My Dear Hugo!

Hugo Fabry


Lucky charm: Hugo wore a tie-pin like this one, shaped as a horseshoe, in the handsome potrait showing him before he fell ill. Source:

After telling you a lot about my four-times-great-grandmother, Fanny, I’d like to talk about her husband, Hugo, who was born in 1830. He remarried after his wife passed away, I don’t know the exact date, but he was probably in his early 50s. His second wife was called Christine, and with her he had another child, Fritz, 13 years after Fanny had given birth to the youngest of their six children. Though I wasn’t that fascinated with Hugo and Christine as I had been with Fanny, this has changed greatly since I poked around in an archive and got my hands on Hugo’s medical file. He was a patient in a psychiatric hospital for the last two years of his life until he passed away in 1896. Next to the clinical reports, I found items of persona correspondence, a letter from Christine to her husband and one he intended to send to her as well as letters the family wrote to the director of the hospital and Hugo’s doctor. To read about Hugo’s state of health was touching enough, but the personal writings revealed much about how my ancestors actually lived. Especially Christine tells a lot about her living conditions. I’ve grown to respect her greatly for all of the achievement she proved to be capable of. She was the person discovering, five years before she accompanied him to the hospital, that her husband’s character was changing. At times, Hugo cried or was agitated and became more and more unable to fullfil his work in a tax commissionership sufficiently – so he was retired. The file contained a great deal of information about Hugo’s state of health and his decline, but I especially remember one short, summarising passage, which I would like to share with you:

As far as known, no mental illness inherited. Developed normally, also was a good student. Married twice, happy marriage, economised. Approximately five years ago, the wife noticed the change of her husband’s character. He became snappish about trifles, upset, cried; headaches, insomnia occurred. He became more and more incapable of performing his tasks as an assistant in a tax commissionership leading to him having to retire in 1891. His condition worsened steadily. Currently, he is apathetic, occasionally aroused and then becomes violent; has in this condition repeatedly attempted suicide. Doesn’t get along with his toilette that well anymore. Coordination disorder, increased patellar reflex, slow reaction of the pupil, paralytic language disorder, facial nerve paralysis, twitching of facial musculature.

Hospital Hofheim

The psychiatric hospital Hugo stayed in. This pictured shows the facilities in 1854, but they must have looked similar when he stayed there. Source:

I’m not an expert on these sort of things, but to me it looks as if Hugo might have had a strokelet which went by unnoticed, but had sincere consequences. It affected his speaking abilities and restricted him physically, probably leading to the development of an depression as well. He couldn’t do his job the way he used to and maybe felt useless and disabled. Also, his wife and a child had died previously, which might have occured more often these days but must have been an utterly hurtful experience nevertheless. Physical and mental instability may have mutally influenced each other and therefore both increased towards Hugo’s final years. He sometimes had phases when he became aggressive, such a situation occured on January 18 in 1896. The supervisor wrote about his patient:

bose 2

Hugo’s uncle (shown here in his younger years) supported him financially.

Was in a bad mood today and explained, crying, he’d hit his wife in the face when she would visit him, she had taken him here to get rid of him, he asks for a holiday of 3 days to visit his uncle in D., the latter should give her [the wife] a tongue-lashing.


Next to an empty piece of paper, Hugo intended to send a little note to his wife. On the envelope he wrote: “Asking for two of my new handkerchiefs”.

Hugo himself had attempted to write a letter to his wife Christine on 2 January but it wasn’t sent to her. I don’t know if Hugo’s mood changed very quickly (which might have been likely) or if his behaviour was the reaction to the fact that the letter never reached his wife and she therefore couldn’t send him an answer. He wrote as follows:

[unreadable] … there is no news of you and I ask you for it! Uncle in D. doesn’t answer me as usual, so I’m left alone. […] Therefore be so kind and let me know something. I lack pen, ink, paper and everything one needs for writing. I don’t want to write too much. Yours, Hugo who wishes you all the best.

To me, these are lines written by an affectionate husband and father, but a broken man. He was ill and exhausted; often preferred it to stay in his room instead of taking the air. The uncle from D. is mentioned several times both by Christine and Hugo and the medical file also contained a letter he wrote. I didn’t fully understand the situation, but he probably supported the family financially and acted as a sort of warden for his older sister’s son, though it’s surely not the proper term. I did a bit of research and it turned out he was a director of forests, a wealthy man who wrote books and dressed very primly. In a letter Christine wrote to Hugo in 1895, she told a lot about her situation in life and the daily challenges she had to deal with. Reading this, I started to hold her in great esteem. There was love in this letter, love and distress.

My dear Hugo! Because I am unable to see you in person, I have to write to you. Fritz and me intended to visit you for Christmas, but God decided otherwise. Dear Hugo, you must not think we forgot you.

Then she described how their son, Fritz, a boy of about 13, hurt his eye when setting up a mouse trap. Because of the open wound the eye developed a cataract and he had to undergo surgery. What a terrible shock it must have been. She wrote: “Who counts the tears, who knows the pain of a mother!”. Christine hoped the doctor was right when telling her that the boy wouldn’t see that well in the beginning, but was very likely to regain proper sight. She went on as follows:

Brief Christine Fabry 19.01.1895, Teil 1

With husband and child both in hospital, Christine was extremely challenged. She told Hugo about it in a letter, but still found the most encouraging words.

Just think what a Christmas the poor child has! Dear Hugo, be contented, all of us don’t have a proper Christmas, maybe better days will come […] I hope to be able to press Fritz close to my heart again in a fortnight, 3 weeks. You will get better as well and return to us, just be patient, put yourself in my place, I’m only writing to all the world and still have to sustain myself for my duties. We’ll visit you as soon as possible, write to me but let me write to you. Margarethe and Emil [one of his daughters from his first marriage] will come soon if they haven’t visited you yet. Uncle B. would have liked to come, but he’s too anxious to travel [he was 83 years of age]. The director and Doctor M. will expect him and I unfortunate woman am at my wit’s end about the bills. Please tell Doctur M. to approach Uncle B. and the authority. […] You only have one pair of trousers over there and here are a jacket and another pair, I don’t know what to do. Hopefully, you will be able to go out once in a while, just like you did here, and have a glass of beer. I end hoping that everything will end well. Fritz and me greet and kiss you warmly. Christine

I thought about the way Christine imagined her husband’s life to be like. She obviously was convinced that he could leave the institution to go to the pub and have a drink. From what I read, Hugo was only able to take the air in the yard and later he refused to do even that, because he got weaker and weaker. There were some violent outbreaks from time to time; once he kicked a fellow ward in the shin until he was seriously wounded. Hugo often cried, for example when he thought he had lost his glasses. He was confused and often asked the doctor to examine him, for example his tongue. There are many remarkable quotes, one of which I’d like to share. It’s an entry from 21 December 1895:

Said today, the doctor should examine him, he was ill. As the doctor, while he was telling him this, listened to another ward, he reluctantly walked away and said: “If you don’t want to attend to me, I can just kick the bucket anyway”. When the doctor examined him and didn’t find anything – he had complained about his tongue – he said: “Mr H. had told me that I was ill and when Mr H. sees it, you as a doctor have to see it, too!”.

Hugo didn’t give up on his tongue complaint and repeatedly asked the doctor about it. I’m not sure if there might have been a sort of neuralgia. Maybe, the paresis also affected his tongue. Otherwise, I was wondering if that Mr H. told Hugo about his mental illness and he simply tried to cope with it and somehow, probably even unconciously, wanted to reduce it to some physical defect. He could also have had phantom pain – sometimes patients of depression complain about causeless backache as well. When walking in the yard, he moved in circles, pulling his left leg behind. He had a severe coordination disorder and fell down at times. His paresis got worse and confined him to his bed. Being unable to eat, he was fed. On 28 September 1896, he passed away. Though I was shocked by the plain record in his file, I want to share it with you. These were different times. I just hope that dear Hugo wasn’t treated so very badly. After all, his wife enabled him to stay with his family as long as possible.

EPSON scanner image

Suffering from paresis and probably post-stroke depression, Hugo was ravaged by disease.

Died this morning at 6:45, after he had already not taken in anything yesterday, had stared constantly and his arms and legs had been completely cold.

My Best Compliments!


There is such a lot of online hate going on, people bullying and insulting each other anonymously – as long as one doesn’t have to confront another person, it seems terribly easy to let it all out. Maybe that’s why real-life-complimenting, on the other hand, seems to be considered as somewhat outdated. And I don’t only talk about men flattering women they seek to impress (and win over). It’s the same with your average ‘Oh, mum, that was a lovely dish today!’. Maybe especially young people are just shy because they’re used to writing comments like ‘What a lovely dress, you look fab. xxx’ only in that safe and sound online community where they won’t ever get an irritated gaze. But true, sincere complimenting makes us happy – the ones who pay compliments as well as the ones receiving them. That’s why I intend to write an article for a local newspaper commenting on compliments, especially amongst younger people and between young and older ones. It’s a paper covering just a small area, but it matters to me nevertheless.

And here’s what I need your help for: I want to publish a collection of compliments.

I’m therefore asking you to submit a compliment you recently received or paid by commenting on this post.
Feel free to submit more than one.

I declare to protect your anonymity. You can give your first name and home country, but if you don’t, I won’t spy on your ‘About’. It’s just about the variety of compliments and spreading a little bit of love, names don’t matter. Your first name won’t appear in the local newspaper if you don’t specifically submit it.

 Thank all of you for taking part in something that means a lot to me.

Angel Adoree’s Filo Baskets

Filo pastry baskets filled with Stilton, walnuts and pears.

filo baskets close 1

I tried the recipe from Angel Adoree’s ‘Vintage Tea Party Book’, you can puchase it e.g. from Amazon. Also have a look at her and her team’s beautiful website. They’re called ‘Vintage Patisserie’ and organise lovely vintage tea parties.

Recipe for 12 baskets.


  • ready-rolled filo pastry (20cm x 40cm), 6 sheets
  • 70g butter, melted
  • 2 ripe pears
  • 100g Stilton cheese (or any other firm blue cheese), crumbled
  • 12 walnut halves (you don’t really have to count them), roughly chopped


  • Preheat your oven to 220°C/Gas Mark 7.
  • Cut each of the unrolled filo pastry sheets into eight squares á 10×10. You will get 48 squares.
  • Use a pastry brush to cover one side of each square in a thin layer of melted butter.


  • Onto the pastry baskets: lay one square on top of another at a 45°-angle, so the points are offset. Add a third and fourth square, arranging the points to fall where those of the first two squares fell (3 like 1, 4 like 2). You’ll end up with a four-layered star shape. In the end you will get 12 of those stars aka filo baskets.
  • Take a tall 12-hole mini-muffin pan (a regular sized muffin pan will do as well, I used one myself) and push each layered star into one of the holes. Brush the edges with leftover melted butter.
  • Bake the pastry baskets for 7 minutes until they are golden. Then let them cool in the muffin pan.

pastry baskets

  • Quarter the pears to remove their cores. Angel tells you to slice each quarter into three lenghtways, but I just chopped them into little cubes. Worked as well, just do it the way you prefer them. Put the pear slices/cubes into the pastry baskets and divide the Stilton evenly between the baskets, then do the same with the chopped walnuts. I gently mixed the three of them (pears, cheese, nuts) together in a bowl before I put them in, so it might look less aesthetic. Tasty nevertheless!

filo baskets arrangement

These ones are great for a buffet or as a starter, savoury yet lighter than they look. I’d say they’re a dish for every season, because the Stilton and nuts provide taste, the pears add some freshness and the filo pastry makes it all nice and crunchy. I made them for my birthday party and served them accompanied by peanuts and crips as a snack inbetween meals. Worked wonderfully.


You Can Leave Your Dress On

feminist in skirts2

Picture source:

Does pushing prams, icing cupcakes and wearing make-up mean a woman sticks to an outfashioned female ideal? Does she lack self-esteem, want to please her husband and submit to a patriachal society? A short comment on females and femininity.

It cannot be denied that certain characteristics which are commonly considered ‘female’ or ‘male’ have developed from biologic differences between the sexes and are still justified on that basis. There are differences of course – e.g., bearing a child leads to a release of hormones developing the special relationship between a mother and her child. And men just don’t have babies. Until this changes, mothers and fathers simply aren’t the same. We are equals, but not identical.
And though I’m against justifying a modern society dominated by males on the basis of this fact, it serves as an explanation for the course of history: because a man couldn’t bear children (haha, pun time), he had to chase bears to be of any use for his community (next to fathering the kids).

This principle applied to many societies for many centuries, but in many modern countries, it doesn’t work anymore. We’ve got the possibility to chose what we want to do: care for the babies and/or struggle with those metaphorical bears out there. And that’s exactly why we must be allowed to take whatever path pleases us, in both directions, without losing the status of an emancipated woman. Because that’s what is typical for her: that she’s above all of these outfashioned categories; there aren’t things ‘female’ or ‘male’ anymore, there’s just a big pool of possibilites. And if an emancipated woman choses to care for her child and make pies for her husband, it’s her rightful decision – we must only make sure to teach our children that this is not the only or, even worse, the ‘intended’ way things should be like. 

Don’t let these old-fasioned categorizing thoughts dominate your decisions and leave your dress on – if you like to. And boys: you can also stay with chopping firewood as long as you don’t prefer knitting. But if you do, make something nice for the baby.

We’re The Same

nora kathy 2

There is definitely something about them:
19th century ‘tattooed lady’ Nora Hildebrandt, source:
20th/21st century actress Katherine Kelly als Lady Mae (character from period drama ‘Mr Selfridge’), source:

Why do we assume that, as time goes by, people change like industries developing? Surely, there is gaining knowledge and losing it, there were several revolutions as well, wars, death, terror. We’ve got computers now but people are fighting all the same. We’ve got penicillin and we know what the moon is made of and now we’re watching period dramas about the Titanic sinking and children struggling after the war has ended. It’s our past and present and it will be our future, but it doesn’t change us. It might change the way we think or the amount of things we know, but it will not determine how we feel.

vincent and tony

Seems I just can’t let go of Vincent, and I particularly adored this portrayal:
19th century artist Vincent van Gogh, source:
20th/21st century actor Tony Curran in the role of Vincent, source:

Giving birth feels like it did in the Middle Ages. Being ignored feels like in the Regency era. Love feels the same like it did in the Second World War. Knowledge, problems, circumstances of course are regarded as part of a person’s character, but they are really just triggering emotions which finally define that character. I’m not talking about the things we feel about, because those are not fixed, but the way it feels like.

Dahl Doyle

The Dahl/Doyle trifle – about a necktie:
20th century writer Roald Dahl (wrote ‘The BFG’, ‘The Big Friendly Giant’), source:
20th/21st century actor Kevin Doyle (know as ‘Downton Abbey”s Mr Molesley), source:

And that is the human mystery – we can’t give up having the strongest sentiments about things which simply won’t stay the same. So it’s hard to understand our ancestors’ ways exactly because they were so much like us – only in different situations that we’re ignorant about. We can gather every single snippet describing these conditions, we can study historical reports but still won’t understand. Although we already know how it feels! We just don’t get the connection.

Let’s face the truth. We didn’t change after all.