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Commercial Marriage Brokerage and Bohemian Life in the Big City: Excerpts from Ernst Dronke, Berlin (1846)

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common weapon of modern-day, peaceful consciousness, the “demonstration.” It would never occur to them to fight against something that does not exist for them. They merely want to show off their inner, superior “accomplishment.” If an emancipated or liberated person is summoned to court as a witness, he will declare to the questioner with jejune calm that he would certainly swear to the matter and, in consideration of the legal penalties, keep in mind the legal concept of perjury; however, since he was beyond the notion of a “God,” the questioner should not hold it against him if the formula of the oath makes him laugh. Such scenes have occurred several times in Berlin, to the horror of innocent judicial trainees from the [provincial] Mark Brandenburg. The emancipated are also beyond marriage. Either they live in “free relationships,” or, if they observe the legitimate act of marriage out of consideration for questions of legitimacy, inheritance, or other circumstances that depend on the adherence to the laws of the state, “Madam” retains her family name in society. If the two spouses pay a visit, they are introduced as Mr. Schmidt and Madam Fischer. An acquaintance of mine told me some hilarious things about the wedding of such an emancipated couple he attended. The gentleman and Madam were already living together when they summoned the clergyman to perform the legitimate marriage. When the clergyman entered, the witnesses and the groom were present, only the bride, who was still busy getting ready, took her time appearing. When she finally came, one could see the clergyman’s surprise that the bride was wearing neither a myrtle wreath nor any other festive bridal ornament, but appeared merely in a simple housedress. Nevertheless, he began with the ceremony. In the meantime, the witnesses were behaving in a very conspicuous fashion. One, a well-known writer, was lying on the sofa, with his legs stretched out on a chair standing in front of him and stroking his moustache; another stood by the stove, hands in his pocket and a charred cigar in his mouth; the last two were busy at a window watching the people passing by on the street and had their backs turned to the assembly during the entire ceremony. Finally, when the exchange of rings was to take place, it turned out that none of the spouses had thought of procuring these necessary accoutrement. Each party had thought the other was taking care of it. Since none of the witnesses had a ring, and for lack of anything better, two rings were detached from the curtains and the act was performed with them. The young couple then invited the clergyman to stay with them for a “punch,” though the man of God turned down this invitation on the pretext that he had urgent duties. In all likelihood, what he had experienced there in a few short moments had awakened in him thoughts of his calling more so than all convictions of his studies; at any rate, after his departure, the assembled party laughed triumphantly about the narrow-mindedness of the philistine point of view. – Incidentally, the emancipated are among themselves very scattered and splintered into small circles. There was never a society of the “liberated”; that was only quite widely believed based on a misunderstood rumor.

Source: Ernst Dronke, Berlin (1846). East Berlin: Rütten & Loening, 1953, pp. 26-27, 97-100.

Translation: Thomas Dunlap

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