growing up rich -- 1/28/20

Today's selection -- from The Warburgs by Ron Chernow. Growing up rich as a child of one of Germany's preeminent banking families, the Warburgs:

"The Warburgs ... lived grandly. Max [Warburg] presided over so many charities that he was dubbed the 'uncrowned King of Hamburg.' Alice, meanwhile, orchestrated an elaborate social whirl flashier than anything [Max's parents,] Moritz and Charlotte would have tolerated as decent. In 1907, [Max and Alice] moved to a large townhouse on Neue Rabenstrasse, where they had black-tie family dinners every night. Socially ambitious, they threw masked balls and elegant dinners and Alice dramatically advanced Max's career.

"An exacting hostess, Alice kept a book in the kitchen that showed precisely what guests had eaten on previous visits, so they wouldn't be subjected to repeat menus. She designed an opulent setting of blue and yellow carpets, mirrored doors, a marble dining room, and chrome banisters. Butlers with white gloves and silver buttons greeted guests. In a salon furnished with Louis XVI pieces, Alice held teas for the ladies and poured from an exquisite gold and silver samovar. In her realm, Alice was imperious and omnipotent and Max couldn't touch her. Once, Albert Ballin, the shipping magnate, asked Malice's five-year-old daughter, Lola, who had the last word at home. 'Father usually sees her point,' was how Lola put it.

"On Easter Sunday, 1900, Alice gave birth to a son, Eric. In Max's quest for a second son. Alice then produced four daughters: Lola, Renate, Anita, and Gisela. After this last birth, Max cabled [his brother, Felix, and Felix's wife, Frieda]: 'Alice has surprised the whole world and herself by producing another girl. Please begin to look for sons-in-law.' With comical symmetry, Frieda and Felix had a daughter, followed by four sons.

Max Warburg in 1904

"The children were prisoners of Alice's immaculate settings. They couldn't use the front entrance, for Alice feared they would leave fingerprints on the polished banisters. With her usual rigor, she selected their clothes. In general, they lived apart from their parents. They breakfasted alone, lunched with mother, and had supper with nanny. They were not allowed to enter the kitchen, talk with servants, or dine with their parents until age sixteen. Among many rules governing their confined, regimented lives, they couldn't discuss food -- this was impolite -- and paid a fine into a box if they erred. Once when little Eric was asked for his birthday wish, he replied, 'I would like this black vegetable again,' because he had never heard the word 'caviar' openly pronounced. Believing water destroyed children's appetites, Alice allowed them one small glass in the morning and one at night. These extremely thirsty children would recall their childhood as a sub-Saharan drought.

the warburgs |


Ron Chernow


The Warburgs




Copyright 1993 by Ron Chernow


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