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A Tailor in a Small Pomeranian Town (1870s)
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Back then, for instance, if my father had a thaler, he looked at it entirely differently than we view a common, ordinary three-mark piece nowadays. Goodness gracious! – That was a “hard thaler,” a “wheel,” and the happy owner’s gaze would all but caress the coin that was so extraordinarily valuable to him. After all, imagine all the things one could buy for a thaler and how hard it was to earn! Moreover, if a sum of 1.5 marks was pocketed or, worse, had to be spent at once, we did not speak disparagingly of 15 measly ten-pfennig pieces. Oh no, that was half a thaler, a “pure half thaler.” The sweat of one-and-a-half to two working days clung to it. Thus, it’s evident that under such circumstances my parents had to count every penny. Indeed, I never saw a ten- or twenty-mark piece, not to mention a hundred-mark bill, at home.

No wonder, then, that we were short on rations at home. Oh yes, the “cuisine!” I will never forget it, this eastern Pomeranian fare. We had little, very little, to chew on.

In the morning, we had coffee. “Schlurck”* is what my mother called this fine beverage. “Fourteen cups from 13 beans,” she commented occasionally, in a fit of angry humor, to which my father grumbled in response: “Well, as craftsmen we certainly cannot eat gruel like the day laborers.” Of course, the reputation of every last member of the honorable tailors’ guild would have suffered had we enjoyed gruel instead of chicory water! As for something solid, each of us got a whole or half Pamel, a.k.a., bread roll.

When the coffee beans ran out and the wallet was equally low, we even had to go without that humble chicory brine. In those instances, six pfennigs worth of milk was bought and diluted with a hefty quantity of hot water. This thin, bluish-white slop was then heavily seasoned with salt to prevent it from tasting too bland. Probatum est! – It’s proven!

One day, that “milk” even helped us earn quite a reputation. Since I usually had no breakfast sandwich to take to school, the son of the master painter often shared his with me. One day, the teacher saw this, and he asked me sympathetically whether I had perhaps come to school with an empty stomach. “No, we had milk and bread rolls,” I answered promptly. To that, the good man issued a curiously drawn-out reply: “Well, if the whole family still manages to have milk in the morning . . . ”. I could well imagine the rest. Of course, he had no idea what kind of “milk” it had been. At home, though, my father was pleased as punch that the teacher had been diverted from the embarrassing suspicion that we might be doing badly! And as for myself? Well, I had just heard something about optical illusions at school.



* “Schlurck” is a slight variation on the High German “Schluck,” which means gulp – trans.

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