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Elisabeth Flitner, "A Candle was burning on the Lectern Early in the Morning" (Retrospective)

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We attended the private Higher Girl's School that was housed in an old building. It had neither central heating nor lighting. Near the iron stoves it was burning hot, by the window we'd be shivering. When it was still dark in the morning, a candle would burn on the lectern. The children sat four to a bench. We had to sit with our hands folded and stand when called on. For recess we had to line up single file and eat our lunch sandwiches while walking in a circle in the gravel-covered schoolyard; during the short breaks we were allowed to play until we went back up, grouped by class.

On the birthday of the lady principal there was a celebration with theater performances, living tableaux, dancing, and food. The emperor's birthday was celebrated only by the Gymnasium [secondary school] – with the "Emperor's Ball." The young students were dressed like elegant gentlemen and had to behave like adults. The "ladies" had dancing cards where the gentlemen signed up for the various dances. The whole thing was exceptionally conventional. I attended such a ball only once, at the age of fifteen, and later joined the youth movement, whose social occasions were completely different in style.

I had run-ins with the school on a number of occasions, because I was used to more freedom from home and took more freedom than the school wished to give me; I would like to list a few examples.

After a morning service, a teacher asked me for a talk "in private" following the last period. In class we puzzled over whether that meant the director, the school inspector [Schulrat], or both, and I was relieved when she [the teacher] received me alone. She reproached me for allegedly laughing during the service and demanded that I apologize. "I am sorry if . . . ," I began. "That," she interrupted me. I repeated the word "if" and quickly added: "I was not aware of it." I was dismissed without a word. The teacher was clearly disappointed at having missed the opportunity to humiliate a ten year-old girl.

Source: Elisabeth Flitner, "Auf dem Katheder brannte frühmorgens eine Kerze” [“A Candle was burning on the Lectern Early in the Morning”], retrospective account, in Rudolf Pörtner, ed., Kindheit im Kaiserreich: Erinnerungen an vergangene Zeiten [Childhood in the Kaiserreich: Memories of Past Times]. Munich, 1989, pp. 45-47, 50-51.

Translation: Thomas Dunlap

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