Rhineland, around 1813/14. Napoleon is defeated, his army hastily retreats, and in the Grand Duchy of Berg, the French officials run away, taking the Grand Duchy’s money with them.
Grandma Limbach establishes the family business “Stübchen”
Grandma Limbach, a skillful seamstress, had been obliged to work for the Grand Duke’s Court at Düsseldorf. Now there is nothing left for her to do, she packs up her things and leaves for her home on the bank of the Rhine below the Seven Mountains. In her bag are the remnants of fine cloth and braids that nobody there needs any more.
The Congress of Vienna gives the Rhineland to Prussia, and in July 1815, Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm IV comes for a visit to Mount Drachenfels. The citizens of Königswinter are delighted, yet most of them have nothing decent to wear. During the last almost twenty years of war, they had other concerns. Grandma Limbach has an idea. She would use the golden braids and sumptuous threads and pearls to mend and give new chic to old garments and hats. Works of art come into being in her skillful hands. Soon many people bring their old things to her, hoping she can help, and indeed Grandma Limbach is very creative, mending and decorating old garments with her treasures from the Grand Duke’s Court. Her grandchild Anni is always around her and helps.
Then the big day was there. A lot of citizens wait on the Rhine promenade for the Crown Prince, many of them wearing Grandma Limbach’s creations. Her Belgian daughter-in-law Henriette offers hot chocolate to the crowd from a makeshift stand. Grandma Limbach is glowing. It is a new beginning after so many years of war.
Soon the family business is set up in Grandma Limbach’s little house. One room is turned into a milliner’s and tailer’s workroom, where she creates nice things from old and used materials that families with little income can afford. In the other room Henriette opens a café where she offered chocolate and imbiss. Soon Grandma Limbach is well known and she becames business partners with Madame Charlotte, a self-made woman who runs an elegant fashion atelier in Bonn. Both are convinced that “less is more”, and that nice clothes were not meant to display a husband’s wealth, and that a sumptuous hat could not hide a lack of brain. Creativity should not be wasted on vanity alone, hard working women with little income should find something nice for themselves and their families.
Anton Tombach, master-builder in the service of the Elector-Archbishop of Cologne
Andrew, also called Andy, his foster son
Cathy, his wife, an Irish emigrant
Sean, Cathy’s brother, Bradock, their fatherly friend
Lady Meredith, a noblewoman
Homework in the “Stübchen”
Hubert is an elementary school teacher, and he often invites his pupils to the “Stübchen” and works with them on their reading. Henriette treated them to hot chocolate and a snack, and Hubert showes them the drawings Niklas sends from America.
But soon, the Prussian authorities become suspicious. It is a time of restauration, the old powers try to turn the clock back to the time before the French Revolution and Napoleon. King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia does not fulfill his promise to give his people a constitution, but joins forces with the monarchs of Russia and Austria in the Holy Alliance to restrain republicanism and secularism in Europe. The Holy Alliance even authorizes military incursions to re-establish Bourbon rule over Spain and its colonies who have just established their independence. The United States, however, are a democracy, and moreover President James Monroe has just made it very clear that they would not tolerate any interference from European powers in America.
In the next generation, Hubert’s and Henriette’s daughter Anni takes over the “Stübchen”, she has inherited her mother’s and grandmother’s talents. She marries Jean, captain on one of the first Rhine steamers. Their son Hans and their daughter Sophie grew up in the “Stübchen”. Already as children, Hans and Sophie supported their Grandpa Hubert. As in this age of early industrialization and pauperism, it was natural to them to make sandwiches for the poor students and Hubert brought them to his classes.
A colonial goods shop in the “Stübchen”
As Sophie’s parents Anni and Jean grow older, they hand over their “Stübchen” to Jacob. Now it becomes a colonial good shop. In the guestroom room, Jacob offers hot chocolate and coffee. The guests can have a seat, read the newspapers he offers and write. Sometimes children would come after school and make their homework, often enough with his help.
In the working room on the left, where once Grandma Limbach had made and presented her creations, is now his colonial goods shop. It is a homey shop, lovingly decorated. On the shelves stand Jacob’s merchandise – cocoa from Africa, coffee from Central America, chocolate and cane sugar from the Caribbean, tobacco, and tropical fruits.
A soup-kitchen in the “Stübchen”
During the war, the “Stübchen” is turned into a soup-kitchen. In the guest room, Jacob and the Bergmann family daily serve one or several hot meals, soups or stews. Soon the small room is overcrowded, so Jacob sets up a large table outside on which he put big cooking pots. Susan manages to cook a halfway nutritious dish from almost nothing. Kathi and Walter ladle the soup or the stew and hand bread to their guests.
The soup-kitchen are also information centers. A lot of letters are brought to the ‘Stübchen’, and Kathi drives around in villages to deliver them.
Helene’s sewing room in the “Stübchen”
Jacob has put up two sewing machines in his former colonial goods shop, they are relentlessly rattling as lingerie and clothing are urgently needed. Many women and girls who had worked in service before the war had lost their jobs. Here, they could work as seamstresses, learn from Helene and earn a bit of money. Jacob could not pay much, but they got warm meals, and in winter the workroom was always heated. Helene is marvellous at making something new of old things, just like Grandma Limbach some 100 years ago.