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“Most parents today are too spineless. For fear of losing their children, they devalue themselves into their friends and cronies, and end by rendering themselves superfluous to them. I abhor that type of upbringing, which is not an upbringing at all.”

~Dietrich Bonhoeffer quote in Eberhard BethgeDietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 16.

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By present-day standards the Bonhoeffer household was conducted on an inconceivably lavish scale; but, at the same time, the parents strongly disliked personal boasting or pretension. Money was never discussed in front of the children. The country house in Wolfelsgrund was spacious and airy, but its furnishings were Spartan; later, after they have moved to Berlin, the family’s summer home in Friedrichsbrunn was wired for electricity only in autumn of 1943.  If one of the children dropped a toy on the dirty floor of the railway compartment on the way to the country, their mother was capable was dropping it straight out of the window, but suggestions for improving amenities in the country were ignored. There was never any question of fashionable extravagance, either in dress or in the home.   

Eberhard BethgeDietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 16.

(Father) Karl Bonhoeffer was not often in the forefront of his children’s lives. His study and consulting room were out of bounds to them. Despite the many demands on him as a university teacher and consulting physician, however, he never missed the family meals. These were rather ceremonial occasions. The children’s table manners were strictly supervised, and they were expected to speak only when asked about the events of the day. It was generally their mother who decided which situations in their lives should be brought to their father’s notice. 

Eberhard BethgeDietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 15.

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The Bonhoeffer children grew up in a spacious house next to the newly built Breslau mental hospital in Scheitnigir Park. The garden was big enough for them to dig caves and set up tents. Next to it was a tennis court where their father played in summer and taught them skating in winter. The house was big enough for a schoolroom with desk, a hobbies room, and another in which–to the servants’ alarm–all sorts of pets were kept, such as lizards, snakes, squirrels, and pigeons, as well as collections of beetles and butterflies. Opposite the house was a Catholic cemetery, and from the window the children could watch the funeral corteges with black-draped horses drawing the hearses.   

Eberhard BethgeDietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 14.

The rich world of  his ancestors set the standards for Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s own life. It gave him a certainty of judgement and manner that cannot be acquired in a single generation. He grew up in a family that believed that the essence of learning lay not in a formal education but in the deeply rooted obligation to be guardians of a great historical obligation and intellectual tradition. To Dietrich Bonhoeffer, this meant learning to understand and respect the ideas and experiences of earlier generations It could also lead him to decisions and actions that conflicted with those of his ancestors–and, precisely  in this way, to honor them. Ultimately, it might even mean voluntarily accepting history’s inevitable judgement on the world of his ancestors–while not allowing this to distract from delight in its amicable representatives.   

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 13.

Julie Tafel (Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Grandmother)…had inherited the alert critical sensibilities of  her ancestors. She actively participated in discussions on women’s issues and devoted herself to practical and organizational matters, like establishing a home for older women or vocational centers for girls.   

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 12.

Friedrich Bonhoeffer’s wife Julie (Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Grandmother) was the direct link between a long history and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life. Born on 21 August 1842, she could talk about the days of Eduard Mörike and Justinus Kerner. But it was just as characteristic of her that, at the age of ninety-one, she marched past the S.A. (Nazi Storm Troppers) cordons promoting the boycott of Jewish businesses on 1 April 1933, to shop at the Jewish-owned “Kaufhaus des Westens” on Tauentzienstrasse in Berlin.  

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 10-11.

Politically, (grandfather) Friedrich Bonhoeffer was conservative, but he disdained the local Württemberg patriotism. In 1862 he already wagered that Germany would be united under Prussian leadership.  

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 10.

The Bonhoeffers had immigrated from Holland (van den Boenhoff from Nimwegen) in 1513 and settled as goldsmiths in Schwäbisch Hall. After the seventeenth century they became pastors, doctors, city council members and mayors. 

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 9.

After his death (Grandfather Karl Alfred von Hase), Hans von Hase (1873-1958), the elder brother of Bonhoeffer’s mother, officiated as family pastor as occasions like weddings and baptisms. The parsonages where he lived, first in Silesia and then in the eastern countryside of Brandenburg, the so-called Mark-Brandenburg, now part of Poland, made the church and its ministry come alive for young Dietrich. Because of the numerous cousins and its farm, the rural parsonage was a paradise for holidays during and after the First World War.

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 8.

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