Soup kitchen

Soup kitchen in the Limbach Stübchen
Soup kitchen in the Limbach Stübchen

Hunger years. The family is running a soup-kitchen and delivers mail.

[Rhineland, autumn 1914] Jacob looked around in his “Stübchen”. It had ceased to be a colonial goods shop already weeks ago. The shelves were empty, and he had stored away his last cocoa stock for Christmas. The confident cheers “back home for Christmas” were still ringing in his ears, yet one was prepared for a long war. After Germany’s quick victories in the wars of 1866 and 1870/71, most people were convinced that this war would be a short one too. But since the battle of the Marne at the beginning of September 1914, one could no longer hope for a quick victory.

Aid program for the “home front”

At the “home front”, a comprehensive aid program had been set up. One took care of the families of the soldiers, collected money, clothes, and supplies for them, provided work and helped with all emergencies, 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, thus help quickly reached those who needed it.

Naval blockade

Soon after the outbreak of the war, Britain began a [naval blockade], cutting off Germany from imports of all kinds. The Allies wanted to make the Germans miserable through hunger up to starvation. A naval blockade violated international law, and it soon caused severe shortages of food. Germany, so far the world’s biggest importer of agricultural products, had not provided supplies for the war. Now domestic agriculture could not substitute the missing imports, soon the goods became low and prices rose drastically, especially for highly requested goods like bread and potatoes. The authorities had to intervene and eventually determine maximum prices. Some regulations, however, made it more attractive to farmers to sell their potatoes and cereals to distilleries than to sell them on the markets at fixed prices.

A makeshift nursery at the Bergmann vineyard

On the Bergmann vineyard, the family now cultivated potatoes on every free spot of soil. They had moved closer together and had set up a makeshift nursery, and a few mothers also lived with them. Susan and her aged parents Emil and Lena Bergmann were busy looking after the little guests all day long. Susan had just baked cookies. Now she took a simple plate from the cupboard. It was almost forty years old and had its special story. Back then, she had traveled with her parents to 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 we are so many in our family, we do not have enough plates and cups for all,” she had said then and proudly showed her plate. That was true today too. With a wistful smile, she put the cookies on the plate. That is to say what one called biscuits at this time when 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 several hot meals, soups, or stews. Soon the small room was overcrowded, so Jacob had set up a large table outside on which he put big cooking pots. Kathi and Walter ladled the soup or the stew and handed bread to their guests. 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, and it was made available 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 got warm meals, and in winter, the workroom was always heated.

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 foods into the surrounding villages. She also delivered letters from and to the front for people who could not come themselves to the post office. Fortunately, it was considered important to keep the spirits up at the “home front”, so their automobile had not been requisitioned. Before the war, it would have been outrageous for a girl like Kathi to drive an automobile. But now the women had to cover for the men. They operated machines, above all in the armaments industry, drove streetcars and busses. And Kathi was driving, often enough on roads that did not even deserve to be called roads.

Jacob heard a horn honking outside – there she was already, Lottie’s daughter Kathi, as pretty as a picture, who reminded him so much of her late grandmother, Countess Sophie Csabany. “Do you have news and letters to deliver, Jacob?” she asked. Now that the war was on, the “Stübchen” was an information center too. Telephone calls were made, letters for people in the villages around were brought and Kathi delivered them. “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 at the front. 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 also in East Africa

Jacob guessed that things were going to get worse. Next year, one would probably get a lot of food only on food stamps. From time to time, he looked up to the model of a dinosaur from Tendaguru, he could not do without it. Tendaguru was in German East Africa, and there, too, the war raged. All the time that he had run his colonial goods shop, he had made sure that his trading partners were honorable merchants who did not profit from other’s suffering. Now, too, countless people in the colonies were forced into the great war. “I pray for you, too” he said softly.

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