Germany Ethnography

Lower Germany. – Already Pliny the Younger speaks to us of a population of North Sea fishermen, who had built their homes on artificial hills a few meters above sea level: even today, especially on the North Sea islands we find groups of houses built on small hills and, along the coast, series of wooden houses mixed with land. There is no shortage of water cisterns already described by Pliny. All along the coast peasants have built large dams since the Middle Ages, with long and tiring work. The farms are very close to each other: a strip of land belongs to each of them, in which the drainage of water is ensured by a ditch opening into a main channel. The land is fertile and suitable for agriculture, but is exploited especially for cattle breeding. We have news of these reclamation works for the first time in 1106 (reclamation of the surroundings of Bremen); later they were carried out in the river valleys beyond the territory of the North Sea up to East and West Prussia, along the Weser and the middle course of the Elbe and, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, in the marshes between the Oder and the Vistula. All the Frisian farms (v.frisia) consist of a rectangular-shaped residential building in the middle of which is the kitchen: on the sides there are the rooms, often well furnished, a heated room (Pesel) and warehouses; large huts house livestock and fodder: the sheaves of wheat piled up in them in the shape of large piles serve as support for the thatched roof. In East Frisia and the islands, the house and the huts are far from each other: in Schleswig, on the other hand, the various buildings are united and form a single complex with a huge hipped roof. The red color of the bricks, together with the green and white of the windows decorated with flowers, gives the houses a very picturesque aspect as in Holland; even the kitchen furnishings show Dutch influences; thus, for example, the large hood fireplace is decorated with Delft majolica and other furnishings. The walls are partly covered with colored tiles: brass and copper kitchen utensils also abound throughout the coastal territory. The walls of the drawing room, especially in the marshy area of ​​Dieth, where the customs of Lower Saxony reign, are often covered with richly worked wood; in the poor fishing villages the wooden walls and furniture are painted in bright colors. For heating one uses the so-called Bilegger, cast iron stove, made up of plates decorated with reliefs, superimposed on each other like drawers, which is lit from the kitchen. Local customs, which have fallen into disuse since the mid-century. XIX, were varied and sumptuous: the women wore wide pleated skirts, mostly red, also pleated jackets, without sleeves, and a kind of bodice with sleeves. They wore rich silver and gold ornaments on their breasts and shoulders and a headband around the occiput (the so-called Ohreisen) to hold the kerchief in place.

The Lower Saxons live for the most part in the poorest interior of the country, the so-called Geest, in northwestern Germany, and like the Frisians, they also go into Dutch territory. Towards the south the limit to their expansion is given by the mountain ranges of central Germany; in the east they went as colonists far beyond the Elbe to Szczecin. Already from the century. XIX an attempt was made to make the marshy and uncultivated lands that formed part of the Geest suitable for periodic cropsof Lower Germany; in the nineteenth century large tracts already offered pasture to numerous flocks of sheep. The cattle are sheltered under simple canopies supported by beams. The shepherds, when they go to the pastures, bring with them only a long cloak with a raised neck, a stick to which a drinking bowl is tied, a horn jar for ointments, the sling and the sack of leather. Pig farming and beekeeping have been practiced in wooded regions since ancient times. Of all the Germanic groups, the Lower Saxons are those who have remained most attached to their land. To the west of the Weser they had settled in isolated houses: only in the so-called Hellweg, between Dortmund and Lippstadt, a series of irregular villages have arisen since the time of the Carolingians and the same can be observed in the territory of the Elbe. In the border areas with the Slavs, they have a circular shape, evidently for defensive purposes: the houses rise around a square on which the church opens, the meeting place for deliberations, the municipal house and the lawn where the livestock. In Schleswig the square of these villages is square; in the marshy regions of Mecklenburg and Pomerania the houses are often lined up next to each other. A very special character is still given to the landscape for long stretches by the windmills. The most necessary provisions were sometimes kept in granaries built like towers, but in general the Saxon house welcomes men, cattle and provisions. The large thatched roof rests on a double row of supports, beyond which it still extends for a good distance towards the ground. The more recent constructions, under the influence of central Germany, have multi-storey types of very good architectural taste and brick walls with ornamental imprints. The large entrance door leads to a large central atrium open up to the height of the roof. On both sides are the stables; at the bottom opens the house proper. In the kitchen, the hearth was generally close to the wall in the past: a wooden frame with carved horse heads protruded from it, from which meat and lard were hung to smoke, and an iron toothed hook for the boiler. Ancient home-made costumes fell into disuse at a certain time. Characteristic are the wide white linen tunics that men still wear at work, wide-brimmed hats, fur caps, and also the straw hats and wide linen skirts that women still use in certain places at the time of the harvest.. The men’s party costumes of the style of the century. XVIII have disappeared completely, while the female ones, especially in the territory between the lower Elbe and the lower Weser and around Schaumburg, still retain ancient shapes with characteristic colors; the skirts are preferably red: for communion they wear white handkerchiefs on their heads, blue is for half-mourning.

Central Germany. Still in some places in central Germany, near Siegen and Trier, a medieval form of forestry is preserved: the oak forests are divided into small parts that the respective owner must clear and then cultivate for a few years after which he lets them grow again. the forest. A simple hook plow or just a hoe is used for plowing. On the mountains one can still find the old forms of more or less closed villages; the farms are partly made up of a single building with a wide roof with two slightly sloping slopes: on the front opens the house consisting of kitchen, bedrooms and pantry. behind the yard and the stable. Only in the far west, as in the neighboring Romanesque territory, is the kitchen with the large hearth that through a the opening in the wall also serves to heat the dining room. Otherwise, the Franconian farmhouse is everywhere, with the room equipped with a stove located near the kitchen, while below or next to it is the stable: the barn is completely separate. In the fertile regions of Hesse and Thuringia there are villages built with very good architectural taste: the houses usually have various floors. In some places the wood and furniture carving industry was very developed. Particularly original were also the embroideries that adorned the costumes, still worn today by women for the holidays, and the shirts, also embroidered, which were given to young people at the age of majority. In the days of the festival, after the harvest, they were organized by the youngsters, according to the ancient custom, the procession and the dances of the villagers and guests. In the mountainous regions of Thuringia, rich in forests, the toy and glass blowing industry has been one of the livelihoods of the population since ancient times. The glass objects that adorn Christmas trees throughout Germany come for the most part from this region. A more advanced form of economic and cultural life has developed in the Rhine territories between Düsseldorf and Karlsruhe, in the Moselle, Main and Tauber region up to Nuremberg. Already the Romans found among the Alemanni of the Main region houses and courtyards built according to their own rules and with the addition of the rustic villa the typical Franconian construction was derived consisting of a residential building with the entrance from the side of the gutter and annexed stables, a granary arranged transversely and joined with the mill and other buildings: all these constructions form the sides of a square that is closed at the front by a large portal equipped with a smaller secondary door. The popular building art retains characteristic features of the Renaissance and Baroque city architecture. The dining room that is heated by the kitchen is the best place in the house everywhere. The same progress in the life of the people is observed as far as the interior of Saxony and Silesia. Saxony is the main territory of diffusion of the Rundlinge (round villages), while beyond this there are mainly road or horseshoe villages. In some places, especially in Silesia, farmhouses are lined up next to each other for clearing woodland, in which, as is the case in marshy regions, each farmer is assigned a large strip of land attached to his farm (Waldhufendörfer). In north-eastern Germany, colonized by emigrants from various parts of the old German territory, these have transported their traditional forms of housing, with small variations: in southern Pomerania there is a variant of the Saxon house, in which the living quarters, with the kitchen and the dining room, they sometimes occupy an entire side of the building, as in central Germany. Central Germans spread the Franconian farmhouse type over vast territories. The truss construction (Blockbau), characteristic since ancient times in the eastern regions, with the sheet piling typical of western countries, which is applied to the walls with very picturesque effects. In the region between the Vistula and the Oder the houses have columned loggias on the façade or on one side, in which we want to recognize a derivation from the ancient Indo-Germanic house with a portico. In Silesia, as among the border Slavs, there are sporadic ovens and kitchens served by the dining room, typical of Eastern Europe. Industries have flourished especially in Silesia and Saxony, rich in cities; even the decoration of the furniture, mostly colorful, has reached a remarkably high artistic level here. The production of majolica was favored in several places by the discovery of clay deposits rich in kaolin. In the wooded regions and especially in the Ore Mountains, an artistic domestic industry developed and still exists which produces, in addition to toys, small storey buildings (Christmas pyramids), chandeliers, etc. The old customs, with a few exceptions, such as the clothes of the Pomeranian grain farmers, the revenge fashions in the Spreewald and the party clothes used in Silesia, have all fallen into disuse. For the cut and the shape also the Slavic costume is reconnected to those of West Germany; the white handkerchiefs that women use to shelter from the rain during periods of mourning, widespread as far as the eastern Franconian territory, may have an indigenous origin.

Upper Germany. The forms of the settlements here follow the same rules noted elsewhere: in the plains villages on the road or compact prevail, while the forms of the farm and the dwelling especially follow the Franconian type: however, there is no lack of isolated residences. In the Bavarian territory, the type of settlement with isolated farms and small mountain centers also extends into the pre-Alpine area. A very old type of house is found in the Black Forest; it is a single building in which the house, the yard and the stable are gathered under a high thatched roof supported by large lateral pillars. This construction undoubtedly developed on a Germanic basis common to the forms of the north and the west; likewise the great Bavarian unitary house, generally spread in the region south of Munich and Augusta, shows the same kinship in the construction of the pillars for the roof, which however is less inclined and is covered by wooden slats held in place by stones. North of the Danube this type of house is part of a Franconian-type farmhouse. In the Bavarian Oberland, Italian influences introduced fresco painting on the walls. In the Alpine villages, especially in Upper Bavaria, the rich farms preserve real precious collections of artistically worked furnishings, wardrobes, chests and carved and painted chests, which, manufactured for the most part in Tölz sull’Isar, were transported far away by river. Crucifixes, figures of saints, toys, were and are exported from Ammergau and Berchtesgaden throughout Europe and even overseas: in some valleys of this region the old picturesque costumes are still preserved, which are worn in wedding processions and religious solemnities (feast of St. Leonardo). The costume originating from the Lake Schlier region spread to Upper Bavaria and became a kind of Alpine fashion.

Many uses and customs with particular shapes would be to remember for various parts of the country. Southern Germans especially drink beer and eat very dark rye bread; the butter is salted to preserve it; in the West, on the other hand, salted butter is not known, white bread is eaten and wine is preferred to beer. In the Rhine region there is the old custom, in May, of wedding auctions (Maibrautschaft), in which the girls are placed at auction for fun. The custom of carrying the bride’s trousseau on richly decorated carts is quite general. As W. Mannhardt demonstrates, all the customs with annual recurrence belong to a European cycle and are widespread almost without variations throughout the German region: each professional class, however, has its own particularities, such as viticulture, agriculture, pastoralism, fishing. Similar to each other in different parts of these regions are the winter masks, in which the participants disguise themselves as goats and winter is represented by Knecht Ruprecht covered in skins, as well as the corresponding spring rites with a bear wrapped in a singular robe of pea shells. The artistically carved wooden masks for these demon figures are made exclusively by young people from the Alpine territories. Hence the use of the Christmas tree then adopted in almost all of Protestant Germany. The lighting of fires in different eras according to the regions is very widespread. Especially in southern and western Germany the carnival is even more lively than elsewhere; the women have their particular feast there; plows and tree trunks are carried around and on the rivers fishermen and sailors’ festivals are celebrated, recalling the ancient customs. The figuration of winter with a puppet that was destroyed in the

According to religious practices, the Catholic regions of Germany differ essentially from the Protestant ones. In Catholic territories religious art, the carving of cribs, sacred representations are still practiced by the people today: numerous religious pilgrimages and offerings of votive gifts.

Germany Ethnography