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Lifestyle and Expenditures of a Skilled Worker’s Family in Berlin (1890)

Families of skilled workers usually spent more money on meat than families with less income. The table below shows that one such family in Berlin spent between one-third and one-half of its food budget on meat, which was usually not of the best quality, was mixed with other ingredients to stretch it further, and was often reserved for a Sunday treat. Food expenditures accounted for over half of this family’s total living costs. This was a fairly common proportion for working-class families around 1890, although from the turn of the century onward, this amount declined slightly, to about 50% of living costs. The family’s second largest expenditure was for rent, which accounted for 16% of living costs. Note that clothing costs reflect a disparity between the father and the other family members: whereas clothing and shoes for the mother and the children cost a total of 43 marks, 48.5 marks were spent on clothing for the father, who also spent 162 marks for tobacco and beer. Alcohol expenditures varied considerably among different regions of Germany, depending in part on whether drinking was done at home or in a pub.

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He works as a molder in a bronze workshop, a hard-working, highly respectable fellow, a good husband and father. [ . . . ] He almost never attends meetings and very rarely goes to pubs. Despite her sickliness, his wife, a former maid, is very industrious and economical. Their dwelling consists of a relatively spacious room adjoined by the kitchen. Even though the husband, wife, and two children sleep and live there, everything is scrupulously clean. Calico curtains with floral patterns hang from the two windows; modest flowers sit on the windowsills. One of the long walls accommodates two beds and a simple sofa bed that serves as the children’s place of rest; the other wall is occupied by a “Vertikow” cabinet, a wardrobe, and a washstand. A table and chairs round out the furnishings.

The average annual income is 1,700 marks. [ . . . ] Rent costs 259 marks. Despite the lack of furnishings, these small apartments are also the most expensive ones, since they are the most sought-after. [ . . . ] When the molder receives his pay each Saturday, he sets aside a portion of the rent, which is paid monthly in advance. The wife is given 18 marks per week for household expenses, i.e., 2.57 marks a day, 64 pfennigs per person; this also has to cover the lighting. The husband pays for the heating. [ . . . ]

It is quite instructive to consider their daily food consumption. The following list represents an average, since the menu is not always the same. Legumes, potatoes, flour, bread, and milk are consumed rather frequently. In terms of meat products, the most common items apart from cheap sausage – which is smeared on bread rather than stacked upon it in slices – are ground beef or lungs, out of which meatballs or “fake rabbit” (i.e., ground meat mixed with breadcrumbs or bread cubes, then fried in a bit of fat) are made. In consideration of Sundays and holidays, they save on weekday meals.

The list shows the following average numbers:




Milk, 2–2 ½ liters


0.36 – 0.45

Meat, 1–2 pounds


0.70 – 1.40

Vegetables, potatoes, legumes, or rice


0.05 – 0.15

Coffee and chicory coffee


0.10 – 0.15



0.30 – 0.40

Bread rolls (the coarser kaiser rolls) for breakfast


0.12 ½ – 0.12 ½



0.30 – 0.30

Fats, salt, and spices


0.10 – 0.15



2.03 ½ – 3.12 ½

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