[Rhineland, 1918] Millions of soldiers had been killed in the war, hundreds of thousands of people were starved to death. There was a lot of hunger, housing shortage and impoverishment.
Many families had lost loved ones. More and more invalid men were coming home. On the streets and pathes one saw men with arms or legs missing, moving with difficulty by means of a wooden device, men whose faces were blown apart. Only few prostheses were available. Traumatized people who had suffered a “nervous shock,” for example by a shell explosion, and where shaking all over. Only very few of them got proper therapy. What the war had done to the souls of the soldiers, Kathi did not dare to imagine. Seeing all this [disgrace], her father was almost one of the lucky ones.
Supply in “Stübchen”
“So, darling, here is a bit of parsley and a few jars of rose hip for you!” Lottie put her box on the counter of the “Stübchen”. “Parsley has iron, and rose hip has vitamin C.” Kathi was amazed .. where did her mother get her strength from? Lottie Bergmann, born Countess Charlotte Csabany, proud owner of one of the finest vineyards in the region. But during the last years, she had dug in the earth, planted, harvested and done the hardest work to provide for her people. Kathi looked at her mother. She was emaciated, her hands showed the hard labor and she had gray streaks in her hair. But nothing could harm her natural poise and dignity.
During the war, the blockade had prevented imports of foreign wines, so the demand for German wine was soon demand exceeded supply. Moreover, the wine years 1915 and 1917 were outstanding. They had sold well, but Bergmanns had not raised their prices, but financed their soup-kitchen with the the income. In their “Stübchen”, they wanted to help relieving the direst need. Every day hundreds of people died of malnutrition, tuberculosis or other diseases, especially the children suffered. Still many people were waiting in long queues in front of the soup-kitchens and food stores. Often enough, the struggle for mere survival led into criminal behavior.
A small revolution with the sewing needle
Before Kathi could go on pondering, the door opened again and her father Matthias came in, loaded with all sorts of cloth. “The hotel on Mount Petersberg has sorted these out,” he said, “maybe Helene can do something with them.” Helene, an elderly lady, had come to the “Stübchen” as a seamstress during the war years and could at least earn a little money. Already she came out of the working room and looked at the things Matthias had brought: damaged bed sheets, table clothes that one could not get clean, small carpets which were no longer of use because of smoke holes. “It is not much,” Matthias said regretfully. “Well,” said Helene, and suddenly she radiated a tremendous energy, “we will take the good parts and put them together, who says that patchwork gowns cannot be pretty? And from these carpets here .. hmm .. they are a bit thin, but they will make nice hats and caps for the children. Of course, milady, one cannot compare them to your mother’s gorgeous creations, but they will keep our children’s ears warm in winter.”
All around looked at her, all amazed. A small revolution with the sewing needle, that’s what the little elderly lady with the Wilhelmine-sounding name and the Wilhelmine-like hairdo had just suggested. “But normal needles won’t work, hmm .. ” “Don’t worry, our Walter will fix that,” said Lottie, besides herself with joy, “he has many technical skills, and please don’t call me milady.”
Don’t give up hope
Then Lottie turned to her daughter. She knew Kathi and Max wanted to get married. But how could one celebrate joyfully when there was distress and misery all around? “Don’t give up hope,” she said, “Max is working again as a railway engineer, that’s worth a lot, you are young, you’re in love, you’ll make it through. Now that Susan is back on board in the “Stübchen”, you can finish your education to be a winemaker, you already know everything. Then you both have something in your pocket. Who know what awaits us in the years to come.” Kathi smiled. Yes, the next years would be very hard for them all, but the strength they gave each other would get them through.
Meeting Joscha again
Some months later they finally met Lottie’s brother Joscha again. He looked tired and exhausted, but also glad to see his family and friends on the Rhine again. Hungary had seen rough political times. Marie was also happy. She and Joscha were were fond of each other, and her correspondence during the war years had forged a strong bond between them.
Now they walked along the banks of the Rhine and enjoyed their short time together before Joscha went back to Hungary. “We are defeated, our Austro-Hungarian monarchy does not exist any more, who knows what the victors will impose on us,” Joscha said sadly, “no one will receive us with open arms and red carpets. Do you really want to spend your life with a no more young diplomat who does not even know where he will be assigned to?” Marie pointed to the place where once the berth of their beloved Rhine steamer “Aimée” had been, and tears came to her eyes. “You see, our ‘Aimée’ cruised the Rhine for Germany and for Alsace-Lorraine,” she said, “in her way, she was a diplomat too, and she is no longer there. We must help our countries to live together in peace again. And I would love to spend my life with you. Now you will say that it is too dangerous, and I know about the political turmoil in Hungary, but I want to go with you! Mama wanted to accompany Papa on this last dangerous trip on the ‘Aimée’, just because of me she did not do it, Papa had urged her not too. She will understand very well that I want to be with you now. And she is not alone, she has the very best friends around her and Jacob, who loves her like a daughter, and we are not on the other side of the world.”
A few days later Marie and Joscha, Susan and Lottie and Matthias started for Hungary. Joscha and Marie would get married in a private wedding ceremony on the Csabany estate. Lottie and Matthias had insisted on accompanying Susan. “For all the joy of Marie’s and Joscha’s marriage, you’ll probably feel lonely on the way back without her”, Lottie had said, “I know it was sad for my mother when when Papa was transferred to Galicia on disciplinary grounds and she rarely saw him. Now you won’t be alone on your way back.”