From a distance, we were already greeted by the noise of the carousel’s organs and the swing boat, by the smell of fried herring, the festive meal of the ordinary man. At the entrance, we heard the yelling of the “Cheap Jack,” who was offering something fabulous to anyone who would pay. A golden or almost golden watch, without the usual movement, to be sure, but still wonderful to look at, with an equally golden chain; in addition, cuff links for the refined gentlemen from the same precious metal and a golden necklace for the bride. All of this, wrapped in fine pink blotting paper, could be carried home by the lucky owner – not for ten marks, not for five marks, but for one mark.
That, however, was only the beginning of the marvels, the sight of which made you open your eyes and ears wide. There was a tent, as big as an entire house, in which for fifty pfennig (children and soldiers from staff sergeant on down paid half) you could see mermaids with fish tails, Siamese twins, giants, and dwarfs. A giant organ equipped with movable figures played to lure the gawkers inside.
You could admire the organ from the outside. I was not interested in giants, dwarfs, and mermaids with tails. I was more fascinated by a man who was holding lots of blue, red, and yellow balloons on a pole. I no longer remember whether I got such a balloon. But I still know that jokers, or people who thought they were jokers, were on the prowl. Armed with a pair of scissors, they would sneak up on the happy owner of a balloon and cut the string at just the right moment when people were not paying attention. Time and again you would see such a balloon float away above the heads of the visitors to the fair, rise into the sky, and finally, getting smaller and smaller on the warm current of the air, disappear, never to be seen again.
Source: Kurt Karl Doberer, “The Pfennig was the Heart of the Currency,” [“Der Pfennig war das Mark der Währung“], retrospective account, in Rudolf Pörtner, ed., Kindheit im Kaiserreich: Erinnerungen an vergangene Zeiten [Childhood in the Kaiserreich: Memories of Past Times]. Munich, 1989, pp. 246-49.
Translation: Thomas Dunlap