Der Dienstmann: a Jack of all trades

‘Dienstmann nr. 10’ by Rudolf Mälzer, published by Otto Teich (Leipzig, sd). Illustrator unknown.

A Dienstmann or a porter in Germany and Austria, was a freelance worker, state-licensed and officially registered. We’re talking 1830 until WW2. The Dienstmann wore an official uniform with his licence number on his cap or on a medallion. Often, the street corner was his ‘office’.

Tired porter on Radetzkyplatz, Vienna, around 1905-1914, photographed by Emil Mayer, source: wikimedia

The Dienstmann would not only carry luggage. He could also be hired for errands or be engaged as a messenger. Some were equipped with writing props enabling a client on the street to write a few lines and then have the Dienstmann deliver the note.

Sometimes a Dienstmann was hired for small domestic duties or as a temporary replacement for an indisposed servant. The man could also obtain your theatre or concert tickets, or even help you home after a night out, as the cover below suggests.

‘Ich hab’ mir für Grinzing ein’n Dienstmann engagiert…’ by Bruno Uher, published by Edition Bristol (Wien, 1936) and illustrated by H. Woyty-Wimmer.

The noticeable figure of the Dienstmann was frequently used for stage or film. We can see this in the 1952 comedy of errors, ‘Hallo Dienstmann’ wherein two of these characters sing a comical duet. At that time, the last Dienstmann had already disappeared from the streets. The title song of the film, played by two of Austria’s leading actors, became one of the big hits of the fifties in Austria.

Sing along in your best German. Take the flowers to Amalie, perhaps you’ll get a tip and she will fall in love with you…

Hallo Dienstmann! Hallo Dienstmann!
Nehmen Sie hier diese Dahlie!
Hallo Dienstmann! Hallo Dienstmann!
Geh’n Sie damit zur Amalie!
Hallo Dienstmann! Hallo Dienstmann!
Aber wirft man Sie dort raus
Trag’n Sie hundertmal die Dahlie
Zur Amalie
Ins Haus
Bis man Ihnen dort ein Trinkgeld gibt
Und Amalie mich liebt!

Oh, these forgotten professions of yore!

One thought on “Der Dienstmann: a Jack of all trades”

  1. Tous les sujets sont dignes d’intérêt, et celui-ci parmi d’autres qui fait ressortir de l’oubli ce petit métier qui devait rendre bien des services…

    Bravo à vous !

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