Tinker, Tailor, Soldier – Spy

Some of our contributions now have the character of a series, because after the first contribution the same phenomenon suddenly appears everywhere. Most people will recognise this when buying a car or clothes. You’ve just decided on a “beautiful rarity” and you then come cross it on every other street corner – at least that’s how it seems. In reality, you have only become more sensitive to this specific perception. This is what happened to me recently, after buying an older house, with which I unexpectedly came across – or rather was thrust into – the trappings of an extinct profession.

Life as a harlequin is not particularly different from the lives of our readers or anyone else – with one exception, after all. Many are aware of the strange coincidences of (professional) life, the bizarre experiences of project work, at the hairdresser’s or waiting at the baker’s, but we write ours down.

The little house stands on the Elbe, not far from Hamburg. The former owner, an elderly lady, had been living in a nursing home for several years and had passed away at the ripe old age of 92. During the sales process it emerged that all those involved had their roots in East Westphalia and that the old lady had even grown up in the allegedly non-existent, (un)secret metropolis of the international fashion world – in Bielefeld. If you don’t believe the bit about the “international fashion world”, just check this out, I quote Bielefeld Marketing GmbH1: A prestigious study programme for fashion design along with major players in the clothing industry such as Seidensticker, Windsor, Gerry Weber or Brax, which have their headquarters in Bielefeld or the immediate surrounding area, make Bielefeld a secret centre of fashion.

The heirs had no interest in completely clearing out the house, so we took it over with the old furniture and the usual clutter in the loft and basement. During the now necessary clearing, sorting and “mucking out”, I first came across an old wooden box with strange clothing items. This was followed by more “things from the loft” that no one could identify, until I came across old, yellowed sketches and documents, my curiosity flared up – the spy in me awoke. Apparently, the old lady had trained as a milliner (the name in English deriving from the town of Milan) or hatter – in German “Putzmacherin” – and ran her own studio in Bielefeld for several years.

I had never heard of the occupation before and did some research. Wikipedia kindly explained the term and stated that it is a recognised profession under the German Vocational Training Act. Until well into  the 20th century, the Putzmacherin exclusively made headgear for female customers.

However, the historical occupation of the Putzmacherin included more than just hats. Further research in the GenWiki2 produced another term unfamiliar to me – Galanteriewaren, in English “fancy goods: Ladies‘ individual fancy goods included materials for the decoration and preparation of bonnets and hats from the range of accessories made by the finery maker. At the end of the 18th century, fancy goods covered fashionable items, ornaments, and other accessories, including bonnets, (straw) hats, ribbons, gauze, lace, feathers, flowers and other appliqués.”

I was now able to identify the contents of the wooden box already mentioned. These were apparently such fancy goods.

At least it is now clear to me what the old lady had done for a living. Even if there are no details about her workplace, with the pictures of tools, box contents and accessories, the interested reader can certainly form their own picture of this profession. My elderly lady was probably a kind of colleague of Kaiser Karl, i.e. Karl Otto Lagerfeld – the German fashion czar at Chanel. He, in turn, was originally born in Hamburg, on the Elbe. Which closes the circle.

1 https://www.lifepr.de/inaktiv/bielefeld-marketing-gmbh/Die-heimliche-Hauptstadt-der-Mode/boxid/321694

2  https://wiki.genealogy.net/Putzmacher

Original text: UTO
English translation: BCO


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