Part 35: School Days And Field Work

The agricultural mini farms that emerged after the land reform were not nearly able to satisfy people’s hunger. Large and medium-sized farmers constantly had to serve to meet the fixed community target for grain, milk, meat, and potatoes.

It was only a matter of time to introduce more effective farming methods. The way was paved for the later agricultural production cooperatives (LPG) via the machine lending stations that had been set up.

Even our village school was not spared from the social changes. All the old teachers with a brown tinge were no longer allowed to practice their profession. State-run seminars trained new socialist teachers in courses under the motto: ‘As long as no new generation of progressive teachers has been trained, we will continue to write ‘Blume’ with an ‘h’!’ To be clear, I learned nothing, absolutely nothing, in the three years I spent at the village school. My friend Hans and I sat the entire time in the same room on the same seats in the last row. While the new teacher struggled with the fifth and sixth grade, we both did what we wanted.

At best, homework for the next day. But that was all. I swear I never did homework at home all those years, yet I had good report cards. The lessons up to the fifth single grade in the city had given me this head start in knowledge.

Of course, this left the children free to get up to all sorts of mischief and nonsense: In winter, the children had to heat the classrooms themselves. Every week, two other students were on duty as stokers. One hour before class started, they had to light the stove. When it was Hans’ and my turn, we found a large tin can with dried oil paint in the shed while fetching wood. We heated it vigorously, we knew something about that, and put the tin on the stove.

During the class, the paint began to boil and spilled onto the red-hot stove top. In seconds, the classroom was filled with foul-smelling blue smoke. The students had to flee the room. The stench was so intense that, even with the windows open, it was impossible to attend classes for several days. When asked about the cause, we unanimously claimed that the can had been on the stove when it was first lit. Unfortunately, we had not noticed it and had not paid attention to it. The opposite could not be proven to us. We had not foreseen such a long absence from lessons after our prank. It was not unusual, because we children were constantly released from lessons by agricultural auxiliary work, at least the larger ones.

No sooner did the beet plants sprout from the ground in the spring than we had to start pulling them out of the ground. We crawled across the field on our knees, always following the women who hoed regular, wide gaps in the rows of plants. The remaining tufts had to be ‘pulled,’ only the strongest plants were allowed to remain. Those were to become vigorous turnips by the fall. Dull work, and in the evening the knees were fiery red and sore.

Soon after, the potatoes started to sprout. But the Western imperialists, or so we were told, had repeatedly dropped potato beetles at night from the air corridor that led from Frankfurt am Main over the Kyffhäuser to West Berlin. They were supposed to disrupt socialist reconstruction in the East Zone. Now the beetle larvae, small reddish-brown voracious caterpillars, threatened to eat the fields bare. Armed with glasses and cans, the village youth had to rid the plants of the dangerous vermin. No lessons again, but at least we didn’t have to crawl across the fields on our knees.

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