Posts Tagged ‘German Empire’

Nesthaekchen – Once Popular Children’s Books

Monday, December 11th, 2017


Nesthaekchen is a German term for the baby of the family. Else Ury (1877 – 1943) wrote close to forty books for children of all ages, including her immensely popular 10-volume Nesthaekchen series. The series was published between 1918 and 1925 during the days of the Weimar Republic (between the end of the German Empire in 1918 and the beginning of Nazi Germany in 1933.

In her Nesthaekchen series, Else Ury describes the adventures of Annemarie Braun – the baby of the Braun family – from childhood to old age. Ms. Ury was not only one of the most productive female German writers of her time, she was also one of the most successful. Millions bought her books, heard them read on the radio, attended her receptions and read her newspaper columns. As a child, I received one Nesthaekchen volume for Christmas and another for my birthday until I owned them all. In other words, it took me years before I had read the entire series. Still, I have the fondest memories of reading those books, curled up on the couch and deeply engrossed in Annemarie Braun’s life.

Volume 5 of the Nesthaekchen series by Else Ury - Nesthaekchen's Backfischzeit (Nesthaekchen's Teen Years) - Photo J. Elke Ertle, 2017,

Volume 5 of the Nesthaekchen series by Else Ury – Nesthaekchen’s Backfischzeit (Nesthaekchen’s Teen Years) – Photo J. Elke Ertle, 2017,

The Nesthaekchen series continues to be re-published. Since 1945, with every new release, the stories were modernized so that today’s editions contain only 70 to 80% of Else Ury’s original text. During her lifetime, more than one million Nesthaekchen books were printed, and over seven million have been printed to date.

Synopsis of the Nesthaekchen Series

The Nesthaekchen series follows Annemarie Braun, the youngest of three children in the family, from age of 6 to grandmotherhood. Her father is a physician. Her mother is a homemaker. The family, which includes Annemarie’s parents, her two older brothers, a cook, a maid, a nanny, the family dog and a canary, lives in an upper-class neighborhood of Berlin. During WWI, Dr. Braun is dispatched to France as a medical officer while her mother is trapped in England, having missed the last departure for Germany. In 1923, Annemarie marries a young doctor, Rudolf Hartenstein, and raises a family of her own. Her youngest daughter, Ursel, marries the son of a coffee plantation owner, moves to Brazil and makes Nesthaekchen a grandmother with all its joys and hardships.


To read about Else Ury’s life and untimely death, click a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.


Otto von Bismarck – visionary or villain?

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898) was a powerful Prussian statesman, credited with unifying 25 previously independent German states in 1871. As a result of the unification, Germany became one of the most powerful nations in Europe. During most of his nearly 30-year tenure, Bismarck held undisputed control over the government’s policies.

Bismarck’s rise

Born in 1815 to a Prussian nobleman, Bismarck spent his early years studying law and running the family estate. In 1847, he became a delegate to the new Prussian parliament in Berlin. From 1851 to 1862 he held various ambassadorships: he served as an ambassador at the German Confederation in Frankfurt, in St. Petersburg (Russia) and in Paris (France). These posts gave him valuable insight into weaknesses of the great powers of Europe, an understanding he later used to his advantage.

In 1862, Prussian King Wilhelm I appointed him as his Minister President and Foreign Minister. Although technically subservient to the king, it was Bismarck who actually pulled the government strings. In the mid-1860s he orchestrated and won three successive short wars against Denmark, Austria and France. He engineered the wars in order to unify the German states into a powerful German Empire under Prussian leadership. In 1871, Wilhelm I became Emperor and raised Otto von Bismarck’s rank to Fuerst (Prince). The Emperor then appointed him as the first Reichskanzler (Imperial Chancellor) of the German Empire.

For much of the 1870s Bismarck pursued a Kulturkampf (cultural struggle) against Catholicism by placing parochial schools under state control and expelling the Jesuits. But in 1878 Bismarck reversed his position and aligned himself with the Catholics against what he perceived to be a growing socialist threat. To gain the support of the working class and to stave-off calls for more radical socialist alternatives, Bismarck created the world’s first comprehensive government social safety net by establishing national healthcare (1883), accident insurance (1884) and old age pensions (1889). In 1890, following the death of King Wilhelm I, Bismarck resigned at Wilhelm II’s insistence.


Otto von Bismarck statue across from the victory column in Berlin, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2016,

Otto von Bismarck statue across from the victory column in Berlin, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2016,

Bismarck – the visionary

Many historians praise Bismarck as a visionary for uniting Germany while keeping the peace in Europe. He was able to do so through skilled diplomacy and powerful rule at home and by carefully manipulating the balance of international rivalries. Bismarck has been called a master strategist who possessed not only a long-term national and international vision but also the short-term ability to juggle multi-faceted developments.

 U.S. historian William L. Langer, sums up the statesman by saying, “Bismarck at least deserves full credit for having steered European politics through this dangerous transitional period without serious conflict between the great powers.” (Langer, European Alliances and Alignments: 1871–1890 pp 503–04)

Bismarck – the villain

Other historians condemn Bismarck as a villain who dominated his cabinet ministers and smeared their reputations as soon as he no longer needed them. The historian Jonathan Steinberg portrays him as a demonic genius who was deeply vengeful, even toward his closest friends and family members. Bismarck’s friend, German diplomat Kurd von Schloezer, describes him as a kind of evil genius who successfully concealed his contempt for his fellow men while being determined to control and ruin them. British historian Richard J. Evans states that Bismarck was “intimidating and unscrupulous, playing to others’ frailties, not their strengths.” (Evans ,February 23, 2012, “The Gambler in Blood and Iron,” New York Review of Books)


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of