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A Boy's Childhood in Cologne, c. 1810 (Retrospective Account)

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In some remote streets, [ . . . ] where, however, anyone would rarely get lost without necessity, we encounter in the summertime a piece of Italy, Italian street life, the most abundant crowd of children, romping around half-naked or entirely in the buff. At the doors of the low, hut-like houses, in long rows dressed in the most casual negligee, are the lacemakers, the “Wirkeschen.” [ . . . ]

The appearance of a stranger attracts attention. He is mocked, ridiculed, and woe is him if he gets into a battle of words with these women, or offends one of them. “He gets what was coming to him,” as the native of Cologne puts it [ . . . ].

A sad picture of ‘white slavery’ were the so-called ‘lacemaking schools,’ numbering about 50, where perhaps 800 to 1,000 girls, sold completely to the heads of these schools for a certain number of years, were taught lacemaking, forced to sacrifice their youth to the most outrageous, despicable profit-seeking.

The interior of the houses.

[ . . . ] The living room of the lower citizen, mostly the tradesman, usually serves, at least in the winter, as kitchen and workshop as well, if the trade does not demand a large room. Otherwise it features only the ‘Stuff’ [ = ‘Stube,’ i.e. living room] and the chamber in which the family sleeps. Chairs and armchairs are rare; chests used to store anything serve as seating. [ . . . ]

None of the Stuben (living rooms) lack the crucifix under or over the mirror, below it is the case for keeping combs, the large or small ‘hinkende Bote’ [an almanac] with the ‘bloodletting tablet,’ and behind the mirror, provided there are children in the house, the ‘birke Juffer,’ a birch switch for the girls, and for the boys the bullwhip or the Engkge Tau.

Education in Old Cologne went by the Wisdom of Jesus, the Son of Sirach, who says: “Those who love their children do not spare the whip!” Regular beating executions were commissioned to be carried out by the Alexian Brothers [a lay brotherhood named after Saint Alexius], if some already grown-up son refused to dance completely to the parents’ tune. In horror, we tiptoed by a house in Unter Kästen Street, where, as the stories went, during one such exemplary ‘execution’ a young man had been beaten to death – now haunting the place as a ghost. [ . . . ]

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