Thank you, Frau Lindemann

Sometimes it takes a while to recognize a blessing. In fact, sometimes it takes 60 years to realize the full extent of it. Look, I already knew my high school German teacher was a blessing, even if she disapproved of me personally. Without Frau Lindemann the school wouldn’t have offered German at all, and without someone with the personality of a tank who hadn’t been exposed to Education classes the teacher surely wouldn’t have made us learn to write German script and read Fraktur.

German script came in handy almost at once, because (as long as I stayed away from the other kids from German class, and frankly that was no struggle since I was the school’s designated Odd and nobody wanted to be contaminated by hanging out with me) I could now get through my other classes by writing stuff like, “Miss Ruby is achieving hitherto unseen heights of boringness” and looking as though I was just taking notes. German script stayed with me through college, graduate school, and jobs with infinitely boring meetings.

Fraktur, the German typeface that was in use until the Second World War, took a little longer to reveal itself as a blessing. “Because you won’t be able to read any books printed before the war,” wasn’t immediately compelling in 1962, and even my German literature classes in college relied on recently printed paperbacks rather than pre-war editions. However…

Look, I don’t need to do any more research for this fantasy; I need to be straightening out some plot points and actually writing the thing. But the storytelling brain and the writing brain have both been knocked out for a month by various minor illnesses, so… more research, because that’s what I can do while feeling as if there’s an elephant sitting on my chest. Among other things, I discovered an English translation of the Book of Secrets of Alessio Piemontese, and ordered it rejoicing; after all, the working title of this fantasy is “Caterina Ristori’s Book of Secrets.”

One little catch I didn’t realize when I ordered the book; it’s a facsimile edition of a very early translation. A translation so old that it’s printed in blackletter.

Which is basically the same as German Fraktur, except that we English-speakers switched from blackletter to something legible a couple of centuries ago and the Germans kept torturing themselves with Fraktur until 1940 or thereabouts.

Which means that although I can’t skim the book looking for the good bits, I can at least read it.

To make Incke so white, that though a man write with it upon white paper, it may easily and perfectly be red…

To make a goodly lustre and beautifying for the face…

Sope with diverse sweet and excellent oyles…

Against the mortality of the Pestilence, a very perfect remedie…

Diverse wayes of gilting copper, yron and other metals…

Thank you again, Frau Lindemann!

8 comments

  1. I’ve noticed that same blessing. I have a copy of the Geneva translation of the Bible (with commentary. How can a book so large have such small print? Never mind.) It’s just like Fraktur in many ways.

    I have about a dozen books old enough to be in Fraktur. It takes a bit to slip back into reading. Although the biggest challenge? The hymnals at the Calvinist church in [university town]. Fraktur hymns, with melody, just text. So I’m trying to read new words and learn the tune as I’m singling! They didn’t throw me out, so it can’t have been too terrible.

  2. Hopefully everyone is blessed with at least one teacher like that in their lives. I love the bit about entertaining yourself with German script.

  3. Thanks for writing this. It brought to mind my high school German teacher, Frau LaRosa, who was one of the best (and nicest) teachers I had. And I didn’t know the name of that font, so I learned something new as well. Vielen dank!

  4. Didn’t one of the Dragon and the George books use this as a plot point?

    I recall one of the characters was hiding a truth telling box from the main character by calling it a “soothing” box.

  5. Sounds like that class was a font of useful knowledge.

    (Oh, come on, _some_body had to say it!)

  6. By “German script”, I wonder if you’re referring to Sütterlinschrift? I thought I was one of the last who can read/write that.

Comments are closed.