Michaela Merz

Irma’s story

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78084_web_R_K_by_Paul-Georg Meister_pixelio.deIrma had left her family very early. She wanted to become a dressmaker and in her village it was not possible to learn this profession. Thus she had to go alone to the big city in order to learn this profession. When I met her, she was a very experienced and exceptionally gifted tailor, who could sew everything a woman’s heart could wish for, starting with cute christening dresses for toddlers to seducing nightgowns to fanciful and daring ball gowns.


She had told little from her past and from that little I have put together the story of her life as one would make a picture from puzzle pieces. It is hardly complete. The only thing what she had ever told me about her mother was a little story, which had hurt her all her life and had left a deep wound on her soul. Back then during her apprenticeship, on Christmas Eve she had to work long into the afternoon. And to get home to the village by train and from the train station to the village was quite a distance. It was dark and cold but Irma was laden with many little presents, which she had sewn herself – one for every one of her 5 younger siblings – was very much looking forward. She was looking forward to the traditional Christmas dinner with them, to their laughs and curious questions about the big city. When she came home, it was very warm inside and unusually quiet. The children were sitting close to the Christmas tree and the father was reading a story to them. Irma was surprised that the table was not set. She greeted everyone and the mother said to her “Irma, the children were hungry, we have already eaten. Your food is in the oven.” Irma was like thunderstruck. She would have wanted to cry but her pride forbad her to show tears. She told me that story only once but almost 50 years later the bitterness in her voice was still there.


After her apprenticeship she married, got children and took care of the children and the household. She never pursued a paid work outside her household. At home she worked all the more and with tailoring earned money for the family. All of the money was earned illegally. She never paid any taxes and social security contributions and probably never thought about it. When I met her she was already in retirement age and had no pension and made a living of tailoring. She lived very modestly and economically. I remember how I once helped her in the larder and how astonished I was by the amount of pickled fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, which she had cheaply bought or collected in the summer and stored them for the winter. However the biggest impression made to very large glasses full of eggs. Also these she had cheaply bought in summer and pickled for the entire winter.

What happened in the relationship with her husband, I never really understood. She did not talk about it at all. I know that one day he disappeared from their common flat and left her alone with the children. I suspect that he sent her a bit of money but it cannot have been much. She stayed alone and hoping that he would return. She loved him all her life. She raised her children, then the grandchildren and tailored fanciful gowns. I also had a few from her.

She was a very proud, diligent and hard-working woman. In her dresses, which she designed herself, was an incredible amount of fantasy. If she had been born at a different place, she could have become an internationally renowned fashion designer. However she stayed a tailor well-known in the city, who never travelled abroad and most time of her life spent in her flat, where she had moved in after her wedding and lived until her death.

I think that one day she realised that her husband would never return. From that day on things deteriorated very fast. It was as if she had lost her will to live and stopped fighting. She developed Alzheimer’s disease. Half a year later she had to be brought to hospital because of pneumonia. I visited her when I heard about it but she did not recognise me. She was awake but she did not see me, her hands were making movements on the duvet as if she was cutting cloth to make a dress from it. A soft smile appeared on her face and she did not seem unhappy or in pain. The nurse told me that very often she was talking to herself and the name which was mentioned most was Gabriel. The first name of her husband. He did not come to her deathbed. Without knowing him I took it amiss. She died three days later without regaining consciousness.

Her funeral was huge. All of her countless customers had come. And there someone showed me an old, elegantly dressed gentleman with a dark hat. In the end Gabriel had come.

Bildquelle: Paul-Georg Meister  / pixelio.de

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