When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Tag archive: Germany

Dangerous Bedding

1945: “All of a sudden,” in the early hours of 25 April, “there was a fierce air raid; the flak started raging.” Too weary to go down to the basement, the author of A Woman in Berlin snuggled beneath the bedclothes. The sheets and blankets provided “an idiotic sense of security”, as if they were made of iron. “They say bedding is extremely dangerous.” A doctor who treated a woman who had been hit in bed found that “bits of feather had lodged so deeply in her wounds he could barely remove them”.

Source: Anonymous, A Woman in Berlin (2009), p. 49

Inartistic Island

Walter Gropius, photographed in about 1919 by Louis Held

1934: Shortly before moving to Britain, the German architect Walter Gropius questioned how he would survive in “this inartistic country with unsalted vegetables, bony women and an eternally freezing draught!?”

Source: Fiona MacCarthy, Walter Gropius: Visionary Founder of the Bauhaus (2019), p. 291

Schoolgirl Jibe

1923: Sitting in the autumn sun in Berlin’s Botanical Garden, Franz Kafka was distracted from his Kafkaesque thoughts by a bunch of passing schoolgirls. One of them – blond, leggy, boyish – gave Kafka “a coquettish smile, turning up the corners of her little mouth and calling out something” to him. Kafka didn’t quite catch what she said. He smiled back at her. The pretty girl and her friends stared at him. Then he realised what she had said: “Jew.”

Source: Reiner Stach, Kafka: The Years of Insight (2013), pp. 544–5

Mailed Fist

1900: Angered by tram workers on strike in Berlin, Kaiser Wilhelm II dispatched a tetchy telegram to the commander of the Guards Corps: “I expect at least five hundred people to be shot when the troops intervene.”

Source: John C.G. Röhl, Wilhelm II: Into the Abyss of War and Exile 1900–1941 (2014), p. 139

Mark Of Identity

1941: Like all adult German Jews, Victor Klemperer was forced, from the middle of September, to identify himself in public by wearing the distinctive Judenstern, or Jewish star, for which he was obliged to pay 10 pfennigs.

Source: Victor Klemperer, I Shall Bear Witness: The Diaries of Victor Klemperer 1933–41, ed. Martin Chalmers (1998), p. 414

Nazi Sympathizers

1934: Norfolk farmers showed little sympathy for skylarks, regarding them as pests that damaged winter crops. Newspapers offered farmers some support for the need to control lark numbers. The migration of larks from northern Europe and recent political developments in Germany were behind one finger-wagging headline: “Skylarks that sing to Nazis will get no mercy here”.

Source: Paul F. Donald, The Skylark (2004), p. 225

Multiple Deaths

Ferdinand Foch, portrayed in 1918

1914: The French dead from fighting near the Belgian border on 22 August included Germain Foch, the only son of corps commander General Ferdinand Foch, and, on the same day, the general’s son-in-law, Captain Paul Bécourt.

Source: Martin Gilbert, First World War (1995), p. 56

Gunboat Diplomacy

1911: Germany’s attempt to increase its influence in southern Morocco at the expense of France provoked the Agadir crisis, which almost bump-started the First World War three years early. Under the pretext of protecting German citizens during a period of insecurity, Berlin dispatched the gunboat Panther to the port of Agadir. There were in fact no German citizens in Agadir so, to keep up appearances, one had to be fetched from a town up the coast.

Source: Robert K. Massie, Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War (1992), chap. 39

“Keep Off The Grass”

1953: Stalin once pooh-poohed the possibility of a revolution in Germany – the citizens would be too obedient to step on the lawns, he said – but a strike by East Berlin construction workers on 16 June escalated, the next day, into a large-scale uprising against the government of the German Democratic Republic.

Source: Milovan Djilas, Conversations with Stalin (1962), p. 76

Ban On Smoking

1941: For Victor Klemperer, a Jewish resident of Dresden, life grew steadily more difficult. “A new calamity:” he wrote in his diary on 10 August, “Ban on smoking for Jews.”

Source: Victor Klemperer, I Shall Bear Witness: The Diaries of Victor Klemperer 1933–41, ed. Martin Chalmers (1998), p. 407

Day In The Country

1913: Motor cars were unwelcome arrivals in the countryside. They hurtled noisily along narrow roads, stirred up clouds of dust, frightened horses, flattened chickens. Angry peasants sometimes scattered nails and broken glass on the roads, or pelted cars with stones, or blocked their way with ropes or barricades.

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“Worse Than Baboons”

1904: “Just look at us. [We’re treated like] Dogs, slaves, worse than the baboons on the rocks.” In January, the Herero people of German South-West Africa could stand it no longer, and rebelled against their colonial oppressors. Defeated at the battle of Waterberg in August, they fled into the eastern desert. To make sure they didn’t come back, General Lothar von Trotha issued a Vernichtungsbefehl, or extermination order: “Every Herero found within the German borders, armed or unarmed, with or without cattle, will be shot.” By the summer of 1905, in the first genocide of the 20th century, three-quarters of the original Herero population of 80,000 had been killed.

Source: Jon M. Bridgman, The Revolt of the Hereros (1981), pp. 38–131

War By Numbers

1969: In 1968 and 1969, the United States dropped on South Vietnam one and a half times the tonnage of bombs dropped on Germany by all the Allies during the Second World War.

By 1969, the explosive force of the bombs dropped on North Vietnam each month was equivalent to two atomic bombs.

Up to the end of 1971, the United States had dropped 6.3 million tons of bombs on Indochina – more than three times the amount it dropped in all theatres during the Second World War.

In South Vietnam alone, there were 21 million bomb craters.

Source: Marvin E. Gettleman, Jane Franklin, Marilyn Young and H. Bruce Franklin, Vietnam and America: A Documented History (1985), p. 461

Stylish In Stripes

1945: Bessie, comtesse de Mauduit, returned to Paris from Ravensbrück concentration camp still dressed in her striped uniform, but looking elegant all the same (“encore vêtu de l’uniforme rayé des déportés et très élégante tout de meme”). Another inmate, a head seamstress from the Schiaparelli fashion house, had restyled her uniform.

Source: Jean Galtier-Boissière, Journal 1940–1950 (1992), pp. 410, 413

Deadly Device

1940: In Warthegau, Polish territory annexed by Germany in 1939, Herbert Lange’s Sonderkommando used a large van fitted with a sealed chamber to eliminate mental patients. To allay suspicion, the side of the vehicle carried the logo of a well-known German coffee company – “Kaiser’s Kaffee-Geschäft”. Once the patients were loaded, carbon monoxide was piped into the chamber.

Source: Patrick Montague, Chełmno and the Holocaust: The History of Hitler’s First Death Camp (2012), pp. 21–30, 64, 199–211

“Animalistic Hopping”

1937: The Lambeth Walk, a jaunty number from the musical Me and My Girl, was a success first on the London stage, and then in dance halls around Britain and on the Continent. Fascist leaders in Europe, however, took a dim view of the craze. In Italy, the dance was condemned for its “ugly, coarse, awkward motions and gesticulations”, and in Germany it was denounced as “Jewish mischief and animalistic hopping”.

Sources: The Times, 19 May 1939; The New York Times, 8 January 1939

What If . . . ?

1931: On the afternoon of 22 August, a young British aristocrat named John Scott-Ellis was making his way along Brienner Strasse, in Munich, in a little red Fiat. “Although I was going very slowly, a man walked off the pavement, more or less straight into my car.” The 42-year-old pedestrian was bowled over, but quickly picked himself up, politely shook hands with the driver, and went on his way.

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Deter’s Disease

Alois Alzheimer’s patient Auguste Deter, photographed in 1901

1906: Auguste Deter died on 8 April at the age of 55. She had been a patient at the Asylum for the Insane and Epileptic in Frankfurt am Main since 1901. Alois Alzheimer had taken a particular interest in Deter’s case, and after she died he examined her brain. Alzheimer discovered that she had been afflicted by a “peculiar disease of the cerebral cortex” – the first documented instance of the form of dementia that would be named after him. (Alzheimer’s earlier medical studies had taken him in a very different direction; his doctoral thesis had been on the wax-producing glands of the ear.)

Source: Konrad Maurer and Ulrike Maurer, Alzheimer: The Life of a Physician and the Career of a Disease (2003), pp. 41–2, 151–63

Primogeniture

Kaiser Wilhelm II, photographed by court photographer T.H. Voigt in 1902

1901: Queen Victoria died; Edward VII became king. If, however, the throne had passed to the firstborn child, regardless of sex, Victoria would have been succeeded by her daughter Vicky. And consider this: when Vicky died, as she did just a few months later, her eldest child, Wilhelm, would have become king. Already kaiser of Germany, Wilhelm would have also become William V of Britain.

Source: The Independent, 7 July 2006

Beetles Over Britain

Colorado beetle, photographed by Scott Bauer

1943: The wartime activities of the Colorado beetle have gone largely unnoticed, though they were allegedly used in a crude form of biological warfare. German planes dropped beetles on the Isle of Wight to destroy the potato crop, only to be foiled by the secret deployment of schoolchildren to round up the pests. (Though how the Third Reich hoped to alter the course of the war by targeting a pint-sized island off the south coast of Britain, and why the kids didn’t immediately blab the whole story, is beyond me.)

Source: Jennifer Davies, The Wartime
Kitchen and Garden (1993), p. 129,
but see also www.sussex.ac.uk/Units/
spru/hsp/documents/CWCB33-Garrett.
pdf

Cannon Fodder

1940: The American broadcaster William Shirer found it difficult to read the minds of Berliners thronging the Unter den Linden on Easter Sunday afternoon. “Their faces looked blank. Obviously they do not like the war, but they will do what they’re told. Die, for instance.”

Source: William L. Shirer, Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934–1941 (1941), p. 241