Sunday, February 19, 2006

On the Kitchen Shelves

Left: Waschkrug/
Wash Pitcher
Right: Oelflasche/
Earthen Oil bottle

Most of us with ancestors who come from the Trier area have probably thought, at one time or another, about the houses they lived in. But how many of us have considered the small items, used on a regular basis, that would be found in a cupboard or on shelves in those homes.

As I attempted to write the first chapter in my novel about my ancestors, I created a scene in which grandfather, father, mother, and children came to the table to have a meal - and discovered that I had very little idea about what would be on that table. What were the mugs and plates made from? What kind of food and drink would be in or on them? How had the meal been cooked and in what kind of pots? I had the genealogical and historical events that I needed to write about my immigrant ancestors' lives, but I certainly lacked data on the simple things.

Little by little I've found information in books and at museums about the small things, like dishware and crockery, that might have been used by a family in Irsch or Oberzerf. I've also been fortunate to have some additional help in answering that question. Ernst Mettlach, who grew up in the Trier area, was kind enough to send me photos and descriptions of some of the everyday objects that might grace the shelves of my ancestors' kitchen shelves or cupboards. His descriptions of the photos were so good that I'm using them just the way he explained them to me in his e-mail.

* * *

Ernst says, "Most of the pieces (which he photographed) are still in use and they all are typical for the region."

"My Viezporz is my porcelain-made mug where I drink my apple cider from. It is an old one, in use since my grandfather's days. As I no longer live in the Trier region, it is an excellent medicine against homesickness. For my grandfather, ca.1910, Viez (selfmade and cheap) was an everyday drink, like mineral water is for me. But on special occasions, like Christmas and on Sundays, he preferred wine."

"For real Viez, a special apple, called Viezapfel is needed. The species mostly used are called Roter Trierer and weisser Trierer, some use the Bohnapfel or Erbachhofer, a special pear is also added, the name is Sievenicher Viezbirne. And sometimes, the fruit of the Speierling (sorb or service tree) is added, which preserved the Viez and made it very clear. Every family had its own formula, how the fruits should be mixed. All these fruits are small, very old and very sour, at least not really edible. In former days, the grassland in the countryside was covered with apple trees of this species. Today, the trees are hindering industrial farming and they`re cut. For a time, the Viezapfel was on the list for endangered species."

"The Viezkrug is very old, maybe 100 years. It was closed with cork. With the bigger Viezkrug made from Steinzeug (stone-ware), the Viez was taken from the cask in the cellar and was prepared for drinking; that is, it was placed on or near the oven, to warm it up a bit."

"These two earthen brown containers made of clay are very old too. They were used for multiple storage purposes (flour, lard...) and you can heat them up."

"The grey containers were used for storage and especially the bigger ones were used for making sauerkraut, which, as every American know, was an everyday dish in past days. Therefore, the kraut or as we say in dialect, the Kappes, was cut in pieces with a Krauthobel and put together with salt in the container. The container was closed with a wooden plank and a heavy stone on it. Then the kraut fermented. I`ll never forget the terrible smell, when Grandma opened the container the first time. But the homemade kraut was delicious and very healthy. It is eaten with boiled potatoes and smoked pork chops."

"The Bommes (dial.) or Korbflasche (German) was used for many purposes. During working in the fields, the Bommes was filled with Viez. It was a glass bottle coated with a meshwork made of willow branches."

"The wineglasses are different types: The green one is called Römer (Roman) and is still used in the region, especially along the Moselle River for drinking white wine. It is available in different sizes. The white glass is more exquisite, it is a so-called Treviris-Kristall-Glas. It was expensive and only used for special purposes like weddings etc."

"The wooden form was used to bring the self-made butter into shapes." "The mill is from the 40s or 50s and was used for grinding coffee."

"Big pots like these are made of cast iron. They were essential in every kitchen and still today after a hundred years or so, they're the best you can cook with. They become rusty if you don`t use them, so you have to oil them. I`m in posession of one and I love it. They're essential for cooking regional specialties like Schaales (a special, Jewish-inspired potato casserole with leek to be eaten with apple puree) or gedämpfd Krumpern (fried potatoes)."

* * *

Thank you, Ernst, for adding so much knowledge to my ancestors' kitchen shelves.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Cargo Barge on the Saar

Model of the iron barge owned by a Saarburg family

In my August post called "Saar River Sailors and Their Helpers," I described the strong men who manned the cargo barges. But what about the barges themselves? These utilitarian vessels were one of the most effective means for transporting freight from place to place in Europe until the mid-1800's when the railroads began to take over the freight hauling market. Saarburg, only a few miles from the villages of my ancestors, was noted for its sailing families and its barge builders. As cargo, the Saarburg barges carried the Lohe (oak bark) that came from the neighboring forests for use by the tanneries; field crops grown by farmers; and wine that came from the hilly vineyards around Saarburg. Even coal, such as that which whas mined in the pit at Dudweiler was conveyed to Saarbrücken and loaded on barges for transport down the Saar and the Mosel.

There are many pictures of barges sailing the rivers and canals, such as the one above. But I had little understanding of the deck and the interior of a barge. I found some helpful information in the book by Nikolaus Ritzler,* but I had to struggle to understand the German, especially because the names that Ritzler used for many parts of the barge had not made their way into either my current or even my older German dictionaries.

So I did what I often do. I e-mailed Herr Ewald Meyer for help deciphering one of those frustrating words, "Hef." It was evidently a very important part of the barge, but I could not define it, much less form a picture of it.

To answer my question, Ewald and his son Arno went off to talk to a 70-year old man from Saarburg whose family had once owned a barge. Arno took pictures of a model of their barge "Patria" from several angles while Ewald asked questions about the Hef and other features of the boat. It is very true that one picture is worth a thousand words, but I think good pictures of a three-dimensional model of a barge are worth even more.

In his e-mail to me Ewald explained: "These photos are of a model of an iron barge. This ship belonged to the father of a 70-year-old man from Saarburg. His family sailed this ship between Saarbrücken and Basel (Switzerland) through the canals. On the bow of the ship was the anchor boom and on the stern of the ship the rudder boom. This ship could not be pulled by horses because it was too heavy. A tractor or an engine moved such iron barges. The barges made of wood were built in a similar way except for the pilot's cabin which would not be needed."

"The "Hef" is a space under the deck. Such a space would be located beneath the foredeck as a site for rope, spare parts, tar for patching, work tools and so forth. Under the small afterdeck there was living space with a cookstove, a benchbox and sleeping places (bunks with straw). The benchbox served as a place to sit as well as a storage place for plates, bowls, cutlery, etc. The floor of the Hef did not reach to the bottom of the barge. The space in the Hef was only high enough to accommodate an average man's height.  In this way, if water penetrated the barge's hull, there would be a good way and enough time to seal up the leak. The Hef was reached by steep steps or a ladder. The word `Hiaf´ comes from the word `heben´ (mosel-fränkisch `hiawen´)"

The following information is from the book by Nikolaus Ritzler. Doing a bit of educated guessing, I'm taking my best shot at some additional description:

"The length of the newly built Saar barge was between 25 to 35 meters. It was 5 to 6 meters wide and its depth was about 3.5 meters. At the tip of the foredeck one would find a beech spar. The anchor which hung from the spar was held in place over the water by a strong chain that could be raised or lowered. On each side of this deck and also on the afterdeck there were 2 strong Rangen (sturdy posts?) that were 50 to 60 cm high. Looped with strong rope, these Rangen were used to moor the barge when it was in port. On the forward deck there was a covered entrance leading down to the space under the foredeck where the rope and other necessary work equipment were kept.

Between the forward- and afterdeck was the barge's Laderaum or hold. Here coal, wine barrels, crated goods, bales, sacks of fruit--whatever there was to be transported--was stored. The hold was fully covered by a roof; the floor made of pine boards. This kept everything well protected and water could easily be pumped out. The mast was attached to the hold. The slender mast could be lowered over the hold when the barge passed under bridges.

The heavy tiller wheel or Steuerruder was located at the tip of the afterdeck. Under the afterdeck lay the small space for cooking and sleeping" (described by Ewald Meyer in the section above).

*Nikolaus Ritzler grew up in Saarburg. In 1912, after he had retired he wrote Burg und Kreisstadt Saarburg.

Friday, February 03, 2006

The Poorhouse of Trier

Poorhouse's education building constructed 1844-1846

The Library of the Latter Day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah, has a large collection of bound volumes with an amazing breadth of subject matter. On my last trip to the library there, I checked the on-line catalog for books about the Kreis (county of) Saarburg. I found a few titles and then, as I often do, I browsed the surrounding shelves to see what else might be cataloged in the vicinity of the Dewey Decimal number for Saarburg. That's how I stumbled across the following book by Thomas Schmitt, Die Insassen des ehemaligen Landarmenhauses des Regierungsbezirkes Trier, Saarlouis 2000 ("The insane in the former state poorhouse of the Trier region"). *

Economic Realities:
While a description of the Trier poorhouse may be a somber subject, it is undeniable that the population of the Trier region often suffered from hard times in the 19th century. During these periods, poverty and hunger plagued city and village alike, and for some people destitution and the poorhouse became a reality.

There were a variety of reasons why people were no longer able to support themselves or their families. The tax burden imposed by the government, first of France and then of Prussia, was heavy. There were crop failures caused by early frosts, drought, or blight, especially the potato blight of the 1850's. Epidemics, such as the cholera outbreak of August 1849 killed entire families, leaving young children homeless orphans. Sudden, severe drops in the prices paid to farmers for crops or to craftsmen forced belt tightening. The entire community was affected by such misfortunes, but some population groups suffered more than others. The Tagelöhner (day laborers) were particularly vulnerable to changes in the economic fortune of the landed farmers and craftsmen. When they were unable to find work in their villages, many day laborers moved to the city of Trier, looking for employment, usually finding similar if not worse conditions than those they had just left.

Founding of the Poorhouse
In 1812, the French founded a governmental poorhouse for those unable to support themselves. After the defeat of Napoleon, Trier, along with much of the Rheinland, became a part of Prussia and on 22 April 1822, the poorhouse was placed under Prussian administration.

The location of the poorhouse was in the area of the Augustinerhof, a former monastery. It is the same area that currently accommodates the Rathaus of Trier and the city theater. The chapel of the poorhouse stood where today's city council chamber is located.

Administration of the Trier poorhouse lay with the Trier district government, and so the population of this district bore the cost of maintaining it. This meant that the inmates of the poorhouse came from the counties of Trier, Saarburg, Bernkastel, Wittlich, Bitburg, Prüm, Daun, Merzig, Saarlouis, Sankt Wendel, Ottweiler and Saarbrücken.

First Reorganization
From its founding until 1833, the poor, sick, insane, and criminals were all housed together "in the same pot." In the year 1833, the inmates were finally subdivided into these separate groups: (1) beggars admitted by court decision, (for whom work and an improved situation was sought), (2) felons in custody for thievery, (3) foundlings, abandoned children, and youngsters who had committed a criminal offense, and (4) the old, frail, work incapable and helpless poor. The curable sick without other means of medical care were placed in the hospital of the poorhouse and the insane were kept in the poorhouse's asylum.

The living conditions in the asylum became the scope of a court action against abuses in the year 1849. This court action was precipitated by an article entitled "the Mystery of the State Poorhouse of Trier," which appeared in the January and February 1849 issues of the Catholic "Volksboten" (Folk Messenger). It was a harsh indictment against the handling of the insane in the poorhouse and a strong outcry from the public resulted. Investigation by state officials confirmed the allegations in the newspaper article for the most part. For example, there were 600 insane inmates but only one cook kettle. This had the capacity to make food for a maximum of 450 persons. Clothing worn by the inmantes was dirty and dank; there was just one small bathing room for 600 people; and medicines were dispensed directly from the bottle, to name only a few of the infractions.

Second Reorganization
In 1850 a total reorganization of the Trier Poorhouse took place. There was a hospital for the work incapable and for the poor elderly; a cure and care institute for the blind and epileptic; an insane asylum; a work institute for vagrants and beggars, and an educational institute for poor orphans and young lawbreakers. Over the course of time, conditions in the poorhouse improved significantly until better economic stability in general and the formation of other types of care institutions made the poorhouse unnecessary. It closed January 1, 1919.

*The book by Thomas Schmitt is #21 in the series Quellen zur Genealogie im Landkreis Saarlouis und angrenzenden Gebieten, 1828-1899.