Primary Source
Germany | Kaiserreich
Else Conrad on the Living Conditions of Workers' Families in Muenchen (1) (c. 1909)

"Mason H.,
5, then 4 children.

The husband 37 years old, sturdy, is mason, but was employed as coal worker for the first months of the year. The wife, herself well-kept, does not manage to properly keep her apartment in order. The 4 children of 9, 7, 4 and 2 years look pale, unhealthy and even rather dirty; another child, a five year old daughter, died in May last year.

The family dwells on the second floor of a not very big, older house; it shares this second floor with another family. The family has to manage to live in two adjacent rooms of a height of 2.70 m. The cooking room is 3 by 4.35 m, the bedroom 4.20 by 4.35 m floor space; both are rather small rooms, with one window each, view on the backyard. When we arrived, around noon, the wife was busy cooking; next to her stood the laundry vat, filled with children's laundry; on the clothes line, spanned through the room, cleaned landry, still wet, was hanging. In a bed, close to the oven, the 7 year old daughter was lying, with rheumatic pain; she had to inhale the moist air and the steam coming from the oven; the two children who do not yet attend school were playing on the floor, on a bench in front of the window the husband, presently out of employment, was sitting, idle. We found the adjacent bedroom crammed with furniture, despite the fact that there were only two beds in it. For the family of six there were only three beds and a sofa.

The husband's income, which forms almost the entire family income, this year amounted to 1,342.50 Mk; apparently it just barely was sufficient to pay for the rudimentary living expenses, as his annual balance has a deficit of only 33.10 Mk. The family could not save anything, as rates for a sewing machine still had to be paid. But H. regularly paid his insurance fees, also his membership fees for the Arbeiterverein (Workers' Club) and for the Gewerkschaft (Trade Union). As the family restrains itself when it comes to her apartment, for which she pays 154 Mk rent annually, it restrains itself concerning nutrition; which is indicated by the undernourished appearance of the children. While groceries account for the major share of the family expenses, in figures 67.3 %, the real expenditure amounts to only 957.70 Mk. Meat they consume half a pound per day, most of it by the father who comes home for lunch in most months of the year; the children probably do not get any meat in their food. The lack of meat in their diet is hardly compensated by other nutritios food. Not by milk, the family consumes only 2.1 liters per day, not by eggs, they consume less than one per day, and not by butter and other fats, because the family consumes only 35 pounds per year. What is the basic diet of this family ? Apparently bread, substitute coffee and noodles, as the positions of flour, yeast and sugar frequently appear in the housekeeping accounts. The expenses for bread, mill products, rice, legumes amounted to 281.45 Mk, for sugar the relatively large sum of 40.79 Mk, for coffe, mostly substitute (fig coffee or Frankkaffee), 31.37 Mk for the year. The expenses for potatoes barely went beyond 10 Mk. Alcohol is of no great importance in this family. The husband takes his meals in the mess at his workplace; he spends 29 Pfennig a day, often 52; how much of this on beer, he does not say; it seems that 24 Pfennig fall on beer and 5 Pfennig on bread, at times only half a liter of beer and two sausages. If he takes his lunch at a restaurant, he spends only 52 Pfennig, as he is content with a beer, bread and sausage; but he emphasizes the former. The position "recreation" is totally missing in this family's household accounts; the position "transportation" lists only 20 Pfennig for the year, so that no trips were undertaken. Even for christmas only 3.50 Mk were spent. Expenses for newspapers and other cultural desires were also low. It has to be appreciated that this family struggling with such adverse economic conditions provides a furnished room to a brother of the wife and keeps it up, in return for a compensation of their rent expenses, instead of creating a small revenue for themselves by a regular sublease of that room.

note : in English, München is often spelled Munich

Else Conrad: Lebensführung von 22 Arbeiterfamilien Münchens (Lifestyle of 22 Workers' families in Munich). Munchen 1909, p. 12-14; 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. 40ff; listed on psm-data geschichte by permission
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