Friday, 1 June 2007

The plot so far

The Jaeckels live in Marburg, Germany. The year is 1866. Michael Jaeckel has been a baker in Marburg his whole life. Everything the family owns and does is bound up in their bakery on the main street of Marburg, in the shadow of the ancient church, Elizabethkirke.

Germany is in a time of change. Michael and his wife Sophie have continued to run the bakery while their oldest son, Anders, was away at war. It isn’t a war that they ever thought would directly affect them. The Prussians are fighting the Austrians and the Hessen state has thrown its lot with their southern neighbours, the Austrians. Otto von Bismarck is the Prussian prime minister and he is determined to bring about a Germany united under Prussian leadership. Between 1862 and 1871 there are three wars: the Prussian-Austrian alliance against Denmark, the Prussian war with Austria over the expulsion of Austria from a united Germany and the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71.

Anders is his father’s apprentice and is greatly missed at the bakery. When he returns, the whole family thinks that things will go back to the busy, normal routine. However, the Prussian government has decided to make Marburg its regional seat. Nobody in Marburg thinks of themselves as German. If they think about such things, they would say that they are Hessen. This top-down imposition of German identity is difficult for everyone.

Anders doesn’t particularly support the Austrians. Most of his friends are locals. As an army cook though the Prussians have spent a lot of time attacking him, or at least his troop. So he doesn’t particularly like Prussians especially when they come to town to organise things. The Prussians aren’t very keen on southerners in general. They specifically dislike southerners with outside loyalties, like Catholics, labour activists and even southern Protestants.

The Jaeckel family have a distinctively local name, a son who fought on the Austrian side and a thriving business. To successfully continue the business, they need to publicly support the Prussian government and they are finding it hard to do this.

Everyone in the family is involved in the business. Sophie runs the shop with the help of teenaged Anna. Carl at ten still goes to school but delivers bread before and after school. Emilie at eight helps in the shop but is mainly still at school. Things become uncomfortable for them and business starts declining.

They start hearing stories about friends and family members who are migrating. Most are going to America, but they have heard that the colony of Queensland in Australia, is keen for skilled workers. The local colonial agent tells them about the benefits of migration – the subsidised passage and land available on their arrival. Michael, Sophie and Anders are confident that with their baking skills and knowledge, they could settle anywhere. So the decision is made. They will pack up their lives, sell their shop and head for the unknown southern colony.

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