The happy childhood

Eugen will be 80 years old. About once a year we drink a beer together. Or rather Eugen drinks beer and I something strange, as Eugen calls my non-alcoholic drinks.

Eugen has known me since I was a child and I have always found it amusing with him. I looked forward to the evenings with him. Yesterday we talked about life and suddenly Eugen began to talk about his childhood. Now and again he had told me about his father, who died shortly after the second world war of tuberculosis. I knew his step-father, who had brought him up, and also his mother. But they have long since died and only a few black and white photos can recall them to those who never met them.

Yesterday Eugen told how for 14 years all three of them, he and his parents, had lived together in one small room. There, there was a double bed, a sofa bed, a table, cupboards and a small kitchen. As long as Eugen was a small child, he slept on the sofa. But as he is more then 180 cm tall, since adolescence he has no longer fitted it. As the parents worked in shifts, they switched. Eugen could sleep across the double bed and the two parents, who were very small, took the sofa. Most of the time only one of them was asleep, because the other was working the night shift.

The house was not really insulated and keeping the rooms warm was possible only by constant heating. As the stove went out during the night, every morning it was freezing cold. His mother pushed Eugen’s clothes under the sheet so that he didn’t have to put on his cold clothes in the cold room. His grandmother also lived with them. She went to work, after work she came and ate with them. She sat on the sofa, on which Eugen slept and read the newspaper with a magnifying glass. She slept in her room in the basement, which was damp and unheated.

One washed in the basin in the kitchen. Cold running water was also available. In order to improve the family’s comfort, Eugen’s father laid a metal pipe, which took the water out of the house into the drain in the street. When it was too cold, the water froze to ice in the pipe and the drain was blocked. Then Eugen’s father had to dismantle the pipe, bring it into the warmth of the kitchen and wait until the physical laws freed it of ice.

Both of Eugen’s parents were workers, affectionate and considerate and, like so many parents, wanted only the best for their son. Eugen graduated from school and his parents were very proud of him. Money was always short and Eugen never had new clothes. In his adolescence he was always ashamed of his shabby clothes.

As I listened to him fascinated, I asked Eugen whether his not quite easy childhood was happy. And he answered in a word: very HAPPY!

Image source: Dieter Schütz /

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