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Veterans’ Evening Discussions in a Small Pomeranian Town (1870s)

The following text is an excerpt from the autobiography of the rural laborer Franz Rehbein (1867-1909). Shortly after his death, Rehbein’s autobiography was edited and published by Paul Göhre. We see here that even in a remote village in the rural Prussian province of Pomerania, enthusiasm for the Wars of Unification (1864-1870/71) conjured up “memories” of heroism from the Wars of Liberation against Napoleon at the beginning of the century. The veterans described by Rehbein gathered at the “regulars’ table” [Stammtische] in countless local pubs throughout Germany. They also found their way into organizations such as the League of German Soldiers [Deutscher Kriegerbund], which already boasted 27,500 members the year it was founded (1873) and grew to more than a million members in 1898, or the Kyffhäuser League [Kyffhäuser Bund] – a nationwide umbrella organization with 2.9 million members in 1910.

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Eastern Pomerania! Puttkameroon!! – – Just thinking about this rather infamous corner of our beloved German fatherland makes one feel so curiously “eastern.” It is as though a whiff of the Middle Ages were blowing across the flat Pomeranian fields.

One aristocratic residence after another, one manor after another; ancestral castles and day laborers’ shacks, masters and helots. From time to time, there is a small farming village whose culture has fallen behind the times, and small rural towns without much industry are situated at a respectful distance from one another, each with its own bourgeois farmers, artisans, and – local dignitaries.

This is how we see the land of Messrs von Puttkamer, v. Köller, v. Zitzewitz, v. Bonin, v. Waldow, v. Kamecke, v. Glasenapp and however else these established, blue-blooded lordships may call themselves. And this region is my home. In one of the remotest corners of Eastern Pomerania, in the small rural town of Nn., I drew my first breath, the son of an artisan.

Childhood! A delightful word for many!

Home! Fortunate is he who can sing its praises!

[ . . . ]

Even in those days, I was already listening with great interest to the “political” discussions that my father engaged in with a number of his neighbors and acquaintances, particularly during the long winter evenings. Usually, our “warm tailor’s shop” was the meeting place for this “closing-time guild,” as its members called it. When the wind howled outside and the snowflakes were floating, the warm stove offered a comfortable place indeed for telling a tale. Now and then, a huge snuffbox made of birch rind was passed around, and everyone took a hefty quantity of brown stuff from this so-called garbage box, thus revitalizing, as it were, the conversation.

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