Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Postcards from World War One - Part I.

Note:  European Flea Markets are a treasure trove for history lovers.  I am not sure how general the trend is but I ran across much more material related to the Great War than to the Second one.  Probably it is a combination of things.  Much of the material from the 1930's and 40's is still sheltered within intact households.  And of course anything relating to the Nazi era is at the same time shunned and prized by the antiquities market.

There are some fascinating post cards from World War One.  I found lots of these at the Tongeren Flea Market.  Skipping over the majority which were of the comic genre - gas masks and latrines, rats in soup kettles - I picked up a few that had a personal feel to them.....

Translated loosely this says:  No Sugar Ration Card!  Since I can't give you sugar I will give you a sweet kiss!

You can't help but identify the sender of the card with the amorous soldier on the front, but in fact this is one of a series of patriotic themed cards.  I have seen them referred to as Romantic Gesture cards.

But who sent it?  And what did he have to say?  We have a few problems to overcome.

This was an era of extravagant penmanship and slang ridden conversation.  Coupled with some ink fading and I fear my interpretation of the above will be guesswork in places.

Even the date is obscure.  On the front of the card is a PFB logo.  This should indicate it was made by Paul Finkenrath of Berlin.  Unfortunately that company went out of business in 1910, and the reference to sugar rationing clearly makes this a war time issue.  The postmark is light in a key spot, but I think it is from 4-10-1917.  One assumes that the Finkenrath trademark was revived during the war years.

It is posted from Motorschule Russelsheim.  Russelsheim was a place where among other things, aircraft motors were made.  It later became the headquarters for Opel.  I have seen an oblique reference to pilot trainees being sent for a month of education at a Motorschule.  This would be after basic training but before flight school.  This makes me wonder if the writer of this card was a pilot trainee?  What I can make out of the message does have one odd phrase in it..."Im luften grussen".*  It means "the airiest of greetings". An unusual way to put things...was he making an oblique comment to sneak it past the censors?

I am assuming that the sender had the last name of Fothenberg or something close to that.  That name does not appear on the list of World War One aces, although my reading indicates that there were a surprisingly large number of pilots trained in World War I, and few attained memorable success.  Or was he a humble mechanic?  Did he attempt pilot training and wash out?  Did the Motorschule also train truck drivers?

Let us assume that Fraulein Kuchart was proud of him in any case.
* the weird letter that looks like a capitol B is now archaic.  It was the equivalent of "ss"
Addendum:  It has been suggested that above message actually alludes to training as a motorcyclist.  Less cool than a pilot I suppose, but still interesting.  I can't personally make the German word for motorcycle "Motorad" appear, but my feeble excuse still applies, it was an era of extravagant penmanship and lots of slang.

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