Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Saar River Sailors and Their Helpers

Upper - model of a barge owned by the grandfather of H.D. Jung of Saarburg

Lower - post card in collection of H.D. Jung, Saarburg

Grandma's Story
When I was twenty or so, my grandmother told me that her own grandmother, Magdalena Rauls, had run away from home to marry my great-great grandfather, Johann Meier, who was a sailor. For many years I pictured Johann as a seaman on an majestic sailing ship, a glamorous occupation indeed. No wonder Magdalena was smitten. But when my genealogical research started, I learned that Johann had always lived in Irsch and was listed as a farmer. I wrote the romantic story off as pure fiction.

But as I delved into history books about Saarburg and vicinity, I saw another possibility that gave me a far more likely scenario for Johann or for any man who lived so close to the Saar River. It was possible that as a farm boy who could handle horses, Johann might have looked for extra work on the river as a way to improve his economic situation. Was he a Halfen?

Nickolaus Ritzler in his book, Burg und Kreisstadt Saarburg, says that sailing families lived along the Saar River in Saarburg from the very beginnings of the city and that when the barges sailed, there were always men, known as "Halfen" traveling with them. These were the men who handled the horses that towed the barges against the current. Both of these occupations were held in high respect.

The sections which follow are taken from a village history by Klaus Hammächer called Serrig: Landschaft, Geschichte & Geschichten. In a section called "Earlier Village Life," information from Nikolaus Ritzler, Adam Görgen, and Peter Faas describe shipping on the Saar during the "Golden Age" of the river barges.

The Sailors

According to Ritzler, the sailors from Saarburg dressed in high vests topped by blue jackets. On their heads they wore blue caps. This distinctive uniform, along with their deeply tanned skin, marked them as the men who built and sailed the barges that carried cargo on the Saar. Their homes were in the lower city close to the water's edge, as were the buildings where they carefully fashioned their barges. The names Schulges and Mettloch are especially associated with the boat building and sailing families in Saarburg.

The Barges

The Saar barges were made from solid oak without any blemish, and held together by strong iron nails made especially for this purpose by the local nail smiths. When a newly built ship was ready to make its first trip, there was always a celebration in one of the inns in the lower city, with hardy food and drink for all. Once on the river, the barges carried a wide variety of cargo such as coal, wood, iron, hay, straw, and most kinds of produce. During the many wars over the centuries, the barges also carried soldiers, weaponry, horses and food rations.

The Halfen

The helpers or Halfen, a word that seems to have originated in the region of Cologne, came mostly from the small villages of Irsch, Serrig, Beurig, Krutweiler and Zerf. According to Nikolaus Ritzler, who wrote his account about 1912, the Halfen had broad chests and were usually of middle height. They were easy to identify from their clothing and their walk, a swinging gait which developed from the amount of time they spent riding the strong barge horses. Their arms, too, moved in a distinctive way as a result of swinging a "Peitsche" or whip while they worked.

The dress of the Halfen consisted of white woolen (but not knitted) socks, linen trousers of blue or white, and coarse, strongly nailed cowleather shoes. Under a strong, warm white overjacket with horn buttons, they wore unbleached linen shirts. Headware could be either a black, round hat made of coarse felt, or, when it was cold, a knit "zipfel" cap. This was a sort of a stocking cap worn under the felt hat to protect ears and neck from the cold. Red cotton kerchiefs with white stripes were tied around their necks.

In 1904, Adam Görgen also wrote a description of the Halfen. He said they were healthy, strongly built men of middle size. A humble black hat with a large brim fastened to the head by a thin, colorful cord was their headgear. A blue, red, or white striped cotton cap was put on whenever the other hat was taken off. A red scarf was knotted around the neck and a rough linen shirt covered by a gray or white short linen or "Tirtey" jacket was typical. Their trousers were made of thick, white canvas. Over their jackets, they pulled on a still shorter blue coat and over the stockings that reached above the knee, they wore gaiters. Wool stockings and sturdy nailed shoes completed the outfit.

Gorgen says that when a barge owner needed extra help, he would go to a tavern (most likely in the lower city) to find Halfen. To seal the contract between "Schiffer" and "Halfen", a bottle of wine would be set on the table and both men would drink a glass. Wine was also part of the Halfens' workday. At 10 a.m., a helper received a half quart of wine. At noon and in the evening, the helper was entitled to a quart. When a particularly dangerous stretch was successfully navigated, the Halfen received the so called "wave wine."

No matter the weather, the Halfen would lead the horses along the towpath, if there was one, or ride the horses if the landscape was rough or if their was a ford to be crossed. The horses struggled to pull the barges when the boats were sailing against the Saar's strong current, but they were well cared for and were never mistreated. At the end of the day, the men who handled them were probably as tired as their horses. When the horses faced an especially difficult pull, there was a great deal of shouting by the Halfen as they drove the animals forward. The whip was used then but only when it could not be avoided.

The Trip on the River

Ritzler says that a trip from Trier to Saarbrucken would take about three days. Typically it would involve three or more barges which traveled together. Three horses were needed to pull each of the larger barges. The horses were attached to the barge by means of a strong line attached to the tip of the mast. When the trip began, the sailors would shout "In God's name" and then "Johleit rack". The barges were pushed away from the bank and the horses began to pull. There was a great deal of shouting between the sailors and the men leading the horses. The sound, "juh, juh" signaled the horses. By nightfall the barges had usually reached Saarburg where the sailors and Halfen spent the first night. (The vacation apartment that my sister and I rented when we were in Saarburg was once a barge owner's home; our apartment the sleeping area for the Halfen).

Each day there were also rest stops and during that time the sailors and the Halfen would discuss any problems along the next stretch in the river. Lunch would be carried ashore from the ship and eaten at an inn or tavern, with the landlord providing the dishes, tableware and the wine. The shipowner, of course. paid for the wine that the landlord of the inn placed on the table.

During the trip the sailors and helpers might shout and curse and sometime come to blows with one another, but at lunch time and after there was rest. The men would sit outside, smoke a pipe, and enjoy camaraderie. Once rested, the hard work, shouts and grumbles began again. At night the sailors slept in a "Hef," the Halfen in a strawsack bed and the horses in their stalls aboard the ship.

According to Ritzler, the Halfen were paid cash for each day worked with the shipowners also providing food, drink, and feed for the horses. A lesser payment per day was given to each man for his trip back home. This amount paid for the cost of food, night quarters, bridge tolls, as well as hay and grain for the horses.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Saarburg - the City and the Landkreis

Top: Lower city
portal from 1659

Bottom: Upper City with
Saarburg's Butter Markt street and the Leukbach.

I made my first visit to Saarburg in 1984. I was not prepared for the rich history and the charm of this small city of approximately 6,100 inhabitants. I took picture after picture on my first trip, and the city has lured me back to it again and again over the years. The Saarburg of today is still the largest city in the Landkreis Saarburg as it was in the 1850's and 60's when my great-great grandparents lived in Irsch, a village approximately 1 1/2 miles to the east.

The Landkreis in Germany is similar to a county in the US, and the city of Saarburg is very much like the county seat with which most of us are familiar. The German word Kreis can mean both "circle" and "district." And just as in our own county seats, the government offices of the Kreis are located in Saarburg.

Founded in the ninth century, Saarburg has both an upper and a lower city. The lower city is situated at the edge of the Saar River. In the nineteenth century it was home to tanneries, boatsmen's and fishermen's houses, the hospital, barracks, wineries, warehouses and taverns. There was a factory that made the bells for some of Europe's largest cathedrals. This Mabilon bell works had moved from France to Saarburg in the late 1700's and continued to cast bells until 2002.

The upper city is slightly newer than the lower city. Houses and shops began to spread up the hill as the city grew. Saarburg was a market town and the markets gave names to streets and squares in both the upper and lower city. There was the horse market, the fruit market, the butter market in the upper city, and the old market in the lower city. The Butter Markt runs along side the Leukbach, a stream which runs through the upper city, then forms a waterfall and drops toward the old city. The waterfall on the Leukbach powered a water wheel for the former grist mill which is now a museum. Above the city stand the ruins of a castle built in 964. All around the city there are steep hills covered with vineyards.

Maybe it was the magic of Saarburg with its powerful waterfall and the castle ruins that made me want to write a novel about my Irsch ancestors, who surely came to this city's markets to sell fruit, butter, perhaps even livestock from time to time. I began to collect as much information as possible about Saarburg as it was in the 1800's.

Last year, in the city's bookstore, I bought Saarburg: Geschichte einer Stadt, vols. 1 & 2, c. 1991, a compilation of articles about the city by various authors. In it I found a goldmine of information about Saarburg in the mid-1800's. Rudolf Mueller, in his chapter, "Geschichte der Stadt Saarburg im 19. and 20. Jahrhundert," (History of the city of Saarburg in the 19th and 20th century) quoted many statistics on the population of 1861 Saarburg as tabulated by the Landsrat Mersmann, the chief administrator of the Landkreis at that time.

Herr Landsmann reported that there were 2,249 residents of the city of Saarburg in 1861, of whom 2,146 were Catholic, 78 were Evangelische (Lutheran), and 25 were Jewish. There were 306 habitations which would mean that the average house held 7.3 persons.

The Landsrat went on to report that there were 7 tanning factories, 15 looms, 4 water-powered grain mills, and 7 brandy distilleries in the city. There was also an oil mill, a tobacco and cigarette factory and a brewery.

The tradesmen and craftsmen were enumerated too. There were 50 fishermen, 9 master bakers, 7 master butchers, 8 master tanners and leather makers, 20 smiths of various kinds (nail makers, knife makers, locksmiths, etc.), 5 master plumbers, 20 master shoemakers, 13 joiners and furniture makers, 7 coopers (cask and barrel makers). All but the fishermen employed helpers and had apprentices.

There were also a few barbers, a stonemason, a potter, a glazier, some masons, carpenters, roofers, and horse shoers, a master clockmaker, some wool spinners, ropemakers, dyers, harness and saddle makers, milliners, men's hat makers, a basketmaker, a bookbinder, a furrier and even two upholsterers/decorators.

In addition to all of the above, there were 40 shopkeepers of one kind or another, as well as three traders described as "herumziehende" which would seem to mean traders who went door to door; 15 innkeepers; 15 tavern keepers, 7 agents, a hauler and 90 boatsmen.

While the statistics above are for just one small city on a river, I would venture to guess that the occupants of most of the small cities along the Saar and Mosel would have had similar groups of workers, shops, and factories during the time when many of our ancestors made the decision to leave all that was familiar and start a new life on farms, in small towns and big cities in Amerika.