The History of Berlin in Two Enamelware Mugs

Enamelware mugs, Berlin thrift store.

I gave the last enamelware mug I had to my friend Sonny before he deployed to Iraq. It was a Pusser’s Rum mug from a thrift store in San Diego. It didn’t survive his deployment; he never told me what happened to them.

I have wanted another one of these for a while, for water, or espresso; as soon as I saw them on the shelf of a Berlin thrift store, I grabbed them. There was something in the white and black, and the imperfections – the bumps in the metal, the chips on the handles, the unevenness of the rims. I got to the till and the owner held them up to the light, looked me in the eye as if he was trying to sum me up, and started speaking German.

After what felt like a paragraph, it sounded like he ended with a question. I tried to look apologetic, touched my chest, and said, “English.”

He said something that sounded like a curse word, tossed up his hand, and then, over five minutes, he told their story in broken English and German.

He wanted me to know that these are a piece of German history. Germany apparently didn’t embrace enamel cups until the Americans and the English brought them over and used them for tea and coffee; the Germans started making them because they thought that we loved drinking hot drinks from thin, highly conductive metal. After the Americans and English left, they stopped making them in Germany. These were left over from the occupation.

He wrapped them in several sheets of newspaper carefully, as if they were not war-toughened enamelware cups but delicate bone china. I paid him with a €20 note and he gave me my change; I said “Danke, Auf Wiedersehen” and he said, “Thank you, goodbye,” and I think I got the better end of the bargain.

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