Thursday, April 11, 2024

gaudeamus igitur

In last week's Every picture story I mentioned the songbook that I inherited from my great aunt Esther. I am not sure whether the Hermann Bender who signed it was the confectioner or some eponymous stranger. The confectioner's wife, Henriette Düselmann was Esther's great aunt. (Is there a technical term for my great aunt's great aunt?)

I took photos years ago and must have shared them on my tumblr book blog (deleted by the Inquisition) but forgot to put them here. So here goes (with a fresh photo of the outside of the book):

Note the biernagels (beer nails) - the book is made to be used on drunken nights in unruly taverns, so these metal bumps are there to keep it safe from drink spills. The text on the cover is from a student song and translates as "Let's have fun while we are young." The song is called De brevitate vitae (on the shortness of life) and is entirely in Latin. (Video with text). I thought it was just a quaint old German thing, but Wikipedia tells me it is today widely used as an anthem of educational institutions of all sorts.

It is the 43rd edition of Schauenburgs allgemeines Deutsches Kommersbuch. The excellent Wikipedia entry seems to suggest that it must be from 1891-1893, as these years are documented for the 42nd and the 44th edition, respectively. Wikipedia also lists the multiple subtle changes made to the frontispiece over the years, so here's my version:

the inscription on the left says somebody used it as a guest of the Tueskonia on May 2nd 1896. The closest match I can find is the Tuiskonia in Munich. I'm not clear about the signature, will have another think on that. In any case it could be a nickname. Below it says "Pension Grenzland" - today there is a B&B of that name in Bad Brambach, on the Czech border, near Hof, Bavaria. Not very close to Munich though.

And here we have the beautiful signature of Hermann Bender, who may or may not be the confectioner. He also signed in pencil on the dark paper facing the inside of the cover, but that one is hard to see and not as beautiful.

From the Wikipedia entry I also learned just now that these two mostly illegible handwritten pages shown below are not specific to my copy. (It had always confused me that this seems to be dated 1858 while the book was printed much later, it contains references to events in the 1880s.) Turns out the original authors dedicated the first edition to the poet Ernst Moritz Arndt (see the printed text above right and below left), and it's his reply that was included in later editions as a facsimile. So, phew, I don't have to decipher that.

Monday, April 08, 2024

menopausal mammals

I knew about orca females enjoying a post-reproductive lifespan (ie going through menopause), but in recent years the number of non-human mammalian species doing this has grown to five, and all of them are toothed whales, which is intriguing. So I took a new paper on the evolution of this trait in whales as an occasion to write about the menopause of whales an women. (I recently had Of elephants and men, so I'd better give poor old John Steinbeck a rest now.)

The feature is out now:

Of whales and women

Current Biology Volume 34, Issue 7, 8 April 2024, Pages R261-R263

Restricted access to full text and PDF download
(will become open access one year after publication)

Magic link for free access
(first seven weeks only)

See also my new Mastodon thread where I will highlight all this year's CB features.

Last year's thread is here .

Killer whales (Orcinus orca) typically spend their lifetime in family groups led by a matriarch. (Photo: Courtesy of Dr Brandon Southall, NMFS/OPR (CC BY 2.0 Deed).)

Thursday, April 04, 2024

a confectioner's business

Every picture tells a story, season 3, picture 17

last update: 11.4.2024

Let's go back to the Krefeld Clan - the 13 children of silk weaver Wilhelm Düselmann and Elisabetha de la Strada who married in 1826 and agreed to bring up the boys protestants (like their father) and the girls catholics (like their mother).

Of the 13 children, we have seen child number 7 Karl the foreman (and father of enterprising Julius) and child number 10 August the fireman (and father of adventurous Walter).

I don't think I have any photos of any of the other 11, so if any of the hundreds of descendants out there would like to share some I'd be very grateful.

What I do have though is the husband and three children of child number 9, Henriette Düselmann, who was born in 1843.

In 1863 she married confectioner (Conditor und Zuckerbäcker) Joseph Hermann Bender (born 1840). He has a database entry here, where funnily enough only the sons are listed, whereas all the info on descendants I have concerns two of the three daughters of the couple. Anyhow, here's the confectioner in around 1895 with his son Nicolas, left, both daughters, and an employee called Nik (or possibly Josef Hermann's brother Nicolaus - I have contradictory infos on this?!):

Firstborn child Gertrud married Wilhelm Heinrich Habrich; Josefine married Wilhelm Max Holler (brother of the painter Alfred Holler), shown here:

Each had four children, so the complete set of eight born between 1902 and 1912 is here (maybe around 1915 judging by the size of the youngest standing on the bench?):

And this is a wider family gathering for Pentecost (Whitsun) 1926

Here we have the confectioner's daughters Gertrud (2nd from left) and Josefine (3rd). Far left is Gertrud's husband, Wilhelm Heinrich Habrich. Josefine's husband, Wilhelm Max Holler, is the 6th from left. On either side of him two Holler children, and on the right of the picture four Habrich children lined up.

Open questions: The woman fourth from left is unidentified according to my source, but given the symmetry of the picture with three sisters ligned up on the right, I am tempted to speculate it could be the third daughter of the confectioner, Klara Bender, see below? Trouble is we don't know much about Klara. The 8th person is named as Adolf Peters. We don't know anything about him but note that the grandmother of Gertrud and Josefine, Elisabetha de la Strada, had a brother who married a Gertraud Peters, so there could be a remote family link.

In the ancient Krefeld Clan blog entry I had two other children of Henriette and the confectioner (in addition to Gertrud and Josephine):

9.3. Nicolas Joseph Bender * 22.4.1864 Krefeld

9.4. Klara Bender * Krefeld

Digging up some old correspondence I find that Nicolas moved to Berlin and Klara was severely injured in an accident with a horse carriage.

The database entry reveals a second son I didn't know of:

Heinrich Bender * 30.10.1871

But it shows no marriage or offspring for either of the sons.

So I had the sibling order all wrong,it should be:

  1. Nicolas Joseph Bender * 1864
  2. Gertrud * 1870
  3. Heinrich Bender * 1871
  4. Josefine * 1881

And we still don't know where Klara fits in - the biggest gap to accommodate her would be before Josefine.

Another mystery that's possibly related: I have a 19th century student song book signed Hermann Bender, inherited from Esther the travelling saleswoman who came from the Krefeld clan, so it could be an heirloom linked to the old confectioner, but then again she also bought antiquarian books, so it could be a coincidence. Will have to do a separate entry on that at some point (UPDATE: done now).

Should anybody have any answers to some of the many questions I am raising in this series, please leave a comment here (I'll need to vet it, so it may take a few days before it goes public) or contact me at michaelgrr [at] yahoo [dot] co [dot] uk

Navigation tools:

Season 3 so far:

  1. family holiday
  2. play time
  3. fashion show
  4. bakery to butcher's shop
  5. the Hamborn brotherhood
  6. all grown up
  7. sisters in the snow
  8. the last holiday
  9. village life
  10. family reshuffle
  11. push bike
  12. mystery trio
  13. confirmands at Hamborn
  14. streets of Hamborn
  15. more grandchildren
  16. a Russian winter
  17. a confectioner's business

The Mastodon thread for season 3 is here.

You can find Season 2 entries in this thread on Mastodon (complete now!) or via the list at the bottom of the last entry of the season (and also at the bottom of the first entry of this season).

The twitter thread for season 1 is still here. Alternatively, visit the last instalment and find the numbered list of entries at the bottom.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

a Russian winter

Every picture tells a story, season 3, picture 16

During the first half of World War II, Peter the customs officer was lucky in that his work was deemed essential and he wasn't called up. Also, he was 39 years old at the start of the war, so not among the first to be considered. In 1939, he had been promoted and moved to Idar-Oberstein, just after the birth of his third (and last) daughter. We saw him with all three here.

In mid-1942, however, his luck ran out and he was called up as a Feldwebel (sergeant). At the beginning of October he was sent to the northern part of the Russian front, so I assume that's where these wintry photos were taken:

In his letters he mentions that he served as an adjutant (ie doing clerical work for the commander) which seems to fit with the letters "adj" above his head in the picture above. He also mentions they built a "villa" which could be the building shown.

During that winter, the battle of Stalingrad happened further south, so I guess it was relatively lucky still to be sent to the northern part of the front where events were less dramatic and large swamps limited the mobility of the opposing armies during the warmer seasons.

I only have like half a dozen photos of him in active service - thankfully none of them feature any weapons or military activity, so might share the other three (similar but no snow!) at some point too. Which will probably be the last we see of him.

Should anybody have any answers to some of the many questions I am raising in this series, please leave a comment here (I'll need to vet it, so it may take a few days before it goes public) or contact me at michaelgrr [at] yahoo [dot] co [dot] uk

Navigation tools:

Season 3 so far:

  1. family holiday
  2. play time
  3. fashion show
  4. bakery to butcher's shop
  5. the Hamborn brotherhood
  6. all grown up
  7. sisters in the snow
  8. the last holiday
  9. village life
  10. family reshuffle
  11. push bike
  12. mystery trio
  13. confirmands at Hamborn
  14. streets of Hamborn
  15. more grandchildren
  16. a Russian winter

The Mastodon thread for season 3 is here.

You can find Season 2 entries in this thread on Mastodon (complete now!) or via the list at the bottom of the last entry of the season (and also at the bottom of the first entry of this season).

The twitter thread for season 1 is still here. Alternatively, visit the last instalment and find the numbered list of entries at the bottom.

Monday, March 25, 2024

the dangers of migrating

Many of us may envy the birds that migrate to warmer climate zones in winter. We may even naively assume that their expertise in long-haul travel may enable them to get out of harm's way when they face difficulties such as habitat loss and climate change. In reality, though, they are often more vulnerable than other comparable species, as they depend not on one habitat but on two, and on a safe passage between the two. Recognising these dangers, the UN set up the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), a global treaty that came into force in 1979 and holds regular COP meetings to check up on them. At the most recent meeting a global report was released that shows how the situation has become more difficult for many of the migrating species.

Starting from this report, I have prepared a feature on the conservation of migratory species which is out now:

Migratory species in danger

Current Biology Volume 34, Issue 6, 25 March 2024, Pages R217-R219

Restricted access to full text and PDF download
(will become open access one year after publication) (ScienceDirect link as the CB website isn't working at the moment. May even be open on that site, not sure if that's the magic link speaking which also goes via science direct.)

Magic link for free access
(first seven weeks only)

See also my new Mastodon thread where I will highlight all this year's CB features.

Last year's thread is here .

The Indian skimmer (Rynchops albicollis, Endangered) is among the globally threatened or near threatened migratory species not yet listed in the CMS Appendices. (Photo: Mike Prince/Flickr (CC BY 2.0 Deed).)

Saturday, March 23, 2024

two bass recorders

Just two days after I posted about the recorder family, a long-awaited email came in telling me that the two recorders I had ordered back in September were now ready for delivery. As I love my Triebert alto, I had ordered the Triebert bass as a birthday treat and the garklein to complete the size range at the smaller end. And in February, as I was losing faith in that delivery ever arriving, I found the Thomann bass for € 70 at a fleamarket in Germany.

So now I have two bass recorders to compare, and the funny thing is they are externally identical (apart from the two-colour scheme in the Thomann while the Triebert is all matt black), clearly molded from the same cast (or whatever the process is to make plastic recorders) but a few details reveal that the Triebert may be getting a better quality control treatment.

  • The keys are very flimsy and noisy on the Thomann, which Sarah Jeffery also criticised in her review, and blamed on the plastic material. Funny thing is, the keys on the Triebert are the same plastic in the same shape, and they are much firmer to the touch and consequently don't make that horrid noise when they're released. Peering underneath I notice a subtle difference in the metal spring: straight for the Thomann, kinked in the Triebert. So at some point I will take the Thomann keys apart and see if it helps if I make the springs more kinky.
  • The joints are fitting perfectly in the Triebert. In the Thomann, the first joint from bottom is a bit tight, the second a bit loose, an the one near the kink (which can stay connected for packing up but is needed to access all places for cleaning) was so tight that I first believed it was glued together and didn't dare to force it open. Only after I saw that the Triebert came apart effortlessly at this joint did I manage to do the same with the Thomann.

Both are really easy to play and sound nice and breezy. You could use them for meditation like a didgeridoo just blowing the bottom F.

As Sarah has explained in her video, the tuning around B and Bb doesn't work with the standard fingering printed on the sheet that comes with the instrument (but funnily enough doesn't even mention the existence of bass recorders, it is marked for sopranino through to tenor!), but this can be compensated with clever fingering (eg no little finger for the Bb). Both come with identical accessories, only that each company had its brand name printed on the bag. Which I find hilarious as it shows each screaming "we made this" when clearly they didn't. I also note that both instruments came with a cleaning rod that is the size used for tenor recorders and concert flutes (it has the mark that you need for adjusting the cork on the flute). A slightly longer stick would be handy for the bass. Another DIY project I guess.

Oh and I could in principle assemble a vast number of hybrid instruments from the different parts, although for the aesthetic I do prefer the all black style of the Triebert.

So in summary, online shop prices are a factor 2.6 apart (£ 105 vs £ 275) and what you get for the higher price is a slightly better quality, but maybe not 2.6 times better? Note that the Yamaha YRB302II Bass Recorder is available at an intermediate price between these two, but by the looks of the photos online I guess it may also come from the same factory as these two?

And here's the updated family portrait, now including all recorders (except one ancient school soprano that has gone missing years ago but must be in the house somewhere):

Basses: Thomann, Triebert; tenor: Yamaha; altos: Triebert, Moeck; sopranos: Moeck, Schneider; sopranino: Yamaha; garklein: Triebert - the tenor came from the Allegro shop many years ago, Triebert bass and garklein from the Early Music Shop, all others from flea markets. All have baroque fingering, except my old school recorder and the Moeck alto in German fingering.

PS When I took the Thomann bass to a session earlier this month, a folkie friend told me she currently has three bass recorders to sell - these things are like London buses ...

PPS I've now added the all instruments tags to this entry - think I'm giving up on the formal structure of that series (which portrayed the oldest 21 instruments of our household in chronological order until Covid came along) and will now add instruments if and when I feel inspired to write about them. More exciting to write about the new arrivals than about the yamaha keyboard I bought twenty years ago. I've now also added the tag to the entries about Jenny the cello and two of the rescue fiddles I adopted.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

more grandchildren

Every picture tells a story, season 3, picture 15
(season 3 now carrying on after a break due to the 100 years of cellotude series):

We have seen Frieda the pianist as a grandmother with the first three children of her oldest daughter here, but there were more grandchildren to come. A total of six were born in her lifetime, and another three (including me) postumously. Among the six she knew I am struggling to tell the four boys apart (their fathers were also brothers, and they were very close in age), so I'm hoping that I've captured everybody with the pictures below. First a series of three with Frieda stuck on the same chair while various children crawl on and off her:

By the way I haven't figured out where this is - will report back on that.

And here's some outdoor fun by the fire, although I'm not sure Frieda is enjoying it as much as everybody else.

Should anybody have any answers to some of the many questions I am raising in this series, please leave a comment here (I'll need to vet it, so it may take a few days before it goes public) or contact me at michaelgrr [at] yahoo [dot] co [dot] uk

Navigation tools:

Season 3 so far:

  1. family holiday
  2. play time
  3. fashion show
  4. bakery to butcher's shop
  5. the Hamborn brotherhood
  6. all grown up
  7. sisters in the snow
  8. the last holiday
  9. village life
  10. family reshuffle
  11. push bike
  12. mystery trio
  13. confirmands at Hamborn
  14. streets of Hamborn
  15. more grandchildren

The Mastodon thread for season 3 is here.

You can find Season 2 entries in this thread on Mastodon (complete now!) or via the list at the bottom of the last entry of the season (and also at the bottom of the first entry of this season).

The twitter thread for season 1 is still here. Alternatively, visit the last instalment and find the numbered list of entries at the bottom.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

vintage postcards

I got a bit obsessed with vintage postcards when I researched my lost cities series, and word got out, so a generous Santa helped me build a collection of beautiful books with such postcards, covering some of the lost cities and some others too:

The books typically date from the late 1970s, but those of the two cities that are no longer part of Germany (Breslau and Königsberg) date from the 1990s. Hence they all qualify for my much-neglected antiquarian tag. I still haven't quite figured out the rules predicting which places got into the series and which didn't. Regensburg, for instance, didn't make it. There may be an element of luck in that too.

Saturday, March 16, 2024

instrument families revisited

When I discussed instrument families in August 2021, I used a wikipedia pic of recorders from sopranino to bass. As it happens, I now have all five sizes myself, so I guess it's time to revisit the issue with a new photo:

Bass: Thomann; tenor: Yamaha; alto: Triebert; soprano: Moeck; sopranino: Yamaha - the tenor came from the Allegro shop many years ago, all others from flea markets. All have baroque fingering, in addition I also have my old school recorder and a Moeck alto in German fingering.

I also may need to revise my preferences. I have warmed to the tenor recorder since the last blog entry and now use it for certain tunes at sessions, and I love my new bass recorder, so the trend is towards bigger instruments in that family (does anybody have a sub-bass to sell?). In the strings department by contrast, I have taken to to the violin and now also have a viola and a double bass in the room, so I'm spoilt for choice. Oh, and I've also found a low whistle, so families are growing all around thanks to fleamarkets, charity shops and gumtree.

Monday, March 11, 2024

tipping over

Climate tipping points were once a hypothetical risk in a distant future. After humanity spent the first quarter of the new century not sorting out climate change, we're now at the point where shit gets real. Tipping points will tip, and it's only a question of when, and how they will interact with each other. For instance, the Greenland ice sheet may topple the North Atlantic's AMOC (and thus the Gulf Stream), which in turn may kill the Amazon rain forest. Interesting times.

I remember very vividly a climate workshop back in 2012 where we were told that AMOC was safe. I wrote a feature about it then. Now there is mounting evidence that AMOC is no longer stable and could pass its tipping point at any time. So I had to write another feature to correct my record on that.

This feature is out now:

North Atlantic tipping point ahead

Current Biology Volume 34, Issue 5, 11 March 2024, Pages R175-R177

Restricted access to full text and PDF download
(will become open access one year after publication)

Magic link for free access
(first seven weeks only)

See also my new Mastodon thread where I will highlight all this year's CB features.

Last year's thread is here .

After recent rapid heating in the Arctic and accelerated melting of Greenland ice, the collapse of the Gulf Stream has become a real possibility. (Photo: Jennifer Latuperisa-Andresen/Unsplash.)

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

urbanism now and then

I love writing about cities as a biological phenomenon, so I have already covered the evolution of cities, urban ecology, and urban evolution in dedicated features, as well as going on about continuing urbanisation of our species eg in the context of the 8 billion threshold in global population.

The recent report of vast, previously unsuspected "garden cities" in the Amazon provided a good excuse and a new angle to revisit cities again. Ancient Amazonians managed to establish a civilisation and well-structured urban space in the face of extreme environmental conditions, so maybe we should study their example when we aim to make our cities more sustainable on the verge of the global climate catastrophe?

The resulting feature is out now:

Green cities past, present and future

Current Biology Volume 34, Issue 4, 26 February 2024, Pages R117-R119

Restricted access to full text and PDF download
(will become open access one year after publication)

Magic link for free access
(first seven weeks only)

See also my new Mastodon thread where I will highlight all this year's CB features.

Last year's thread is here .

A LiDAR image from the study by Rostain and colleagues, who describe the largest settled area in Amazonia known so far. (Image: © LiDAR, A. Dorison and S. Rostain.)

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

silence after the war

One hundred years of cellotude continued:

Tenth and final part of

Chapter 1

A cello called Heinrich

Previous section: When the music stops

Herrenchiemsee, near Munich, 1950s. Heinrich Tiefenbach on the right, his wife must have taken the photo.

Silence after the war

On April 16, 1945, advancing US troops took over Wuppertal without a fight. Mayor Heinz Gebauer formally handed over the city in the town hall. On April 21, the Ruhr pocket capitulated and Wuppertal became part of the British occupied zone. The city had suffered widespread destruction. Of 140,000 homes, 55,000 were completely destroyed, only 50,000 remained unharmed. Max Heinrich and Maria were lucky in that their flat in the Gronaustraße remained intact.

On May 4, Max Heinrich filled in a questionnaire from the military administration about his activities during the Nazi era. On May 23 he was suspended from service in the city administration, effective at the end of the month. On the 26th, he was arrested by military police and interned at Camp Roosevelt at Hemer, in the Sauerland mountain region. Later he was moved back to be detained in the city’s own premises. Due to being classified initially as an “offender” he would not be able to return to work as a civil servant. Then again he was approaching pension age anyway. 

In the meantime Maria got involved in black market as a travelling grandmother.  As I understand it, this involved carrying goods on the pretence of taking them for your grandchildren. Which wasn’t too far from the truth as she actually had two grandchildren who were aged six and almost four when the war ended. 

From 1946 to 1955 Max Heinrich worked as an accountant at the lawnmower manufacturer Brill in Wuppertal.  I think that Robert Brill, born in 1893, whose birthday and address was noted in the pocket diaries, must have been the owner/boss of that company. Granddaughter Margarete recalled that the offices were provisionally housed on the corner Friedrich Engels Allee / Lohstraße and that Max Heinrich used to emphasize that after passing pension age he only worked there because Herr Brill was a close friend and he wanted to help him.   

The company had a good run but was sadly swallowed by a competitor called AL-KO in 2009, which explains why I can’t find a company history online. Since its foundation in 1873, it had been independent for more than a century and the name still survives as a heritage brand. At the beginning of the 20th century the brothers Brill introduced the newfangled idea of mechanical lawnmowers to Germany – although they had been patented n Britain since 1830. A quote widely cited in German histories of lawnmowers reveals how the Brills presented the innovation to the general public at a trade far in 1904 claiming that they were already widely used in aristocratic and communal parks alike. 

Meanwhile the reckoning with his tainted past continued. in October 1947 an initial examination based on the first questionnaire gave the result: „nicht tragbar“ which literally means not to be supported / carried which probably meant not allowed to stay in the civil service. In July 1948 his lawyer Dr Fechner filed an application for denazification submitting additional documents in December 1948. 

Fechner pointed out that Max Heinrich had joined all those Nazi organisations only because of social pressure to do so and that his activities were restricted to the area of welfare. The lawyer claims that Max Heinrich had not realised the extent of the persecution of Jews and the establishment of concentration camps and vehemently objected to these crimes as and when he became aware of them. However, as the lawyer notes bluntly, with his family in mind he was lacking the courage to resign from the party and his functions. 

In May 1946 a Jewish woman gave a witness statement in his favour saying that in the years 1940-1942 he had graciously and generously helped her with tax and private matters. “Mr Gross helped me even though he knew that I was Jewish” the witness confirmed. 

Sadly the Jewish quartet player does not get mentioned in this document. We don’t know if he survived the Holocaust. 

In January 1949 the verdict came in: Category IV, followers. This came with political sanctions and restrictions of movement, with the requirement to regularly report to the local police station,, but no restrictions on work, and no further detention. Denazification may have also been required for his pension to be paid out. Delays with that may have been behind his starting to work for Brill, although he certainly stayed there longer than would have been necessary. 

The local denazification committee checked a total of 35,000 citizens of Wuppertal, with 95% being categorised as either followers or exonerated. 

In the 1950s, life gradually normalised. Max Heinrich’s son Richard, thanks to his uncanny success in keeping a low profile throughout the Nazi times rapidly rose in the teaching hierarchy and became headteacher of a high school at Idar-Oberstein from 1950. 

In the summer holidays of 1951 and 1954, Max Heinrich and Maria hosted Richard’s son Jörg. In 1953 and 1955 they travelled to Idar-Oberstein to attend the Confirmation ceremonies of their grandchildren. 

They also went on holiday with the Tiefenbachs, a married couple who were close friends and had a VW Beetle. In July 1954, Max Heinrich and Maria had passports issued, which reveal that they travelled to Austria three times, in September 1954, 55 and 56. On the first trip, even the travel currency exchange had to be documented in the passport. In their photo album we find pictures of Kriml and Niederalpel (Steiermark) and Klein-Walsertal. 

At other times they also enjoyed trips to mountainous regions in Germany. Holiday snaps taken by one of the quartet tend to show the other three in places like Hinterzarten, Tiefenbach (Allgäu), Königssee, Berchtesgaden, and Herrenchiemsee. There is a photo from Titisee in the Black Forest which exceptionally shows all four of them, posing with somebody dressed up as a polar bear. There was a traditional inn named “The Bear” at Titisee at the time, which apparently took pride in the animal connection and boasted bears in decorations and furniture. My best guess is that the travellers stayed there and that the group photo with bear was part of the service,  

Heinrich Tiefenbach, born 1899, was among the 53 friends and acquaintances whose birthdays Max Heinrich had meticulously written down in the 1943 pocket diary. According to this source, Tiefenbach’s address was in the Gewerbeschulstr., which today boasts 25 companies, but there is none named Tiefenbach. 

In the 1950s, the Tiefenbachs were neighbours, living diagonally opposite in the Gronaustr. Both couples met on Saturday nights to play cards and/or watch television at the Tiefenbachs’ flat. Looks like Max Heinrich found another quartet. The Tiefenbachs even joined them and provided Beetle transport for the family visits to Idar-Oberstein. 

En route from Wuppertal to Idar Oberstein, Easter 1952.I'm assuming this was the car the friends had before the famous 1950s beetle, looks more like a pre-war model.

When the grandchildren came to visit them at Wuppertal, Maria was in charge of entertaining them. Both recalled cinema visits, which weren’t on offer back home. At the gigantic Thalia theatre in Elberfeld. In his brief memoir, Jörg specifically highlights the summer holidays of 1951, just before he moved to high school, and 1955, when the world championships of motor-paced bicycle racing (Steher-Rennen) took place in Wuppertal.   

Max Heinrich, on the other hand, stayed home, the grandchildren reported. I wonder if he didn’t take part in the impressive cultural life of the aspiring metropolis at all. In February 1958, for instance, Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonics played in the Stadthalle, a venue which is often praised for its excellent acoustics.  

And in June 1955, the local Instrumental-Verein played Dvorak’s famous cello concerto with Paul Tortelier as the soloist. Which is significant because among the several LPs with this concerto I inherited from Richard there is one also starring Tortelier, first released 1950, so this could have been a purchase inspired by that concert. Even though he didn’t own a turntable, Max Heinrich could conceivably bought it for his son. We will never know. 

While Maria entertained the grandchildren, Max Heinrich played patience (card solitaire) and smoked numerous cigars. The children counted up to 30 a day. He may have started smoking in the army during the first war, not sure. We do know from the second world war that Richard, who never smoked, transferred the tobacco rations he received as a soldier. After the war, relatives used to give him a special 5-mark cigar as a present on special occasions if they couldn’t think of anything else. As his health began to show the strain, his doctor tried to persuade him to give up. He declared, however: “If he insists, I’ll find a doctor who also smokes.” He only stopped smoking three days before he died. 

In February 1958, his sister Gertrud died at the age of 77 years.  On July 22 of the same year, Max Heinrich died aged 75. His golden wedding anniversary would have been on October 8 the same year. As mentioned above, the funeral featured a cellist playing Ave Maria (Schubert’s version I assume).  

In August, Jörg came to visit Maria, created the photo album from the photos kept in two shoe boxes, and undertook a day trip to the World Exposition at Brussels with Maria.  

In October 1960, after both children had started at university, Richard and Ruth moved to the house that they had inherited from Ruth’s aunt Johanna a few years earlier, which is in Hahnenbach, some 30 km from Idar-Oberstein. Richard now had to buy a car for the daily commute to his school. 

In April 1961, Maria celebrated her 80th birthday at Hahnenbach and expressed the wish to stay there, but kept the flat in Wuppertal for the time being. In the summer, she had surgery for a hernia at the local hospital of Kirn. In October, during a visit to her old flat in Wuppertal with her sister Anna, she died suddenly, presumably of a heart attack. 

Furniture and many personal items and documents from the flat were moved to Hahnenbach without much thought, which is why some rather unexpected things have survived to this day. Max Heinrich’s cello ended up in the attic of the Hahnenbach house for the next 20 years, again being stored under conditions that weren’t exactly optimal for a venerable old cello. 

As far as I know, music didn’t happen in either household after the string quartet stopped playing. My aunt on the maternal side recalled she was shocked to find out that her brother-in-law's family didn’t even sing Christmas carols.  

At least one attempt was made, however. As I only found out in the course of this project, Richard organised private recorder lessons for his daughter. Her teacher was the husband of one of the teachers at his school. Margarete recalled that Richard also taught her some of the fundamentals and played a few notes himself to demonstrate things. 

This father-daughter activity appears to have been immensely unpopular with the other half of the family, however. Margarete had to practice in the basement, and Jörg retained a life-long aversion to recorder sounds. On the occasion of his 80th birthday, also celebrated at Hahnenbach, he very nearly suffered an allergic shock when I unpacked a new alto recorder and gave it to my daughter to try. 

With the dramatic spread of radio and record players in the mid 20th century, much of the motivation for amateur music making had of course disappeared. As mentioned, Richard had LPs with classical music and also recorded some on cassette tapes from radio programmes. 

Note, however, that Maria’s nieces in Bruchsal  raised a whole generation of professional musicians. Among the four grandchildren of Maria’s half-sister Anna we find a cellist, a gambist and a bass trombonist. Only one went against the grain and became a chef. Just how this clustering of musicians arose remains to be explained by science. 

The silence in the household of my grandparents may have to do with the genes of my grandmother Ruth, who used to speak of her musical in-laws as a curiosity, to swiftly add that one of her relatives was so amusical that he was barred from becoming a teacher. 

Specifically, the person in question was her great uncle Friedrich Kauer, born 1849 in Simmern, a younger brother of our Alsatian station master Christoph Gottlieb Kauer. He was really keen to become a teacher, but that would have required the ability to sing with the schoolchildren, which he couldn’t do. Therefore, he specialised in the newly emerging field of educating deaf children. He ended up being the head teacher of the Wilhelm-Augusta-Stift at Wriezen on the river Oder, one of the first special schools for the deaf. Although the building survives and today serves as the town hall of Wriezen, I have been unable to find any records of his activity there. This may be to do with the fact that the Nazis very swiftly disbanded this institution in 1934 and probably didn’t bother with archiving its records. 

However, Ruth’s Kauer ancestry also includes quite a few other teachers and vicars, all of whom must have been able to sing, Precisely who did and who didn’t sing carols for Christmas remains to be explored.