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

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In the fall, the kites came out, called ’gepatte Vüge’ in Cologne vernacular. If a kite went missing, one would say, “It is off to Paris.” Then there were the spinning tops, called ‘Doepp’ in Cologne. This included the variants called ‘Münche,’ ‘Beginge,’ and ‘Wipdoepp.’ From a strip eel skin, ‘Oelefell,’ one made the whips, and the art consisted in driving the spinning top quite far, which often, in the heat of the game, when paying little attention to windows and lanterns, resulted in unpleasant and hefty smacks on the head. If a puddle of soft mud happened to be close to the playground – and one could find plenty of those – you would start a game of throwing the spinning tops into the mud. Two or three boys would play, with each one using a spinning top; it was placed in the flat of the hand and thrown up, the winning objective being to have it stick top first in the mud. It goes without saying that in any game that entailed winning something or losing the participants sometimes got into squabbling.

With the advent of the month of October, the boys got out their whips, as the ox market was on; the boy that could crack the best was the best man.

On summer evenings, when the neighborhood was sitting in ample numbers on the street in front of the doorways, chatting, the boys possibly gathered around a storyteller, who usually had a million fairytales and legends, stories about knights and robbers. What a shock it was when the familiar whistle or call urged them to go to bed. The girls pursued singing and dancing their ring-around-the-rosey. [ . . . ]

Wintertime, too, held its pleasures for children. When the first snowflakes came down, the children would rejoice: “The Mother of God is shaking out the Savior’s little bed, and the angels the beds of the saints.” If there is heavy snowfall, snowmen are created in the open spaces, the more colossal, the more beautiful, with eyes, nose, and mouth formed from charcoal, the right hand armed with old brooms or sticks. Generally, throwing snowballs, often in the narrow streets, was such a public nuisance, since adults participated as well, that the neighbors would close their shutters. [ . . . ]

Source: Ernst Weyden, Köln am Rhein vor 50 Jahren [Cologne on the Rhine Fifty Years Ago]. Cologne, 1862, pp. 31, 33-34, 35, 42-45, 53-63, 65-70, 72, 76, 79-81, 84.

Reprinted in Jürgen Schlumbohm, ed., Kinderstuben, Wie Kinder zu Bauern, Bürgern, Aristokraten wurden 1700-1850 [Upbringing, How Children Became Farmers, Middle-Class Citizens, and Aristocrats 1700-1850]. Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1983, pp. 241-58.

Translation: Erwin Fink

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