I take a look at the husband’s library, displayed on three boards against the wall in the main room. He is a unionized, politically neutral proletarian, an Independent Social Democrat until 1921. After the party split, he joined neither the Communists nor the old Social Democratic Party. Since then he has been more active in the union and sports clubs. Railroad worker Müller is 43 years old; he has lived with his wife since he was 22. The family has four children, of whom the oldest is now 18.
The library of this union man contains about 150 books collected over years of saving. One can find there all of the protocols of the Social Democratic party congresses, from 1905 to 1921: the prewar writings of [August] Bebel and [Karl] Kautsky and Rosa Luxemburg’s Accumulation of Capital; Eduard Bernstein’s pamphlets next to Lenin’s State and Revolution; from [Maxim] Gorky there are the plays and the novel The Informer; from Tolstoy War and Peace; [Stijn] Streuvels’ peasant novel from the Universal Library. There is one volume of Jack London’s Call of the Wild. Much room is taken up by the writings of bourgeois philosophers. Ernst Häckel is represented alongside Kant and Nietzsche. A bunch of recent, typically German, entertaining literary kitsch is there as well. Collected among the brochures is everything the reformist union leadership published in recent years in opposition to the communists. But next to these pamphlets one comes upon the protocols of the R.G.I. Congress, a small text by [Mikhail] Tomsky, a speech delivered to the international workers’ delegates. Just now I have Larissa Reissner’s book, In Hindenburg’s Country, in my hand, and the woman of the house arrives home to make her excuses and welcome me.
At five in the afternoon her work in the factory ends. Mrs. Müller stamps tin products, more precisely, reaches for them with her hand on the conveyor belt. It takes her a full hour to get to her apartment after work. When I explain now that I have had a look at the new apartment on my own, we sit down in the table with a cup of coffee. Her husband sends his apologies: he had to rush off to meet his union associates for a few words in a bar. “You see,” says Mrs. Müller, “here’s our new apartment. You can imagine how happy we are to be out of the old hole.” I ask about the rent. “Ninety marks a month, still quite cheap,” asserts Mrs. Müller, “and only because this whole block was built with public funds and we were on the list for a long time did we even get in. My whole wage, four times a month, goes just for the rent. I make 30 cents an hour—9 hours times 30 cents! That doesn’t quite make it in the end and our oldest boy has to add a little from his earnings so we can get it paid on time. My husband earns 44 marks and 73 cents a week by contract. We just get by with the family on that and we’re all finally very happy to have a healthy place to live.”
Mrs. Müller is nevertheless dissatisfied. She has a lot of worries with the two youngest children, now old enough for school, who need new clothing and school supplies every quarter year. “We can’t afford anything extravagant. Now and then we go to the cinema, sometimes to a bar, sometimes to a concert. Our favorite thing, though, is seeing Russian films.”
Source of English translation: Otto Steinicke, “A Visit to a New Apartment” (1929), in The Weimar Republic Sourcebook, edited by Anton Kaes, Martin Jay, and Edward Dimendberg. © 1994 Regents of the University of California. Published by the University of California Press, pp. 471-73. Reprinted with permission of the University of California Press.
Source of original German Text: Otto Steinicke, “Besuch in einer Neubauwohnung,” Magazin für Alle 4, no. 7 (July 1929), pp. 22-23.