HEART-WARMING AND HEARTFELT CHIMES
Beate Hoppe collects old autograph and friendship books / Scrap reliefs and words of wisdom from a bygone age / The oldest entry dates back to 1890
© By Stefanie Schildchen
Anneliese is a girl of, say, around ten years old. In Listringhausen, most probably where she is living at the beginning of the previous century, there is something for her too under the Christmas tree in the cosy front room; a doll’s dress perhaps, an embroidered handkerchief, some apples, a handful of nuts. One thing is certain: she shall be receiving a small parcel as a present from her grandfather. Inside, a book with an artistic cover containing nothing but blank pages.
More than a hundred years later Beate Hoppe is now browsing through it. The paper has yellowed and its bound pages are filled. It is rather a painstaking task to decipher the different handwriting. Beate, who is from Meinerzhagen, is patient however and has considerable experience in this.
She is interested in, and collects everything to do with, the history of Meinerzhagen. And this old autograph book is no exception. She has several such books and she guards them like treasure. “If I come across one, I pick it up immediately”, she says, making most of her discoveries at flea markets.
Meinerzhagen in days of old – the Genkel valley is blanketed with snow and it is bitterly cold. Young Anneliese is wearing thick woollen stockings, possibly a dark pinafore dress and her plaited hair is tied with a large ribbon. She sits attentively at the table, opens the inkwell and runs her hand over the leather-embossed decoration and the legend “Poesie”. She realises that this present is precious and that she will take great care of it.
“All in my album I wish good fortune and prosperity”, she writes slowly and intently on the first page. “Bestowed to me by my dear grandfather from Lützel, Christmas 1910.”
Beate Hoppe also cherishes her own friendship book. “We were all given it as a birthday present at the time”, she recalls. The cover is made of plastic and is easy to clean and washable, and it has a graphic design, in the same way as adorned the kidney tables in the 1960s.
It started out as a family tradition. Then it was the turn of my female friends in the neighbourhood. “We would keep a few pages clear”, according to Hoppe, “because we knew some who ought to go nearer the front.” She had acquired her album in 1962 and had specific ideal candidates in mind. “One of the first then was my form teacher Helene Schürmann.”
She was a “Meinerzhagen institution”: “Generations of children were taught by her in the Nordschule.” Her entry in blue ink: “By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered …”, an ode by Bonhoeffer. “These lines have accompanied me my whole life”, says Beate Hoppe.
A few pages further on Günter Hausmann – a very popular teacher – had been immortalised with a few lines. “We have learnt a great deal from him, his lessons were brilliant and he could tell really good stories.” In those days “calligraphy” was still on the curriculum, explains Hoppe. “We used to write with a refillable fountain pen.” Ballpoint pens or suchlike were not allowed.
The girls were always slightly better at it than the boys. “The needlework lessons meant we had better fine motor skills.” And the same very high standards applied when it came to posting an entry in the book belonging to a friend. “It had to be neat with no smudges.” And just like a school exercise book, ripping out a page was an absolute no-no.
Beate Hoppe is also very au fait with the old-style German script.
The oldest autograph book in her collection is from 1890
“During my training I encountered this a lot because my colleagues all still wrote like that.” This is why she has no problems deciphering the closely penned lines of even the oldest texts. After all, the oldest autograph book in her collection is from 1890.
“But it was the pictures that really interested me when I bought the book,” and she points to a few glossy prints of remarkably well-preserved colour sheen. “Wonderful!” This vividness.”
The subjects are the stuff of fairy tales, animals, flowers, rosy-cheeked figures of children, entwined with adornments. Most are embossed, and the most sought-after were glittered. The scrap reliefs were stored in a strongbox and fondly viewed and swapped. “We bought ours from Grandpa Hühn.” We used to buy our marbles there too. He was already in his nineties at that time and ran a tobacconist’s on Oststraße.
You could also get them at Line Krugmann’s stationery shop on Kirchstraße. “She would take the pictures from a cardboard box under the counter”, recalls Beate Hoppe. “One cost 20 pfennigs.” We proudly carried the sheets of pictures in their cellophane wrappers home where we would separate them using a small sharp pair of scissors.
Sometimes she takes out her collection of albums just to look at the pictures. Christmas motif (“Heart-warming and heartfelt chimes”), roses in every shape and form and her favourite image of Sleeping Beauty. But also on account of what are, in part, quite rare sayings – words of wisdom, good advice or quotations from the Bible.
The women and girls who penned them come from all over the Volme valley. Many of the names have a very familiar ring to them. Anneliese’s autograph book alone, which she kept until around 1914, features a vast array of Meinerzhagen family surnames: Klassen, Lohmann, Schriever, Rövenstrunk, Köster, Nockemann, Krumme, Weischede, etc.
The handwriting varies according to the period, background and teacher. The carefully selected verses are about loyalty, love and friendship. In 1898 one girl from Bollwerk wrote as follows: “May your life be happy and joyful, may no suffering sadden your heart, good fortune be your constant companion, no grief and pain ever affect you.” “Brilliant”, says Beate Hoppe, “when you consider that the children were only ten years old and were able to write so proficiently.” Also of interest are the many different styles of handwriting, which was probably also down to the particular teacher. Tightly penned lines with an ultra-fine nib and blue-black ink. “To be in pious parental care what a beautiful blessing for a child. The right paths are laid open to him which for many are hard to find.” This entry was left by someone in Anneliese’s autograph book. The final entry is from 1914: “Do not stand proud in your fortune and do not complain in your suffering bear the inevitable with dignity, do what is right, delight at what is beautiful, love life and do not be afraid of death and believe firmly in God and a better future this means to be living and to take away the bitter pain of death.”