Hamburg, August 14:
Amid soaring unemployment, social welfare cutbacks and rising taxes, Germans are worrying more and more about the prospect of impending poverty. Now an unemployed German count is giving his countrymen advice on â€˜how to grow poor with styleâ€™. Angst-ridden Germans have been snapping up a book by the offspring of a faded German aristocratic family with the intriguing title â€˜The Art of Growing Poor In Styleâ€™ (Die Kunst Des Stilvollen Verarmens). It is a top 10 bestseller. The author, Count Alexander von Schoenburg, says he knows what heâ€™s talking about since â€œmy family has been in decline for the past 500 yearsâ€. Count von Schoenburg, who claims to be â€œa poor relative of most of the crowned heads of Europeâ€, says the well-off middle classes who are facing poverty for the first time can take a lesson from the traditional upper classes who have been learning to make do with less and less for generations as monarchies have fallen across Europe. â€œWe developed a sense of style and bearing that defies fashion and showiness,â€ he writes in the book, started after he lost his job as a newspaper editor in Berlin.
Drawing parallels to the Old Rich and the Nouveau Riche, von Schoenburg says his book is a guide by a member of the aristocratic Old Poor for prospective members of what he calls the Nouveau Pauvre. The Old Poor, he writes, know how to live on a shoestring with style and dignity, never buying anything new and holding tight to old possessions such as rickety furniture and chipped crockery. â€œMy childhood memories are of my mother recovering cheap Ikea furniture with remnants of old but elegant upholstery she had salvaged from a broken-down sofa,â€ he says, for example. The result was a chair that looked like a priceless antique but that didnâ€™t collapse under a personâ€™s weight like a real antique would. He remembers envying other boys whose middle-class parents bought them flashy new toys and clothes. Shying away from such bourgeois extravagance, his parents gave him hand-me-down clothes and cheap toys that required no batteries â€” but lots of imagination. â€œAnd I recall that my father never really liked a teapot until it had developed a crack,â€ von Sternburg remembers,
â€œThen he said it finally had character.â€ He tells the story of his old uncle, Count Zsigmond Nyary, who lived in Budapest.
â€œThe most elegant apartment Iâ€™ve ever been in was the tiny, two-room flat,â€ he says. Being aristocrats, the Nyarys had been allocated the worst apartment in the worst part of the town, â€œBut the Nyarysâ€™ apartment was proof that taste and style can prevail in even the more dire circumstances. At night the place was wall-to-wall mattresses. But come morning, there was much shifting of furniture and the place was transformed into an elegant salon for receiving guests.â€ â€œUncle Zsigmond, who only ever wore two suits (a brown one during the day and a blue serge in the evening) didnâ€™t have two cups that matched and most were chipped. Even so, his thin tea and instant coffee were served with such Old World grace and charm that you felt you were guest of honour in a grand country manor houseâ€.
Taking his cue from his â€˜poor relationsâ€™, von Schoenburg was able to make the transition from having a regular salary to being one of the long-term unemployed. He learned to view his modest apartment as being â€˜bigger than a $1,000-a-night suite in most hotels and with a full kitchen to bootâ€™. He learned the joys of not being stuck in traffic jams and not having to look for parking spaces â€” which is a cinch if you canâ€™t afford a car. â€œI realised I didnâ€™t need a subscription to Atlantic Monthly and several daily papers, nor did I need broadband cable, nor did I need a cell phone that downloads other peopleâ€™s home movies,â€ he said. He also learned
to appreciate vacations at home. â€œWho wants to go to St Moritz anyway?â€ he writes, â€œItâ€™s overrun with vulgar New-Money Russians. Nobody with real class would be caught dead there now. Most of all, I learned the veracity of that old saying. The best things in life really are free. Enjoying them without wishing you had lots of stuff, now, that takes real class.â€