzheim was plundered and
burned down three more times by French troops.
Due to the city’s unique location at the edge of the Black Forest and at
the junction of three rivers, rafting of timber became one of the foremost
economic activities for Pforzheim residents. Raftsmen floated the trees
from the Black Forest, which were used as building material, down the
rivers Enz, Nagold and Wuerm. They rebundled them into large-size rafts
in the low-laying floodplain of Pforzheim and then shipped them further
downstream. The growing economic significance of the timber business is
demonstrated through the fact that, as early as the 16th
had a customs station where raftsmen paid duties in order to use local
waterways for shipping trees from the Black Forest all the way to Holland.
From the Middle Ages on and throughout the Early Modern and Modern
periods, the city and its residents prospered. This was due, at least in
part, to various initiatives undertaken by the margraves of Baden, who
allocated significant resources to the city’s growth. Step-by-step, this
aristocratic family transformed Pforzheim into one of its most important
centers of influence. The 13th
centuries in particular, were years of
economic boom that were characterized by a large increase in economic
activity and unprecedented levels of growth and prosperity. Not only were
Pforzheim residents involved in the rafting and trading of timber, but other
important industries, such as tanning, the making of clothing and togs,
as well as the trades contributed to the city’s overall affluence as well. In
1767, margrave Karl Friedrich of Baden founded a watch manufacturing
plant that was staffed by residents of the local orphanage. In doing so,
he laid the foundation for Pforzheim’s future role as the main center for
the production of watches and jewelry in all of Germany. By 1800, the
number of production facilities in the city had grown to about 900, and
watches and jewelry from Pforzheim were being exported around the
world. Referred to interchangably as the “gold, jewelry or watch city“,
Pforzheim has maintained its standing as Germany’s main center of jewelry
and watch production to the present day. Today, the city produces about
75 percent of all jewelry made in Germany. Furthermore, present-day
Pforzheim is home to the only gold smith school with an integrated watch-
and clockmaking school in all of Germany. In 2011, the school marked
its 90th anniversary. A jewelry museum, located in the Reuchlinhaus, tells
the history of jewelry making from the beginning until present day.
Pforzheim after the Second World War. Pforzheim downtown after the war. The Arlinger suburb of Pforzheim.
Coffee time in the backyard: In the front Wolfgang’s cousin Siegbert with his mother Ursula Lapp to the right. Back Row L to R: Fritz, Heiner, Frieda,
Wolfgang and neighbours.
Wolfgang’s Lutheran Confirmation.
Wolfgang dressed up as a Chinese during carnival with his friend Charlotte and neighbours.
Reception at Wolfgang’s Lutheran Confirmation.
Wolfgang going into grade 1 at the age of 6. Wolfgang in front of his school in Lederhosen.
Wolfgang’s elementary school class with Wolfgang in the middle row to the left.
Wolfgang on a float during the annual children’s parade
in the Arlinger.
for each of the company’s 15 to 20 toolmakers. He then went to the local
bakery, the butcher, as well as to the general store to buy everything they
had ordered. For an entire year, Wolfgang had to do this three times a
day. Since he brought so much business to their store, the owners always
gave Wolfgang food for himself for free. His close friend Eckhard Engel,
who was doing his apprenticeship with another company in town, had
been assigned the same task. Due to their similar tasks, the two friends
regularly met in the park to have lunch together before going back to
their respective companies to deliver the food. Looking back, Wolfgang
remembers those days as a very happy time in his life.
At the beginning of trade school, Wolfgang and his fellow students were
given a six-inch-long U–profile piece of steel, which they had to work on
for six months. They were assigned the highly repetitive task of filing that
piece down to a cube of one-by-one centimeters. Throughout the process
the young apprentices were tested frequently. Even though he did not
see the benefit of such intense filing at the time, it taught Wolfgang to file
perfectly—a skill he was to benefit from greatly after coming to Canada,
because his first jobs in the New World required exactly that finesse.
Even today, whenever he takes a file into his hand, the outcome is perfect.
Wolfgang confirms: “The filing was so intense during those first six months
of trade school that even today nobody can show me how to do it better.”
Wolfgang and his fellow apprentices were only fourteen years old when
they entered trade school in 1963. Not surprisingly, the young lads were
trying to cut corners while filing their U-profile by hand over the course
of half a year. One time, Wolfgang remembers, they used the bench
grinder to grind some of the material off more quickly. When the teacher
Excerpt from Wolfgang’s trade school work book.
two girls. Since Heiner’s parents did not have a lot of money, they took
some of their children to the orphanage to be looked after and fed at times
when food was short. As a result of this, Heiner had spent a considerable
amount of time in an orphanage in Pforzheim while growing up. Like
everybody else in the orphanage, he had become a goldsmith. Since
jewelry production was the main focus of the local economy, being trained
as a goldsmith afforded the residents of the orphanage the opportunity to
make a decent living after leaving the orphanage.
During the Second World War, Heiner had served as a sapper, building
bridges for the German forces in Russia. He met Wolfgang’s mother after
being released from a prisoner-of-war camp in Russia. Like Frieda, this
was his second marriage and he had a daughter from his first marriage,
Working in his trained profession as a goldsmith, Heiner ran his own
business out of his house, using the attic and basement of the family’s
townhouse as his workshop for making highly valuable, custom-made
jewelry bracelets out of 24k gold. A real artist, he never had trouble
getting work. Once every week, he went to the factory that he was
producing for to pick up the drawings and gold sheet metals for the pre-
ordered jewelry. The following week he took the skillfully crafted gold
bracelets plus the scrap material back to the company. Under his contract,
Heiner was allowed to keep ten percent of the scrap metal for himself.
When he retired he had collected so much gold over the years that he
melted it all together and made himself a solid gold watch, which is now
in Wolfgang’s possession.
Heiner had a sister named Trudel who was married to Charles Rivière,
a Frenchman from Morocco. They had two children, Anne Marie
and George. The family lived in Marrakesh, Morocco for many years
before moving to Strasbourg in the Alsace, France. The odometer on
their Volkswagen showed a million kilometers from driving to and from
Morocco many times to visit Charles’ parents. After the Rivières had
moved to Strasbourg, Wolfgang and his family visited them occasionally.
One weekend, as they were attending Anne Marie’s confirmation, they
dined in a restaurant from noon to eight o’ clock at night, being served
course after course of exotic foods that Wolfgang had never seen before.
Not used to escargot, brain, olives and similar “delicacies,” Wolfgang
told the waiter that all he wanted was potatoes with butter.
At age fourteen, after completing grade eight of elementary school,
Wolfgang enrolled at the Heinrich-Wieland Vocational School for Fine
Precision Mechanics Engineering (Heinrich-Wieland Berufsschule für
Feinwerktechnik) in Pforzheim. He attended that school from 1963 until
1967. Under Germany’s dual apprenticeship training system which
continues to this very day, apprentices divide their time equally between
going to trade school and gaining practical experience on the job. Thus,
Wolfgang attended classes for two and a half days and then worked
as an apprentice at the Anton Fischer Company for the remainder of
the week. The Anton Fischer Company was one of Pforzheim’s many
businesses involved in the production of jewelry and watches, making
watch cases and wristbands for watches. Every morning, Wolfgang’s first
task at work was to go around the plant and take down breakfast orders
he and his friends spent on and around their mopeds as a great time in his
life. However, this also proved to be a time of taking many unnecessary
risks, resulting in several accidents. Once, while riding his moped,
Wolfgang had a collision with a car. In Germany, at intersections where
there is no traffic sign, the vehicle going through the junction from the right
has the right of way. Ignoring this fundamental rule of the road, Wolfgang
went straight through the intersection and ended up hitting the car that he
was supposed to yield to in the door. Luckily, although Wolfgang and his
passenger were thrown off the bike, they were not injured. Their moped,
however, was badly damaged. His uncle lived not far from the site of the
accident so Wolfgang and his friend walked to his uncle’s house and he
took them home. When the police got involved, Wolfgang had to pay a
fine to the Red Cross for failing to yield and causing an accident.
Since their mopeds were limited to 50cc by law, Wolfgang and his
friends worked on them all the time in order to make them faster and look
like real motorcycles. In the morning he often left early for work to spend
some time tuning up his moped before he had to begin his workday.
Some of the many things he did to enhance the performance and looks of
his bike included taking the engine apart and tuning it up, drilling up the
L to R: Frieda Eisele, Wolfgang’s aunt Ursula Lapp, Jack Astrensky and his wife Herta, Heiner Eisele.
Wolfgang motorbiking with friends.
Motorbiking with a friend.
found out, he handed them each a heavy three-by-three-inch-large square
file and made them use this heavy tool until the end of the day. After
Wolfgang and his fellow apprentices had served their punishment, their
arms were hurting. Needless to say, they did not try to use the bench
grinder again. In 1967, after graduating from trade school, Wolfgang
obtained his diploma as a certified tool and die maker.
Mopeds, Cars and Accidents —
Teenage Years during the Sixties
Wolfgang’s teenage years took place during the time of the Beatles and
the Rolling Stones. When he was around sixteen years old, Wolfgang got
himself a 50 cc Kreidler moped. This was significant because having a
vehicle gave him more independence. At the same time, it also served as
a source of friction between him and his mother as he was gone all the
time. Since many of Wolfgang’s friends had mopeds as well, they often
rode as a group together. Looking back, Wolfgang remembers the years
Wolfgang’s Kreidler motorbike. Wolfgang’s friend Eckhard Engel on the motorbike.
from his salary as an apprentice, as well as from additional work he did
window cleaning for the Kreutz Company after hours. On Wednesday
nights, Wolfgang and Eckhard Engel looked after the local Hydro building,
emptying out garbage, mopping and waxing the floors, as well as cleaning
windows. Although they usually completed the job in less than one-and-a-half
hours, they were paid for five hours, because that was the time that it would
usually take to clean the entire building. When the client complained that
the building was not clean enough, they spent an extra half hour on the job
the next time. On Saturdays, they cleaned a five-story factory that produced
jewelry for Chanel in Paris from top to bottom. One day, while emptying out
the waste baskets, Wolfgang found beautiful prototypes of custom jewelry
in them. Since these items had been disposed of as garbage, he took them
home and gave them to his mother as a gift. Frieda was delighted.
Even more so than his moped, which had afforded him mobility during his
teenage years, having a car was a big thing for Wolfgang, particularly
considering that his parents never had one. One time, before he had his
licence or insurance, he was driving with his cousins from France, Anne
Marie and George, when they ran out of gas. After sitting by the road
for what felt like an eternity waiting for a car to give them a ride, they
hitchhiked home. Afterwards, they immediately returned to the car and got
it off the road as quickly as possible so that the police would not notice it
and start asking questions.
In the same way that he worked on his moped, Wolfgang was constantly
working on the car to make it faster. He always had dirty hands from
taking the engine out, rebuilding it and making other improvements to the
car’s performance. One weekend, while he was working on the brakes,
his mother asked him to drive her to Stuttgart so that she could visit her
brother there. When Wolfgang explained that he could not take her, she
got mad at him. “You are always working on that car. Those few times that
I need you to drive me somewhere, somehow it never works,” Frieda said
visibly upset. Feeling the need to appease his mother, Wolfgang ended
up driving all the way to Stuttgart in a car without functioning brakes. All
he could use during the trip was the car’s emergency break. Of course, he
did not tell his mother that the brakes on his car were not working.
One year during the winter, Wolfgang’s uncle Oskar Lapp invited Wolfgang
and his family to Lenzerheide, Switzerland. After crossing the border into
Switzerland in Wolfgang’s Volkswagen Convertible, they noticed a sign
saying that snow chains were required due to the icy condition of the road.
Wolfgang said: “We will be ok - I don’t need chains”. To his great surprise,
road conditions would soon prove him wrong. While driving behind a
truck, it suddenly slowed down. His stepfather yelled: “Hit the brakes!”
Wolfgang screamed back at him: “I am hitting the brakes!”, as he tried to
slow the car down. His tires had no grip on the icy road and their car slid
right into the truck. Upset, Heiner said: “I am not driving with you anymore. I
am going to take the train home.” In the end, they all continued their journey
together after taking the car to a Volkswagen repair shop to have it fixed.
Another time while driving in the Black Forest, the generator of Wolfgang’s
car was not working. Wolfgang had not noticed the defect because even
when the generator fails the engine still works by itself during day time.
However, once the lights are turned on at night, the lights drain the battery
so quickly that after a short while the car dies in the middle of driving.
When it got dark that night, Wolfgang switched on the lights and to his
carburetor, polishing the intake, grinding down the cylinder head, as well
as replacing the moped’s fork with a fork from a real motorcycle. When
he had finished, the moped looked like a racing motorcycle ready for use
on the racetracks.
One night, Wolfgang and his friends riding in a group of about 15
mopeds, were on their way to their favorite place—a restaurant that
served the biggest Schnitzel in the entire area. As they were approaching
a curve in the road, Eckhard, who was in the lead position, was the first
to go around. Suddenly, the group saw the light beam from Eckhard’s bike
high up in the trees and they instantly knew what had happened: going
too fast into the curve, Eckhard had failed to make the corner, causing his
moped to soar high up into the air. When the friends reached the scene of
the accident, Eckhard and his passenger had been thrown off and were
lying in the field motionless. Scared that they might be seriously hurt or
even dead, the others shook them. To their great relief, Eckhard and his
passenger started laughing at that moment. They had used the accident
as an opportunity to play a trick on the group.
A very shy and quiet person, Wolfgang had absolutely no interest in
girls as a teenager. When his friends attended parties and got drunk, he
was always the one who got them home safely. The father of one of his
friends was the janitor at the local city theater; this allowed the group to
attend a lot of plays for free. They often watched performances from a
catwalk above the stage where the lights were positioned. The theater
building was also home to the local police station, as well as housing
a cellar, named the “Beat Cellar” in which Wolfgang and his friends
installed a bar. The “Beat Cellar” became their regular meeting place
and party room. On a normal day, there were 15 to 20 mopeds parked
in front of that building.
Jack Astrensky, a friend of Wolfgang’s parents, was an American citizen
working for the US military at the Patch Barracks base in Stuttgart. When
Wolfgang and his family got invited to a party there, Wolfgang had his first
real hamburger. He remembers it being so huge that he could not eat it all.
In his professional capacity at the base, Jack was responsible for supplying
the officers’ casino with food. Through this friend, Wolfgang and his family
were introduced to turkey and large hams as well as other foods that were
popular in the States. While flipping through a magazine at Jack’s one
day, Wolfgang noticed an ad for inexpensive used military jackets. Since
there was no special motorcycle clothing in those days (Wolfgang and his
friends did not even have helmets), these jackets with lots of pockets were
well-suited for being used as motorcycle gear. After showing the ad to his
friends Wolfgang ordered twenty jackets. When they arrived, he kept one
for himself and passed the others on to the group. By providing the group
with military clothing, Wolfgang started a new trend.
Wolfgang and his friends regularly went to the Hockenheim Ring, one
of Germany’s foremost racetracks, to watch motorcycle and car races.
Wolfgang particularly liked motorcycles with sidecars. While attending
races at Hockenheim, he witnessed a lot of accidents. On April 7, 1968,
Wolfgang was in attendance of the Formula 2 race during which British
race car driver Jim Clarke was killed.
In 1966, one year before his eighteenth birthday, Wolfgang bought his
first car—a 1959 Volkswagen Convertible. He had saved up the money
Munich and Stuttgart. Although they eventually made it home safe and
sound, Wolfgang had to scrap the car. He contacted the Swedish man
who had caused the accident in Italy, but never heard back from him.
Another time as Wolfgang and his friends were getting ready for a
weekend camping trip in borrowed military tents, they got into trouble
again. It was the middle of the night when Silvan suggested stealing
a rabbit from a nearby garden plot where they knew someone was
raising rabbits. The idea was to have the animal butchered and then grill
the meat during their camping weekend. Putting their plan into action,
Eckhard and Silvan went into the garden plot while Wolfgang waited in
the car. Suddenly, there was loud banging and a crashing noise; the two
friends emerged, each of them carrying a rabbit in his hands. Apparently
somebody had noticed them while they were taking off with the animals,
but, luckily, they were able to escape without getting caught. Wolfgang
remembers the rabbits running around in the car all excited while the
friends sped off. They took the animals to Eckhard’s father, who butchered
them after they had assured him that they had bought the rabbits for
their camping trip. One of the rabbits was huge, and to this very day
Wolfgang remembers it being tough and tasting awful. Back at work on
Monday morning after their camping trip, Eckhard showed Wolfgang a
story from the local newspaper. The article’s headline read: “Prize rabbit
stolen.” That moment, the friends instantly knew why the big old rabbit had
not been tender even after cooking it on the barbecue for hours.
After scrapping his Volkswagen following the friends’ trip to Italy, Wolfgang
bought a used Opel Kadett Coupe. The car had suffered damages from a
tornado and Wolfgang fixed it up, doing all the body work himself. Since
Standing next to Wolfgang’s Kadett from L to R are Frieda and Heiner Eisele, family friend Mrs. Wiegand and Wolfgang.
Wolfgang checking out new cars at the Frankfurt Automotive Show.
great surprise the car died. After checking the engine he quickly realized
what the problem was. Trying to get home, he continued driving without
lights in the middle of the night. Whenever a car came his way, he turned
on the lights for a short time in order to be noticed. Although the lights did
not come on fully, it was sufficient for the other driver to see him. Once the
oncoming car had passed, Wolfgang turned the lights off again and kept
on driving. He eventually made it home that way.
Another time, Wolfgang and his friends drove to Italy in two Volkswagens—
Wolfgang’s old one, and his friend Peter Kuntzmann’s brand-new one.
In Wolfgang’s car there were Wolfgang and his friends Eckhard Engel
and Silvan Kiefer. In the other car were Peter Kuntzmann and two other
friends of theirs. Since walkie-talkies were the latest thing in those days,
they carried a walkie-talkie in each car so that they could talk to each
other during the trip. As they were going up the serpentines in the Alps,
Wolfgang would always fall behind. Having more horse power, Peter kept
going, passing many cars in front of him, while Wolfgang was struggling
to make it up the mountain roads. Several times Peter’s Volkswagen ended
up fifty or even more cars ahead of Wolfgang’s before traffic came to a
standstill because there were just too many cars on the road. When traffic
stopped, Peter told Wolfgang over the walkie-talkie when there was no
oncoming traffic. Assured by his friend that passing was safe, Wolfgang
would then speed up, pass everyone before him and slip into the space
his friend had left for him. That way Wolfgang always caught up with the
other car as they were going through the mountains.
While driving around in Italy, Wolfgang had stopped at a red light, when
suddenly their car was hit from behind very hard by another vehicle. As
they got out of their car to see what had happened, the friends were
approached by the driver of the car behind them. The man who was
from Sweden, apologized for having fallen asleep behind the wheel.
The friends called the police. When the officers arrived they were only
interested in whether anyone had been hurt in the accident. Since that
was not the case, the officers left again. Wolfgang and his friends were
forced to push their car to a nearby repair shop where they had it fixed
just enough so that they could keep driving home. With insufficient funds
to replace the muffler, which had been disconnected during the accident,
they ran the car without a working muffler all the way home to Germany.
While rumbling through Cortina D’Ampezzo, a high-end tourist town in
the Dolomites, in the middle of the night, they were stopped by the police
because of the loud noise that their car was making. The officers told them
to keep quiet which, of course, was easier said than done without a muffler.
Since the policemen had stopped them as they were going up a hill, the
only way to restart their Volkswagen was to roll down the hill backwards
which made an extremely loud noise. Wolfgang remembers the policemen
standing by the road just shaking their heads. When the friends finally arrived
at the German border, the German border guards were not impressed with
the state of his car either. The officials made it very clear to them that they
did not appreciate the negative image and impression that their noisy car
was creating about Germans traveling outside their own country: “This is
outrageous,” one of the guards said, “that you as Germans dare drive
around in such a beat-up car in a foreign country!” As if they needed
any more car trouble, Wolfgang’s car eventually overheated because of
the broken muffler. Further, since the heating chambers were insulated with
horse hair, the vehicle caught fire while the friends were driving between
Believing him, his aunt lent him her car and he was then able to pick up
his grandmother in Frankfurt.
While growing up, Wolfgang always looked at his uncle, Oskar Lapp, as
his role model. Like Wolfgang’s parents, Oskar had grown up and lived
in Benshausen, Thuringia, in Eastern Germany before leaving for the West
after the end of the war. During the Second World War, he had fought in
the German forces and had become a prisoner of war in Russia. A smart
man who had learned the Russian language quickly while being in a
prisoner-of-war camp, he had been the last POW to be released from the
camp because the Russians were using him as a translator. His years spent
in Russian captivity had developed in him a deep hatred for Communism,
which made it impossible for him to continue living in his hometown
after the end of the war, when it became part of the Communist Eastern
German state. After returning from Russia, he announced to his family, “I
am not staying in this Communist country, I am leaving!” His plan was to
go to West Germany and to establish himself there first before having his
wife and son join him. He drove his car to Berlin, took the license plates
off so that the Communist border guards would not be able to identify him
for fear of negative repercussions for his family, and drove straight through
the barrier. His wife and son later entered West Germany through Berlin
(which remained a loophole in the Iron Curtain until the Berlin wall was
built in 1961) and joined him in the West.
After his successful escape to West Germany, Oskar stayed with Wolfgang’s
mother in Pforzheim for a few days. A trained engineer, he soon found
a job at the Harting Company, which made electronic equipment and
radios, among other things. After a few years at Harting, he ventured
out on his own and started a business out of his house, going around to
factories and supplying them with specialty cable, cutting off and selling
whatever quantity manufacturers needed. His business prospered because
right after the war there was a great need for materials such as these, and
factory owners did not yet have the money to purchase entire roles of
cable. Later on, Oskar started his own factory, producing cables under his
own name. As he became a successful entrepreneur he bought machines
that had been originally designed for making rope. Wolfgang’s stepfather,
Heiner Eisele, converted these machines so that they would braid metal
wire around electrical cables instead. Oskar eventually established a
spin-off factory for Wolfgang’s parents in Pforzheim where the cable
coating was woven around the wire that Oskar produced in his own
manufacturing plant. After manufacturing cable for his brother-in-law for a
number of years, Heiner eventually went back to his chosen profession of
being a goldsmith. Today, the company Oskar Lapp established—Lapp
Kabel—is one of the largest cable companies in the world, with sales of
close to 1 billion Euros a year. It is run by the founder’s sons, Wolfgang’s
cousins, Andreas and Siegbert Lapp.
While Wolfgang was growing up, his family often visited with his cousins.
Since his uncle had become a successful entrepreneur, the Lapps always
had more money than the Eiseles, and paid for everything they did
together. Wolfgang remembers listening to many conversations during
those times where his uncle talked about his company and the ways that
he was pushing it forward and making it successful. Oskar said a lot of
things back then that still make business sense to Wolfgang even today.
he could not get the roof smooth, he sprayed on a leather coating, the
latest thing at the time, to hide the imperfections. Although the car was not
registered –it had no plates and was not insured yet–Wolfgang and his
friends were driving it already. When his friends challenged him to go faster
during one of their first drives together in the new car, Wolfgang decided
to show off. As he was speeding through a long curve and passing all
kinds of cars, he noticed a car in the rearview mirror following them. In
an attempt to shake off his pursuer, Wolfgang accelerated and turned off
onto gravel side roads several times. No matter what he tried, the pursuing
car always stayed close behind him. Eckhard eventually suggested that
Wolfgang stop the car and apologize to the other driver for passing him in
the curve. Following Eckhard’s advice, Wolfgang brought the car to a halt
and the friends waited for what would happen next. To their great surprise
they saw a policeman in full uniform emerging from the other car. They later
learned that the officer had been on the way to work when they had passed
him in the curve. The policeman told Wolfgang to leave his car behind
and to come with him to the police station. After interrogating the young
man, he took him back to his car and had him follow the police cruiser to
Wolfgang’s parents’ house. Frieda and Heiner were having a family get
together and Wolfgang’s cousins from Stuttgart were playing outside when
the two cars arrived. Noticing the police car, the cousins ran into the house,
telling everybody that Wolfgang had just arrived together with a police
officer. Everyone came out and stared at Wolfgang as he was talking to the
policeman. Wolfgang had a lot of explaining to do that day.
Three days later—this time after he had the car registered and put insurance
on it— Wolfgang went for a drive into town. As he was crossing the train
bridge in Pforzheim, the driver of another car failed to see him and hit his
car from behind. The impact of the crash pushed Wolfgang’s car to the
side of the road, causing it to spin sideways before flipping and sliding
on the roof. Due to the weight of the car body, the leather-coated roof
collapsed all the way down to the windows. When his car finally came
to a stop, Wolfgang climbed out quickly. All the body filler he had used
when fixing up the car had come off, leaving white streaks on the road.
His Opel Kadett was another write-off. As he was standing beside his
wrecked car waiting for the police to arrive, he noticed that there were
many people gathered at the scene and talking about the accident. When
the police finally arrived, the officer looked at the car and asked the
crowd who the driver was, wondering if he had already been taken to
the hospital. “Me,” Wolfgang answered, “I am the driver.” This time it was
determined that the accident was not his fault, and the police charged the
other driver. Since his car was completely destroyed, Wolfgang had to
take the bus and then walk from the bus station to reach his house after
the accident had taken place. Upon his arrival at his parents’ house,
his mother was talking to the neighbours. “Why are you walking?” she
asked, knowing instantly that something was wrong. “Where is your car?”
When he told her that he had flipped the car while driving, she was very
upset and almost burst into tears.
The day after the accident, Wolfgang was supposed to pick up his
grandmother from the train station in Frankfurt. Since his car was destroyed,
Wolfgang’s mother suggested that he ask his aunt if he could borrow her
car. Of course, Wolfgang could not tell his aunt that the reason why he
needed her car was that he had just flipped his own vehicle. Instead,
he informed her that, as was so often the case, something was wrong
with his car and that he could not drive it while it was getting fixed.
holidays each year to visit his grandparents, cousins and other family. During
these extended stays at his grandparents’ house, located at Am Wasser 3,
Wolfgang helped in his grandfather’s business assembling pencils as well
as on the farm. In addition to being an entrepreneur who had been demoted
to the status of state-employed manager of his former business, Wolfgang’s
grandfather, like many GDR residents, was a small farmer as well. Although
private farming was illegal under the Communist regime, the Lapps raised
cows, chickens, rabbits and pigs, and Eduard Lapp slaughtered one pig
each year on the premises for private consumption. One time, Wolfgang
watched with horror from the window how the pig was killed. Although he
always enjoyed the family’s summer visits to Benshausen, by the time he
was about sixteen years old and had his first moped, Wolfgang started
going his own way. From then on he stayed home during the time that his
parents visited their relatives in East Germany.
Having family in both West and East Germany, the Iron Curtain had a
personal meaning for Wolfgang as for so many other German families that
were separated by the wall. One time when he was about ten years old,
Wolfgang had stayed behind with his grandparents in Benshausen after
his parents had already gone back home to Pforzheim. When his vacation
came to an end, one of Wolfgang’s great cousins from West Germany,
twenty-year-old Irene Hengelhaupt, whose parents lived in a town near
Benshausen, was supposed to take him back to Pforzheim by train. On the
day of travel, as their train stopped at the heavily-fortified border between
East and West Germany, armed Communist border guards got onto the
train with dogs and started inspecting passengers and their luggage, as
well as searching with mirrors under the train. Wolfgang remembers them
being extremely rude. When looking through the window, he noticed
watch towers and soldiers with machine guns. Listening to dogs barking
and someone yelling orders made Wolfgang and the other passengers on
the train feel even more intimidated.
Irene had brought a fur coat with her which she had received from her
mother in East Germany as a present. Since taking valuables from the East
to the West was deemed illegal by the Communist authorities, the women
had sewn a West German label into the fur coat so that the border guards
would think the coat originally came from West Germany. The Communist
officials, however, became suspicious and, upon closer inspection,
noticed that the label had been stitched in by hand and not by machine.
They ordered Irene off the train to undergo further interrogation. As she
was about to be escorted off the train, Irene tried to calm Wolfgang,
saying that she would be back shortly. By then, Wolfgang and the other
passengers on the train were all scared.
All of a sudden, the train started moving again before his cousin had
gotten back, and ten-year-old Wolfgang was on his way to Frankfurt by
himself. Since Irene had carried all their papers, he did not even have
a ticket. Luckily, in Frankfurt, fellow passengers helped him onto the right
train to Pforzheim. When asked for his ticket by the conductor on the
connecting train, Wolfgang explained to him what had happened at the
border and he eventually made it home. Irene, who had been forced to
stay behind at the border, not only lost her fur coat, but she was also fined
several thousand Deutschmarks (in Western currency) and was threatened
by the Communist authorities that if she did not pay the fine she would
never be allowed back into East Germany to see her parents again.
Mainly because of his uncle’s influence on him, Wolfgang was determined
to become an entrepreneur as well. By the time he was sixteen years old,
Wolfgang’s goal was to run his own company one day.
It was not until two years later, at age eighteen, that Wolfgang tried to
set up his first business in Germany. Having a knack for fixing up cars,
he bought tools, rented a small shop and started his own garage. His
first project as an independent car mechanic was a burned-out Karmann
Ghia. Wolfgang intended to restore the car and then to sell it for a profit.
One day, after the body work and painting were already completed, all
of his tools were stolen from the shop. Since Wolfgang did not have the
money to replace them, the loss of his tools marked the sudden end of his
first business venture.
Wolfgang’s grandfather in Benshausen, Eduard Lapp, was another
entrepreneurial influence on him while growing up. Prior to the Second
World War, Eduard and a partner had founded Lapp and Roth, a
company for the production of poultry shears, bull-rings, and corkscrews.
Operating a machine shop with lathes and milling machines, they had
done well until the Communist takeover in East Germany had resulted in
the prohibition of private entrepreneurship. Under Communist doctrine, the
GDR Government took ownership of the business and had Wolfgang’s
grandfather and his business partner manage the company as state
employees. Although he had been an entrepreneur all his life, Wolfgang’s
grandfather was now being told by the Communist authorities what to
do and what direction to take the business in. Under the new regime,
the company produced mechanical pencils with retractable leads. Being
innovators, Eduard Lapp and his business partner developed a system
that allowed their pencils to change colours by drop action. Since they
were the first to create a pencil that gave its users access to five different
colours, they had the invention patented.
From the time that he was about eight years old until he became a teenager,
Wolfgang and his family went to Benshausen for six weeks of summer
Wolfgang’s grandparents’ house Am Wasser 3 in Benshausen before the creek was moved underground. Wolfgang with his cousins and grandparents in Benshausen. L to R: Joachim, Manfred, Andreas, Wolfgang (behind Andreas)
NEW BEGINNINGS —
Canada and Early
young man such as Wolfgang. Looking for a true adventure, Wolfgang
decided not to travel to Canada by airplane, but booked himself on
a freighter from Hamburg to Toronto instead. In October 1969, with
Wolfgang set to leave for Canada, his friend Eckhard Engel drove him to
Hamburg, where they spent some time on the famous Reperbahn. While
sitting in a club, the two friends were approached by a recruiter for the
French legion. The man promised Wolfgang and Eckhard a very large
amount of money which was to be paid out after their three years of
service were over. For a moment, Wolfgang and Eckhard were tempted
to put their signatures under the ready-to-sign contract that the recruiter was
carrying with him. In the end, however, Wolfgang left for Canada on the
Rendsburg freighter, as planned, and Eckhard went back home.
Atlantic Passage (1969)
The Rendsburg was an old freighter traveling from Hamburg to Chicago
via Scotland, Quebec and Toronto. While on the way to Scotland, the
cylinder rings of the ship’s two-cylinder engine—a meter and a half in
diameter—required repairs. After pulling out the cylinder, the crew only
had one chance to restart the engine because it was done with compressed
air. They were successful and the ship made it to Scotland safe and sound,
landing at Grangemouth on October 7, 1969. In Scotland, Wolfgang
and some of his fellow passengers rented a taxi and drove to Edinburgh
where they visited the famous castle.
In addition to the crew, there were six passengers on board: Wolfgang
shared his cabin with a retired lawyer from Chicago whose wife had
passed away and who was now traveling around the world on freighters.
Wolfgang boarding the Rendsburg and heading for Canada.
The Decision to Emigrate
After completing his apprenticeship, Wolfgang worked as a tool and die
maker for a company in the automotive industry. He was now nineteen
years old and particularly enjoyed the fact that his friend Eckhard Engel
was working with him in the same factory. Although their tasks were
rather repetitive, it was a good job and they learned a lot. One night,
while at a pub, Wolfgang and his friends talked about doing something
different with their lives. Driven by youthful restlessness and an adventurous
spirit, they felt too young to settle into a routine yet. Since everyone was
talking about America as the country of unlimited opportunities, Wolfgang
suggested that they go to the US for a number of years to learn English
and then come back to Germany. Everybody agreed with his proposal:
“Yes, that’s what we should be doing!” they said. Wolfgang announced
that he would enquire about it with the US authorities. When he went to
the US Embassy, he was told that the US was indeed looking for young
tradespeople. However, he was also warned that after one year in the
country they would be sent to Vietnam to fight for the US in the Vietnam
War. Under the law of the day, immigrants were subject to mandatory
military service in the US army. As a result of those conditions, the friends
decided not to pursue immigrating to the US. With the US no longer an
option, the next best thing in their minds was going to Canada. Wolfgang
went to the Canadian Consulate in Stuttgart to inquire about the possibility
of immigrating to Canada. Canada was also looking for young men
trained in the trades. The Canadian Government was even running
ads on German TV in an attempt to recruit skilled young tradespeople.
When asked about his English language skills by the Canadian official,
Wolfgang answered that his knowledge of the language was very limited.
As a matter of fact, he had not been taught any English at school. His
first exposure to the English language was when he took a one-week-
long language course at Berlitz Language School in Pforzheim just before
leaving for Canada. In response, the interviewing officer suggested to
Wolfgang that he go to Kitchener, in the province of Ontario, located
about one hour west of Toronto. Kitchener, formerly called Berlin, had
been a center of German immigration since the early 1800’s. Due to its
German heritage, the city and surrounding area of Waterloo County had
attracted thousands of post-WWII immigrants who had started businesses,
clubs and other institutions which, the officer pointed out, would make
it easier for Wolfgang to adapt to life in Canada. Determined to leave
as soon as possible, Wolfgang filled out the papers and applied for
immigration to Canada. To his great surprise, while he started putting their
joint group plan into action, all of his friends, one after the other, pulled
out. It was not long before he was the only one left. Undeterred, the
nineteen-year-old informed his mother of his plans. Frieda Eisele, who was
quite shocked by his plan, did not like the idea of her only son moving
across the ocean. Hoping that he might change his mind, she asked him
to stay home for another year and wait until he turned twenty. During that
year, Wolfgang’s aunt as well as his other family members also tried to
convince him not to immigrate to Canada.
Following his mother’s advice, Wolfgang stayed in Germany for another
year. When he finally left for Canada in October of 1969, less than four
months after his twentieth birthday, his plan was to live in Canada for
two years and then move on to South Africa for another two years before
eventually returning to Germany. As both countries were emerging at the
time, the plan held the promise of great experiences for an adventurous
Another fellow passenger was from Peru; and there were three other young
German men who, like Wolfgang, were immigrating to Canada. During
the voyage, the passengers were allowed to move freely around the ship,
including the bridge and the downstairs crew area. The three young
passengers, including Wolfgang, and the ship’s crew had huge parties
on board, which, on more than one occasion lasted until five o clock in
the morning. Alcohol was cheap since there were no taxes on purchases
made in international waters. After a night of partying, the passengers
would sleep in while the crew had to get up and work. Wolfgang
remembers one of the crew members being so drunk one morning that he
did not even remember his name when reporting for duty—this on a day
when his shipmates had to hang him overboard in a basket because he
had been assigned the task of painting parts of the hull from the outside.
At dinner time, the passengers were seated at the officers’ table together
with the captain, the first officer and the ship’s radio operator. Food and
service were excellent; everything on board was first class. Since eating
times on board were absolutely punctual, on days when he happened
to be late for dinner, Wolfgang had to eat with the crew because the
door to the officers’ dining hall was locked. Although he was crossing the
Atlantic on a German freighter, communication was not easy. At the time,
Wolfgang only spoke Schwäbisch (Swabian), a South-Western German
dialect, but no High German, although he could understand it—he only
learned to speak High German in Canada. Wolfgang remembers having
trouble communicating at the officers’ table because all of the ship’s
officers and crew spoke either High German or English. Although he had
taken a one-week-long language course just before leaving for Canada;
his English was nowhere near good enough to allow him to follow the
Starting Out in
After crossing the Atlantic from Scotland, the Rendsburg landed in
Quebec City, where they had to wait for a day. Wolfgang then spent
two days in Montreal sightseeing and waiting for his immigration papers
to be processed, before going on to Toronto, where he got off the
ship. Wolfgang carried with him the address and phone number of the
Wiegand family, who were friends of his mother’s. The Wiegands picked
him up in Toronto and took him to Kitchener, where Wolfgang stayed his
first night off the ship in their house. The next day, his host family took
Wolfgang to the bank to open his first bank account in Canada. To his
great surprise, the teller changed the spelling of his name from Schröter
to Schroeter, since Umlauts are not used in the English language. Ever
since that day, Wolfgang has spelled his family name Schroeter. That very
same day Wolfgang had a job interview, arranged for room and board,
and was shown Conestoga College on King Street in Waterloo, where
he would learn English several times a week in the evenings after work.
On the second day after he set foot on Canadian soil, Wolfgang started
working at Electro Porcelain in Kitchener’s twin city Waterloo.
Wolfgang vividly remembers his first day at work. Expecting that the
Canadian work dress code would be the same as in Germany, he had
brought his blue work overalls, commonly referred to in German as “Blauer
Anton” (Blue Anton) or “Blaumann” (Blue man) with him to Canada. In
Germany, it was standard practice for workers to wear those kinds of
boiler suits at work. On his first day at Electro Porcelain, Wolfgang carried
the overalls with him to the plant in a big bag. When he was sent to the
Wolfgang leaving Germany on the freighter Rendsburg, October 1969.
Although it was October, it was so hot between the two furnaces that even
today Wolfgang thinks it was probably the worst job in the entire factory.
Glad that he had found employment so quickly after his arrival, he did
not complain and kept doing his job. After two months, the company’s
foreman approached Wolfgang; knowing that he was a trained tool
and die maker, he had been looking around for a better job for him.
The foreman had found a tool and die shop that would take him on in
his learned profession. Overjoyed, Wolfgang thanked him. Due to the
initiative of his foreman, Wolfgang started his second job in Canada in
January 1970 at Vanderzwaag Tool and Die in Waterloo. His starting
salary there was $1.65 an hour.
While working at Vanderzwaag’s, Wolfgang bought his first North
American car, a used Chevrolet, for $200.00. Overjoyed he wrote home
to his parents: “Got a car bigger than a Mercedes!”
Vanderzwaag Tool and Die was a tiny shop where Wolfgang worked with
only two other employees, both of them Canadians. The shop looked like
a garage attached to a house. Mr. Vanderzwaag always saved on heat
during the winter. When he planned on coming into the shop, he turned
up the thermostat so that the place was warm while he was in the building.
However, when he left he turned it down again, leaving his employees to
freeze. It got so cold in the shop that Wolfgang and his colleagues started
turning up the heat in the owner’s absence, always watching carefully and
turning it down the moment they saw Mr. Vanderzwaag approaching.
After a few months, Wolfgang learned that his two Canadian co-
workers were making around $4.00 an hour while he was only being
paid $1.65. When they suggested to him to ask his boss for a raise,
Wolfgang approached his employer. To his surprise, Mr. Vanderzwaag
made all kinds of excuses as to why he could not pay him more. Among
other things, he said that Wolfgang’s English was not good enough yet,
and that he still had to learn working with non-metric measurements. Mr.
Vanderzwaag seemed to suggest that once he had more experience,
Wolfgang would be paid more as well. Wolfgang remained persistent
and kept asking, and when Mr. Vanderzwaag finally agreed to give him
a raise, he paid him $1.70 an hour.
With no real perspective for professional development at Vanderzwaag’s,
Wolfgang felt that it was time to move on. He looked around and quickly
found a new job at Heffner Tool and Die in the Kramer Building right across
from the Concordia Club in Kitchener. There he was paid $4.50 an hour.
It was a great job and he enjoyed the excellent working atmosphere that
was completely different from his previous place of employment. Although
Wolfgang liked working together with his new colleague, who was a
German immigrant like him, and with his boss at Heffner’s, the Canadian
economy was in a downturn which resulted in Wolfgang losing his job
within less than a year.
With no job to support himself, Wolfgang seriously considered going
back to Germany. Intending to return to his native country, he decided to
take the brand-new Volkswagen, which he had bought only a week or
two before he was laid off, back to the dealer. When he offered to sell
the car back to him, the dealer told him that he would only give him half
of what he had paid for the car. “I’ll think about it,” Wolfgang said and
left, realizing that selling the car back was not an option.
bathroom to change, Wolfgang was surprised to find that there were
no doors in front of the toilets. Equally odd was the fact that his new
colleagues looked at him strangely when he came out wearing his “Blauer
Anton”, because nobody in Canada wore work overalls. Instead, workers
were allowed to wear whatever they wanted.
Wolfgang’s first impressions of Canada were that everything was big and
wide—big streets, big houses, big cars, big shopping malls – in short: a
big country. Everything looked huge compared to what he was used to
from growing up in Germany.
Besides the Wiegands, Rudi Lipowitz was another contact Wolfgang had
upon arrival in Kitchener. They had previously met in Pforzheim, and before
Rudi had left for Canada Wolfgang had almost bought a car from him.
Once Wolfgang knew that he would be immigrating to Canada as well,
he had gotten Rudi’s contact information from the young man’s parents.
When Wolfgang called him in Kitchener, Rudi picked him up in a huge
Galaxy 500 Coupe. Wolfgang was truly impressed by the size of the car.
Rudi introduced him to his many friends and acquaintances, and Wolfgang
quickly realized that the Canadian official at the Canadian Consulate in
Stuttgart had been right: Kitchener was home to many German-speaking
people from all over Europe and Wolfgang soon became friends with
many recent immigrants, particularly from Switzerland and Austria.2
basement apartment in Waterloo quickly became the meeting place where
Wolfgang and his new friends had parties and hung out, always having
a good time. One night they had made plans to make cheese fondue, but
did not have the proper tools for it. Improvising, they put a rope around the
light fixture on the ceiling, tied it to a cloth hanger that had a pot attached
to it and placed candles on the floor underneath the pot.
At Electro Porcelain, which produced ceramic insulators for Ontario
Hydro and for residential cook tops, Wolfgang’s workstation was placed
between the drying oven and the furnace. It was his job to take the
ceramic parts out of the drying oven and to put them into the furnace.
According to the 1971 Census, over 35,000 people or 32% of Kitchener residents, were of German ethnic origin (Census of Canada, 1971).
Playing party games with friends in Canada.Wolfgang with friends, circa 1972. L to R: Wolfgang, Renate Lipowitz, Bert Penzendorfer, Brigitte Penzendorfer, Ingrid and the
late Rudi Lipowitz.
was the only one among the roommates with a car, they drove to the
grocery store together on Fridays to do their shopping for the entire week.
To his surprise, by Sunday night all the food was gone, and Wolfgang
found himself eating peanut butter and jam for the rest of the week. After
a while Wolfgang realized that if he bought German food, such as blood
sausage, herring, rye bread, and pumpernickel, his roommates did not
touch his stuff and he would have food for the entire week.
When Wolfgang was given a box spring, he slept on it in a sleeping bag
for two months, not knowing that the box spring is only the base of a bed
set which, of course, also requires a mattress. Later on, when waterbeds
became the newest fashion, Wolfgang and his roommates decided to
buy waterbeds. After coming home late at night with their new purchases,
they took the hose off the vacuum cleaner, and ran it into the beds’ filling
valves. Although it was dirty and messy and did not work well at first,
they eventually got their waterbeds filled with water. Eventually, they found
out that it was illegal to put waterbeds into high-rise buildings due to the
weight and the risk of water damage.
One day, Wolfgang’s roommates went to the horse races in Toronto
where they won $1,000.00. On their way back they met a man who
sold them Marijuana, which they paid for with their winnings. When
his roommates came back to the apartment with a garbage bag full of
Marijuana, Wolfgang had no idea what they were doing. They took the
plants out of the bag, cut the branches into little pieces, separated leaves
and seeds and started selling them at the university. By then Wolfgang
had had enough, as that was definitely not his lifestyle. He moved out and
moved in together with another friend.
and Getting Married
Although he was working and living in Toronto, Wolfgang always
went back to Kitchener to spend the weekends with his friends there. In
Kitchener, he usually stayed at Rudy’s or at Bert Penzendorfer’s. Bert, who
is still a good friend of Ingrid and Wolfgang’s today, was an immigrant
from Austria. It was through Bert that Ingrid and Wolfgang met for the
first time. One weekend, as he was visiting Kitchener, his friends told
Wolfgang that there was a new girl in town. Bert and his girlfriend Brigitte
knew Ingrid from English school and invited her to join them for a dance at
the Schwabenclub, which was one of the local hubs for German-speaking
immigrants at the time. This was where Wolfgang first met Ingrid, his
wife-to-be, in February 1971. The second time their paths crossed
Ingrid and Wolfgang’s engagement announcement, Christmas 1971.
Moving to Toronto
After losing his job with Heffner’s in 1970, Wolfgang tried to find new
employment anywhere in Kitchener-Waterloo. Despite his persistence,
with the economy going through a recession, no local companies were
hiring. This was when Wolfgang learned through a friend of a possible
job opportunity at Chromalox Electric Heat (now owned by Dimplex) in
Toronto. The friend’s uncle, who was employed at Chromalox, knew that
the company was always looking for qualified toolmakers. After handing
in his application, Wolfgang was interviewed, and he landed the job.
At twenty-one years old, Wolfgang was the youngest employee in the
tool room at Chromalox. Surprised by his young age, his new colleagues
said, “He can’t be a toolmaker, he is way too young!” To their surprise,
Wolfgang was not only a certified toolmaker, but also a highly skilled
one on top of that. Due to his in-depth training in Germany, he could
accomplish more difficult jobs than his older and much more experienced
colleagues. The many monotonous hours he had spent at trade school
filing by hand now came in handy. One of the tools they were building
at Chromalox was molds for spiral burners used in electric ranges. Due
to its spiral shape the mold had to be milled out spherically. Since the
job was considered too difficult to be done in-house, it had always
been outsourced to another company. Confident in his ability, Wolfgang
suggested that he could do it—and he did! From then on his supervisors
gave many difficult jobs to Wolfgang knowing that he was the only one in
the tool shop who could do them. Wolfgang was paid well for his skilled
work at Chromalox, receiving $6.50 an hour.
When Wolfgang had moved from Kitchener to Toronto to work for
Chromalox, the first place he lived in was a boarding house where every
room was rented out individually. It was a noisy place, and Wolfgang was
not pleased with it. As he started looking for another place to live, someone
suggested that he look for shared student accommodations. While going
through the classified ads in the Toronto Star, he found an ad, placed by
students from York University who were looking for a third roommate to
share an apartment on the 16th
floor of a high-rise building on Jane Street.
Wolfgang called, met with the students and moved in. Not only did he
enjoy the camaraderie of living with Canadians his own age, he was also
excited about the opportunity to improve his English by living with native
English speakers. While living in Toronto, Wolfgang also took an English
as a Second Language (ESL) course at York University. Since Wolfgang
View of Toronto circa 1970.
was at Brigitte’s boss’s birthday party. After that, they met every weekend
until they got engaged Christmas of 1971. At the time, Wolfgang had
wanted to go back to Germany, but Ingrid had just started studying for
her BA degree at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo. They decided
to stay because they figured that they would have more opportunities for
advancement in Canada. Looking back, they have never regretted that
decision. Wolfgang and Ingrid got married on July 1, 1972—Canada
Day—in Germany where they had a small wedding with about twenty
guests at an inn. Wolfgang’s mother had organized the wedding in
their absence. Ingrid was 21 and Wolfgang was 23 at the time they
exchanged their vows. For their honeymoon, Ingrid and Wolfgang went
on a road trip through France (where they camped in Paris), Monaco,
Italy and back through Austria to Germany. Rather than renting a car,
they bought an old Opel Kadett for 500 Deutschmarks. After six weeks
and putting on a lot of kilometers they sold the car for 550 Deutschmarks
before returning to Canada.
Ingrid was born on June 29, 1951 in Ottobrunn near Munich, Bavaria,
the daughter of Helge Heide and Hildegard Heide, née Michl. She grew
up in Ottobrunn until moving to Munich in 1961 where she attended
the Anger Cloister Modern Languages High School (Anger Kloster
Neusprachiges Gymnasium), a private high school for girls that she
graduated from in 1970.
Ingrid’s father was an electronic engineer who worked for Grundig, the
largest radio manufacturer in all of Europe at the time, and then for Körting
Munich in the 1960’s.
Wolfgang and Ingrid during their honeymoon in Germany.
Ingrid and Wolfgang getting married, July 1, 1972 (their only wedding photo). Wolfgang and Ingrid with Heiner Eisele in front of Wolfgang’s parent’s’ townhouse in Pforzheim. Wolfgang and Ingrid with Frieda and Heiner Eisele in front of
Wolfgang’s parents’ townhouse.
Wolfgang and Ingrid just before getting engaged at Ingrid’s parents’ home.
Ingrid and her best friend Roswitha Lentes (née Minderer) during Mardi Gras (Fasching). Ingrid’s Holy Communion.
L to R: Ingrid’s mother, godmother Elisabeth Winter, Ingrid, godfather Helmut Winter during Ingrid’s Confirmation in the Catholic Church, circa 1965.
Ingrid with her godmother Elisabeth Winter during Ingrid’s
Confirmation in the Catholic Church, circa 1965.
Ingrid’s parents circa 1951.
Ingrid (on the right) modelling for a Knitting Company in Rotthalmuenster, Bavaria, in 1954. Ingrid’s first day at school.Ingrid and her mother, circa 1955. The picture was taken and developed by Ingrid’s father.
Ingrid at the age of 2. Ingrid in front of the family home in Ottobrunn at Easter.
Kiefel as service representative and account manager. Her mother worked
as a secretary for the Fritz Jugan Company in Munich, a small retailer of
machines for the wood-working industry, for twenty years.
Ingrid’s family connection with Canada was through her grandparents
on her father’s side who had immigrated in 1951 via Sweden. Ingrid’s
grandfather, Alex Heide, who was fluent in German, Swedish and
English, had worked in Sweden for the Government before going to
Canada. Ingrid’s father was born in Berlin, while her mother was from the
Sudetenland, in today’s Czech Republic, where her family had owned
and operated a knitting factory in Asch. As members of Czechoslovakia’s
ethnic German minority (the Sudeten Germans), they had lost everything
when they were evicted by the Czechs at the end of the Second
World War. Similar to Wolfgang, whose uncle and grandfather were
entrepreneurs and business owners, Ingrid’s family history includes
entrepreneurship as well.
When Ingrid’s grandparents, together with their youngest son Rudolf—
Ingrid’s uncle— immigrated to Canada in 1951, Ingrid’s father decided
to stay in Germany, because he had just gotten married and his wife was
pregnant with Ingrid. Ingrid’s father’s brother Axel followed his parents
in 1959. Ingrid and her parents visited her grandparents and uncles
twice in Canada—in 1963, and again in 1969 to attend one of her
uncle’s wedding. Following the second visit, Ingrid’s parents decided
to immigrate as well to join their family in Canada. They held off for
another year, however, until 1970, so that Ingrid could finish high school
in Germany first. Ingrid’s father immigrated in May of 1970, and Ingrid
and her mother followed on Sept. 5, 1970.
Family vacation in Croatia (then Yugoslavia). L to R: Ingrid, her parents, her cousin Gerhard Schuster and a friend.
Ingrid with her best friends from high school, L to R: Ingrid, Marietta, Ulli, Elisabeth (“Beschi”), Veronika (“Vroni”).Ingrid’s grandparents on her mother’s side on their wedding day.
Graduating from York University, L to R: Ingrid’s father, Ingrid, Ingrid’s mother, and Ingrid’s aunt, the late Ingeborg Schuster.
Ingrid flying to the USA and Canada for the first time with her parents and
Ingrid with her friends during a school trip to Denmark. L to R: Ulli, Gabi,
Ingrid doing graphic design work at her godparents’ company.
until they moved in after returning from their honeymoon in Europe that
they took a second, more critical look at their first home. When Wolfgang
opened the door to the attic for the very first time, he noticed at least
twenty-five pails partially filled with water, placed there by the previous
owner to catch the water seeping in through the home’s leaky roof.
The young couple’s first home was so close to the main railroad that it
would shake at night as the trains went by. During their first two years of
marriage, Ingrid went to university while Wolfgang continued working at
Chromalox. They repainted the entire interior of the house (all the walls
and even the interior doors had been painted green by the previous
owners), changed the colour of the kitchen cupboards, tore out the old
heavy cast-iron bathtub and put in a new bathroom. They fixed the leaks in
the roof with tar, because they did not have enough money to replace the
worn-out shingles. As they were struggling to make ends meet, renovations
were limited to necessary updates that did not cost a lot of money.
Being first-time homeowners, Wolfgang and Ingrid needed a lawnmower
so that they could take care of their lawn. Since money was tight, with
Ingrid operating on a weekly grocery budget of $15.00, Wolfgang
bought a non-working lawnmower from the wreckers for $5.00 and
refurbished it to make it work again. Seeing a business opportunity, he
went back and bought five more. After fixing them all up, he put a “For
Sale” sign up on their front lawn and sold them for a profit.
When they decided to redo their seven-foot high basement, Wolfgang
and Ingrid went to a carpet store to buy carpet. The helpful store clerk
gave them carpet sample books which they took home. Although they
liked a lot of the product that was sampled in the binders, they quickly
realized that they could not afford any of them, and took them back to
the store. To their surprise, the store owner told them that these were old
sample books and that they could keep them if they wanted. Seeing
an instant opportunity to achieve their goal of having new carpet in the
basement in spite of limited funds, Wolfgang and Ingrid asked whether
they could have more old books. They then went to several other carpet
stores and collected old carpet sample binders from them as well. With
the samples from all the various books, they created a patchwork carpet
and put it down in their basement at no cost whatsoever.
—Ingrid and Wolfgang’s First
Joint Business Venture (1973)
In 1973, while they were back in Germany on vacation, Wolfgang and
Ingrid noticed lampshades made out of sisal ropes. With their modern
look, they were very popular in Europe at the time. On a whim, Wolfgang
and Ingrid decided to try producing and selling them in Canada. After
their return, they went to a store to buy rope and two jumping-on balls.
In order to be able to buy the rope wholesale, they had to make up a
company name first. Using the initials of their first names, they simply
called their business IW Lampshades. Back at home, they inflated the ball,
wound the sisal rope around it and applied liquid fiberglass resin. When
the resin had dried, they took the ball out and, to their great delight, their
first lampshade stayed in shape on its own. After building two prototypes
that way, they decided to make them in production and to sell them. Since
the balls they had used on their first two lampshades were too expensive,
In spite of being an electronic engineer, Ingrid’s father, like many other
qualified immigrants, could not find a job in his profession after coming to
Canada and ended up repairing radios and TVs in their new hometown
Kitchener. In May 1971, they purchased a house on 37 Roslin Avenue in
the Westmount area of Waterloo. Ingrid’s mother found a job at one of the
local lunch delis, where she worked as a part-time cook. Ingrid worked
in the deli’s butcher shop for about two months and then got a job in the
kitchen at the KW Hospital. Her grandmother worked there as a dietician.
Ingrid’s original plan after coming to Canada was to become a graphic
designer. She applied at Conestoga College and was accepted into the
program. This was when her parents suggested that she pursue a university
education instead, as they felt that a university degree would offer Ingrid
more possibilities for professional advancement in the future. In 1971,
Ingrid enrolled in the BA program at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo
with the goal of becoming a translator. After Ingrid and Wolfgang got
married in 1972, with Wolfgang working at Chromalox in Toronto, she
applied for a transfer to the University of York, where she completed her
studies with a Bachelor of Arts degree in languages (French and German).
In 1972, Wolfgang and Ingrid bought an old 2-bedroom-bungalow on
Lippincott Street in Toronto for $22,000.00 with a down-payment of
$3,000.00 ($2,000.00 of which they had received from Ingrid’s parents
for that purpose; and the other $1,000.00 came out of Wolfgang’s
savings). They had looked at the house only once, made an offer on it
and had then left for Germany to get married. The house had closed in
their absence with their lawyer looking after all the paperwork. It was not
Ingrid and Wolfgang’s uncle Oskar Lapp in front of the Lippincott Street home in Toronto next to Wolfgang’s
1969 Firebird Convertible.
Ingrid and Wolfgang in front of their first home in Toronto, 1972/73.
they decided to use beach balls instead. With the new material, they
made their first batch of ten lampshades and hung them off the ceiling
in their basement to dry overnight. When they went to check them the
next morning, they found that each of the lampshades, excluding one,
had collapsed. To Ingrid’s and Wolfgang’s dismay, the resin had melted
the plastic of the balls, causing the air to evaporate and making the
shades cave in. The failed experiment had cost them $138, which was
a lot of money for them. Realizing that making those lampshades was too
labour-intensive and disliking the smell of the resin, they gave up on the
plan of becoming manufacturers of lampshades. That decision was made
easier since they had not been looking for an opportunity to become
entrepreneurs when they had come across the lampshades in Germany.
Instead, the decision to give it a try had been made rather spontaneously.
With no real commitment to becoming lampshade entrepreneurs, they did
not pursue the idea any longer when they encountered these difficulties.
In 1973, around the same time that Ingrid and Wolfgang had undertaken
their failed first attempt at private entrepreneurship, Ingrid’s parents bought
a cottage lot on Rose Island in Georgian Bay near Parry Sound. They
were able to afford the land and to build a cottage there because by
then, Ingrid’s father was making good money working for Electrohome in
Kitchener. When they started building the cottage, Ingrid’s parents drove
up from Kitchener and Ingrid and Wolfgang came up from Toronto in order
to help them over the weekends. At first, they slept in a tent and eventually
they built a small cabin where they stayed while building the cottage.
All material for the island cottage that was being built on a hill had to
be brought in by boat. Wolfgang and Ingrid had found a cheap twelve-
foot aluminum boat with a three-horse-power motor and had brought it
Ingrid’s father finishing the roof of the family cabin on Rose Island.
Ingrid’s father enjoying fishing in Georgian Bay.Building the family cabin on Rose Island. L to R: Wolfgang, Ingrid and
Ingrid’s parents, 1973.
Cottaging on Georgian Bay with friends. L to R: Heinz and Heidi Brast, Ingrid’s mother, Gisela Kratsch, Ingrid’s father.
Ingrid’s father boating in Georgian Bay. Wolfgang’s parents at the cottage with the family dog “Red”.
their house which they had bought for $22,000.00 only two years earlier.
However, to their surprise, the market in Toronto went down, just as they
were trying to sell their old bungalow and Wolfgang and Ingrid became
increasingly concerned that they might end up owning two houses at the
same time. Fearing this outcome, they drew up an emergency contingency
plan for the possibility that they would not be able to sell their house in
Toronto before their new Barrie home closed. In that case, Wolfgang was
supposed to go to Barrie, while Ingrid would stay in Toronto at first. As
part of that plan, Ingrid looked for a job in Toronto and started working as
a filing clerk at Moore’s Business Forms. When they dropped the asking
price to $45,000, however, their house in Toronto sold one week before
they took possession of their new home in Utopia, allowing them to make
the move with no need to enact their emergency plan.
In September 1974, soon after moving to Barrie, Wolfgang was hired as
a tool and die maker at General Electric (GE) in Barrie. GE was unionized
as well and a couple of weeks after he started working for GE, the union
steward approached Wolfgang and asked him to slow down in his work,
emphasizing that this was a union job. Looking back, Wolfgang says:
“No wonder the GE plant had to close down eventually: they only really
worked for two hours a day and the working morale was terrible.”
About three months after he had been hired, Wolfgang was let go by GE
before Christmas. This was standard practice so that the company did not
have to pay its employees over the holidays. Wolfgang started looking
for a new job and quickly found a position as a tool and die maker
at Prodomax in Barrie. There he worked with the company’s founder,
Mr. Hickling, as well as with six other employees. Founded in 1971,
Prodomax was a small company back then. Today, the business has
grown into a fairly large-size operation, employing over 100 people in the
manufacturing of custom production machinery. Since the economy was in
the midst of a recession again, Wolfgang was employed at Prodomax on
and off, depending on whether there was enough work for him.
Like Wolfgang, Ingrid continued to work as an employee after the couple’s
move to Barrie. Since there were hardly any jobs available that suited
her educational background, Ingrid, in September 1974, started working
part-time for the local newspaper, the Barrie Examiner. In that position, she
was first assigned to work with the photographer. Her responsibility was
to get the photos ready for the printing press. From there, she moved up
into the office where she operated one of the switchboards. With a smile,
she remembers her routine of putting telephone plugs into the switchboard
so that parties could communicate with each other—just like in the old
movies. In addition to operating the switchboard, Ingrid was assigned
the task of looking after accounting which she had no real experience
with. As it became increasingly apparent that the work did not match
her academic background, she was eventually let go after a few months.
Looking back, Ingrid believes that losing her job at the newspaper was a
good thing because in January 1975 she was hired by Bell Canada as
a customer service representative, a position which she enjoyed a lot and
that allowed her to make fairly good wages. Ingrid was the first external
candidate to be hired for that job since Bell Canada usually promoted
from within the organization. Ingrid’s employment at Bell Canada was
highly beneficial to the young couple: not only did she receive thorough
training in customer service, enabling her to develop interpersonal skills
that would later come in handy when dealing with customers after the
up to Georgian Bay on top of the Firebird Convertible that Wolfgang had
bought two years earlier in the fall of 1971. They used this small boat to
carry all the lumber and other building material needed in the construction
of the cottage. Family friends helped with construction over the weekends
as well. Ingrid and Wolfgang remember this as a great time in their lives.
Move to Barrie (1974)
In 1974, the employees at Chromalox went on strike. Since Wolfgang
was too proud to carry around a union sign, as well as for other reasons,
Wolfgang and Ingrid felt that it was time to move on again. Ingrid had
finished university and they were looking at Trenton, Kitchener and Barrie
as possible places to relocate to. Originally, they wanted to move to Parry
Sound, but when they started looking between Toronto and Parry Sound
they soon felt that Barrie was the right place to go. While Chromalox
was on strike, Ingrid and Wolfgang had time to explore and look for
a new home. In Barrie, they met with a real estate agent who showed
them a two-year-old home which they liked so much that they decided to
buy it at $34,000.00. The house was located in the Township of Essa,
outside of Barrie in the country, with a mailing address that read “RR #1,
Utopia”. Since the real estate market in Toronto was excellent at the time,
truly a seller’s market, they anticipated having no problem selling their
house in Toronto. Confident that their Toronto home would sell immediately,
Wolfgang and Ingrid put an unconditional offer on the house in Utopia with
the closing date only 6 weeks away, on July 15, 1974. Back in Toronto
their real estate agent there suggested they could get $65,000.00 for
Ingrid and Wolfgang on the roof of their house while putting on an addition. Ingrid and Wolfgang putting an addition onto their house in Utopia.