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Veterans’ Evening Discussions in a Small Pomeranian Town (1870s)

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And let us not forget Bismarck! Was he not our special fellow compatriot? Certainly he was: after all, the Pomeranian country estate of Varzin belonged to him. With its extensive forests, it was located only a few miles away from our place. So we had plenty of reason to be proud.

Incidentally, a considerable number of noble estate owners who had participated in the recent campaigns, as Herr Lieutenant, Herr Captain, Herr Cavalry Captain, or Herr Colonel, could also be found in the vicinity of our town. These gentlemen frequently came to our little town, noblemen from head to toe. In the summer, they appeared on horseback or came by carriage; in the winter, they wore splendid fur coats and came in elegant sleighs, quite often four-horsed, with two outriders, a coachman, and a servant in rich livery.

When this happened, it was not uncommon for local dignitaries and businessmen to stand in their doorways, bowing and scraping, and many a proper philistine considered it a high honor to be fortunate enough to greet such distinguished ladies and lords and even – to be greeted in return. The lords and ladies seemed to regard these deferential greetings by the town dwellers as something entirely natural, for most of the time they returned them with only a light, casual nod of the head; they seldom raised their own hats in greeting. As children, however, we delighted in the fiery, snorting horses that steamed and foamed as they paraded in front of the noble carriage. I also never neglected to take a routine peek at the gentlemen’s chest to see whether it displayed some colorful medal ribbon. If I saw one, then I regarded its owner as easily ranking among the bravest of all brave Pomeranian warriors. I considered him a kind of higher being. Consequently, in my eyes he was not merely a born leader and officer of common soldiers, but also a legitimate master and lord in other things, someone who was naturally entitled to other people treating him with respect and courtesy. This was also what the teachers in school told us, admonishing us often to be extremely polite and deferential toward those sirs, for they were, according to God’s will, the leaders of the people. And so it had to be true.

Source: Franz Rehbein, Das Leben eines Landarbeiters [The Life of a Farm Worker] (orig. 1911), ed., Urs J. Diederichs and Holger Rüdel. Hamburg: Christians, 1987, pp. 5, 12-15.

Translation: Erwin Fink

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