Thursday, April 21, 2022

lost illusions

Every picture tells a story No. 34

Staying on the unpleasant subject of wars, shopkeeper Julius Düsselmann had an adventurous streak in his younger days. Reportedly he wanted to fly zeppelins, which didn't quite work out. In 1904, aged 18, he signed up for the Schutztruppe, the small colonial force serving to uphold German rule in the small number of colonies the Reich had acquired belatedly. Here's Julius, looking wild and barely recognisable, in his Schutztruppe uniform. He signed up as a Reiter (rider) which was the equivalent of a common soldier there - definitely not cavalry, as I have seen photos of Reiter troops riding camels and donkeys.

A colour image of a Reiter's uniform and outfit can be seen here.

He was sent to Deutsch-Südwest Afrika, today's Namibia, as part of the reinforcement troops for the now notorious war against the Herero, which in recent years has been described as a genocide. Essentially, the very small Schutztruppe had been struggling to cope with the Herero uprising, until the government sent out the cruel and ruthless general Lothar von Trotha, who had no qualms about forcing a large part of the tribe into the desert and letting people die there.

I heard that Julius didn't talk about the war, but admitted having witnessed terrible things in his short stay in Africa. He caught a tropical disease, probably typhoid fever, and was sent home in poor health, arriving in Hamburg on 18.3.1905. He needed regular spa treatments at Bad Nauheim until 1914 (which is also the place where he settled after 1945 and lived for the rest of his life).

Apart from this photo, the only other souvenir of Africa is a small ruby he found there (or maybe two), which he had set in gold together with a bit of the surrounding rock. There are two of these, not sure if they are cut from the same rock or separate finds. I have one of the two and it is marked "Abbabis, S.W.Afrika, 22.Januar 1905". Must have felt he had a lucky day in an otherwise rather grim time that surely didn't live up to his hopes of an adventure.

Abbabis was a railway station and the place of a reconvalescence home for members of the Schutztruppe. If Julius was there to reconvalesce from his disease, that means he can't have spent much time in active service. Typhoid fever was reported to affect the Schutztruppe specifically from October 1904 onwards, which would broadly fit with this timing.

Two and a half years after his return he married his cousin Helene Kauer (youngest of the five daughters of the stationmaster of Adamsweiler):

Reportedly she talked him out of plans to emigrate to the USA, so he channelled his spirit of adventure into business instead.

Their shared ancestry is the Imig clan, as both their mothers were from the Imig family in Simmern. Julius's paternal side is the Krefeld clan.

To get a better impression of Julius's war experience, I bought a copy of the novel Morenga by Uwe Timm, which I hear steers very close to the historical documents. (The English translation appears to be out of print. Heck, it's even been made into a film, I just found out.) Am planning to read that soon, watch this space.

This photo is also on flickr.

Every picture tells a story series so far:

  1. string quartet Wuppertal Elberfeld 1927
  2. greetings from Adamsweiler
  3. Gastwirthschaft Ferd. Weirich
  4. quartet times three
  5. Neumühl 1923
  6. Tangermünde railway station 1889
  7. a singing lesson
  8. bei Wilhelm Geppert
  9. a bakery at Lorsch 1900
  10. Consumgeschäft von Julius Düsselmann
  11. Hanna and Ruth
  12. a young chemist
  13. school's out at Reichenstein, 1886
  14. a patchwork family in East Prussia
  15. the case of the missing grandmother
  16. checkpoint Glaner Brücke 1929(ish)
  17. finding Mimi
  18. five sisters, five decades
  19. happy at home
  20. gone milking
  21. steel workers
  22. field work
  23. what to wear at Porta Westfalica
  24. a classic convertible
  25. at the bottom of the steps
  26. a forester's family
  27. the Kaiser visits Allenburg
  28. teaching the 'deaf-mute'
  29. a guard dog called Schluck
  30. party like it's 1956
  31. the case of the mysterious uncle
  32. three Hedwigs and a baby
  33. a lost generation
  34. lost illusions

Alternatively, you can use this twitter thread as an illustrated table of contents.

In a somewhat roundabout way, this series relates to my research for the family history music memoir I have now completed in a first version.

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