Bernard The German chapter four: The striker

The tragic tale of the giant of Desolation Sound

Previous chapter [“The old country,” December 7]: In 1965, a teenaged Bernard Krieger made the trek with his parents from their hometown of Trier, Germany, to Edmonton, Alberta. There they joined some of Bernard’s older siblings and started their new life. It wasn’t easy. Bernard was a tall and awkward teen who didn’t speak a word of English. He faced non-stop bullying.

The abuse Bernard faced at his new high school in Edmonton was relentless: everything from his heritage to his long dark hair to his height became a target. But Bernard’s father loved Canada. It was the land of his dreams, made even better by Edmonton’s close proximity to the majestic Rocky Mountains.

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Bernard and his mother couldn’t stand Alberta; they thought it was a rotten place. They wanted to turn around and go home, but their patriarch wouldn’t let them.

Bernard the German’s high school life was grim, until a gym teacher saved him from his social fate. Because of the large population of European immigrants in Northern Alberta, soccer had become a popular sport. It was much cheaper than hockey, and easier for the Europeans to play. It turned out that Bernard the German’s size, along with his upbringing in Europe and natural athletic ability, had turned the towering boy from Trier into an incredible soccer player.

The gym teacher coaxed the timid Bernard the German onto the St. Joseph Saints. He was an immediate hit, routinely scoring two or three goals a game. Bernard led the team on an unprecedented winning streak. His teammates soon nicknamed him “Bernie,” which he liked a lot better than his previous nicknames of “Nazi” and “Kraut” and “Jerry.”

In 1967, tall and slender at six foot three inches, with long dark hair down to his shoulders, Bernie Krieger led the Saints all the way to the Edmonton city finals, held in front of thousands of screaming fans at Clarke Stadium.

Bernie Krieger scored all three goals that day for a 3-0 victory, winning the championship for the Saints. He was a bonafide soccer star, his photo plastered on the cover of the Edmonton Journal. Many thought he could have easily become a professional athlete.

But it was the late 1960s and youth culture was exploding throughout the western world, even in Edmonton. Bernie Krieger graduated in 1967, and stepped right into the summer of love.

With his hair growing ever longer, Bernard the German found himself drawn away from sports and into the burgeoning hippie movement, and all the music, drinking and drugs that went with the lifestyle. That meant that Bernard Krieger was pretty much the most physically gigantic hippie in all of Northern Alberta, and definitely the one with the thickest German accent. Hippies with long hair were not popular in Edmonton either, and the abuse started up all over again.

Flower power would soon draw Bernard the German and his pals away from the roughnecks. They piled into a Volkswagen van and headed over the Rocky Mountains down to the glistening West Coast, and straight into Vancouver’s hippie haven of West 4th Avenue in Kitsilano, one of the largest counter-culture happenings in North America.

It was like nothing Bernard had ever seen: there were people from around the world gathered up and down West 4th at the coffee houses and head shops. He felt an insatiable tug towards the ocean just a few blocks away, and when he felt the warm ocean water of English Bay wash over him, he never wanted to leave. He loved the Bavarian sausage up on Robsonstrasse and loved getting some sun on his own Bavarian sausage down on Wreck Beach.

In the winter of 1969, Bernard and his buddies heard about something called Altamont: a massive, free Rolling Stones concert happening just outside of San Francisco. They pointed the VW van south.

Unfortunately, the van broke down in Mount Shasta, California. They missed Altamont by two days. Eventually, they made it to Haight-Ashbury, ground zero for the hippie movement in San Francisco.

There, Bernard the German and his pals found themselves arriving in a winter pall, just days after what turned out to be the shocking brutality of Altamont, where four people had died and scores of concert goers were injured – a violent end to the 1960s.

But drugs were everywhere in San Francisco, and big Bernard and his friends tried everything that was offered. And though they were having the time of their lives, the freedom of 1969 would come back to haunt the big friendly German much later during his days in Powell River and Desolation Sound. You’ll read those stories and more, in the next chapter of Bernard the German.

Grant Lawrence is an award-winning author and a CBC personality who considers Powell River and Desolation Sound his second home. "Bernard The German" is currently also airing as a weekly radio serial on North by Northwest, CBC Radio One in BC. Anyone with stories or photos they would like to share of Bernard "The German" Krieger, can send an email to grantlawrence12@gmail.com.

Copyright © Powell River Peak

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