Hildegard and Bengt

Hildegard, WWI and the Paul Family

In 1912 Germany formed The Triple Alliance, also called The Central Powers, with Italy and Austria-Hungary. On June 28, 1914 Austrian archduke Frances Ferdinand and his wife were shot in Sarajevo and Hungary-Austria declared war on Serbia. Soon one European country after the other joined and the initial conflict snowballed into a full-fledged war. On Sept. 5, 1914, Russia, France, and Great Britain concluded the Treaty of London, calling their union the Allied, or Entente, Powers, or simply the Allies.

The war affected the Koenig family as both Harry and the only son Robert served in the Marine, Harry as a doctor and Robert as an officer. In addition, Kathe served as a nurse at the Front (see separate post). In the last year of the war, Robert was killed when his ship hit a mine. He was close to Hildegard and she took the loss very hard. Even many years after his death, a casual reference to Robert would make her burst out in tears.

Robert Koenig 1914

Robert Koenig in his WWI uniform. He perished when his ship hit a mine.

During the war, Harry Koenig was working on a ship outside France. We have dinner invitations from that period hanging in our kitchen area. Dated Le Nouvion April 17, 1915 one has Tomato Soup, Bratwurst with cabbage, Pheasant “am Spitz mit Beilage” on the menu. The other, dated April 15, 1915, and has a rhyme in German. On November 11 1918, after four years of aimless war fought mainly in the trenches, WWI ended. Kaiser Wilhelm abdicated on November 28 the same year. Germany was severely punished which economic sanctions, a plan to prevent future wars that severely backfired.The war concluded, Harry Koenig returned to Berlin. Hildegard, who had turned 19 on November 20, 1918 had spent most of her teenage years living through a major war.

Hildegard before a costume party wearing a Biedermeier dress in 1919.

Short and slender with brown eyes and rich, dark hair framing a narrow face with a straight nose, Hildegard was considered a very attractive woman. As the youngest of four surviving children, her parents had spoiled her. She grew up in a Prussian home where dinner should be brought forward the moment the man of the house entered the door. “Punktlichkeit ist die Höflichkeit der Koenige” was the family motto, playing with their name, which is the German word for king. (Punctuality is the politeness of kings).

Even though he doted on his youngest daughter, Harry Koenig’s general idea of child rearing was strict and mirrored his military background. A child’s upbringing should be concluded by age four, he used to say. His Prussian definition, and a common definition of a role model child, was a child who obeyed without asking any questions. To be seen, but not heard was the prevailing ideal until Adolf Hitler easily manipulated the majority of a generation whose will power had been broken at an early age. The economic sanctions from the end of WWI had led to hyperinflation and mass unemployment, which created a need for a strong leader and someone who could restore faith in the country and its people.

Hildegard and Bengt – early years

Hildegard and Bengt were high school sweethearts. Hildegard was the only girl in an all male class. She had chosen to continue her studies after her basic education was concluded, which was unusual at the time. Harry Koenig had promised each child either a dowry or a university education. Hildegard decided to get a half of both, quitting her university studies to get married in March 1923.

Hildegard and Bengt came from very different families. His background was the bohemian where guests came and went, and paychecks were sometimes large and sometimes non-existent. He loved lingering at the breakfast table enjoying long conversations after sleeping in. Hildegard was up at the crack of dawn and ready for bed by the time her husband started to gear up in the evening.

Hildegard was initially fascinated with the artistic family Paul. She was particularly taken by Bengt and had a great deal of respect for his father. In winter Adolf used to skate with his family at the public skating rink in Berlin. He struck quite a figure displaying his ice skating skill. With her strict background, Hildegard considered Bengt’s siblings as odd, and did not get along particularly well with them. The youngest son Holger had been taken out of school by his father to become a great artist and studied in Sweden with Albert Engstrom, his father’s friend. See separate post about Holger.  The twins never married. Tali became an artist and painted mainly in oil without much commercial success. She did not want to part with her good work, and lived her last years in a cottage on Lidingö on welfare.

Hedda was better equipped to take care of herself. She studied and became an art teacher, a profession she continued after moving to Sweden together with Holger in the 1930s. It wasn’t easy in the beginning. She had a German accent and had to get Swedish credentials before any school would hire her. She lived to be 93 years old and died on August 14, 1995, three days before Peter was born. During her lifetime she had lived thrifty and invested her savings in the Swedish stock market and left SEK3 million to her brothers’ children.

Adolf was something of a maverick. He once asked Hildegard what she wanted her children to become. “Etwas Normales” she replied (something normal), probably with her sisters- and brother-in-law in mind who had chosen bohemian careers. “Um Gottens will, bloss nichts Normales,” he answered. (For God’s sake, anything but normal). Before getting married Hildegard took a class in how to run a household. Her mother had never taught her or her two sisters how to cook, plan purchases and other household management necessities. Hildegard writes in her autobiographical book “Marianne Hat Kinder” about how her mother said, “oh, I just do it by intuition,” whenever she asked how much of each ingredients to use in a particular dish. It is likely that Auguste envied her daughters who were given the opportunity of university education and closely guarded her territories.

Hildegard never seemed content her housewife career. It was impossible to impose the rigid household rules that she had grown up with on her husband. Instead of coming home at 12:00 sharp as promised, he would come at 12:30 and lunch would be cold. Bengt wasn’t interested in having meals waiting for him. He preferred to relax and look through the papers before getting ready to eat. Hildegard, however, could not compromise. She wanted things her way. They both had hot tempers, were stubborn and fought a lot.

My mother has early memories of Hildegard feeling stuck at home rearing children and taking care of laundry, cleaning and cooking. That made my mother decide she would become a professional with a career outside the home when she grew up. Bengt was not too excited about Hildegard abandoning her studies to get married, making him the sole breadwinner, although in the early 1920s this was the usual pattern. Having grown up in a home where money was either plenty or scarce, he wanted stability. Therefore he took a Ph.D. in Political Economics and got a job with a bank.

Bengt wasn’t happy at the bank, however, and when he was laid off shortly after getting married he looked for a career in other fields. He settled on journalism and became an editor for “Die Ostsee  Rundschau” published by Nordische Gesellschaft in Lubeck, a job where his father’s connections came in handy. In 1924,  the family moved from Berlin to Lűbeck, a picturesque city in north Germany that used to be an important port during the Hansaetic period in the Middle Ages.

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