Carl Maria Wohlrath, one of my grandfathers, was the youngest of three sons of a landowner in Reichenbach. In the Owl Mountains. In Galicia, during the time of the Danube Monarchy. In Silesia, the district of Lviv. In the eighteenth century, ancestors, craftsmen, and farmers from the German Reich had migrated to the East. The settlers received forest to clear for money and could use the arable land as their property.
Carl Maria and his brothers grew up on a small estate. Horses, cows, farmland, and meadows. There’s a forest. A blooming garden. Geese, chickens. Silesian wealth in Galicia. The great-grandmother had learned blue dyeing from her mother. She made her own money with it, put it aside, put coins in her sons’ pockets on Friday. She also sold eggs and poultry. Only because the first ancestor had been industrious and had married wisely, just because all had worked hard for over a hundred years and married well, house and yard had been built permanently.
Carl Maria, born in 1884, was the youngest of the brothers and knew from childhood on he would not inherit the farm. Always the eldest took over the property and paid off the others. In small installments, after each harvest. Or a right of residence was granted and charged. So the youngest learned everything there was to learn: agriculture and trade. Cultivation of cabbage and accounting. And also the white tanning and blue dyeing of his mother. Carl dreamed of an apprenticeship at a textile company in Lemberg. To complete at least one commercial apprenticeship. At least a businessman’s assistant. He worked on the estate and dreamed until the day came when his father vouched for his best friend. For a neighbor. With everything the family owned. Land, house and yard. This had its usual order, that one gave change for the other and extended it. For a year, the paper strips went back and forth, prolonged, swingingly signed by a gentleman of the bank and Carl’s father. Also signed by the neighbor, who could no longer be a friend, because he played and drank, because he had not used the money for buying horses and seeds, neither for hospital bills. The money was gone, the farm from now on was owned by the bank.
Carl was thirteen years old when his father took the best suit out of the closet, his mother brushed it out and cleaned the hat. The father drove with the carriage to the bank; when he came back, he was sweaty and pale, and the family homeless and destitute. The next week already the bank wanted to send a man who recorded all his belongings until then no spoon and no grain could be removed. A month later, the Wohlraths were to leave their court. No pity, no respite. Money or yard. There was nothing left to get from the neighbor. The father was silent. The three sons took care of the cattle. The mother slaughtered a chicken, cooked, put a bottle of potato schnapps on the table. After that, only the vibrating noises of moving could be heard. The Wohlraths were not the first of their relatives whose lives did not go as planned, God laughed too often when he watched the people in their planning. The youngest brother of Carl’s grandfather had lost his tannery, house, and wife in a fire. He took the horse and wagon, all the money he could collect from the customers, the debt and pawn certificates he still had and drove from Lemberg to Leipzig. He bought up half Anger and half Crottendorf at the gates of the town. Arthur Wohlrath became the most significant cabbage gardener of these two villages. Every year he wrote two letters saying that they all should come to Leipzig. Each time, he enclosed a check that Carl’s mother kept, never cashed.
Carl’s mother had been so smart she had sworn to her husband not to meticulously disclose everything when he drew up the first list of possessions for the bank. Each of the three sons got a horse, and as much clothing and equipment as the horses could carry. They also got the money their Mother had saved. A small fortune. The parents themselves kept little for their journey.
Carl’s mother had placed a horse, a plowing horse, the large riding cart, most of the fabrics and materials for blue dyeing and for tanning the skins with a neighbor. Supplies, crockery and silver cutlery too. Carl’s father was ashamed, didn’t hug his sons when they left. Carl’s mother cleared, cleaned and put money aside, so skillfully that there was still enough for the banker and his protocell to record for hours.
“Ride west as far as you can. We’ll catch up.” Carl’s mother gave the oldest address in Hirschberg, Berlin, and Leipzig: “At Hanna, we meet. One of you must stay in Hirschberg. If you ride on, then into Prussia, to Leipzig, Berlin or to the sea. The North Sea, not the Baltic Sea. But one must stay. And wait for us.”
It was Carl who stayed with his mother’s sister. He had never seen the Giant Mountains before. The Schneekoppe. But he had also never experienced a household in which kosher cooking was done, and much more rules were followed than in his home. There the work on the farm had always been the most important. His mother usually went alone on Shabbat with her sons to the synagogue in Trenkstraße. She kept the holidays and celebrations, his father was always on the road. Hanna and her husband let Carl marvel and wander through the city. He found work in a linen weaving mill. In the office. He practiced bookkeeping and numbers. He asked about prices and trade. Carl was fourteen, the turn of the century came, and Carl wanted the future. He dreamed of a house and land.
His two brothers had ridden on to Berlin. They looked around, felt silly and out of place in the city, didn’t know where to go, between horse-drawn buses and electric trams. So many people, business. Squeaking, honking. The capital of the German Empire. Her only address on Oranienburgerstraße was no good. They said these people moved on to the West two years ago. Rotterdam. The brothers Max and Rudolf were given food and advice to seek their happiness elsewhere. Not in Berlin. There were too many here already. They slept in one of the backyards, it was loud in their ears. Much too loud. The noise from the houses, the hissing in the streets. The horses’ hooves sounded like bullets on the asphalt. They bought bread and rode to Leipzig. They rode to Anger. To Crottendorf. Two Villages. They saw the cabbage fields. They found Arthur Wohlrath, the man who owned many fields in these two villages.
“At last, you’re here. Your Mother wrote that my wife died last year. I have three daughters and a son. Kurt’s not into farming and cabbage. He doesn’t want to know about any of this. He just wants money, and he wants to live in the city. And the daughters have their families.”
Max and Rudolf were twenty and twenty-two years old. They reached out their hands to the old man: “What shall we do? We have money.”
“We’ll buy more land and build a house together.” They took the mother’s treasure and bought land. They cultivated spinach and winter portulaca, pointed cabbage, white cabbage, turnips, kohlrabi, and Brussels sprouts. They acquired horses, wagons. The first car. They delivered. They worked day and night. Everything they had learned at home on the estate was now of use to them. They kept the town and country together. They plowed, harvested and drove from left to right and in circles.
The villages of Anger and Crottendorf supplied the city of Leipzig. The railway lines led past Volkmarsdorf and surrounded the two communities. Max opened a shop for coal and firewood next to one of the train sidings. The parents had arrived in Hirschberg in the meantime. The mother decided to stay and build a blue dyeing factory with her sister. Her husband, however, no longer found a role for himself. He helped when the women asked him for help. Otherwise, he walked through Hirschberg in the best suit greeting people. Carl was sent to Görlitz to an uncle on his horse bringing the plowing horse along. He received all the money the two families could raise. From Görlitz, he fought his way through to Anger-Crottendorf to his brothers. That was in 1898. Carl was sixteen years old. His brother Rudolf was the king of the Cabbage fields in Anger and bought land in Volkmarsdorf. Max’s fuel business was bursting at the seams. He wanted to get closer to the city. He needed a delivery van and a better connection to the tracks, closer to the central station. So, he looked around in Volkmarsdorf.
“Carl brings the Plowing horse,” the two brothers ridiculed. “He brings our best field horse. We can’t go home anymore, but our horses are here.”
“And silver. And Coins. Some gold pieces.” The mother had also given Carl all the checks and a promissory note from the neighbor from Reichenbach. A worthless piece of paper. “But,” Max said and shoved it into his wallet, “who knows, maybe someday, it will be useful for something. Maybe this guy will win at gambling someday. Debts and profits are bequeathable..”
Arthur was pleased with Carl’s arrival. He saw the checks: “This is your money, it’s now being cashed. Wohlrath’s whole community of heirs.” The first time they mentioned it.
Carl was amazed at how his brothers were finally dressed. And he also got a new shirt with a stiff round collar, a hat, a dark suit, a tie. Carl didn’t even know how to move. Then they all went from the village to the city of Leipzig to the photographer at Augustusplatz and sent one of the sepia brown boxes, on which they stood in front of an Italian landscape with a serious look, to Hirschberg. Rudolf put up a letter and wrote that they would build a house. Arthur and the three brothers. Idastrasse 41. Five hundred and eighty square meters they wanted to buy, corner Mariannenstrasse, to build there a large house. Five floors. Each apartment with over one hundred and fifty square meters. Ground floor a grocery store with warehouse and office. Next, to the house,, there will be a coal store, garages and a storage area with a direct rail connection. They wanted to go to Volkmarsdorf, at the gates of the city and cultivate their land in the villages.
In 1898 the life of the entire community of heirs Wohlrath began before a royal Saxon notary. Wohlraths heirs, so it stood afterward more than a hundred years long on top of all official letters and accounts. The construction of the house cost eighty thousand gold marks. Half of the money was paid in cash, the rest in mortgages. Arthur moved into the apartment on the first floor and lived as a Pensioner. He gave equal inheritance to his daughters Minna, Margarethe, Martha, and son Kurt. He also registered Carl’s parents, but they stayed in Hirschberg. They’ve made a living. Gradually, the house was divided into thirty-two heirlooms.
Anger and Crottendorf, today parts of the city of Leipzig, as well as Volkmarsdorf, were council villages. Since the fourteenth century, they have been under the sovereignty of the City of Leipzig. In Anger, first, a monastery had the supremacy, in Crottendorf the lords of the manor Zweinaundorf. The task of the two villages was to provide for the inhabitants of the town. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the two villages became a popular tourist destination for the people of Leipzig. There were restaurants like the Kleine Kuchengarten, zum Lämmchen, Drei Mohren, and the Grüne Schenke.
In 1891 the village buildings of the Grüne Schenke were demolished to build multi-level residential buildings on Breite Straße. Behind it, a new building was erected in 1892 with a large hall for nine hundred and fifty people and a small dance hall. Now the company was called “Mehnerts Konzert- und Ballsäle” (Mehnerts Concert and Ball Halls), but still and soon again officially called Grüne Schenke. The new Grüne Schenke was known in Leipzig for its lavish neo-baroque furnishings with columns and galleries.
Before her marriage, my grandmother Emma Clara Frieda Böttger had a job in the village of Reudnitz just outside Leipzig. Like Anger and Crottendorf, Reudnitz supplied Leipzig with cabbage and potatoes. In addition to these villages, between the central railway station and the Bavarian railway station, the old Graphic Quarter with two thousand and two hundred book trade and book trade businesses developed until 1900. My grandmother was born in 1889 in Paunsdorf. Another village in the east of Leipzig. The Johann Gottfried Böttger type foundry was the first industrial enterprise to settle there in 1863. That was their relatives. And everyone in this family worked, invented and acted. In 1911 Carl Maria Wohlrath and Clara Frieda Böttger married. They moved to Idastraße. They left the villages. They left village life and rascals behind. My grandmother set up the grocery store. With coffee and tea. Cucumbers in barrels. Ham. Smoked fish. Rice and noodles. Only with the sale of vegetables and potatoes she remained connected to the villages. And with some useful utensils also the typesetting of the Böttgers.
These were the years of the Gründerzeit before the turn of the century, before the First World War, when all these villages expanded, the population grew, agriculture decreased. Wohlrath’s heirs sold the first cabbage gardens. The immigrant villagers became city dwellers. Carl Maria Wohlrath was killed in France in August 1914.
He had bequeathed a quarter of his property to his wife, three quarters to his daughter Elisabeth. The general certificate of inheritance was issued only in November 1918 by a court clerk in Leipzig. His brother Rudolf died in the battle of Verdun in 1918. Only Max had escaped with his life because he traded coal. Coal was more critical for the war than vegetables and cabbage. Carl Maria and Emma Clara Frieda had been married for four years. The twenty-six-year-old widow and her daughter owned some fields and almost half of the house. Divided into Fourteen thirty-two different parcels.
My grandmother kept running her grocery store. She married a second time. One who had made his way west from the Prussian province of Goldberg, from the Haynau estate. Born 1871, eighteen years older. They both lived as Leipzig city dwellers, took a carriage to the opera and sometimes to the countryside. To the Green Tavern. The last fields were sold before 1933. Wohlrath’s entire community of heirs lived on into the 21st century.