Saturday, 20 June 2015

The Leather Shorts

Osterhase - Easter Bunny (Image:
The girl had a new teacher for her second year in primary school, Fräulein Alscher, a bespectacled teacher in her thirties who radiated authority. As the "Fräulein" (Miss) indicated, the teacher was a spinster. She lived with her elderly mother and dedicated most of her time to the schooling of six to 10-year-old children. Fräulein Alscher would remain the girl's teacher for the following three years in primary school.
Although the new teacher was strict, the girl liked her well enough but was always careful not to be caught doing something she wasn't supposed to do. She paid attention in school and did her homework, but she also had an active imagination and would doodle or draw in her copybook during lessons. Not in one of the good ones though, those that she used for her homework and that the teacher might collect for corrections. Rather, she doodled in one of her everyday copybooks.
It was towards the end of her second year in primary school and the girl was bored. She had finished her exercises and was doodling yet again. This time, she drew a picture of her school's headmaster, the Rektor as he was called. The Rektor’s actual name was Herr Haase and if you removed one letter from his name, the spelling was the equivalent to the German word for hare or bunny. So the girl drew a picture of Herr Haase with long floppy ears, spectacles and a tie and labelled it accordingly, suggesting that Herr Haase looked like the Easter Bunny (Osterhase). She then carefully tore the page from her copybook, folded up the piece of paper and handed it to the girl sitting next to her.

The piece of paper was passed around the class, from pupil to pupil, when suddenly one of the kids snickered. Fräulein Alscher, never one to miss anything going on in class, asked the boy what was so funny. She didn't receive a reply. Going over to the boy's desk, she discovered that he was holding a scrunched up piece of paper and asked for it to be handed over. After looking at the picture, she asked the class who was responsible for it. The girl - eventually - had no option but to own up.
The teacher became very angry but, luckily, the girl only got some extra homework and had to write lines about behaving in class. However a few months later, when she was caught again for a minor offence, Fräulein Alscher gave her a massive slap in the face that stung for ages and the girl vowed never to be caught again.

German children early 1960s
German children early 1960s. The boys
 is wearing lederhosen, the girl a dirndl.
The Truant

Uwe was one of the boys in her class. There were over 30 children in her class and the girl didn't know him very well as he played with some of the boys in the school yard. He didn't do very well in school either.He was behind in his reading and writing and sometimes didn't do his homework. That would result in Uwe having to stay behind when the other kids went home at lunchtime.
From what the girl had picked up in class, it appeared that Uwe's father had died some time ago and that Uwe's mother was working in a factory. In the early 1960s, working mothers were few and far between and this, if nothing else, made Uwe stand out from the other kids.
During their third year in primary school, Uwe was missing from class, but as he didn't have many friends in school, nobody was particularly concerned about his whereabouts. Two days later, Uwe turned up in class again. When the teacher asked him where he had been, he said that he had to look after his mother who had been taken ill.
The following day, however, the teacher found out that Uwe had been lying and had played truant. Fräulein Alscher told the class to be quiet and left the classroom for a few minutes. When she came back, she was accompanied by Frau Seifert, a mature teacher in her fifties. They asked Uwe to come in front of the class.
Fräulein Alscher told the class that Uwe had been lying and had skipped lessons deliberately and that, therefore, he needed to be punished.
Every classroom had a bamboo cane that was used for pointing at words or numbers on the blackboard. Frau Seifert grabbed the cane while Fräulein Alscher was holding on to Uwe, who was screaming and struggling  to get away. Frau Seifert then pulled Uwe's lederhosen (leather shorts) half way up his right buttock and brought the cane down. An angry red welt immediately started developing and Uwe began howling. The cane came down once more, then again and again…
When Frau Seifert had finished, she said to Fräulein Alscher:"This is so bad for my heart - it always takes so much out of me!"
The other children had watched in silence. The girl nearly felt sick and her heart when out to Uwe who had been so badly beaten. She was reflecting on Frau Seifert's words too. What did the teacher mean? Was she only concerned for her own health, or did she feel sorry for the boy? And if she did, why did she still hit Uwe?
Although the girl didn't particularly like Uwe, she realised that something was really wrong here. Everybody knew that Uwe's father had died and that Uwe's mother was working all day. Uwe had told some of the kids that he had to do chores around the home and prepare the dinner when he returned from school. He couldn't go out and play. Uwe and his mother lived in a poor part of town and Uwe never had any pocket-money for sweets or treats. Why didn't the school realise that things were difficult for Uwe and try to help him?
When the class started their fourth year in primary school, Uwe was missing. He had been sent to Special School, the school for mentally disabled children, children with learning difficulties and troublesome children.
German children didn't - and don't - wear school uniforms, so in the early 1960s, boys were wearing lederhosen (leather shorts) or other types of shorts in the summer months and girls usually wore skirts or dresses.

(This article is also published on my Wordpress blog