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A Tailor in a Small Pomeranian Town (1870s)

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Our lunch menu was just as plain as the morning meal. The following items alternated in sweet succession: potato soup, buttermilk and potatoes, rutabagas and potatoes, cabbage and potatoes, carrots and potatoes, potato fritters in suet, potato dumplings etc., everything in the most beautiful potato harmony. Meat was served only once or twice a week, and even then merely as a “morsel.” On meat day, everyone ogled everyone else’s plate, checking to see whether someone had perhaps received “too much,” and busily fished for any blobs of fat in the bowl.

How often I thought of the lovely fairytale “The Wishing Table.” Oh, all the magnificent dishes I would have conjured up for us! Roast at least three times a day and thick rice with blueberry sauce. To be sure, I would have seen to it that all of the butcher’s sausages and confectioner’s cakes were permanently whisked from their shop windows. For my mouth watered every time I stood in front of those shops. Unfortunately, no one came by to give me my magic table.

In the evening, the menu was even more frugal. In the summertime, the eastern Pomeranian favorite, “Klieben and Klamörkens” – a mishmash of water, flour, and old crusts of bread – was served with a bit of milk as a whitener. In the wintertime, it was potatoes and herring one evening and herring and potatoes the next. Two herrings, at the most, had to suffice for the entire family. That did the trick. One certainly didn’t become an athlete on this type of diet.

How happy I was on those occasions when I hit upon exactly the right moment for a bold assault on the breadbox. I would quickly cut off a slice and hide it underneath my coat; then, when I was outside, or in some safe place, I would devour it with gusto. It was always delicious, even though it was dry. As mother always said, “Dry bread makes for red cheeks.” Mind you, the rough and slanted end of the cut loaf always tipped her off to the fact that someone had once again devoted unauthorized attention to that fine manna. Most of the time, I was identified as the culprit and therefore received many a hefty poke. It was worth the risk, though; after all, I had obtained my compensation in advance – in my belly.

Now, one should not assume that our family was particularly poor, for that was not at all the case. No, hundreds of other families shared exactly the same lot, or worse. In these parts, this type of diet had been the rule for the lower social strata since time immemorial. People didn’t know any better and simply believed that it had to be that way. It was just “eastern Pomeranian.”

As a result, poorer families worried about their livelihood day and night. Food and fuel: these were the be-all and end-all. The first question was: How do we get the necessary potatoes? With so little income, buying all of them was out of the question. So they were “planted out” on the land of the farming burghers.

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