School was already something of a dream-goal early in my youth. I can still hear a little ditty: "Easter – Easter – one year later – I will go to school," which the nanny probably used to bridge the time between my entry into school and that of my sister, who was three years older. There is no time in my childhood for which I have such clear memories as my first year in school. My experiences are suited to showing the differences to today.
The doctor had diagnosed me as "anemic" and had recommended a stay in the mountains. And so my parents took me along to Neuhaus am Renstied during vacation. It was my first trip on a train. During meals at the great Table d'hôte there were about twenty adults, but no other child. There were also no children playing in the streets. Through small windows in the small, black, slate-covered houses, however, I was astonished to see children my own age doing out work: they were sitting at large tables and threading white and pink pearls into necklaces.
I also still have a very vivid memory of the first time I went to church, where there was a sermon about a man who tried to swim in a lake full of creepers and became entangled and died.
Once – the only time in my childhood – I was in a pastry shop with my mother, sitting at a round marble table, with a curvy, gold-rimmed cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream in front of me. The next day I came down with scarlet fever, was isolated at home, and cared for by a nurse in uniform. When I was feeling better and my brother came into my room sick himself, he taught me to read from Anderson's fairy tales.
On my sixth birthday I was given a short-sleeved dress made of checkered calico, which I was supposed to wear summer and winter – but only to school –, a sleeveless black school pinafore, high black button-boots, and a leather school satchel with a primer, pencil-box, and a slate writing tablet to which were tied a sponge and a small cloth that hung out of the satchel.
During the first few days I was emphatically warned about three dangers on my way to and from school – I must not cross our bridge if a horse-drawn cart was on it, for, if horses got spooked by a train rolling by far below, they might bolt; I should avoid the boys from the iron store, because they would lie in wait for the "silly" girls and were out to beat them up; above all, however, I had to be careful not to get run over by the electric streetcar, because it could not stop suddenly or avoid a collision.
The city had received an electrical power plant only a short time before. It took quite some time before electricity, at first only for lighting, was run into the homes. All the household appliances that are indispensable today – vacuum cleaner, washing machine, refrigerator, electrical iron, and much more – were unknown in my childhood. There was no need to warn me of cars. The first – and for many years only – car in Jena did not appear until 1905.