When I was a kid, it was customary to have a special kind of book (called “Poesiealbum”), empty at first, that was given to parents and teachers and school friends, and everyone wrote some sort of inspiration quote, small poem, or short text into it, meant as an advice for life. Is this a phenomenon specific for Germany or do other cultures have this as well?

I recently found my own Poesiealbum – apparently I got it in 1964 when I was ten. The first four pages were autographed by my parents and my grandparents (mother’s parents). Later, after some empty pages, they are followed by pages by two or three teachers and just two or three friends, but their quotes aren’t really interesting. I am surprised to what degree I can agree today with what my parents wrote, even if the whole thing seems pretentious, even kitschy to me today.


“Who relies on others will live in a shaky world. Who relies on himself, stands well”
This sentence, written (as I googled) by Paul Heyse, was actually my father’s own motto for life I think. He hated to be dependent on others. During most of his working life, he was the boss of a small print shop, and he managed to keep the family alive and fed.


“Don’t destroy your peace of mind by looking back, worrying about the past. Live in the present; enjoy the present”
This one, contributed by my mother, really surprised me – I googled it and it turned out to be by Henry David Thoreau. I don’t believe she was actually familiar with Thoreau’s work, she probably found it in some collection of dictums, but nonetheless a remarkable choice – the modern mystics such as Eckhart Tolle couldn’t have put it better (although there is far more to living in the moment than most people realize).


“Let yourself be guided – but not in your feeling and your thinking”
This one, suggested by my grandma (who had a rebellious spirit and raised her five children without religion), was originally written by Friedrich von Sallet, a German writer from the early 19th century who was critical of religion and the military. Not bad, grandma!



“Making others happy makes you happy”
Don’t remember much of my grandpa. And I don’t know who wrote this line – but the German wording can be found back into the mid-19th century, according to Google. Not sure what to think of this but I see the source of happiness somewhere else. Too bad I can’t discuss this with my grandpa! he died when I was a child.

What would I write in a boy’s Poesiealbum book? something like a motto of my life? What is that motto? I can’t seem to put it into words at the moment. The simple insight into reality can’t be put into words.

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