[Rhineland, 1914/15] Nobody was prepared for a long war. The soldiers had been so sure of victory, “At Christmas we will be back”. But since the turnaround on Marne in early September, this was unlikely.
Jakob looked around his “Stübchen”. It had long since ceased to be a grocery store, his supplies were running low and he had packed away his last cocoa supplies for Christmas.
Aid program for the “home front”
At home, a comprehensive aid program had been set up. One took care of the families of the soldiers and collected money, clothes, and supplies for them. Besides, one arranged for work and help in all emergencies and distributed food to people in need, and one was there for the families of those wounded or killed in war. Everything was well organized by the Red Cross and other associations, so help quickly reached the right place.
From the beginning of the war, a naval blockade by England cut off the German Empire from imports of any kind, as the Allies sought to wear down the Germans by starvation. But the Empire, confident of victory and until then the world’s largest importer of agricultural products, had not stockpiled for the war. The hard-pressed German agricultural sector could not make up for the lack of imports, so food soon became scarce and prices rose sharply, especial for staple foods such as bread and potatoes.
Already some traders were charging extortionate prices for potatoes, so the authorities intervened and eventually set maximum prices. Some regulations, however, meant that it was more profitable for farmers to feed potatoes and grain or sell them to distilleries than to sell them at the markets at the set prices.
A makeshift nursery at the Bergmann vineyard
On the Bergmann vineyard, the family now grew potatoes on every available patch. The family had moved together together and had set up a makeshift nursery, and some moms also lived with them. Susan and her elderly parents Emil and Lena were busy looking after the little guests all day long.
Susan had baked cookies. Now she took a simple clay plate out of the cupboard. It was almost forty years old and had quite a special history. Back then, she had traveled with her parents to the America for the wedding of Lorenz Bergmann’s daughter Amber, celebrated at Lorenz’ “Merry Dragon” country inn at the Brandywine Creek. One afternoon, she had done pottery with the other children. “Now that there are so many of us in the family, we don’t have enough plates and cups for everyone,” she had said then. That was true today, too. With a wistful smile, she put the cookies on the plate. That is to say, what one called cookies at this time where there was no sugar, no butter, and hardly anything else.
Hot meals and fruits from the orchards
Food was rationed, countless people were hungry. In the guest room of the “Stübchen”, Jacob and the Bergmann family daily served one or more hot meals, soups, or stews. Soon the tables inside were not enough, so Jakob had built a big table outside and put the big cooking pots on it. Kathi and Walter ladled out the soup or stew and served bread with it.
Fortunately, he had immediately thought of the orchards in the Siebengebirge. Walter’s entire school class had gone there to collect apples and pears. Then Lottie, Lena, and many other women had preserved their harvest, so he could offer it at cost price in the “Stübchen”.
Helene’s sewing room
In the workroom two sewing machines were relentlessly rattling. Lingerie and clothing were urgently needed. Many women and girls who had worked in service before the war had lost their jobs. Here, they could work as seamstresses and earn a bit of money. Jacob could not pay much, but they had warm meals, and in winter, the workroom was always warm.
Among them was Helene, an elderly widow. She, too, feared for a son at the front. Her savings were nothing like enough, so she was glad she could work in the “Stübchen”. Jacob’s company, and knowing that her work made a difference did her good. “It’s almost like a hundred years ago, when Grandma Limbach established the “Stübchen”, Jacob thought, “just she established our family business after the Napoleonic wars, and we see no end to this one.”
Kathi, the chauffeur
Kathi drove around in the Bergmann’s automobile, bringing food to the surrounding villages. She also delivered letters from and to the front for people who could not come themselves to the “Stübchen”. Now that the war was on, the “Stübchen” was an improvised post office as well. People could deposit and receive letters and make phone calls as well. Fortunately, the supply of the people at home was also important, so the authorities had not requisitioned their automobile.
Jacob heard a horn honking outside. There she was, Lottie’s daughter Kathi, pretty as a picture, who reminded him so much of her late grandmother, Countess Sophie Csabany. That a girl like Kathi drove an automobile would have been a scandal before the war. Now women had to cover for the men. They operated machines in industry, especially the armaments industry, drove streetcars and automobiles. Kathi supplied the people in the villages with food and news of their loved ones, driving around on roads that hardly deserved the name.
“Do you have news and letters to deliver, Jacob?” she asked. Kathi delivered letters to “Here you have them, Kathi,” said Jacob, and Kathi’s zeal always made him smile. “There is another big envelope from Lieutenant Schmieder to be delivered to the families of his men. And if you see Marie, please give her this glass of stewed apple, and tell her to eat it,” he said. “I’ll see to it that it gets done, Jacob,” said Kathi. She gathered her cargo, gave the old gentleman a hug, and raced away.
War in East Africa
Jakob feared that things were about to get much worse. In the next year, many foodstuffs would probably only be available on food stamps.
Every now and then he looked up at the picture of the dinosaur from Tendaguru, he could not do without it. Tendaguru was in German East Africa, and there, too, the fighting was fierce. All this time, he had made sure that his trading partners were honorable merchants who did not profit from the suffering of others. Now countless people had to fight in the great war as well. “I pray for you, too,” he said softly.