Bernard The German chapter seven: The goodbye

The tragic tale of the giant of Desolation Sound

Previous chapter [‘The binoculars,” January 4]: A fire had erupted on the cabin deck of one of Bernard the German’s neighbours in Malaspina Inlet. Bernard was one of the first on the scene as the fire began to burn into the cabin. He knew there were propane tanks that needed to be removed, and two of them were under the cabin. He glanced toward the flames that were growing larger by the second. Bernard Krieger hesitated for a moment, then slid underneath the burning cabin.

 

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Bernard scrambled under the cabin as smoke rippled along under the floorboards. He could hear the fire roaring, the heat shattering the sliding glass doors. His huge fingers fumbled to unhook one propane tank, then the other; then he heaved both of them up and out from under the cabin.

He pulled himself out onto the mossy rock ledge, his chest heaving from the heat and smoke. Bernard got to his feet and hoisted the propane tanks up, one in each hand, and placed them down gently a safe distance away. Then he joined the gathering neighbours fighting the flames.

The Moss Point cabin belonged to a neighbour named Ricardo Brent, who was out for a hike when it caught fire. A box of fireplace ashes that had been left out on the deck had ignited in the spring breeze, and the entire cabin was flattened within an hour. Gone.

It was all Bernard and the rest of the neighbours could do to keep the fire from spreading into the forest and the other cabins. Luckily, the cabin had burned straight down, leaving only the chimney, blackened with soot, standing like a tombstone over a grave of ash.

Bernard the German continued to be a colourful character in Desolation Sound, always eager to lend a huge helping hand. During the summer, he’d go canoeing wearing nothing but a black speedo bathing suit and a white bucket hat, his faithful dog Dude standing at the bow like a figurehead at the prow of a ship, nose into the wind.

When the World Cup of Soccer rolled around every four years, Bernard the German would rig up a series of deep-cycle batteries, a rumbling generator to a satellite dish and a television in his otherwise off-grid cabin. He would invite all the neighbours over to see the games, Bavarian homebrew flowing, while he loudly cheered on Germany. He was devastated when his home country lost out to Brazil in 2002.

Each Thanksgiving, the neighbours would gather at the cabin hanging off Selina Point, owned by Darrell Dick, the friendly lawyer, and his wife Anita. As the fire crackled in the potbellied stove and the October rains pelted the windows and steaming food was passed around, Darrell would ask each guest at the table what they were thankful for. Bernard would take a deep breath and place his calloused hands down on either side of his heaping plate of dinner.

“I’m thankful that my parents brought me to this beautiful, peaceful, prosperous country of Canada,” he’d say each year.

One day Bernard the German and I were checking his prawn traps at his favourite spot near the mouth of the inlet. He was hauling up the trap from 300 feet down into darkened mystery, which is a pretty good workout for most people. Bernard often made it look effortless, but not this time.

Bernard the German complained of dizziness and fatigue, and had to hand the prawn-trap line over to me. As I slumped from the weight of the line, Bernard slumped to the seat of his boat. He admitted that he was feeling tired, which was completely out of character for the unstoppable German.

I suggested that maybe he was drinking too much homebrew and not enough water. Bernard the German grunted that I must be right, but over the next few weeks and months, his symptoms grew worse. His dark, tanned skin took on a yellow jaundice. He became forgetful and clumsy.

On a shoreline hike, the usually sure-footed German slipped and plunged into the ocean. He emerged with water dripping off of his trademark black moustache. His usually glaring, dark eyes betrayed feelings of confusion and worry.

Bernard the German was diagnosed with Hepatitis C.

His body had been harbouring the virus for many years, which likely entered his bloodstream from a shared needle during his wild and carefree hippie days in the late 1960s. The virus was aggressively attacking Bernard the German’s liver, which meant his body could not get rid of its toxins, which meant Bernard the German was impacted by something doctors call the “Hep C Brain Fog.”

Bernard began aggressive treatment for Hepatitis C, and the medication had plenty of side effects. Bernard the German became irritable and mean, with mood swings that seemed to change with the wind.

Slowly, Bernard the German got better, and eventually, he emerged from the Black Forest of drugs that cured him of the virus, but at a terrible cost that was still to come.

After surviving a life-threatening crisis, Bernard the German had an epiphany. He always had two lifelong dreams. One was to have a cabin on the water in the wilderness. Check. Now he felt it was time to enact his second lifelong dream.

Despite his wife’s protests, in order to fulfill that dream and take care of some pressing financial needs, it meant selling their handcrafted eagle’s nest of a cabin. The decision shocked many of his friends and neighbours. Nobody showed more passion for Desolation Sound than Bernard Krieger.

On one his last evenings in the Sound, Bernard was entertaining several friends from Germany who played in a genuine Bavarian Oktoberfest oompah-pah band. It was a hazy, warm summer evening, and the band performed several songs on Bernard’s deck, which attracted a flotilla of kayakers paused below in the high tide, politely clapping after each song.

The aquatic audience gave Bernard the idea that his neighbours would probably like the show, too, so he loaded the band onto his beat up aluminum speedboat to casually cruise our craggy coastline of cabins with traditional German music wafting through the warm air across the water.

Everyone came out and gave them a wave and some applause. Bernard then slowly steered his boat around Moss Point and into nearby Grace Harbour, a natural anchorage within Desolation Sound Marine Park. There they wound their way between the yachts and sailboats anchored for the night.

Bernard and the band made one more round, the giant German standing and blowing kisses to all of his neighbours as he passed. It was a fitting and final send-off for my pal, Bernard the German.

Bernard’s realization after the hepatitis ordeal was that he had more of the world to see before he died. Bernard the German decided to leave Desolation Sound to sail around the world.

There was only one problem: Bernard the German didn’t know how to sail. You’ll read that story in the next chapter of Bernard the German: The tragic tale of the giant of Desolation Sound.

 

Grant Lawrence is an award-winning author and a CBC personality who considers Powell River and Desolation Sound his second home. “Bernard The German” originally aired in 2018 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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