The First World War and the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire brought an end to Central Europe’s place at the forefront of biomedical science. As the Allies’ wartime blockade continued into the peace, hunger and disease gripped Central and Eastern Europe. Vienna, Berlin and Moscow saw a dramatic spike in deaths after 1918. The Spanish flu has received a great deal of attention recently. At the time, people were just as – if not more – preoccupied by the risks posed by typhus and tuberculosis. In Vienna, one in every four deaths was caused by TB. Dr Siegfried Rosenfeld, of the Austrian Department of Health Statistics in the Volksgesundheitsamt, called it the ‘Viennese Disease’.
After years working as a subeditor on the Grauniad – where, as the joke went, his job was to put in the typos – my brother Adam now bakes sourdough loaves for a living in his flat in New Cross Gate. He delivers the bread to the residents of Telegraph Hill in the pannier of a cream-coloured converted 125cc Taiwanese scooter. He also owns a small hand-operated lever-press made by Adana of Twickenham, and uses it to print poems that he encloses with each loaf. A spindled roller passes over a revolving disc painted with ink and passes it onto the set type, which is then clamped against the platen holding the paper as the lever is depressed. Typesetting is time-consuming – setting a poem (his preferred font is Garamond 12-point) can take several hours – and the composited formes use up most of his type, so he keeps a poem, once typeset, for a month at a time.