1636 The Devil’s Opera – Snippet 33

1636 The Devil’s Opera – Snippet 33


January, 1636

For changing people’s manners and altering their customs there is nothing better than music.

Shu Ching

Chapter 20

          A new pattern had settled in Simon’s life. He arose each morning with Hans. They would share with Ursula whatever food was in the rooms, and then Hans would leave for his work at the grain factorage. True to his word, he had asked about work for Simon, but as with so many others there was no opportunity for a one-handed youth.

          Simon would sweep the floor and clean up after their eating, wiping the plates off and stacking them in the little cupboard that stood in the corner. Then he would settle on his stool at Ursula’s feet. She would pick up her worn Bible and read to him for a little while. Always it was something interesting, but Simon best liked the stories of the heroes from the Old Testament: King David, Joshua, the stories of the judges. Then they would talk about what she had read, wondering why the hero had done certain things and not done others, describing what they thought the characters in the stories looked like, sometimes laughing together over something silly one of them had said.

Ursula would always end the reading time by closing her Bible and putting it away, then picking up her current embroidery project. That would be the signal to Simon to go out and find what work he could.


          It was a Tuesday morning after the first of the year when Ursula all of a sudden noticed something that had always been in front of her.

“Simon, are those the only clothes you have?”

He ducked his head, feeling a sense of shame.

“Well, we cannot have that. Hans . . .” she turned to her brother, “Hans, Simon needs clothes. His shirt is almost cobwebby thin, his pants are tight and torn and much too short, his jacket does not fit around him. Tell your crew boss today that you have to take me to market tomorrow.”

Simon discovered that although Ursula was normally the most agreeable of souls, when she chose to exert her will it was like encountering granite. It astonished him to see Hans, Stark Hans himself, nod his head and say, “Yes, Ursula,” as if it was the most ordinary thing in the world for her to issue commands.

And on Wednesday, the world ordered itself to Ursula’s intent. After they had eaten, she retired for a moment to her bedroom, then returned with a large bonnet on her head and a coat worn over her dress. She stood lopsided and held her arms up in what was almost an imperious manner. Hans said nothing as he stepped up to her. There was a swirl of movement, then she was in his arms, one arm across his shoulders, the other holding her cane.

“Come along, Simon,” she directed.

Simon started when Hans nodded at the door and stepped forward to open it. Hans moved through the doorway sideways, being most careful not to bump Ursula into the doorframe. When he started down the stairs, Simon came behind, closing the door with a loud thump. He clattered down the stairs, wooden shoes banging on the treads, and caught up with them at the bottom.

“Where to, Uschi?” Hans asked.

“Frau Anna’s first. After that, we will see.”

So Hans took off down the street, Simon following close behind. Before long, he was marveling at his friend’s strength. He had seen men pick other people up before, but never for very long, and never when walking down the street, block after block. “Stark Hans, nothing,” he muttered. “He should be called Eisen Hans.” And indeed Hans seemed made of iron. There was no droop to his shoulders, no sagging of his arms. He carried Ursula as if she was only the weight of a feather.

“What did you say, Simon?” Hans called over his shoulder.


Otto Gericke’s rules for markets in Greater Magdeburg were considered liberal by the conservative Bürgermeisters of Old Magdeburg. Due to the size of the population, markets were allowed three days a week, and were allowed in more than one location, such that after a while the various vendors started grouping together.

It wasn’t long today before Ursula and her entourage arrived in the area of town favored by the sellers of second-hand clothing. It was one of Simon’s favorite parts of town. People there would talk to him freely, and sometimes send him on errands.

Hans walked up to one particular cart and gently set Ursula’s feet to the ground in front of it. His sister straightened herself as best she could, adjusted her coat, and faced the proprietress.

“Frau Anna,” with a nod.

“Fräulein Ursula,” came the response from what had to be the oldest woman Simon had ever seen. Under her scarf her hair was pure white, the skin of her broad face sagged in a very tapestry of wrinkles, and there did not appear to be a tooth in her head. But she stood straight and her alert eyes gleamed from their nests of wrinkles like those of a cuckoo. She also had a hearty chuckle, which sounded at the next moment.

“It’s not that I’m not glad to see you, Liebling, but I wonder what has brought you to old Anna on this blustery day?” Simon had some trouble understanding her. Her words lisped without teeth in her mouth to shape them.


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9 Responses to 1636 The Devil’s Opera – Snippet 33

  1. Tweeky says:

    Well that’s nice Simon finally getting some new second-hand clothes.

  2. Davy says:

    Really nice passage about music

  3. Willem Meijer says:

    Don’t bash second hand clothes. There is (in the 17th century) no off-the-rack clothing, everything is (hand)made by a taylor or by the females of your family. Fashion (at least for the lower classes) changes veeeery slow. There were (in some towns) separate guilds of second hand clothes sellers, or the sellers were otherwise regulated (in order to make sure no stolen clothes were disposed in this way), as this was one of the cheapest ways to make sure the lower orders had something to wear. Clothes probably lasted longer as well, I remember (in Van Deursens book on the Holland village of Graft) cases where the sunday skirt of a mother was part of a daughter’s inheritance as a separate item on the inventory, with a value listed. A good woolen cloth/greatcloth (drap in french, Tuch in german, Laken in dutch) skirt or coat could last a generation.

  4. Margo says:

    Cloth was made to last – NO machines, other than hand looms, spindles, ?spinning wheels, all hand sewn. Even today, quality secondhand clothes are prized – leave them for a few (15-20) years, and they’ll right or just ahead of fashion! All carefully wrapped with herbs in the layers, to keep them fresh and discourage moths, etc, especially ‘good’ clothes.

    • Cobbler says:

      Spinning wheels are efficient. Drop spindles are portable.

      A housewife waiting for the flat iron to get warm enough pulls spindle and wool out of her apron pocket. She spins while she waits. A goose girl spins thread while watching her geese.

  5. Margo says:

    Oops, should have been parentheses around the comment about ‘modern’ op shop clothes.

  6. What herbs are suggested for moths? It’s a period-to-modern bit?

  7. Tweeky says:

    Well if you want to keep that moths at bay there’s camphor of course.

  8. Stewart says:

    Another reason furniture (especially clothing chests) were made of cedar.

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