Kare, the man with the skid mark
During my apprenticeship as a stonemason, quite a while ago, an old stonemason worked in the same company from time to time...
His official name was Karl, but everyone called him Kare.
He originally came from Nuremberg, but belonged to the generation of stonemasons for whom it was still quite natural to go on the road as a young journeyman, to work for a wide variety of stonemasons throughout Germany and to take up everything that a young stonemason could learn.
He told us about that time whenever work allowed.
He was particularly proud of having worked on the construction of the “Haus der Kunst” in Munich, an art museum which was constructed under the aegis of the Nazis as a symbol for ideal German art.
Kare was a declared opponent of the Nazis seeing himself as a worker and thus supporter of the labor movement and a union member.
Yet having been able to work at the “Haus der Kunst”, the “House of German art”, as he still called it, for him as a young stonemason was a big thing and obviously made him proud even in his old age.
Kare was actually already retired, but he was always called in when there was a need and there was more work than the others in the company could handle.
It is certainly not wrong to call him a character.
He was almost as wide as he was high, and a “Schiffchen” a side cap folded from an old newspaper always sat on his head, almost as if glued to it.
Aside from that, the most fashionable thing about him was a faded plaid shirt and old, rather baggy pants.
Of course he wore the scraper, the traditional blue stonemason's apron, an achievement from the old days to protect one´s clothes which were expensive given the low worker´s wages and nobody wanted to wear out their trousers and other clothing unnecessarily.
In addition, as we apprentices were very emphatically assured by Kare and other old stonemasons, the scraper served to protect our private parts, because contact with the cold stones could quickly result in a bladder infection or, unspecified, worse.
On hot summer days, Kare usually dispensed with unnecessary clothing altogether.
He was then seen wearing only a fine-ribbed undershirt and almost knee-length, baggy, graying underpants that had a brown skid stripe on the back that was clearly visible despite the stone dust covering almost everything.
Of course, his front and thus also that part of his underpants were chastely covered by the scraper.
Nevertheless, when customers came, our boss or his wife tried to keep them away from Kare inconspicuously, or attempted somehow to steer them around him in such a way that he did not appear in their field of vision.
Kare was always a friend to us apprentices and often a helper in times of need.
Of course, it happened again and again that an edge broke off when a gravestone was being worked on.
If Kare was around in such cases, he would first look around with a sly, innocent expression to see if our boss was anywhere to be seen. If so, he would secretly move the broken piece to a safe place where it would not be lost or seen by anyone.
Then he camouflaged the damaged area with quickly scraped up dust and stone chips, of which there were plenty.
Now the clumsy apprentice could continue working on another spot of the same stone, hoping that our boss would not accidentally notice something.
Once it was ensured that the boss had left or was reliably busy with something else for a long time, Kare motioned us back to him with a soft "shhhh".
Now he rummaged around in a corner of his workplace with a can of stone putty in a color matching the stone, took the chipped piece out of its hiding place and set about glueing it back to the stone.
He did it so skillfully that afterwards you had to look and feel very carefully if you wanted to spot the broken piece, especially after it had been worked over like the rest of the stone.
Most of the time you couldn't see anything from the treated area.
With a wink, Kare then said, with a hint of his native Nuremberg dialect resonating: "The worst stonemasons are the best at using putty."
I, too, became fairly good at using putty over time.
I'll leave it open whether that made me a bad stonemason.
Of course we learned a lot of other interesting things from Kare, but more about that another time.