Generational bond: Retired Cape firefighter and German family stay close decades after meeting
Chris Schroder picked up the phone and heard a familiar voice on the other end. What he didn’t know was that this phone call would lead to new family, unbreakable bonds and a sharing of different cultures an ocean away.
A generation in the making story came full circle Tuesday in Cape Coral, as Schroder showed his godchildren exactly how he and their father met one fateful day decades ago.
It all started in 1992. Schroder was a division chief for the Cape Coral Fire Department when his buddy from the Rotary Club, Tad Nobbe, called to tell him he had to meet a firefighter from Germany.
Mike Hobbold, a firefighter on a fireboat in Dusseldorf, Germany, ended up at Tad’s Marina, thanks so some boat troubles from the vessel he was renting while visiting the city.
Schroder was introduced to Hobbold and, as they say, the rest is history.
“(Tad) called me and said, ‘Chris, you’ve got to meet this firefighter from Germany.’ So I went and basically we became good friends,” said Schroder.
The two hit it off and shared stories of working in their respective departments, the differences in protocol, equipment and experiences.
Schroeder even arranged for Hobbold to have a ride along with himself and the CCFD.
Over the years, Schroder eventually retired from the CCFD, but he and Hobbold stayed in touch. Hobbold would come back to Cape Coral for vacations, and the Schroders would visit Germany.
Hobbold even took Schroder out on the Rhine river on his fireboat and to Austria to participate with their volunteer fire department.
“I think we became friends due to the common element of being firefighters,” said Schroder. “Other than that, it was just a great friendship.”
Hobbold became engaged and he and his wife Alex had their first child. They named him Christopher Michael, after Schroder and Hobbold’s first name. He asked Schroder to be the godfather.
“How could I not like him then?” joked Schroder.
Earlier this week, Hobbold’s two other children, Korbinian, or “Kobi” and Jasmin came to Cape Coral to see exactly where and how that bond formed over 25 years ago.
The Schroders are godparents to all three of Hobbold’s kids.
Schroder, Kobi, Jasmin and Schroder’s wife, Wendy, traveled to the Cape Coral Emergency Operation Center to meet with CCFD Chief Ryan Lamb and visited Fire Station 1 so that they could almost relive the experiences of their father and Schroder connecting over the fire department.
Kobi, who recently celebrated his 17th birthday and is heading into his senior year of high school in Germany, said he’s quite interested in firefighting, thanks to watching old tapes of his dad coming to Cape Coral before he was born.
“I’ve been interested my whole life in firefighting because of my father,” Kobi said. “When he was here in America, he took many videos. I watched those videos at home my whole life. To see the old firetrucks and everything when he met Chris at the fire station; it was cool.”
Kobi, admittedly, enjoys his time in the states and loves the culture. This recent trip to the U.S. is the first time he’s been back since he was 2 years old. The only thing he can slightly remember is seeing palm trees, something he recognized when making the trip back.
The Schroders have also taken their godchildren to Washington D.C., New York, Niagara Falls, North Carolina and Savannah before coming to Cape Coral.
“I’m a little America fan,” Kobi joked. “I love the American life and eating burgers.”
In the future, Kobi said he is heavily considering getting into his father’s profession, but knows he wants to serve his country in some way, shape or form.
“Maybe firefighting, police or military,” Kobi said of potential career paths. “There is also firefighting in military (in Germany) so I’ve thought about that.”
Jasmin, who is 18, even attended Ida Baker High School for six months as part of an exchange program. She stayed with the Schroders during the time and said she loved the experience.
“That was awesome,” Jasmin said. “It was interesting to see the difference in the schools and the classes. In Germany, we have just basic classes like math, biology, German, history. But here, you have classes like ceramics, self defense, chorus and all that stuff where if you have a hobby, you can get into that and is a good base for what you want to do in your future life.”
The brother and sister, who speak English well, both said they love how nice the people are here, the weather, that there’s much less traffic and said it’s better than they imagined.
“It feels good to be back,” said Jasmin.
As the group retraced steps taken by Schroder and Hobbold years ago, they spoke with members of the fire department, explored the EOC and met the members of Fire Station 1.
While Chief Lamb gave a tour of the EOC and explained how the department worked, Kobi was right by his side enthralled with the experience.
Lamb said the history of the department is not lost on those who serve now.
“Our department history is really important,” said Lamb. “It’s important for us to know where we come from and what our roots are. It’s one of the things we try and educate our new firefighters on is — there’s a lot of people who have worn the patch before us and the importance of a lot of honor and pride that goes into the organization. In a lot of ways, we take a lot of pride in the fire department being established in 1962. It’s the first form of local government for Cape Coral. It predates even the charter of the city. That’s a point of pride for us that we want to continue with and as we continue to progress into the future, it’s good to have that foundation that helps project us into the future knowing our past.”
As they moved from the EOC to Fire Station 1, Kobi and Schroder recreated a picture taken of his father and Schroeder meeting for the first time in front of Engine 1.
“It was good to come back and see the station and great to share the experience with them,” Schroder said.
Kobi said he enjoyed learning about the vastness of the CCFD, their strategic plans for disasters and the difference in equipment used to combat fires.
“It was nice to see all of the American fire department stuff and meet the people. They are really nice,” Kobi said. “Headquarters are pretty interesting because I didn’t know they have a disaster plan for everything. It was nice to see. It’s interesting to see the differences between the German and American stations, trucks and equipment.”
Jasmin thought the same.
“It was interesting to see the differences. It’s amazing how different firefighting is in different countries,” she said.
Kobi was amazed with the size of the fire engines in America and at how many stations and paid employees there are, as Germany has quite fewer firehouses and many firefighters are volunteers.
“I couldn’t imagine it could be so great,” Kobi said. “I imagined it a little bit from what my dad told me, but I never thought it would be so great here. I wish I could stay.”
Schroder said it was almost like stepping in a time machine, and that it was great to explore a legacy he helped create with the CCFD.
“It’s great to see how much they’ve grown and how professional they are,” said Schroeder of the firefighters. “It makes you proud to think you were part of the beginning.”
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