Hirschstrasse

By Circe Olson Woessner

In Karlsruhe, Germany, when I was a child, there was a street I used to love to walk down. I don’t remember the name–it may have been Hirschstrasse, but sometimes my memory fails me… …It was about two blocks from my apartment on Kriegstrasse and on it was everything I ever needed.

In my memory, I can walk down it even now—I see it in remarkable detail, just as though I were twelve years old again. It was primarily a residential street lined with row houses of limestone and sandstone. As the street neared the city center, the residences gave way to chic boutiques and cafes.

At the top of Hirschstrasse, as I walked down the narrow sidewalk, I would pass the pet store where I bought my first parakeet and subsequent parakeets. I remember the small friendly shopkeepers and that there were fish, rabbits and parakeets– I have no idea if there were cats or dogs or hamsters or anything else– all I remember were the parakeets, which soon became my very beloved Peetie, Petra and Patty— To this day, I can still hear the scrabble of bird feet inside the tiny cardboard box as I carefully carried my precious pet home. I also remember running to the pet store when one of my birds became sick, and the comfortable German lady cupping my stricken parakeet in her hands and shaking her head, clucking sympathetically.

Next to the pet store was the coffin store. In the window there would always be three or four wooden coffins solemnly lined up in front of a background of white linen curtains. I would walk by that store never really realizing that I, too, was mortal. Instead I would shiver deliciously and feel sorry for those who would die– but it never would be me.

Next to the coffin store was the coin and stamp store. I loved this musty place. The old lady and old man who owned it had shelves and glass cases filled with stamps, first day covers, coins and albums and more. I would save my pfennigs and my marks, and I would go in and browse for hours. I could travel around the world looking and living through the stamps. I would ask the lady for stamps with pictures of puppies or dogs or horses and she would slowly go back into the curtained-off area and come back with books full of stamps from around the world. She would take her tweezers, pull out a stamp and I would examine it thoughtfully. I’d asked how much– 40 pfennig, a mark or DM 1.50. I’d count out my change, and she’d take the stamps and put them into little cellophane bags. Sometimes she’d chide me for taking just the “pretty “ stamps—she’d point out the historic value of some of the plain stamps, and she taught me to collect series. She pointed out how the edges couldn’t be ripped off or bent really badly. Sometimes, she’d save me a baggie of odds- and –ends stamps—just for me. I still have some of the stamps I bought back then.

Across from the stamp store was a Bakerei (bakery). I used to love getting up first thing in the morning and walking down to buy a loaf of Gutsherren Brot warm out of the oven– or a pretzel roll– or an apple fritter or any number of the wonderful things on display. Because this bakery was a little out of-the way—there was one much closer to our house—and because of the Gutsherren Brot, our family made a effort to get there on the weekends.

Next to the bakery was the Balkan restaurant. We would go there to get Zieguner Schnitzel, which translates as “gypsy schnitzel”. We also loved their Goulasch and Balkan Teller with all the different meats and spicy sauces. The Gasthaus was small, friendly and always full. Slavic music blared on the phonograph.

Further down the street was the Apothecary—Apotheke. I would buy grams of essential oils—jasmine, lavender, and rose, or I would buy star anise or small bottles or bags of medicinal herbs. I would take them home, store them carefully in my little wooden cupboard, and later, I would use my treasures to create soap, perfume and baked goods.

This street, just a couple of blocks from my house was my world. I remember it fondly. I loved starting at the top, gazing at the coffins and shivering, enjoying the pets showcased in the window or planning my next herbal concoction. I’d cross the street to get a pretzel which the bakery folks would slice, smear with thick slabs of butter and layers of white, sliced cheese, and then I would munch appreciatively as I continued on my way.

Further down the street towards the Kaisersplatz, was my best friend Mary’s house. She lived on the corner. When I got to her house, I had come to my second home

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