Banking on My Heritage

This object today was my mother’s coin bank. This is a promotional product from her father’s place of business. His branch of the then-nationalized bank, Die Sparkasse der Stadt Berlin, was in a trendy new west county suburb of Berlin as the Third Reich rose from the ashes of a defeated and crippled nation.

Photographically Unwrapped, Click to Enlarge

My grandfather Otto was not really a banker; he was a calculator. He sat at one desk in a large room full of desks and calculated columns of numbers, like interest payments and account balances. He’d run his finger down a column and write the sum. Yes, I am descended from math geeks on both sides.

What really impressed my mother as a little girl (when she went with him to work) was the vertical people conveyor they used as a worker’s elevator in the 1930’s. It was a continually running vertical belt of person-sized platforms in a shaft that you step quickly onto and off of as it reaches or clears your floor. I’d put a picture of one here if I could find one.

I never met my grandfather. His asthma, quick wits, and connections kept him away from the front during the war. He become a bicycle courier when the banks (and all non-essential business in town) closed, as the war drew to its by-then inescapable conclusion. But Allied heavy artillery disassembled him and his bike near the center of town within a week of V.E. day. At least he went quickly while doing something useful. My mother found out months later, when the Soviets allowed her to return to what was left of her hometown.

Mom managed to keep this bank as a memento. The Allied soldiers who occupied her home had left it behind, along with the other things that were not valuable or particularly portable. She carefully packed it from place to place in postwar Germany for a decade, and then brought it to the U.S. where it survived a few more moves before she settled down. She gave it to me when I was almost old enough to understand that it was precious to her. I’d guess about half of the dents and scratches were my doing, from when I was small.

So today’s Object At Hand is a souvenir from one of my ancestors.

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