Saturday, December 15, 2018

Das Beste

Waiting for my session of balance training at the geriatrics and gerontology center of Freiburg’s university I looked at the journals on display in the waiting room. The following booklet caught my eye: 70 years of Reader’s Digest, Das Beste für Sie of September 2018.

When I turned over the jubilee issue I couldn't believe my eyes. The editor had reprinted a few pages of the first German edition of September 1948: Das Beste aus (Best of) Reader’s Digest for the price of 1 Deutsche Mark (DM).  Only three months earlier, on June 20, 1948, Germany’s zones occupied by the western allies had the German currency reformed changing from Reichsmark to Deutsche Mark.

In 1948 one DM was a lot of money for which you could buy four loaves of bread of one pound each. At that time a good monthly salary was around 400 DM and we had to change 4.20 DM for a dollar.

Today an issue of the German edition of Reader’s Digest costs 4,20 euro, an increase in price by a factor of 8.5 while good monthly salaries are around 3000 euro, i.e., a factor of 15 higher than in 1948. For the present price of an issue of RD nowadays you only get two loaves of bread while a dollar is worth 0.88 euro being equivalent to 1.76 DM.

Yes, times have changed, but I was all electrified remembering that as a high school student shortly after the war Best of Reader’s Digest was a revelation for me. Three years after the war I read unknown facts about the world that opened my eyes and that I did not find in my boring German textbooks. Mind you textbooks for schools were subject of approval by the three western occupying forces. I still have my original Latin textbook and the English grammar book with the following imprimatur:

The permission by the three occupying forces in the order of their importance
 "the US, the UK, and France" or in alphabetical order "America, Britain, and France?"
With trembling hands, I opened the few pages of the reprint of 1948.

The great narrator Archibald Joseph Cronin unknown to me at that time was the author of the first article but the second contribution about Galileo Galilei I certainly had read as an adolescent. Was this the spark that decided on my later studies and profession?

The monthly issues of Reader’s Digest accompanied me through the years up to my graduation from high-school. I remember that I even kept a collection of those booklets. Nowadays I realize that Reader's Digest was one of the many efforts by the US to re-educate the German people, a seed that fell on fertile grounds in my case.

A somewhat timid advertising by the German Ford factory
located in Cologne and destroyed completely during the war,
but in 1948 already producing trucks for a special performance:
Strong - reliable and rapid in the service of reconstruction.
Note: No passenger cars were built at that time.

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