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A Noblewoman from Schleswig-Holstein Reflects on her Idyllic Childhood in the Late 18th Century (Retrospective Account)

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In Copenhagen, I had plenty of social contacts. In the family of my uncle, the Count Baudissin (his wife was my father’s sister), I felt at home; with her, I attended every Sunday a children’s circle that met alternately in the houses of the Brun, Kirstein, and Luetke families. At that time, Brun was still a small merchant; his good-naturedness and joviality had gained him the love of my mother’s childhood friend, the subsequent poetess Friederike Münter. In those days, he still lived together with her in happy, even tender marriage, and their house was the place of friends. Four lively children were my playmates; I already called the eldest daughter, Lotte, my friend, while the youngest, Ida, who would subsequently become famous, frequently amused us with her funny ideas.

I remember with particular delight one of these large children’s circles. It may have been on January 27, 1797. My governess, Miss Randahl, had prepared an excellent meal in my children’s kitchen, which I had received for Christmas and which was so big that I, a very big child, could stand in it upright. For two days, the fine and competent Miss Randahl had cooked, fried, and even assumed the role of confectioner, with Charlotte and I being allowed to assist her. Finally, when this marvelous formal dinner was served in the lower hall on what seemed to me an immensely long but lower set table, I felt overjoyed. On both ends of the table, Charlotte and I did the honors and served the dishes; the splendid grandfather Bernstorff poured us the thinned-down, sweetened wine. I still see the tall, noble, and handsome old man before me, as he circles around our table in friendly delight, inquiring about some of the dishes, tasting some things, and praising our domestic skillfulness; I hear his sonorous voice, with which he, picking up one of our small glasses, made a toast to good health: of the entire dinner party, of the birthday girl, of the paternal home. [ . . . ]

Source: Countess Elise von Bernstorff (née Countess von Dernath), Ein Bild aus der Zeit von 1789 bis 1835. Aus ihren Aufzeichnungen [A Portrait from the Era from 1789 to 1835. From her Notations]. Volume 1. Berlin, 1896, pp. 1-6.

Reprinted in Jürgen Schlumbohm, ed., Kinderstuben, Wie Kinder zu Bauern, Bürgern, Aristokraten wurden 1700-1850 [Upbringing, How Children Became Farmers, Middle-Class Citizens, and Aristocrats 1700-1850]. Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1983, pp. 208-12.

Translation: Erwin Fink

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