When the 'make do and mend' attitude of post-war divided Germany became 'ending is better than mending' in the Wirtschaftswunder era.
Or, how I became a Magpie obsessed with combining the old and the new.
I have always been the girl who could use everything.
Maybe because I grew up with stories from “The Bad Times” after the war when resources were scarce and one had to make do and mend. My great-grandmother, who lived in our big two-family house with my great-aunt and uncle, was the type who preferred the privy in the outhouse to a modern toilet, while the rest of the family had fully bought into the Wirtschaftswunder ethic and kept tut-tutting about all the “old rubbish” I was so fond of.
My great-grandmother and my aunt and uncle moved out when I was eleven years old. It was a sad time. I still remember the pile of “rubbish” behind the house, made up of the old things "Oma" could not take with her to the new city apartment. I guess rummaging through the pile for keepsakes started my long habit of scavenging. They would not let me keep the beautiful white porcelain cockatoo that used to live on Oma's dresser, and it slowly went to pot outside.
But I did manage to sneak this jug back into my room. Funnily enough I had never seen it before. Though I did not particularly like that it was broken and minus a lid, even then I was intrigued by the clever repair to the spout.
So as a child then, I was fascinated by the past - probably even more so than now and probably, because so much of it was locked away behind barbed wire not five kilometres away in “The East”.There were only very few things my family was ever willing to share about it. Too bad was the trauma, too hard had been the German fall from grace. Many books have been written about our country's past and I will not add another.
But still, there were aunts and uncles, great grandmothers and cousins hidden behind a mined fence. Many years later, I was able to visit the East, but by then, a good many were dead.
The only one who seemed to understand my quest for the past was my grandmother. She took me to East Germany to see the house my grandfather was born (he had died during the war).
She also taught me all the old skills that had so recently gone out of fashion: knitting, crochet, sewing and embroidery. But “Omi” was also all about proper finishing and the merit of mending. That, of course, had been drilled into her in the school of home economics that middle class girls went to in the old days. The samples of her work from those days speak volumes. Much beauty and neatness, less creativity.
And it was Omi who read us Grimm’s and Andersen’s fairytales and let us hammer away on her ancient typewriter. My two sisters were less interested in the handicrafts but there was always a stack of scrap paper handy to draw or paint on.
In the 1970’s, nostalgia for the past was back in fashion, and oh joy, at that time my Omi worked in a fabric factory! My mother welcomed the scraps and remnants coming our way, sewing beautiful clothes for my sisters and myself. Mum was a seamstress by trade but worked as a handicrafts teacher. Although less interested in “vintage”, she was much more inventive than my grandmother.
My mother had the gift of creating wondrous things from a few scraps of nothing - I guess I got that from her.
And maybe she also took inspiration from the fact that her eldest was such a creative magpie. I used to collect everything that interested me, not fussy about where it all came from, and I rearranged it in ever new combinations in my upstairs room.
My parents used to joke that I lived in a museum, and sometimes they would even show people around.
I don’t think I really minded, for I was proud enough of my possessions that my room was actually rather presentable most of the time. I wish I could say the same about my daughters' rooms!