Primary Source
Germany | Kaiserreich
Karl Retzlaw describes in his memories how he fared when he as a 12-year-old arrived, with his mother, in Berlin in 1908
"With the second wage long trousers were bought for me, so that I would look older and could look out for a job; I had to contribute to the family livelihood.

Of course, at first I was enrolled in school. In Berlin instruction was given only in the morning; this made it possible for me to work from afternoon to evening.

The first attempt failed. I had found a job in a shop selling plumber's articles; I had to deliver lead pipes and faucets on a handcart. But only after a few days the police 'signed me up', because I was unable to pull the overburdened handcart up a street with an incline, and I had caused a concourse.

My next job was that of delivery boy of a capmaker. I earned 3 Mark per week and daily a cup of barley malt coffee with a hardroll. The capmaker was widower; a housekeeper cared for his household. Here I stayed for one and a half years. Then the man remarried, and the new wife told me : 'your afternoon coffee is cancelled'.

I gave up the job, because without hardroll and coffee I felt hungry. Working hourse were also too long, often until 8 or 9 o'clock in the evening.


In the meantime I had turned 14 and had graduated from school. I could not find an apprenticeship, because the master craftsmen demanded the payment of a premium and were unwilling to pay a wage. My mother did not have money, her income was not sufficient to pay for our livelihood. In the city it was very difficult to earn our daily bread. We had times when we ate no lunch from thursday until payday on saturday. Our main worry was always to have the money ready for the rent. Furthermore, mother was often sick. We did not receive sick pay, and because it was only for one or two days in a week that mother could not go to work, she did not receive any support for the sick.

In our household there was rarely any fruit and never any butter. Except in my youngest childhood, I ate butter for the first time in my life when I was seventeen. We ate lard, artificial honey or beet juice on our sandwiches. We were poor in the very sense of the word : poor in regard of the food we ate, poor in regard of the housing we lived in, poor in regard of the time we had for ourselves."

Karl Retzlaw: Spartakus. Aufstieg und Niedergang. Erinnerungen eines Parteiarbeiters. (Spartacus, Rise and Fall, Memoires of a Party Worker) Frankfurt 1971, p. 19f; quoted after : Gudrun Dormann und Alexander Decker, Die deutsche Sozialdemokratie (The German Social Democracy), in: Materialien zum historisch-politischen Unterricht 1 (Materials for Historical-Political Instruction), ed. by H. Hoffacker. Stuttgart 1975/79, p. 24f; listed on PSM-Data by permission
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