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Lifestyle and Expenditures of a Public Servant's Family in Berlin (1889)

In Imperial German society, higher public servants enjoyed considerable (and probably increasing) esteem. But frequently their incomes did not keep pace with what was required to maintain a standard of living commensurate with their social status. This report focuses on the bourgeois virtues of thrift and industriousness, both of which were regarded as essential in securing the prosperity and prestige of a Berlin official’s family.

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The second household under consideration is that of a public servant – one from the old school, I should add. Anyone who knows representatives of this circle will also be familiar with the stellar qualities to be found in this house: an untiring capacity for work, an iron sense of duty, and a devotion to the state's ideas, even when complete agreement with the predominant political views of the ruling powers of the day is impossible. Even if, alongside these good qualities, some unpleasant idiosyncrasies might arise, such as a certain stiffness in conduct, and occasionally even a bureaucratic arrogance, this is not the rule and only seldom diminishes the value of those merits that are undeniable. [ . . . ]

Less obvious at first glance is the domestic efficiency that distinguishes the majority of public servants to this very day. Although their salaries have risen, this growth has not kept pace with the average increase in the standard of living among other occupational groups, which were able to reconcile the greater needs with higher incomes. A public servant with a university education belongs to the upper ranks of the middle classes and is thus obliged to maintain a proper outward appearance. Therefore, today, he really needs considerable moral strength to meet all of the demands on him, and he and his wife must have a great talent for economizing, so that their situation does not end up in hopeless disarray.

The head of the house, whose economic life I wish to describe in the following passage, possesses, together with his hard-working wife, all of the attributes that guarantee a well-ordered household. Life is utterly domestic; luxury has no part in it. Their flat is quite far away from his office, because only in the outskirts of the suburbs can one find somewhat larger apartments at a barely affordable price anymore; a comfortable horse-drawn trolley line facilitates transport. The flat is on the fourth floor and consists of two bedrooms, a combined living and dining room, a “parlor,” and a small room for the head of the household, where his wife also spends time during his absence. The furnishing, purchased some twenty years ago, is tasteful and simple – perfect cleanliness constitutes the greatest adornment. The wife commands the art of upkeep, which is a great virtue. Apart from the parents, the family is made up of two boys aged 12 and 13 years and a 19-year-old daughter. The latter has completed her teaching diploma and has been trained as a flower painter on the side. The girl, though not an artist in the strictest sense, has talent and taste. She paints beautiful tendrils on folding fans, baskets, vessels made of glass and porcelain, thus earning about 300-400 marks for about four hours’ work a day. That is also the reason why nothing has been entered for her in the budget below. With the money she earned, she covered the cost of clothing and shoes; in 1889, she deposited 90 marks into a savings bank; and she also pays for her colors and other supplies, etc. She also takes great pleasure, however, in delighting her parents and siblings with little gifts and inviting her girlfriends several times a year to a “ladies’ afternoon coffee party” with cake and mousse gâteau.

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