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Living On A "Gut"
by Carol Gohsman Bowen

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The following memories about life on a "Gut" were told to Charles J. Rothe by his father, Charles E. Rothe. "Gut" is an abbreviated form of the word "Gutshaus" which means "manor house." The landowner or lord of a manor was known as the "Gutsbesitzer." Thanks to Charles J. Rothe for providing these stories. If you wish to write to Charles, you can e-mail him at Charles J. Rothe.

Emil CarlEmil Carl Hans Rothe (later known as Charles E. Rothe) was born September 26, 1909 in Kiel. His parents were not married at the time. His mother, Anna Reppenhagen, was from Damshagen area and his father, Ernst Emil Rothe from Silesia, was in the German Navy. When Emil Carl was about a year old, his parents went to America, leaving him to live with his maternal grandparents, Heinrich Christian Carl Reppenhagen and his wife Sophie (geb. Will in Kirchdorf, Insel of Poel).

When Emil Carl was 4 years old, in 1913, his grandfather died, leaving Emil Carl and his grandmother alone. They were living on Gut Von Plessen (Damshagen). They lived in a long building with a thatched roof and each family had their own section of the building. Emil Carl and his grandmother had only one small room. Half of the room had a dirt floor and the other half had a raised wooden floor where they ate and slept. The Grandmother would sweep the dirt floor and then sprinkle sand on it. Living conditions were grim at best.

Food was very basic, mostly black bread (schwarz brot) with schmaltz (fat) spread on it. There was very little meat. The grandmother would make schwarz brot about once every 2 weeks. She would always save some of the dough to start the next batch. By the end of the two weeks, the bread would be very hard. Emil Carl always liked hard bread until the day he died in March of 1975. One time the building caught on fire. Emil Carl could hear the sound as the hams and bacon that were hanging in the attic started cooking.

The children had no toys. One of the things that the boys did, when they had time for entertainment, was to throw sharpened sticks into a mud hole in the field. On an occasional Sunday children might be given one raw egg as a special treat. They made a hole in one end and sucked out the egg.

When Herr Von Plessen and his friends wanted to go hunting, they would round up a bunch of the children and have them go through the woods beating on trees with sticks and making noise. This was to chase all the wildlife out the other end where Von Plessen and his friends were waiting. (The forests in that part of Germany were mostly just patches of woods surrounded by fields.) Gutshaus children

At Christmastime all of the children on the Gut had to go to the steps of the Gutshaus and sing Christmas Carols to the Gnädige Frau. She would then hand out a piece of hard candy to each child. Emil Carl always dreaded this holiday chore. (The term Gnädige Frau is not really used much anymore, but it was used in referring to a lady of wealth or stature and meant "gracious Lady.")

Emil Carl and his grandmother lived on Gut Von Plessen until his parents returned from America in 1922 along with a brother and sister he had never seen before. At that time the whole family, including the grandmother, moved to Sachsenhausen just north of Berlin. In 1924 the family came to America leaving the grandmother in Germany, where she died in 1947 at the age of 90.

Design & Production: Carol Goshman Bowen, Dieter G. H. Garling info@eMecklenburg.de