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Memories of Sedan Day Festivities in the 1870s (Retrospective Account, 1930)

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After the refreshments, choirmaster Scheibel gathered his female choir around him; the other singing teachers did the same, and a singing competition was then fought out with patriotic songs, followed by gymnastics exercises. Herr Räthel first led his boys' sections to the front to perform exercises, and then came the upper classes of the secondary school for girls, who even went as far as staging round dances. After this, the various schools, each in a separate spot, and the various classes – which were supervised by the teachers and joined by parents, relatives, friends, and siblings who were not yet of school age – played numerous games, insatiable and never tiring. Children back then were not as blasé as children of today, who, in my experience, tire very quickly when playing games in groups – unless they can somehow put their little personalities on display and secure some kind of honor for themselves. – “Prizes” were also awarded back then. We children had taken a collection beforehand; the class fund and (most probably) the class teacher's wallet had provided any money still lacking. Prizes were won through participation in races, ball and hoop games, or games like “Hit the Pot.” There was also bar climbing and sack races for the elementary school children. I owe it to the goodwill of my teacher, more than any skill of my own, that at the very end I would also get some type of “prize” – a folder with stationery or a colorful bookmark. For when it came to physical exercises, I was rather clumsy and much too shy to ever win a prize in fair competition. – When darkness descended, it meant that we all gathered together. The balloons, i.e., the Chinese lanterns, were lit; all of us assumed the formation again, and after a song we set out on the march home. The boys' school fell in along the way, and so we proceeded slowly back to town, with music and singing, hoarse and tired, but overjoyed by the day's pleasures. Festive candles burned in the windows of some houses, and paper lanterns shone solemnly from our procession – at least the ones that had not yet perished in flames. We made a stop at the market square; the mayor's speech echoed over the heads of those assembled; the upper class of the boys' school performed one last program with the Chinese lanterns; the music blared; the cheer for the Kaiser burst forth; and the parade finally dissolved. The students marched to the front of the school building, where they were dismissed and responded with jubilant cheers to news that school would not start until 9 a.m. the following day. The associations presumably continued to celebrate in some pub, and the festive day drew festively to an end.

Source: Florentine Gebhardt, Blätter aus dem Lebensbilderbuch [Pages from Life's Picture Book], Berlin, 1930, pp. 51-54.

Original German text reprinted in Jens Flemming, Klaus Saul, Peter-Christian Witt, eds., Quellen zur Alltagsgeschichte der Deutschen 1871-1914 [Source Materials on Everyday Life in Germany 1871-1914].Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellchaft, 1997, pp. 61-64.

Translation: Erwin Fink

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