Friday, July 29, 2005

A Visit To The Zerf Heimat Museum

Edith Rommelfanger with butter churn
and the bowl used as a cream separator

In 2002 I planned a trip to the Saarburg area to try to learn more about the lives of my ancestors. I learned that the little village of Zerf, where my great-great grandmother had been born in 1827, had a Heimat Museum, a place where the everyday house and farm tools of the 19th and early 20th century could be seen.

I wrote to the museum to learn more about the open hours but never received a reply. Shortly before my trip, I decided to contact the mayor of the village to find out if there was any way that I could inside the museum. (It sounded so perfect for the kinds of information I needed that the thought that I might not be able to see it was making me crazy). In my letter, I gave my e-mail address as well as my home address and offered to pay for any costs involved.
Almost immediately I received a reply from Edith Rommelfanger, the mayor's wife. She said that when I arrived in the area, I should call, and they would arrange to show me the museum. From then on, the fates stepped in and made my visit to the museum as easy as finding a cheesehead in Green Bay.

Once I arrived in Saarburg, the call for an appointment to see the museum was made not by me but by Ewald Meyer, a retired teacher who was writing a history of another of my ancestral villages, Irsch bei Beurig. Herr Meyer took me "under his wing" and became my charming guide and chauffeur during my visit to Germany.

When all the arrangements were made, Herr Meyer and I drove to Zerf and were met by the mayor, Manfred Rommelfanger and his wife who gave me a two-hour tour of the museum, which is only open by special appointment.

As a souvenir, I was given several sheets of information on the exhibits. I believe Frau Rommelfanger herself wrote them, and she asked if I would translate the pages, which explained the majority of the exhibits, into English so that, should another American arrive, an English text would be available. She understood that my German is mostly self-taught and that mistakes were possible. She did not seem to mind. So when I came home I did my best at a translation and sent it to her.

I have decided to share some of this information in my blog from time to time, hoping that I have made only small errors in translation and that you will enjoy reading about some of the artifacts and how they were used. I will include a picture if I have one available. The quotation marks will indicate which information is translated from my Heimat Museum guide. Information that I added to help myself understand is in parentheses.

Heimat Museum Zerf
"This exhibit is about butter production. The first step was the Milchentrahmung or milk separation. A milk bowl served that function. It had a plug and a little sieve or filter. After approximately 12 hours the plug was removed, skim milk flowed off; and the lighter cream that had collected above was held back by the filter. The successor of the milk bowl was the centrifuge. There was a small bell on this centrifuge. As long as it made a sound, the cock had to remain closed, because the rotating speed was not yet fast enough. As soon as the little bell stopped, one untwisted the cock, and the centrifuge began the separation. The cream came out in front and the skim milk in the back."

"For honey production in former times a bee shed could be made in a very simple way. One pushed four stakes into the ground, placed a slanted roof covered with Ginster (broom) on top; and put the (woven) straw hives underneath." (Broom grows wild all over temperate Europe to a height of 3 to 5 feet. It produces numerous long, straight, slender bright green branches, tough and very flexible. The bright yellow fragrant flowers are large, in bloom from April to July, and are succeeded by oblong, flattened pods, about 1 1/2 inch long. The pods are nearly black when mature. They burst with a sharp noise when the seeds are ripe, flinging them some distance. The continuous crackling of the bursting seed pods on a hot, sunny July day is quite noticeable. The flowers have a great attraction for bees; they contain no honey, but an abundance of pollen).

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

A Visit to the Zerf Heimat Museum - Kitchen

Top - Wicker trays, Trockernhurten, for drying greens and fruit
Middle - Bake oven door with Kiss rake

"In the corner is a complete bake oven, in which bread was baked in former times. The glowing ash was pulled out of the hot oven with the Kiss (a long-handled type of rake). With the Brotschiess (literally this is a bread shooter), the loaves of dough were quickly pushed into the oven and the finished bread pulled out with the same device. Once the oven was empty, the Trockernhurten (a woven drying rack) went in. On it might be greens for soup, little plums, or apples and pears cut in strips for drying."

"In the Muhle (a bread trough which could also be covered and used as a table), the bread dough was prepared for baking. If the dough had risen, it was put into the Kurbeln (a woven, round basket) and covered with a white linen cloth and left to rise for approximately10 hours. In former times they said the 'bread must steam'. When the Muhle was emptied, any remaining dough was scraped together and formed into a ball. This dough had to be kept at a place in the room where the temperature was always the same. It was covered with a white linen cloth and fermented for the next 10 days. That became the Sauerteig (leaven) for the next bread"


"Here are various Henkelmänner (lunch buckets). In former times during the potato and grain harvest, the meal was taken to the workers in the field in these Henkelmänner. There is a difference between the normal Henkelmänn and the Marmittchen (taken from the French word for a pot called the Marmit). The Marmittchen consists of several small pots stacked one above the other. This made it possible to transport and keep several meals divided. In the large Henkelmänn there was only an Eintop (a single pot). In the Fresskorb" (lunch basket), children brought an afternoon lunch (bread and so forth) to the fields after school. Coffee was carried in the Zigeunerkanne or gypsy jug. The popular homemade drink, Viez, was kept cool in the Viezbombel made of stoneware."

"In the farm kitchen, the floor is made of stone, usually this was sandstone. The open chimney is above the hearth. The cast-iron pot hangs on a rod that can be raised or lowered depending on the amount of heat needed. Ham, bacon and sausages were smoked in the open chimney."

Monday, July 25, 2005

A Visit to the Zerf Heimat Museum - Work in the Fields

Zerf's Mayor, Manfred Rommelfanger, wears a wrist cutter sometimes used for grain or flax. Sickles at the right; Ginstereisen at the left

"Next to each other here you see Sichel (sickles) and the somewhat stronger Ginstereisen (iron tool for cutting brush). In former times Ginster was dried and used as straw for the cattle stalls. (See A Visit to the Zerf Heimat Museum for a description of the broom shrub called Ginster). The women used sickles to cut the grain stems and bind them into sheaves. They also used them to cut weeds. With a sickle, the goat farmers cut the grass and weeds along the waysides and the field borders to feed to their animals."

"The Dengelstöcke was a device that sharpened or 'whet' metal by hammering it. It was used for scythes when they became dull. The Denkelstöcke was struck into the ground or, more often, into a wood log. The cutting edge of the scythe was worked on with the hammer. The hammer had to be rounded at the head so that no depression was made in the scythe when it was struck."

"Reiserbesen (twig brooms) were made of birch twigs. In former times, most were bound with hazelnut switches; later with wire. The Reiserhaken (twig axe) was used to cut the birch twigs. The birch twigs was pressed together for binding with the broom press. After binding, the brooms were trimmed and shaped with the small Reisermesserchen (little twig knife). One used the twig brooms for sweeping of house, yard and stable."

"Planting tools lie on this table (center). Vegetable seedlings, beets, lettuce, etc. were planted in field and garden with them." (I was told that most are made of cow or ox horns. The tip of the horn was cut off so that the seeds could slowly come through. Different sizes of horns and how much of the tip of the horn was removed allowed for the planting of various sizes of seeds)

Here are Loheisen, iron tools for stripping bark (Lohecken) (tool at the back of the table). They are also called Lohlöffel or bark spoons. With them the bark was stripped from the oak trees. In former times one extracted Gerbsaüre (tanning acid) from this bark. The acid was necessary to process animal hide for leather." (At times there were as many as 20 tanneries in Saarburg in the 1800's, and the selling of the bark to the tanneries provided farmers with a much needed cash crop).

"Here one sees Schlotterfässer, small barrels made out of wood, horn and sheet metal (far left). The name Schlotterfass (shaking barrel) comes from the typical noise which developed when the whet stones inside knocked together. The farmer hung the Schlotterfass, which contained the whetstones and the water, on his belt when he went mowing. Then, if necessary, he could always sharpen the scythe."

"For beet cultivation, the Hackpflug plow was used. A cow led between the rows could pull it. Then the farmer only had to hoe the soil crosswise between the plants to chop out weeds." (To my surprise, I learned that many farmers could not afford an ox or a horse for field work. So their cow/s were pressed into service, very much decreasing the amount of milk that a cow could produce)

Saturday, July 23, 2005

A Visit to the Zerf Heimat Museum - Conclusion

The following section ends my information about the Zerf Heimatmuseum. It contains a description of miscellaneous artifacts not covered in the other posts. Just like the other entries I have posted, these artifacts may help paint a better picture of daily life in the village of Zerf and/or of the many other small villages near the Saar and Mosel rivers.

As I explained in my first post on the Zerf museum, the descriptions below without parentheses are my translations from the German language museum guide I received as a souvenir at the time of my visit. Anything in parentheses is additional information gleaned from other sources which I hope makes the original description a bit clearer.

Now back to the museum

In the blacksmith's shop one can see the forge with the bellows, anvil, hammers, pliers, a bending machine for bending the eisenreifen (iron wheels) for the farm wagons. (According to the book, Serrig: Landschaft, Geschichte & Geschichtenby Klaus Hammächer, a dog could be trained to run inside the wheel shown in this picture. As he ran, he powered the bellows and the flame of the forge. The picture was taken at the Roscheider Hof open air museum near Konz)

Trumpets were used by Schweinehirt (swineherds). At the sound of the trumpet, the farmer opened the pig stalls and the Schweinehirt drove the pigs into the oak forests and guarded them there. In the evening the Schweinehirt brought them back with the trumpet signal. On the Feast of St. Martin (November 11) the Schweinehirt received a measuring beaker/cup full of grain for each pig under his care. (St. Martin's day was also the traditional time to prepare for winter by slaughtering pigs, geese, and other animals since they would soon be unable to forage for food and would have to be fed by the farmer)

The half Vierzel was a measuring instrument for grain. In former times the grain was not weighed; it was measured with this container. Four half Vierzel 'filled not too much and not too little' ( leveled?) equaled one hundredweight of corn, barley or wheat. Six half Vierzel made up a hundredweight of oats, because oats is finer. In earlier times, the teachers in the village were often also the swineherds, because there was no school in the summer (when the pigs could roam). School was held from St. Martin's Day to Easter.

One could distinguish cow, sheep and goat bells by the different tone qualities.

The small Nicholas bells were used by the adults to make the children aware of the feast day some weeks before it arrived. They rewarded the children's obedience by putting small gifts at the door on St. Nicholas Eve

In the bedroom we see the straw filled mattress, the pillow filled with grain chaff, and the feather bed. (The villagers made use of almost any part of the crops that they grew, even in the bedroom. For instance, small pouches were filled with grape seeds and could be heated to ease pain, much as we can relax tight muscles by using the same sort of pouch and heating its "magic crystals" in a microwave. These grape seed pouches are still sold at the "Golden Autumn" festival and market in Saarburg)

The broad low-lying wooden box sled was, in former times, a popular plaything for the children during the long, snow-rich winters.

Kleppern (wooden clappers) and Raspeln (a rattle-like wooden device which rotated and made a rasping sound when shaken by its long handle) replaced the bells during Holy Week when bells could not be rung on Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

This is the Rosenkranz on which the house sign and hedge land identifiers for the Gehöfershaft were placed. These blocks were drawn in a lottery for distributing the Lohhecken among the farmers in the Gehöfershaft. (Above is a photo from Der Hochwaldort Zerf am Fuße des Hunsrücks, by Edgar Christoffel, c. 1981, Verlag W. Rassier, D5510 Saarburg. It shows wooden blocks with symbols which are rune-like rather than alphabetic characters. This Rosenkranz, the German word for rosary, served as a sort of plat map for the hedge lands which belonged to the entire community of land-owning farmers. In the Saar and Mosel region these landed farmers were usually referred to as a Gehöfershaft. A symbol identifying each section of the hedge lands, sections which were especially valuable for the oak tree bark stripped for tanning, was painted on one side of each small wooden block. Then a lottery was held. Each farmer in turn drew out a wooden block containing a hedge land symbol. His distinctive house mark could now be painted on the other side of the wooden block and the section was his to work until the next lottery was held. When the lottery was completed, the blocks were strung into the Rosenkranz and probably kept by the mayor of Zerf. In Zerf, this lottery took place every five years. The neighboring village of Irsch had a similar Rosenkranz, according to the book Irsch/Saar: Geschichte eines Dorfes, by Ewald Meyer).

The kitchen utensils and the farm equipment are described in Part 2 and Part 3, the other parts of this amazing visit to the past.