VI. Home and homeland
Königsberg 1922 to 1933
In 1922, the family moves around the corner from the small maisonnette to a villa with a large garden and stables for cows, horses and chickeri, a pigeon coop, etc., built in 1909 for the commanding general of the province.
The home in Ottokarstr. 27
The prevailing economic conditions bring for such a large family shortages of food and demand special arrangements. A cow, chicken and pigeons become a necessity. The household develops into a small farm. The garden provides ample supplies of vegetables and fruit which are preserved for the long and severe winters. In Autumn, barges travel along the river to Königsbergand bring potatös which, after many tastings and discussions, are purchased in large quantities and stored in the cellar under sand.
For many years, these buildings and the large
garden provide the background for the rather privileged existence
of the children. In the house, the slim chambermaid Anna and the
plump cook Berta work under mother's supervision. A seamstress
comes weekly, to repair the children's clothing, bed clothes,
etc. Throughout the year, the gardener Labies and his employees
take care of the large garden; they spray fruit trees in spring,
prepare beds of vegetables, prune trees, cover vulnerable plants
with branches of fir trees as protection against the cold winter,
etc. From Spring to Autumn, the chauffeur Lemke mows with a scythe on many evenings the lawns and stores the hay in the stable.
Once a month, he lights the fire under the huge copper kettle in
the laundry in the stable before two sturdy laundresses turn up;
they work throughout the day in all seasons with the aid of all
free hands. The bed sheets as well as clothes flap then on the
lines in the backyard or, during frost or rain, dry for days in
the loft of the mansion. When they are ready, the servants mangle
daily in the afternoons with a noisy, hand driven gadget, the
noise of which fills the entire house. Other items are ironed in
the sewing room in the basement near their bedroom.
Events, these people, the garden and my sister fill the menories of the first years. Holidays like Christmas, New Years's Eve, Easter, Whitsuntide, family excursions and
later on school holidays enrich the every day life.
The house has a big internal hall in which an open staircase climbs along an outside wall with a large, darkly stained glass window to the upper floor with bathroom and bedrooms. This window's forest scene with several animals provides for many years a familiar backdrop.
Christmas tree in the staircase
A few weeks before Christmas, father gös to the forest to select an outsize fir tree which is erected in the staircase, decorated with polished, red apples and lametta, and illuminated with innumerable live candles. On Christmas Eve, we children are confined to the upper floor, while the parents prepare the presents below and then light the candles. During hours of impatience, we listen to a brass band playing carols in the snow covered streets. Sometimes it snows, it is mostly very cold outside. Then we hear the bell from below and are allowed to descend. The scent of burning candles, heated apples and resin of fir needles fills the hall and matches perfectly the warm family atmosphere at these occasions. One year, when we do not observe the degree of dignity expected of us during our descent, we are sent back for a repeat. Another year, brother Uwe loses a tooth in a fight. After these overtures, we must recite Christmas pöms which have been drummed into us at school, while father carefully checks our performances from the sheet of paper on which the pöm has been entered caligraphically after many attempts and which has been decorated with a drawing of a Christmas tree or a pine branch with candles. During this ceremony, father holds in turn each child between his knees while the other children watch. Next, we sing carols, sometimes accompanied by mother at the piano. Nevertheless, at last the time has come when we are given access to the assortments of presents laid out for each child on chairs along the walls of the hall. At the centre of each display, a plate with sweets, nuts and raisins ensures that we will not feel too well the next morning.
These sweets have been
prepared over the preceeding month by all of us in the large basement
kitchen. The preparation of pralinees with lemon, coffee and
peppermint fillings, dipped in bitter chocolate, marzipan formed
by hand into little loaves of bread and hot-buns, toasted
concoctions of marzipan with lemon icing and chocolate filling,
honey cake in different shapes, nuts, raisins, macaroons, and
many other sweetbreads has raised the festive spirit during this
time. In later years, when some of the brothers only return home
for Christmas at the last minute, this work of love is undertaken
by Gundula and myself. Gundula and I learn thus early to work for others and enjoy doing so.
An East Prussin tradition determines the meal on Christmas Eve: Carp in beer. However, carp is expensive and the family is large. Already in father's days, small sausages, specially produced by the butcher Radke, are cooked with the carp and laid around the large flat dish, the middle of which is occupied by the fish. They provide the bulk for the hungry multitudes and are as popular with our generation as they were with father's. Sausages have no bones! When anyone finds a carp's scale, it is carefully preserved to be carried around in one's purse, as it is said to make money grow. Several times at this stage, the telephone will ring to call father to the factory at Rathshof or the sawing mill at Kosse, where a fire has started.
On Christmas Day, elderly relatives and friends of the family join us for lunch during which a roast goose with four legs and four wings is consumed with ample servings of red cabbage and salt potatös. The invention of the super-goose for families with many persons permits curing and smoking of pairs of goose breasts which are consumed during evening sandwich meals. After their removal, the carcasses are sewn together and stuffed with apples, marjoram and onions the smell of which sweetens the home's atmosphere on this day. Fortunately, by this time, too many sweets have reduced the appetites of the growing section of the company at table and there is never a shortage of food for the guests.
Gertrud Radok 1928
New Year's Eve is celebrated within the family. At the gaming table under the staircase in the hall, we play cards, lotto or other family games. Late in the evening, everyone comes to the kitchen to grasp and cast the coming year's fortune. Under turned-up plates lie small, decorated, glazed tone figurines representing various phases of life, however, without the skull and bones, which each year are carefully arrested by mother beforehand. Later on, lead is heated on the stove in a spoon and poured into a dish with water at the bottom of which lie coins and small fir branches. The result is then studied as shadow on the kitchen wall and everyone provides his interpretation. At midnight, when the bells call from the nearby Luisenkirche, a glass of champagne and wishes for success and good health start the new year.
Fritz Radok 1928
Easter's celebration depends on whether it is early or late in Spring, i.e., on the temperature outside. At occasions, the Sun has already melted the snow and ice. Flowers from Spring bulbs decorate the large lawn in front of the house, the grass of which has started to grow again. Father hides a great variety of sugar and chocolate eggs and bunnies made out of marzipan and other sweets around the lawn and places the traditional papiermachee hare with its little basket full of eggs on the back near the steps leading into the garden. Obviously, it is responsible for the gifts which we find during our long search. Needless to say, while father is engaged in the garden, we must not look out of the window. During the search, much attention is given to our Alsatian Shenzi, lest she takes more than her fair share.
One year, when deep snow covers the ground, father decides to take a shortcut to the tedious task of hiding the eggs in the house. He pours most of them into one of the large baskets which he brought from Africa and which line the shelves above the wood panelling in the hall. No one of the children guesses where the bulk of the expected loot might be and disappointment is great until father lifts up his little girl. A concert follows before she agrees to share her find with the gang.
By Whitsuntide, the birches show off their first frail leaves, flowering bushes add a touch of yellow to the garden and sometimes even the two old lime trees in front of the house are in flower. It is the time when excursions to the seaside at Neuhaeuser or Sarkau on the way to Nidden start. If we go by train, we may walk along the tree-lined boulevard to Ratshof Station to catch the train to Neuhaeuser. The hard seats in the small compartments with a window on each side of the carriage are usually already occupied, as the train starts from a station in town. After running along the long train, while father purchases the tickets at the booking office upstairs and comes hopping down the steps at the last minute, we find one of the larger compartments with only a few seats. These are destined for market days when the country women bring with them baskets with vegetables, chicken, and whatever they wish to sell at the market.
At other times, we take a tram to get to the station from where the trains leave for Cranz at the foot of the peninsula leading to Nidden. In either case, once the destination has been reached, the children know already the route to be taken and rush ahead while father and mother follow. In Spring, we pick lillies of the valley and anemones which invariably are well wilted before we return. Anyhow, this is only a passing phase, because the sea offers by far the greatest attraction.
The days are spent walking along the beach, picking up bits of amber which mostly are here disappointingly small. The sand is still too cold and when we cook Vienna sausages in a billy over a fire lit on the beach, we stand around rather than sit. Such days are quite exhaustive and everyone is pleasantly tired by the time we reach the station in the evening to return on a crowded train.
Later on we go by car; the entire family of seven packs into the Company car. In the early Twenties, it is an open car, probably a relic from the recent war, later it is a Horch sedan of the type well known from the gangster days in Chicago which father can enter with his mounted top hat, when he gös to a funeral. Finally, it is a Mercedes with a glass partition and a telephone between father and the driver.
Grete Simon 1928
The car is driven by Herr Lemke who lives with his family of three children and one grandfather in an apartment over the stable behind the house. In the early days, he has to go and fetch the car from the factory the business of which father manages. Sometimes I walk with Herr Lemke to Ratshof to the garage which faces the river Pregel, where there are always ships to be seen, unless the ice is too thick for the icebreakers. Later on, the car is housed in a garage into which part of the stable has been converted after the need for a cow has ceased. Parents and one child sit in the back of the car, faced by three children sitting on folding seats. Christoph sits in front next to the chauffeur. When we come out of the house carrying food and spare clothing, father presents Herr Lemke with two cigars which he places carefully in his cap, probably, because he has no better hiding place for such treasures. He will smoke them while he waits for us to return from our hike or, maybe, keep them for special occasions.
Music plays an important role in our daily life. All of us have piano lessons with varying success. The first piano teacher is an old lady, Fraeulein Stadie, whose strictness quickly reduces brother Christoph's enthusiasm. At one of the annual events in her apartment, when every pupil has to play for a few minutes, he ties a girl's pigtails behind the back of her chair and causes some confusion when she gets up to play. He is expelled, and dös not regret that no longer the back of his hand will be struck by a pencil when one of the fingers touches a wrong note. One of his next teachers is said to have seduced him, and he finishes off by learning to play jazz taught by a male. Only Uwe comes close to being a genuine musician.
My first piano teacher is Margaret Giedat who becomes a close friend of Gundula and myself. It is this relationship which has me continue the lessons well beyond the point of indifferent progress. Uwe also learns to play the viola, Jobst the cello. I cannot remember that at any time a family trio or quartet comes into action, although probably this was father's plan. However, at occasions during the early years, friends of the family perform chamber music downstairs, while Gundula and I , in nightshirts, listen from the landing or our beds upstairs.
However, the unrest of the depression which starts in 1929 neither favours the project of a family trio nor most other modes of home entertainment. Father's thoughts are occupied elsewhere. Königsberg continues to be very active in music. I accompany the parents to many symphony concerts in the large town hall, where they have since years two seats in a box near the stage on the second level. These are social as much as musical occasions, when the parents meet friends and gather news. I sit on the steps of their box, count the number of lamps in the huge lusters hanging from the high ceiling and listen to leading soloists of the Twenties such as the pianist Arthur Schnabel, the violinist Georg Kulenkampf, the conductor Wilhelm Furtwaengler and even the musical clown Grock. At times, one or the other of them will spend a night at our house. When the conductor Eugen Jochum forgets his bateau in our guest room, I drive with Herr Lemke back to the house to bring it to the maestro just as he is due to mount the podium.
These activities and the parents' contact with Königsberg's music life cease abruptly in 1933, when also many of the regular concertgörs disappear and father relinquishes all public activities. However, I continue to go to concerts and also, like my brothers, take an active part in performances of Bach's St.Matthew Passion, Haydn's Creation, Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, Brahms' German Requiem which are organized by our school's music teacher Hugo Hartung. When Margaret Giedat gives a piano recital, I sit beside her and turn the pages.
In 1927, father organizes the annual meeting of the German Colonial Association and shows in the townhall the slides which he took in East Africa before the war. A replica of the cruiser "Königsberg", which was scuttled off the East African coast in 1915, forms part of a
procession through the streets of the town. Afterwards, it is deposited in our backyard. We play with it for weeks until it falls to pieces. Did Uwe's desire to join the navy originate from this experience? Anyhow, when the time comes to realize his ambition, his ancestry disqualifies him.
All children are confirmed in the protestant church. These are opportunities for festive meals with relatives and friends, when a long table is placed in the hall and many candles provide the only lighting. Almost always the family book, started at grandfather's wedding in 1875, is brought out and everyone signs his name.
Königsberg's Burg-Kirche, where I was confirmed in 1936
The appearance of two modern inventions falls into this time. Radio begins to change our home life. The first crystal radio set gathers us around the table underneath the staircase in the hall, which graduates from game table to radio table. Daily around noon, a small biplane spirals gradually upwards, apparently just above our garden, to gather weather data. Father returns from Berlin during a train strike in a two-seater plane which emergency lands in Pommerania.
At other occasions, he flies to Berlin with Luft-Hansa out of the 1924 opened airport Devau or returns from there in the "Graf Zeppelin" when each child receives a parchment container which, however, is not intended to serve as a headcover. The DO-X, a huge sea plane with 12 push-pull propellers mounted on its wings, lands 1929 on the lagoon at thc river mouth and is dragged into town.