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Childhood in Rostock, on the Baltic Coast, as seen through the Lens of the Enlightenment and Rationalist Medical Science (1807)

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Gymnastic exercises have not become established among the children of more distinguished individuals. To be sure, the boys sometimes go outdoors to kick the ball; but in part they are left alone in this, lacking any supervision, and in part they enjoy this pleasure only for a brief period during the year; and the little girls do not participate in this activity at all. [ . . . ] If I were to include dancing in the gymnastic exercises as well, that activity is cultivated very much in our parts, but in a way that I as a physician cannot sanction. [ . . . ] However, instead of primarily taking care to teach children who still have sufficient suppleness to turn them into anything, though lacking the firmness and strength required by the usual dances, good posture and a sure gait, people are merely pleased about them having learned all fashionable dances within a few months. Now if, to complete the scenario, several families join up on hot summer’s days to have their children dance together, there is probably nothing more to fear than a harmful overheating that must become all the more dangerous for the health of these little ones if they go home immediately after such a ball, when they catch cold quite easily as I know from experience. [ . . . ]

We are surrounded nearly on every side by water, and therefore in the summertime one can very easily find a spot for swimming. [ . . . ] Now probably no physician will object to swimming itself; but that the boys do so without supervision, left to their own resources, deserves so much the more a sharp reprimand [ . . . ].

As much as swimming is a means to promote cleanliness, in this respect particularly benefiting the boys from the lower classes very much, I do nevertheless have to note that one sees the children of the more distinguished people not only dressed very well and with clean garments most of the time but that in recent years, more frequently than in the first years of my stay here, people bathe even the smallest children, continuing this for as long as it is somehow possible. Since the time when our most gracious sovereign founded the Doberan Public Baths and one witnesses many foreigners travelling there every year to restore their health, even more effort seems to go into bathing the children.

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