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, Tierfenbach’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. 

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. Just 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. 

Sunday, February 18, 2024

when the music stops

One hundred years of cellotude continued:

Ninth part of

Chapter 1

A cello called Heinrich

Previous section: An amateur string quartet

A rare solo portrait of Max Heinrich possibly from Nazi times but I don't have a date for this one. The background looks vaguely urban so probably Wuppertal, and probably taken by Richard.

A cello is silenced While we were distracted by the shenanigans at the pawnshop, the Nazis had taken power on January 30, 1933, starting a new era which they claimed would last a thousand years. There were some protests in Wuppertal, but then the events unfolded very much the same way as elsewhere. In local elections on March 12, the NSDAP obtained 37 seats on the city council, only narrowly missing absolute control. On March 28, some 24 civil servants of the city administration were suspended on political grounds, to be fired later. After the law to “restore the German civil service” of April 7, 1933, there was another wave of dismissals. On April 1, books were burned outside Barmen town hall as elsewhere. SA men enforced a boycott of Jewish shops. In the first meeting of the newly elected city council, the delegates of the communist party were excluded, giving the NSDAP absolute control of the council. It promptly delegated decision making to a smaller committee. Just two months after seizure of power in Berlin, Wuppertal was also under Nazi control.

Cultural life was also aligned with Nazi ideology. From 1935, Wilhelm Mühlhausen led the city’s office of cultural affairs. He made sure that composers with Jewish ancestry, such as Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Jacques Offenbach, and Giacomo Meierbeer disappeared both from concert programmes and from the decorations of Elberfeld Stadthalle, its major music venue.

As mentioned, Max Heinrich and Maria now lived in their new flat in Gronaustraße 35 – technically in Barmen, but in fact only about a kilometre away from their former home in Schleswiger Straße and the centre of Elberfeld. The house is on the southern slope of the Hardtberg, with the city’s botanical garden behind its back and the front looking out across the river Wupper and towards the green hills beyond the valley. It still looks very presentable and desirable today.

Walking downhill one gets to the main road linking Barmen and Elberfeld, now named after Barmen’s most famous son, Friedrich-Engels-Allee. If Max Heinrich’s new position required him to work in Barmen town hall, which after 1929 became the main site of the united city administration, he will have taken the suspension railway to get there.

According to a rental contract from 1960, the flat consisted of three rooms plus the kitchen and was located on the first floor. Granddaughter Margarete only recalls two rooms. Initially the family also had an attic room, where Richard could stay when coming home from university. The toilet was halfway up the stairs and shared between four flats. There was no bathroom, only the communal bath house. I assume that the property has been updated since, but haven’t checked inside.

Max Heinrich and Maria stayed in the flat for the rest of their lives. A rental contract dated 1954 comes with an entire brochure detailing the terms and conditions. Making music and singing was forbidden from 22h to 8h, and also from 13h to 15h. The landlord was a Mr. Goebel living in Eisenärzt, Upper Bavaria. At least he couldn’t hear from there if Max Heinrich ever broke the rules by playing his cello after 8 pm or at lunch time.

Not that Max Heinrich was inclined to break any rules. In the new social order aligned with the Nazi ideology, Max Heinrich apparently thought he had to go with the flow in order to avoid suffering the consequences, especially because of his vulnerability after the recent criminal affair at the pawnshop. The following events are drawn from his denazification files at the state archive of Northrhine Westphalia at Düsseldorf. In the process, he was classified as category IV. Followers (Mitläufer).

In November 1933, Max Heinrich joined the Stahlhelm, an association of former soldiers. Whereas this organisation had been regarded as the armed branch of the DNVP and hostile to the Weimar Republic, under Nazi rule it soon became the only organisation that wasn’t directly affiliated with the Nazi networks. Its independence of the new regime wasn’t going to last, however.

On April 1, 1934, the Stahlhelm was merged into the SA, making Max Heinrich a reserve officer in the SA (until the end of 1937). According to his lawyer in the denazification process, he got involved as a cellist, in order not to get assigned more unpleasant tasks.

He also joined various Nazi organisations including NS-Volksfürsorge and Reichsbund Deutscher Beamter from May 1933, and then NS-Reichskriegerbund, Reichskolonialbund, and Reichsluftschutzbund in 1935. After the war he said that the leader of the local NSDAP Ortsgruppe (local group), a certain Mr Voss, lived in the same house and pressured him to join such organisations. He believed he had to give in to this pressure but always chose activities related to general welfare and not obviously linked to the Nazi ideology. He hoped that this way he would be able to avoid having to enter the party itself.

At the beginning of 1937 both Max Heinrich and Maria resigned from the protestant church. Henceforth, eg in the census of 1939, they gave “gottgläubig” as their religion, meaning, believing in God. In the denazification process he stated the reason for leaving the church was that he had no interest in belonging to a religious community. However, he still attended the baptisms and confirmation ceremonies of his grandchildren.

The time and place of this resignation from church membership are problematic, although the denazification process didn’t pick up on that. In May 1934, the Synode of Barmen (where Max Heinrich happened to live) had clarified in the “Barmen Declaration” that Christians were to trust and obey the word of God as personified in Jesus Christ rather than secular powers. This declaration was interpreted as the foundation of the Bekennende Kirche and the protestant resistance against the Nazi system. Perhaps in Wuppertal, specifically, as it was the birthplace of the Barmen Declaration, there was pressure on civil servants to turn their back on the church?

In May 1938, Max Heinrich gave in to pressure from his superiors in the city administration and applied for membership in the Nazi party. His membership was backdated to May 1937. Both of these events were considered normal procedure at the time.

Increasing pressure from the Nazi-aligned hierarchy also silenced the string quartet. One of the members was Jewish, and maybe that diligent neighbour, Mr Voss, had figured that out. Max Heinrich’s superiors in the administration told him not to spend his spare time with Jews.

According to family legend, he then said (perhaps to family members rather than to the relevant supervisor): “If I can’t play with whom I want, I won’t play at all!” He wrapped the cello in its brown linen bag, stuffed it on top of the kitchen cupboard (we don’t recommend this kind of storage!) and never played again. Assuming that this happened in 1938 (as we heard that in 1937 he played cello at the SA as well). he spent up to 19 years playing the cello between the wars.

Obviously, it was the honourable thing to do not to continue playing quartets with a Nazi-compatible line-up. On the other hand, I find it shocking that he fell silent for the rest of his life and left his poor old cello idle for decades. As an alternative kind of protest he could have played the Bach suites for solo cello for the duration of the Nazi period, that would have kept his musical mind exercised. In 1927, the year of the quartet photos, Pablo Casals played the suites in the nearby cities of Düsseldorf and Essen. Both cities were easy to reach by train, but sadly we don’t know whether Max Heinrich attended any of these concerts, or whether he knew the suites at all. Back then they weren’t quite as famous as they are today. After 1945, he could have continued playing with anybody he wanted.

What I find even more shocking is that he didn’t talk about his past life as a cellist, at least not with my father. He had regularly visited his grandparents in Wuppertal and was 19 when Max Heinrich died. It was only at the funeral, when a cellist turned up to play Ave Maria, that my father found out that his grandfather had played the cello once upon a time. His sister, by contrast, recalled that her grandfather had mentioned his past life as a cellist and felt sorry that none of his three descendants was continuing the musical tradition.

After the quartet stopped playing, the cello spent the next two decades on top of a cupboard while the family muddled through and remained relatively lucky in horrific times. Wuppertal suffered heavy bombardments but the house in Gronauer Straße was spared. Their son Richard, who had hastily taken his final exams in 1933 before his (Jewish) professors were removed was able to complete his two years of practical teacher training (Referendarzeit) close to home in Barmen and in Düsseldorf.

In November 1938, Richard married Ruth Düsselmann (1908-1993), whom he had met while they were both students of the natural sciences at Bonn University and passed their final exams at the same time. Her parents and maternal grandparents had been active in the Alsace-Lorraine region before 1918, as had Richard’s parents. The birthplaces of Ruth and Richard, Merlenbach and Dieuze, are less than ten kilometres apart. Ruth’s maternal grandfather, Christoph Gottlieb Kauer, had been a railway man like Richard’s paternal grandfather, and almost exactly at the same time. He also followed the construction projects, moving along the Alsatian line south to north until his final stop at Adamsweiler where he became the station master. Ruth’s mother Helene was the youngest of five daughters of the Imperial station master – I will tell their story some other time. Two of Helene’s sisters remained unmarried, however, and will turn up in this story again.

Helene married her cousin, the adventurous merchant Julius Düsselmann from Krefeld with the intention of taming him and successfully talked him out of plans to emigrate to America. Still, his professional life was a bit of a rollercoaster.

As Ruth and Richard were planning their wedding, Julius was busy setting up his own textile factory, Kleiderfabrik Ostland, in Königsberg, East Prussia. It was originally a spinout of a company in Rheydt (today part of Mönchengladbach) where Julius had started working as a salesman in 1932.

After getting married, Richard transferred to East Prussia, meaning that his son, born at Königsberg in 1939, spent the first few years of his life as the little prince in the glamorous flat of the factory owner, attended by three women, namely his mother Ruth, her mother Helene and Helene’s sister Kätha.

In 1942, Max Heinrich and Maria travelled to Königsberg to attend the baptism of their second grandchild, Richard’s daughter Margarete. Richard also was on holiday from his uneventful military service spent as a Gefreiter (second rank from the bottom of the scale) in Lapland.

On this occasion, Richard and Julius could observe from the balcony of the flat (located centrally near Königsberg castle on the border of the lake) the very first tentative bomber attacks on the city. They understood that the city wasn’t safe and thus the family made arrangements to withdraw in good time.

Back in Wuppertal, two pocket diaries give us an idea of Max Heinrich’s social network in 1943 and 1945. The very occasional dates don’t appear to point to anything of interest, but the birthdays of more than 50 people are marked in each of the calendars, often with the year of birth and current address, suggesting that Max Heinrich meticulously copied these details over from year to year.

Most are men, many live nearby. I systematically searched for these people online in the hope of finding members of the string quartet, but couldn’t find any indications of musical activities.

What is conspicuous, however, is the large number of names associated with local businesses, some of which have survived into the 21st century, although in some cases only as brand names. There is the producer of widely known lawnmowers, Brill – we will get back to that connection in postwar times. Of musical interest is the entry for Hermann Kluge, born 1885. An eponymous man (his father?) had in 1876 left the piano factory Ibach and started an independent factory for piano keyboards in Barmen. In the 20th century, the company established itself as a world-leading manufacturer. It produced the keyboards for the piano manufacturer Steinway & Sons, which eventually bought up Kluge. Since 2007, Kluge has moved production from Wuppertal to nearby Remscheid.

Other presumed entrepreneurs in the birthday calendar include the founder of the gears factory Hugo Kautz, the ribbon maker Hackenberg, the engineering company Blasberg, and the printer Baak. The names Dürholdt, Homberg and Voß may also be linked to local businesses. There is also a teacher and a doctor of unspecified academic interests, but with the entrepreneurs alone, Max Heinrich could have filled a large table. The round would have been a bit subdued come 1945, as ten of the contacts had disappeared in the two years since the earlier diary.

Read on:

Silence after the war (final part)

Monday, February 12, 2024

an amateur string quartet

One hundred years of cellotude continued:

Eighth part of

Chapter 1

A cello called Heinrich

Previous section: A civil servant at Elberfeld

group portrait of Max Heinrich's quartet dated April 1927,
presumably taken by his son Richard, then 17.

An amateur string quartet

After another examination at the end of 1924, Max Heinrich was promoted to the rank of inspector at the city’s tax authority, which also meant a lifelong job guarantee as a Beamter (civil servant). With such a position and status one can relax and start a new hobby such as playing in a string quartet.

So I am guessing that at this point at the very latest, if not even after the end the military marches in 1920, he got involved in the string quartet. Young Richard had built his own camera and developed his own glass back negatives and prints. Three of his photos, one dated 1927 and the others undated, show the string quartet in a private home, with Max Heinrich playing the cello. At the viola, we have a white-haired man looking older than our 45-year-old cellist, with a wide-ranging white moustache. The two violinists by contrast, may be a bit younger than him, perhaps in their 30s. To this day we don’t know who the other members of the quartet were. However, we will have the opportunity to look at Max Heinrich’s circle of friends at a later stage. Conceivably, survivors of the quartet could be hiding among them.

On one of the photos (below), a bit of contrast enhancing and zooming in reveals the name of the composer they were playing. At the top end of the cover of their music it says in huge captial letters: “B R A H M S”. Further sleuthing is facilitated by the fact that Romantic composer Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) only ever released three string quartets, published between 1873 and 1876.

  • Streichquartett Nr. 1 c-Moll op. 51/1 (1873)
  • Streichquartett Nr. 2 a-Moll op. 51/2 (1873)
  • Streichquartett Nr. 3 B-Dur op. 67 (1876)

Note that at the time of the photo, this music was only half a century old, so comparable in its freshness to the music of the Beatles we still hear on the radio today. When the composer died, Max Heinrich was 14 years old.

I understand the composer spent some time messing around with the string quartet format and dismissed many attempts before he agreed to let the two quartets of opus 51 out into the world.

The 1980s guide to chamber music on my shelf thinks that the effort and delay was worthwhile as even the first of the quartets shows mature mastery of the format. The c minor quartet in particular is described as a favourite of quartet associations. The second, although also in a minor key, doesn’t lead us to dark depths of combative passion like the first, apparently. Sounds fun. The third shows the composer from a more relaxed, happy side. Phew.

On listening to all three in a row, I found the last one the most accessible. Ironically, the composer dedicated it to an amateur cellist, even though it doesn’t have any melody bits for the cello to play.

Circumstantial evidence supporting the Brahms connection can also be found in the possessions of Richard, who remained Max Heinrich’s only child. His vinyl records were a decidedly mixed bag ranging from Dvorak to low brow singers such as Mireille Mathieu. There are a few LPs with chamber works, including Brahms’ string sextet Nr. 1 recorded by the Amadeus Quartet and guests, to which I hadn’t paid attention before I discovered the name of the composer in the photo. Other chamber works among the LPs with Dvorak’s American quartet together with Smetana’s quartet No. 1 as well as trios for piano, cello and flute by Hummel, Weber and Haydn. In the decades since Richard’s death I have listened to those trios a hundred times and even tried to play bits of the Hummel. The American quartet is close to my heart because it is adjacent to the more famous cello concerto and the New World symphony. But the Brahms had somehow managed to dodge my attention.

I also recall a novel by Françoise Sagan, Aimez-vous Brahms, displayed prominently on my grandparents’s shelf (the copy has disappeared now, so I can’t check for musical annotations). So we have some Brahms memorabilia, but the sheet music shown in the photo hasn’t shown up yet.

The Brahms quartets sound quite demanding and I would struggle to play any of the cello parts. Based on this and on the witness statement from Maria’s sister Anna, I’ll postulate that Max Heinrich must have played the cello for a while, maybe even in his musical training before he joined the infantry. In this case, Heinrich the cello could have been in the family since the 1890s.

This scenario makes for a satisfying life story but throws up some challenges with the logistics. On leaving Dieuze with a child and just 30 kg of luggage, Maria can’t have taken the cello along. If it was in Max Heinrich’s possession before 1918, it must have spent the war years either with his relatives in Tangermünde and then in Magdeburg or with Maria’s relatives in Bruchsal. Always assuming that he couldn’t take it with him to the front. Even though the instrument does look like it’s been through the war, so maybe he did after all? This will remain a mystery.

In any case we can tell that it has been played a lot. The bow has a lovely deep groove where Max Heinrich’s index finger used to rest. When I use the bow, I preserve this feature for posterity by using the underhand bow-hold which I learned as a young double bass player (see chapter 3).

Hausmusik (home concerts) among family and friends was still a thing during the Weimar Republic. In 1932, the day of St. Cecilia (November 22) was declared the annual day of Hausmusik. Its popularity goes back to the 19th century, when members of an expanding middle class were keen to demonstrate their cultural status by pursuing activities previously reserved for the courts of aristocracy, including chamber music. The bourgeois Hausmusik set itself apart from the more popular music of the common people by its choice of instruments and classical repertoire. There were string quartets and sonatas for the flute or the piano solo. In the taverns by contrast, you would hear accordions or cithers.

In the early 20th century, there was a growing criticism of this class separation, especially because the repertoire choices of ambitious middle class families may not always have matched their musical abilities. Thus, bourgeois families may have struggled trying to play Beethoven, only to set themselves apart from the folk songs and squeezeboxes of the lower classes. The combination of snobbery and lack of competence naturally encouraged derision. To avoid this problem, some critics made the interesting suggestion that middle class Hausmusik should revisit the music of the Renaissance, which generally is easier for amateurs to learn.

In the Weimar Republic, there have been efforts to bridge the musical gap between the classes. The pianist, music educator and politician Leo Kestenberg (1882-1962) at the Prussian ministry for culture worked out a holistic concept which he published in 1923 as a memorandum for the entire cultivation of music at school and in the population („Denkschrift über die gesamte Musikpflege in Schule und Volk“). He could implement some of its reforms before he was pushed out of office in 1932.

While the quartet seems to fit in this picture, Max Heinrich did not succeed in establishing musical activity as a family tradition. Richard only learned the fundamentals of recorder playing, although he appreciated classical music recordings, as mentioned above. Richard was already 10 years old when normal family life resumed after the war, and by that time he may have had other ideas of how to spend his spare time.

Note also that having a professional musician as a parent can easily backfire if the child doesn’t immediately meet the standards expected. A cousin reports that Richard sang out of tune, and there are reports that during his military service his comrades banned him from singing. However, seeing that he was able to hear music and had the desire to sing, I am sure that a suitable intervention early in life could have helped him to learn to make music too.

Apart from Richard’s chamber music collection mentioned above, he also had orchestral works on LPs, including several recordings of Dvorak’s cello concerto. They range from an early one released in 1950, which theoretically could have been Max Heinrich’s property, but probably wasn’t as I believe he never owned a turntable, to a late one from 1977. From this I conclude that Max Heinrich’s cello playing must have shaped Richard’s musical mind at least as a listener.

Richard graduated from high school (Oberrealschule Nord in Humboldtstraße, Elberfeld, today Helmholtz-Realschule) in March 1928 and started studying mathematics and natural sciences at Göttingen. This traditional university was then a global leader in mathematics boasting David Hilbert (1862-1943) as one of its professors. A new building for the mathematical institute was opened in 1929. By that time, however, Richard had moved on to spend a term at Vienna and then to conclude his studies closer to home, in Bonn where he remained until he took his state examination in 1933.

From January 1930, Max Heinrich’s story continues in the newborn city of Wuppertal, which at this point had 415,000 residents. In this year, Max Heinrich became the administrator of the city’s official pawnshop. Together with Maria and their dog, a German shepherd called Schluck (Gulp), and obviously with Heinrich the cello, he moved into a flat on the first floor of the pawnshop building.

The trouble is I couldn’t find the address of this pawnshop online. It took me a visit to the city’s archives and some snooping around in their newspaper clippings and ancient address books on microfiche to track it down.

I learned that both Barmen and Elberfeld had one of their own – they only merged in a new location in February 1940. Elberfeld’s shop is the one we’re after and it has a longer history going back to 1821. It started out in a slaughterhouse in Brausenwerth, and in 1888 it moved to the house in Obergrünewalder Straße 21, which was also the address when Heinrich and Maria moved in to live above the shop. In the 1932 edition of the address book we find under this address, eureka, the “Städtische Leihanstalt” – no wonder I couldn’t find it before, I wouldn’t have thought of giving it that name! Max Heinrich is listed as resident on the first floor, as a Stadtobersekretär (although we had already promoted him to the higher rank of Inspector above?!).

I was very pleased to find that this address is in the very heart of the Luisenviertel which at least today is an extremely attractive neighbourhood with lots of restaurants. I think it is one of the buildings on the corner with today’s Friedrich-Ebert-Straße (then Königsstraße), although I am not quite sure which one, as the numbering on the buildings facing Obergrünewalder Straße is confused and only the numbers 17, 19, 24 (sic!), and 25 are in evidence on the odd-numbered side of the road. The building on the street corner next door to number 19 is old and very beautiful, so I’ve symbolically adopted that as a mental representation of the pawnshop, even though a map that I found later shows it on the opposite side of the road, next to today’s number 24. It’s all very confusing.

Further files I consulted contained a detailed description of how the pawnshop worked – the staff members included three permanent helpers, a clerk responsible for the till, an apprentice and two magazine workers, so a total of eight people. Elsewhere, there is also a mention of experts for the valuation of specific groups of items. Max Heinrich is named in a document dated 1.12.1931. After that, however, the file goes dark and the next document dates from 1937.

What I was hoping to find in the archives as well was information on events in early 1933. There was a minor scandal in that some items went missing from the site, and Max Heinrich launched an official investigation. Unfortunately, the investigation found that it was his wife Maria who had helped herself to some of these. An expert for the court diagnosed an underlying psychiatric problem for which she got some help, while Max Heinrich ended up in another office job in the administration of corporate tax matters.

I was hoping to find newspaper reports or official documents on the scandal and its resolution but had no luck with that. However, with the address books I could confirm dates when Max Heinrich was recorded as living in that building, and the names of the people in the position before and after him.

His predecessor in the flat and presumably in the job, was listed in the 1930 edition as Otto Drees, Leihhausverwalter. His successor in the pawnshop is named in 1935 as Karl Schwabe, Stadtass.

According to my previous information, they moved to Gronaustraße 35 in June 1933. However, the address book Barmen 1934 still lists this street as Königsstraße. It was renamed after the merger because Elberfeld also had a street with that name – today known as Friedrich-Ebert-Straße, as mentioned above. In Königsstraße 35 he is listed on the first floor as a Reisender (travelling salesman) which seems to suggest that he was suspended from his position in the city administration for some time while the investigation was ongoing. I’m not sure if he actually worked as a travelling salesman or whether this was just a euphemism for unemployed.

The first united address book for Wuppertal, dated 1935, has the new street name Gronaustraße and lists Heinrich as Stadtinspektor, which we think was his rank since 1924 (even though the previous address book listed him as Obersekretär). So he appears to have come out of the scandal unharmed, but I am wondering whether it left his position in the city administration weakened and forced him to keep a low profile as the Nazis took power.

Read on:

When the music stops

Monday, February 05, 2024

running out of groundwater

I am rapidly running out of big topics that I have never covered in my CB features, but groundwater was one of them until now. With severe drought becoming a common problem associated with the climate catastrophe (and not helped by catastrophic flooding that doesn't do much to replenish the aquifers), there have been a few worrying reports of shrinking groundwater supplies from around the world recently along with a call to recognise the groundwater as a keystone ecosystem. I've also been very excited to learn about the underground aqueducts of ancient Persia (picture below) known as qanats, many of which still provide a much more sustainable access to groundwater than modern day wells.

All of which is stitched together in my latest feature which is out now:

Losing our groundwater

Current Biology Volume 34, Issue 2, 22 January 2024, Pages R37-R40

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 ishere .

In ancient Persia, underground aqueducts known as qanats channelled groundwater to low-lying outlet points by gravity alone. Although some are still used in modern-day Iran, like the one shown here in Gonabad, many have been abandoned and replaced with deep wells operating less sustainably. (Photo: Basp1/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0 Deed).)

Friday, February 02, 2024

a civil servant at Elberfeld

One hundred years of cellotude continued:

Seventh part of

Chapter 1

A cello called Heinrich

Previous section: A wanderer between both worlds

New town hall of Elberfeld, postcard from 1913.

A civil servant at Elberfeld

On June 16, 1919, Max Heinrich was hired by the city of Elberfeld for a 6-month probation period as a “Diätar”, meaning basically a civil servant with a fixed-term contract. His salary was 200 Mark per month. On the same day he also got his formal registration as a resident of Elberfeld. Note that on this date, he was technically still in the army, and the war wasn’t over yet, as the Versailles Treaty was only signed on June 28th.

Elberfeld had emerged in the industrial revolution as a rapidly growing city with numerous textile factories, but it also had engineering and chemical industry, including the budding company of a certain Friedrich Bayer (1825-1880) who developed Aspirin in Elberfeld. Bayer has kept a presence there to this day, even though it moved its headquarters to the new town of Leverkusen in 1912.

In 1838, just three years after the Adler famously travelled from Nürnberg to Fürth, the railway line between Elberfeld and nearby Düsseldorf was opened. At the end of 1919, Elberfeld had some 160,000 residents and its fair share of social problems linked to its rapid industrialisation. A certain Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) knew these problems well, as he was the son of a factory owner in the neighbouring city of Barmen and went to school in Elberfeld.

Postcards from the early 20th century show a rather wonderful world, however, with the futuristic suspension railway linking Elberfeld to Barmen and the impeccable “Gründerzeit” architecture boasting elaborate art nouveau ornamentation. On August 1, 1929, Elberfeld and Barmen along with some smaller communities were merged to form the new city that was officially baptised Wuppertal in January 1930.

Now it’s high time for a family reunion. Maria and her son Richard had stayed in Dieuze during the war, living in a small house with a garden. Richard visited his birth place in 1963 and found the house was still standing, but I wouldn’t know exactly where to look for it. Richard went to school there until the war ended – at which point he was nine years old.

After the Armistice, Maria and Richard were ordered to leave Lorraine. They were only allowed to take 30 kg of luggage. They travelled to Bruchsal to stay with Maria’s stepmother and half-siblings. Richard had half a year of schooling there, before they moved on to Elberfeld to reunite with his father.

The family rented a flat in Schleswiger Straße 45, in a quiet residential area called Ostersbaum in the Northeast of Elberfeld. It is roughly one kilometre to the North of Wuppertal main station, which back then was Elberfeld Hauptbahnhof. Walking to the Hauptbahnhof from his flat, Max Heinrich also passed the Döppersberg station of the legendary suspension railway, just before reaching the main station. The picturesque view in the opposite direction, coming out of the station and walking towards the historic city centre, can be admired on many postcards from the early 20th century (just search “Döppersberg”). It has changed dramatically in the hundred years since, and not for the better.

After passing the Döppersberg station, the way to Schleswiger Straße, now leads us through the pedestrianised shopping streets of Elberfeld towards the Neumarkt square with the fountain of Neptune and the “New Town Hall”, which Emperor Wilhelm II. inaugurated in 1900 along with the suspension railway. The neogothic fairytale castle with a spire 79 metres high replaced the previous town hall right in the middle of the historic centre, which today houses the Von der Heydt Museum.

The neogothic castle must have been where Max-Heinrich worked in the first decade at Elberfeld, so we now follow his daily way home from the town hall to Schleswiger Straße, which is just a ten minute walk away. We follow a series of streets named ironically after very flat areas in Northern Germany, even though they have considerable slopes to climb and some of them are connected by stairs. One of the stairs is flanked by a mural depicting various musicians including a cellist. I read that as a sign that I was on the right track.

The house where the family lived is a four storey block which may be historic but appears to have lost quite a bit of the historic details that other houses in the street still have, including the year of construction typically displayed above the entrance. I saw 1900 and 1910 shown nearby but no date on No. 45.

In December 1919, Max Heinrich passed an exam to become an office clerk. His employment document comprises three pages specifically typed out with his details and the pay scale appropriate to his work. It outlines planned pay rises every two years for 20 years starting at 4,000 Mark, and rising up to 6,500 Mark in ten steps. Apparently they counted his military service as equivalent of ten years on this scale, so he started on 5,800 Mark.

Meanwhile, the turbulent history of the Weimar Republic started to unfold and also touched Elberfeld. The Kapp Putsch of March 1920 threatened to become a civil war. Officers and members of the numerous free corps formed from dissolved military units under General Walther von Lüttwitz wanted to replace the democratically elected coalition government of Gustav Bauer with a military government under Wolfgang Kapp.

Resistance against the coup originated in Elberfeld, where representatives of the communist, socialist and social democrat parties met and jointly called to resist the putschists by general strike and political means, and thus launched the Ruhr uprising which led to violent clashes between the Red Ruhr army and armed forces including the Freikorps. The conflict did not end when the Kapp Putsch collapsed but was violently suppressed by the state.

Max Heinrich was member of the DDP (Deutsche Demokratische Partei), which was part of the coalition government targeted by the coup. So it is safe to assume that he will not have had much sympathy for the coup. On the other hand the armed resistance of the Ruhr workers wasn’t quite his kind of thing either, I would assume.

Thus I thought that the whole episode won’t have affected him much, but then I discovered a list of monuments in Elberfeld including one for the “lightning from below” on the corner of Flensburger Str. and Paradestr., close to Max Heinrich’s home and on his way to work. There we can read that on March 17 violent fights in this neighbourhood claimed the lives of 60 civilians, most of them poorly armed workers or collateral victims. At the end of that day, soldiers hastily retired and fled to nearby Remscheid.

From the Kapp Putsch through the hyperinflation of 1923 through to the global economic crisis, the 1920s were a turbulent decade but we don’t know of any turbulences in Schleswiger Straße, where life carried on in its well-ordered paths and young Richard completed his high school education. For a time, Maria’s sister Anna joined the household. She had finished the standard school education in 1917, and now Maria wanted to help her get an additional qualification. There was a choice between a school for home economics and another one for commercial / business studies. “Anna had met another girl who signed up for the home economics school, the Bergisch-Märkische Frauenberufsschule, and she just went along with her. But she didn’t learn anything there,” as Anna’s daughter told me. Moreover, she had to leave the school prematurely, as her mother fell ill and she had to return to Bruchsal to look after her. There, Anna got married in October 1924, which leaves us with the timeframe of 1920-1923 for her stay in Elberfeld. Maybe the sisters had planned this when Maria was staying in Bruchsal after being evicted from Lorraine.

Dating this stay is important for our musical subject, because Anna later told her daughters of Max Heinrich’s cello playing, and praised its quality. She said that Max Heinrich only played good music, not such stuff as others might have played. Whatever the stuff might be that he didn’t play, the compliment suggests that he must have acquired cello skills – and possibly the cello – long before then.

Read on:

An amateur string quartet

Thursday, February 01, 2024

a wanderer between both worlds

One hundred years of cellotude continued:

Sixth part of

Chapter 1

A cello called Heinrich

Previous section: Marches and veal dumplings

This photo shouting "1914 War" marks the beginning of the war in Max Heinrich's photo album. Next to his official portrait in uniform.

A wanderer between both worlds

Max Heinrich left no record of his experience of the war, so we will just have to piece together the jigsaw. At Dieuze, his regiment was already stationed quite close to the French border, and it was swiftly moved into France and into battles at Lagarde and Nancy-Epinal.

When the Western front became stuck in trench warfare, the regiment was moved to the Eastern front where it suffered severe losses in the Winter Battle of the Masurian Lakes in February 1915. The third battalion, ie one third of the regiment, had to be disbanded on February 20th and could only be reformed several weeks later, initially only as a half-battalion. In the last year of the war, the regiment was moved back to North of France, where it once more suffered devastating losses. Again, entire companies had to be disbanded and rebuilt.

Lists of the casualties of IR138 are available online and paint a haunting picture. Max Heinrich’s first company had 206 fatalities (just among the soldiers, not including officers who have a separate list). This is roughly the nominal strength of the company, so on average the entire population was killed and replaced once. I’m trying to get my head round that but it is a struggle.

As a musician in the band, also helping out with the medical service and the communications, Max Heinrich must have had better survival chances than the colleagues in the trenches. At least I couldn’t find any hoboist in the casualties lists. He also had the good luck of falling ill soon after the war began and staying that way for much of its duration.

On September 13, 1914, after six weeks at war, he had stomach and gut problems (Magen- und Darm-Katarrh) which was treated in the field hospital in Fling for a year and a half, until April 3rd, 1916, according to his record card. Unfortunately I can’t find a place called Fling anywhere.

On April 4th he returned to his regiment still at the Eastern front, which had just successfully stopped a Russian offensive at the Lake Naroch (today’s Belarus).

Max Heinrich spent one month at the Eastern front. During that time, his mother died at Magdeburg on April 20th, the day before her 72nd birthday. On May 3rd, he became ill with bronchitis and was treated at an army hospital in Bruchsal – conveniently close to Maria’s family, so he will have been able to catch up with his wife and son during that time.

On July 7th he joined a reconvalescent company of his regiment, which I guess is where all the numerous soldiers injured in previous battles were brought back to fighting strength. On August 30th, 1916 he came to the 4th company of his regiment, later moving to the 1st company where he was originally. From this point to the end of the war, his itinerary must have been identical to that of the regiment.

During his illness, the regiment witnessed a development that became a significant part of literary history. The young philologist and writer Walter Flex, born 1887 at Eisenach (also the birthplace of Johann Sebastian Bach and 40 km from Max Heinrich’s birthplace), had forged a friendship with the theology student Ernst Wurche during officer training. At the end of May 1915, both joined IR138, each commanding a platoon of the ninth company. Their company was part of the third batallion which was severely decimated in the Winter Battle of the Masurian Lakes.

On the Eastern front, Flex and Wurche experienced an intensive relationship which found a brutal end when Wurche died on August 23. Flex eternalised his memories of the time with him in the romanticising novella Der Wanderer zwischen beiden Welten (The wanderer between both worlds). The two worlds of the title can be read as life and death. Wurche is presented as a carefree adventurous type who valiantly faces the mortal risks of life at the frontline.

The novella was published in 1916 and made Flex famous overnight. Poems included in the story, expecially „Wildgänse rauschen durch die Nacht“ were set to music and further spread his fame. Today his work counts as a precedent for the successes of Ernst Jünger and Erich Maria Remarque. Flex was called to Berlin in 1917 in order to participate in a literary account of the war. After completing his contribution, he could have stayed in the safety of the PR world, but insisted on returning to his regiment and the Eastern front.

On October 10, 1917, the regiment embarked on various ships to take part in conquering the islands Ösel and Moon in the Baltic Sea. Walter Flex suffered a shot wound on the island of Ösel on October 15 and died of his injuries the day after.

Max Heinrich was with the regiment at this time, so he must have played his tuba when the band played the last march for Walter Flex. A copy of Flex’s famous book lived on my grandparents’ bookshelves well into the 21st century. By the time its significance dawned on me, it has sadly and mysteriously disappeared.

The Russian Revolution began on October 25. The Bolsheviks had promised the Russian population peace, and thus a ceasefire between Germany and Russia came into force on December 15, leading to the peace of Brest-Litovsk the following year.

For Max Heinrich’s regiment, this meant a return to France and another rendez-vous with death. In January 1918 his regiment took position at Pérenchies West of Armentières, near Lille. During the battle of Armentières, it crossed the river Leie and got involved in fighting near Doulieu and Merris. By August the regiment was so severely decimated that it was no longer fit for service and had to be reconstituted. Later, defensive engagements in the Champagne region brought further severe losses. Overall we get the impression that Max Heinrich had to play lots of funeral marches that year, but he managed to hang on with no further illnesses nor injuries.

After the Armistice of November 11, the remainders of the regiment marched homewards through the Eifel mountans to Schupbach (Hesse). As their home barracks in Dieuze was out of bounds (reclaimed by the French), they marched onwards to Coswig on the river Elbe, where the regiment was officially disbanded. In May 1919, Max Heinrich was moved to an “Auflösungs-Kompanie” – a company with the purpose of managing its own dissolution, I love the absurdity of that – and at the end of October he was dismissed from the army.

As the Versailles Treaty only allowed a German army of 100,000 men and the Lower Alsatian Regiment was disbanded, there was no question that Max Heinrich’s military career was finished. Instead, there was the prospect of the quieter life of a civil servant – and chamber musician.

Read on:

A civil servant at Elberfeld

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

marches and veal dumplings

One hundred years of cellotude continued:

Fifth part of

Chapter 1

A cello called Heinrich

Previous section: Romantic writings

Dieuze, Lorraine. Postcard from 1913. Source.

Marches and veal dumplings

That has been all we know about our romantic couple at Strasbourg. While we’re lacking evidence on the events of the next 18 months, I am guessing that all this romantic fervour must have take a while to dissipate.

On April 1st, 1906, two years after the engagement, the happy times at Strasbourg came to an abrupt end as Max Heinrich’s regiment was relocated as a collective punishment. I haven’t been able to find out what they were punished for, but I imagine some may have found the entertainment on offer in the city irresistible. So the regiment moved to the small town of Dieuze in Lorraine. In that year, the town had precisely 5893 residents, including around 1000 soldiers. Dieuze, as part of a territory where the majority spoke French, kept its French name until 1915 and only fleetingly became “Duß” until it transferred to France in the Versailles Treaty. The barracks at Dieuze are still there and used by the French army now.

Changing places with Max Heinrich’s regiment, the 4th Lorraine Infantry Regiment No. 136. moved from Dieuze to Strasbourg. Thus the geographic identity was lost, with the Lorraine regiment based in Alsace, and vice versa.

This change of circumstances must have upset Max Heinrich and Maria as it involved times of separation. Being merely engaged they couldn’t just move in together, and it would have been hard to find a job and accommodation for Maria in the tiny town of Dieuze. She must have remained in Strasbourg until they got married more than two years later.

On September 4th, 1908, Max Heinrich was promoted to the rank of Hoboist. As this is formally equivalent to his previous rank of sergeant, I guess this may just have been a lateral move from the normal infantry ranks to the position of musician in the regiment band. So at least now we can be sure that his role in the regiment was that of playing music. Seeing that a tuba mouthpiece is the only evidence we have that links him to a specific instrument, we’ll assume he played the tuba. As the military music in the infantry mainly involves wind and percussion instruments, there wouldn’t have been an opening for a cellist (nor for a violinist, in case this was his first instrument as the musical signature of HG may be suggesting).

Every regiment in the army of the German Empire had its own wind band playing its own specific march for ceremonial marching around. Other occasions calling for music making included festivities as well as funerals. The size of the regimental bands grew in the course of history. Under Frederick William III of Prussia (1770-1840) it expanded to 26 men, in World War II it reached 37. In 1908 it must have been somewhere in between these two figures.

The newly appointed hoboist swiftly moved on to get married on October 8th, 1908. The church ceremony took place in the gothic St. Stephan’s church in Tangermünde, where Max Heinrich had also received his confirmation. It was held as a double wedding jointly with that of his sister Gertrud.

We have a copy of the nonsense “wedding newspaper” produced on the occasion, but unfortunately it contains very little useful information. Of musical interest, perhaps, the fact that it includes made up parody lyrics to be sung to well-known song tunes. Thus we conclude that the celebration may have involved some raucous singing. Sadly, we have neither a photo nor a list of the guests. As Maria was orphaned by then and her step family would have had a long way to travel from Baden, there may not have been all that many relatives to invite. Conceivably, the double wedding may have served to bring the numbers to a socially acceptable level.

The newspaper called for the rapid production of offspring in no uncertain terms, to which Max Heinrich and Maria obliged. Nine months and six days after the event, their son (later to be my grandfather) was born in Dieuze and named after his grandfather Richard. If tradition had continued in the male line, I would be a Richard and my son another Heinrich, but we gave up on that so we have the cello as the only Heinrich in the family.

The lifetimes of the two Richards only overlapped by a few years, as the grandfather died in July 1913 in Tangermünde. His widow spent some time living with Max Heinrich in Dieuze (as noted in his military records) and some in Magdeburg with her daughter, where she died in April 1916.

Richard’s godparents were Max Heinrich’s half-brother and a woman named Henriette Seidensticker, about whom we know absolutely nothing. I am guessing that she was part of the couple’s social circle rather than a relative.

The first photo of baby Richard shows him naked, lying on his tummy on a fluffy rug, and resolutely lifting up his head. The proud parents sent this as a postcard to a woman called Friederike Heinemann in Magdeburg. Again, I have no idea who she was – and how the postcard found it way back into my family.

A glimpse into the daily life of our nascent family is provided by a hand-written book of recipes, which I found between my grandmother’s gardening books in March 2023. Maria had signed it as:

Marie Pfersching
Strassburg i. Els.

confirming my suspicion that she was likely forced to remain in Strasbourg until their marriage.

In addition, there is also another inscription, possibly from a previous owner of the book, which is hard to decipher as it has been crossed out with a double line. As far as I can read it, it may have been:

Mieze Reinecke 1905

If this is the correct version it is a curious combination, with Reinecke being the name often used for a fox in fables as well as a common family name, and Mieze being a common nickname for cats as well as a somewhat disrespectful word for women. Conceivably, the nickname Mieze could be hiding another Maria.

The book contains more than 200 recipes on 76 pages, of which the first 190 are listed in an alphabetical index at the back. The first date mentioned is 19.4.08, found under a recipe for veal dumplings. Just before that, the formatting of the headlines changed. At first they were aligned to the left and ended with an exclamation mark, while from this point onwards they are centred and end with a full stop. This change makes me wonder if the first 19 pages were perhaps written by the mysterious Mieze Reinecke. The handwriting also shows some very subtle differences.

Therefore, for clues to the life of our young married couple, I am looking at the 98 recipes of the second phase in the book, covering 26 pages with occasional dates spanning from April 1908 to March 1909. These can give us an impression of what they ate and what household concoctions they may have prepared. After that point, the entries become rarer, with six pages mainly containing tips for household cleaning methods and home remedies, fizzling out at the end of 1909. Although Richard was born in July 1909, there are no recipes for baby food or anything else relating to him. Maybe she had a separate notebook for baby things that I haven’t found yet. After that, there is a gap of five years, and the records resume with “war recipes” in a less diligent handwriting.

In 1908, the year of their marriage, there were plenty of cakes including Linzertorte, Sandtorte (with the remark added: very good!), yeast cakes filled with fruit, and Topfkuchen. Pastry recipes include Schokoladenplätzchen, Madeleines, Mandelhäufchen. The initial pages of the book were already offering quite a lot of pastry such as Muzzemandeln. Sweet casseroles were also popular, including the elaborately named Verschleierte Dame (veiled lady) and Arme Ritter).

The favourite type of meat appears to have been veal, which comes in various shapes and sized. Just occasionally interrupted by mutton, or ox. We find instructions on how to marinate an eel, and recipes for whitefishes (Coregonus), carp and herring. There are dumplings of all sorts, as well as tomato sauce and mustard sauce.

For my taste, there’s not enough about salad, but there is one “Russian salad” and an instruction on how to grow radishes in every season. That’s a start.

For desert, there was jelly, cherry pudding, chocolate pudding, and vanilla ice cream. How she would have prepared the ice cream in 1908 without a freezer – and, in Dieuze, probably without any electricity? – isn’t quite clear to me.

In May 1908, Maria wrote down a lovely recipe for a May punch with woodruff and four bottles of white wine. It doesn’t say how many people she meant to serve, but it sounds like quite a party. Maybe she had to host the whole marching band?

In December 1913, Max Heinrich is promoted to the rank of Vizefeldwebel, a non-commissioned officer one rank up from the Sergeant. He remained listed as a Hoboist as well, so I am thinking that the promotion was just for the pay grade, and didn’t affect his musical activities. For instance, on January 12, 1914, he received an award for 12 years service in the army, where his rank is given as Hoboist. In later documents he is sometimes referred to with both titles, as Hoboist/Vizefeldw. It’s all a bit confusing but also reassuring to know that he remained with the marching band. Presumably, the place behind the tuba was safer than one in the trenches.

Read on:

A wanderer between both worlds

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

romantic writings

One hundred years of cellotude continued:

Fourth part of

Chapter 1

A cello called Heinrich

Previous section: What happened in the Orangerie

Music in poetry

All in all the album contains 16,000 words, in 160 texts (some of them are aphorisms rather than poems). I believe this size is comparable to the known work of Walther von der Vogelweide (c. 1170 – c. 1230). After reading this work, one wouldn’t necessarily conclude that Max Heinrich identified as a musician. In terms of musical instruments, we have the minstrel’s fiddle, some jubilating violins at a festivity which our protagonist promptly leaves, and then, in the girl’s song the harp as a metaphor for sensitivity.

„Kann’s die Harfe meiden, daß, berührt, sie klingt?“

Keeping the instrument’s grammatical gender:

“Can the harp avoid to sound when she is touched?”

All other musical accompaniment is left to bells, birds, and roaring streams. The only composer referenced is Chopin. One of his songs floats through the silence at one point.

One interesting musical aspect is the emotional power and long-distance effect of music, typically in the shape of songs. This is especially powerful in the ballad of a soldier who deserts his post after accidentally hearing a passing tradesman singing a song that reminded him of home.

Variations of this story were widespread. One version, „Zu Straßburg auf der Schantz“, was set to music by Gustav Mahler in 1887. In that version, it is a Swiss soldier in the German army, at Strasbourg, who deserts after hearing the sound of an alphorn.

Whereas the musically inspired deserters were executed in those songs, the consequences are less dramatic in the song of the minstrel with the fiddle. Remarkably, it is written from the pespective of a woman who is touched by the music of a passing musician and reminded of another who is far away.

Plants are much more abundant than musical instruments, including roses following the clichés of love poetry, but also a few species that I hadn’t heard of before, such as saltbush (Atriplex). There is a lot about walking around in the green environment, with forests and streams and wild flowers. Which may have the advantage that an as yet unmarried couple can secretly share a kiss.

Although the secrets have a life of their own, as one of the funnier poems elaborates. It outlines the lengths to which young lovers went to keep their relationship secret, with the punch line being that at the time of the carefully planned revelation, all their friends already knew.

Overall, I feel that the poems are a little bit limited in their subject matter, but otherwise quite presentable. Many things that we today would regard as cliché would have been less so 120 years ago, before sound recordings and radio. The notorious example of rhyming the words Herz and Schmerz (heart and pain) is completely unacceptable today as it has been used in too many Schlager songs that have been heard too often, but back in 1904 I imagine that would have been just another rhyme between two words that, given the subject matter, were bound to come up from time to time.

Even though the Romantic period in literature is already a thing of the past, our poet openly confesses that he is a belated Romantic, when he dedicates a whole poem to the mythical blue flower made famous by Novalis (1772-1801). The centuries-old quest for this romantic ideal finally comes to fruition. Our poet discovers the mythical treasure in the eyes of his beloved.

One could argue that the Romantic period in classical music was still ongoing when Max Heinrich wrote this, even though romanticism in poetry was obsolete. So I think we can forgive him this delay on the grounds that he was a musician as well as a poet.

The poet presents himself as a good-hearted, maybe slightly dull character. Djingoism and testosterone-poisoned boasting are entirely alien to his personality. He writes several poems from a female perspective (perhaps in collaboration with Maria?) or from changing perspectives. He often pontificates on a morally irreproachable way of life. Several texts carry the title “Mahnung” (admonition). This general moralising may remind us of his Strasbourg contemporary Albert Schweitzer.

The highest form of happiness our poet can imagine is an evening with his beloved at the home fire. A rare poem contributed by Maria describes the scene with both reading from the same book, hand in hand and cheek to cheek. No words were spoken and the desires have been put asleep. But what were they reading?

An old book tells its story

Here we are very grateful for the book which both lovers have signed and dated, giving us some insight into their minds. As mentioned above, Max Heinrich signed it presumably upon receipt, thus:

Heinrich Groß Musiker 1. Oktober 1900 Bielefeld

What first drew my attention to this inscription was the fact that it is the earliest evidence of Max Heinrich being a musician, just three weeks after his 18th birthday.

His second notice tells us that he read the book within two months:

Gelesen 30. November 1900 Bad Warmbrunn Im Rosenheim

In Strasbourg, he must have passed it on to Maria pretty swiftly after meeting her, as she signed it:

Gelesen Ende Oktober 1903 M. Pfersching

The book in question is volume 3 of the „Selected stories“ of W. O. von Horn (1798-1867), published posthumously in 1892 by J. D. Sauerländer’s Verlag at Frankfurt. The author’s real name was Wilhelm Oertel, a protestant vicar who hailed from the village of Horn in the Hunsrück mountains and used its name as his pseudonym. In a crazy coincidence, this puts the author within touching distance of some of my grandmother’s ancestors in the area. His ancestors may well have conducted the weddings of some of mine. While these links to their future daughter-in-law have no relevance to Max Heinrich and Maria’s lives in 1903, they may explain why my grandparents kept the book on their shelves.

Moving on to the contents of the book: 1. Soneck. Historisch-romantische Erzählung aus dem dreizehnten Jahrhundert 2. Aus dem Leben eines Vogelsbergers in Krieg und Frieden 3. Das Original. Ein Stücklein 4. Das Mühlchen in der Morgenbach. Eine Begebenheit aus dem Jahre 1716 5. Der Apostelhof. Eine Geschichte aus der Vorzeit Bacharachs. (12 Teile) 6. Die Elzer. Eine Geschichte aus dem Nassauer Land

Three of the stories, namely 1., 4. and 5. are clearly classifiable as Rhine romanticism. All three are love stories against a backdrop of robbers, corrupt clerics and castles on the banks of the Middle Rhine. All three are written with an exquisite sense of place. It shows that the author, who worked at Bacharach for a time, knew his way around the ruined castles and wild rocky hills of the area.

One may wonder what all of this meant to a young musician born in Thuringia of Silesian descent. The castles on the Rhine must have been an exotic subject to him when he first read the book in 1900. But maybe an interest in these faraway lands moved him to sign up with an Alsatian infantry regiment in romantic Strasbourg?

An alternative interpretation is provided by the one and only page that has come loose in the book. It is the first page of the last story, and the following pages also show some signs of wear. This last story is about the people from the town of Elz. Allegedly many of the residents of this town responded to the wave of mass poverty triggered by the Industrial Revolution by earning their living as travelling musicians. To this day, there is the tradition of Elzer Musikanten.

According to von Horn’s novella, the musical history of the town started with a resident named Steffen who got drunk on the eve of his planned wedding and ended up being drafted into the war against the Turks. In the first of two love stories in this novella, his bride-to-be, Mariechen, patiently waited for him until he hobbled back home on one leg and married her. He had funded his return journey as a travelling organ player and remained in the music business after his marriage. This allegedly inspired other people from Elz to do the same, setting avalanche of Elzer Musikanten going.

Love story number two still in the same text concerns Mechthild, the daughter of Steffen and Mariechen, who grows up to become a gifted singer and harp player. Her love interest is an aristocrat with a precious Amati violin who wanted to join the French Revolution and narrowly escaped the guillotine. Returning from France, he took on a false name and made his living as a violin teacher, until he saw young Mechthild performing and fell in love with her. I am getting the impression that female harpists had a bad reputation at that time (around 1800), as every mention of the instrument is backed up with a justification against prejudice.

In this novella there’s music and musically induced romantic entanglements aplenty, so it is easy to imagine that our young couple enjoyed reading this, quite possibly more than once.

Read on:

Marches and veal dumplings

Monday, January 29, 2024

imagining extraterrestrial life

For somebody writing about astrobiology, I haven't read much science fiction, even though there are obvious parallels and connections. Thus the book

The possibility of life

by Jaime Green

came in handy to fill me in on some of the relevant books that I should have read. As in astrobiology, the author ponders the deep questions of how to find, recognise and deal with extraterrestrial life, but mostly from the perspective of the imaginary encounters of the sci-fi world.

More about it in my long essay review now out:

Imaginary aliens

Chemistry & Industry Volume 88, Issue 1, January 2024, Page 34

access via:

Wiley Online Library (paywalled PDF of the whole review section)

SCI (premium content, ie members only)

As always, I'm happy to send a PDF on request.


Sunday, January 28, 2024

a battered old violin

After successfully restoring my late aunt's violin and playing it for a few months, I started thinking I'd like to do some more pirate lutherie and put up a call for broken string instruments on the local Freegle group. This was first posted in May 2023 and gets auto-reposted regularly - and sometimes I update it.

Now, for the first time I have actually obtained an instrument from somebody in response to this post, a battered old violin:

There wasn't much background info available. The person who kindly replied to my Freegle call had inherited from their late uncle who was a pianist, and they weren't sure why he had a violin at all, as he wasn’t known to have played it. Other relatives had it looked at by Oxford Violins who said it is not valuable. Judging by the case (woodpulp/cardboard lined with felt, see photo) it could be from the 1930s like my aunt's but in a higher price bracket. No mark or label of any kind. The bow (hair cut out) is by Herrmann , a known maker family in Vogtland, Germany.

Intriguingly, the case contained an itemised luthier’s bill from Dec 1985 for

rehair   £ 12.65
repair to violin
shoot fingerboard, new bridge
clean & polish, glue seams, tailgut   £ 103.50
set strings   £ 10.33
4 adjusters   £ 2.05
total cost   £128.53,

which is almost £400 in 2024 pounds. Extrapolating from today’s cost of bow rehairs would even suggest £ 700. The bill is from John & Arthur Beare in London, who have a reputation as specialists in old violins according to their Wikipedia entry.

After them, somebody less qualified must have messed with the instrument, as I found all four strings attached to wrong pegs. At least the soundpost solidly in place and the bridge was kept separately in the case, so I was able to set it up in less than one hour.

The body is battered and scarred with various repairs but solid. The instrument settled in within 24 hours and sounds lovely to my not very demanding ears - even with the old strings which may well date from 1985 - notably better in the lower register than the other violins I've played so far. The old school tailpiece is fitted with 4 adjusters (as per the luthier's bill). The chinrest has an awkward shape with a rather steep edge. It has no cork,just glued paper on the clamp side and two felt tabs on the chin side. The case contained two packs of rosin: one Hiddersine unused, one Sonella in fragments, also a mute made of horn. And three unidentified spare strings.

Only one moan so far. Taking off the chinrest to look at the seam underneath it (which was ok), I discovered that somebody appears to have renovated (presumably sanded and re-varnished?) the top without taking off the chinrest. Like wallpapering around a small item of furniture. I think the appropriate pirate luthier response to this is: Arrrrrrgh. I'm slightly worried now that the same person may have effed up other things I haven't discovered yet, such as using the wrong kind of varnish or glue. Then again, can't complain about a gift horse and all that. I am aiming to keep this one to play it myself, but have already lent out another one that I restored to a young musician. If and when I am able to rescue more stray instruments the general plan is to make them available to players on a non-profit basis.

Saturday, January 27, 2024

what happened in the Orangerie

One hundred years of cellotude continued:

Third part of

Chapter 1

A cello called Heinrich

Previous section: Strasbourg in the Belle Epoque

Strasbourg: Orangerie, postcard from 1902


What happened in the Orangerie

After I had finished writing up the very first version of this chapter believing that we couldn’t know much about the private lives of Max Heinrich and Maria at the time they met and became engaged, a shock discovery changed everything. A small art nouveau decorated manuscript book with guilt edges turned up in a rather unexpected place, namely on the shelf between my late mother’s poetry books. (Note that she was not related to Max Heinrich and Maria and successfully divorced from their grandson.) It contains more than 150 poems, written by Max Heinrich for his beloved Maria, within just one year (November 1903 to Christmas 1904). It very nearly knocked me over.

The poems are of acceptable quality as far as I can tell as a layperson in these matters. Our musician clearly had a sense for meter and rhythm, and sometimes he also had original ideas. What I was hoping for but didn’t find, however, is usable biographical information. Among all the glowing hearts and rolling tears flooding the poems, it is rather hard to find any connections to the real world. The most interesting findings in this respect are in the meta-information, ie the dates and occasional references to places. Based on these, here’s the short lyrical guide through a very eventful year:

The earliest date linking Max Heinrich and Maria is in the above-mentioned book of novellas by W. O. von Horn, which he had signed with „musician“ behind his name back in 1900. It must have impressed him as he gave it to Maria to read in the year they met. Under his note she wrote that she read it in October 1903. We’ll come back to the content of the book later.

According to the poetry collection, significant events happened a few weeks later, on November 18 1903. So significant that Max Heinrich commemorated the day with a special poem called Jetzt und immer (now and forever) pondering the timelessness of his eternal love.

Then we get an atmospheric description of Christmas 1903, which he seems to have spent quietly gazing into her dear blue eyes. Note that her passport details list her eyes as grey.

Obstacles show up in the next poem with nameless people advising the poet to steer clear of his love interest and giving many reasons – we don’t get the specifics though.

An entry signed Strasbourg 4/2 1904 is in a different handwriting, probably Maria’s and signed Souvenir de Marie Vogel. Not sure what the bird is doing there. The poem is all about flowery metaphors for love and friendship.

On April 18th 1904, the pair became officially engaged. The occasion was celebrated in Tangermünde with a professional family portrait with Max Heinrich’s parents, sister and half-brother. The two young men in their uniforms stand there like guard posts gazing intently towards the future. Maria manages the same gaze even without a uniform. Meanwhile, the old folks sitting in the middle are looking rather grumpy. Max Heinrich’s sister is sitting as well and holds an album on her lap with a photo of a child that doesn’t appear to belong to the family. I was told the album was probably a prop from the photographer’s studio.

There is also a studio portrait of the couple made in Strasbourg by the studio of F. Mehlbreuer (located in the East of the city close to many of the barracks, so they may have done lots of portraits of soldiers and their sweethearts). We don’t have a date for this one, but it appears plausible that it was also made in celebration of the engagement. As on the big family portrait, Max Heinrich wears round, frameless glasses, and his hairline has already moved upwards to the zenith of his skull. The date of the engagement was also engraved into a pair of rings, which are still in the family.

In the poetry album, the date of the engagement, which was also Maria’s 23rd birthday, is linked to the Orangerie in Strasbourg, today known as Parc de l’Orangerie. It is to the Northeast of the city centre, where we now also find the European Parliament. As it happens, I have a Brockhaus Encyclopedia from 1903 from the other side of the family (to be visited in chapter 2), with a map of the Orangerie, showing: a large restaurant on the shore of a lake, a kiosque and an Alsatian farmhouse, as well as an Octroi at the edge of the park which may have something to do with raising the eponymous community tax.

The poems suggest that Max Heinrich popped the question during a visit to the Orangerie, although there is no more specific information on the precise location. The 18th was a Monday, but not Easter Monday – as our poet has left us with an Easter poem on Sunday 3rd.

There is a poem about popping the question which carries two dates, namely: „Straßburg, Orangerie, 18.4.04“ as well as the earlier date of 9.2.04. So I am assuming that he wrote the poem on the earlier date and then performed it as part of the engagement ritual.

Further poems come with notes referring back to the place and time of the engagement, so there is no doubt that the question was popped then and there, and the portraits were taken after that date.

At the end of May, there seems to have been a painful farewell, linked to the address Schwendistraße 6. This street is today known as rue Schwendi, named after a village on the other side of the Rhine. It is the easternmost of the three small streets that lead towards the front facade of the barracks.

We don’t get any further information on the significance of the address. We can admire the house on archi-wiki – like much of the Neustadt it looks quite lovely. There is no obvious indication that it was a restaurant, bar, or meeting point of any kind. A plan dated 1891 suggests that a painter/decorator called Oswald had his workshop on the ground floor.

There is the possibility that Maria lived at that address – close to the barracks but a bit far to commute to the Hopital Civil. However, we know another address where she lived at one point, but without a date. In any case, Schwendistraße 6 appears to have witnessed mutual oaths that the lovers would only kiss flowers, not people, for as long as they had to be apart. Apparently, purple coloured flowers were densely crowded around Maria’s house – not quite enough to pin down its location 120 years later – whereas Max Heinrich was the one who had to leave Strasbourg and would be restricted to kissing roses that reminded him of her. The handwriting in this poem is clearly rattled by emotion making it harder to decipher than most of the others.

After this tearful departure, the next poem is dated July 8th, so it appears the lovers may have had to survive separately for five to six weeks.

In an undated entry after July 10th, we find – finally – something about music, namely a minstrel’s song. It is mostly about the longing produced by separation, we’ll come back to its content later.

Some poems are explicitly marked as songs in their titles. Thus we have an evening song, a spring song, a lullaby and several bridal songs, a girl’s song and three love songs bundled up together. The latter are dated November 18th, the first anniversary of the date when the whole thing started. Like several other poems, the middle one of the love songs includes an example of telepathic communication between the lovers which I find touching.

We find a bonus poem on a postcard that came with the album. Unfranked and undated, the card does carry a useful address:

Fräulein Marie Pfersching
Straßburg / E.
Steinstr. No. 54

This road, today Rue du Faubourg de Pierre, leads from the city centre to the Steintor (stone gate), which is in Neustadt, between the barracks and the main station. Still on the other side of town from the Hopital Civil, but there will have been a tram going down this road, so it would have been feasible.

The poem on the card is signed with two musical notes, the first sitting underneath one ledger line, the second under two. If these ledger lines live under the treble clef, the notes would in German nomenclature spell out H G, so (Max) Heinrich Groß’s initials. One of the poems in the album also contains this musical signature, I just hadn’t understood it while I was transcribing the poems. As they weren’t normally signed with anything, I had seen the notes just as a kind of illustration.

Maybe the notes also tell us something about the instruments Max Heinrich learned to play. As a cellist, one would preferably use the bass clef. A flautist uses the treble clef but can’t play those two notes under the staff. A pianist can play them of course but wouldn’t need the ledger lines, as there would be a second staff below the first ledger line. To me this looks suspiciously like the work of somebody who learned music with a violin – although a few other instruments such as clarinet would also qualify.

Read on:

Romantic writings