Sunday, April 08, 2012

Easter Tales: The Kläpperjungen - the Mirror in the Fountain

The Klapperjungchen Scupture

Easter is nearly here. For many people, it is both a religious holiday and a day when children receive little gifts given by some unusual benefactors such as rabbits (Germany) or the church bells coming from Rome (France). For the Catholics in Kreis Saarburg, this most important feast day of the Church year was preceded by Karfreitag (Good Friday) and Karsamstag (Holy Saturday), days on which bells were not heard in any religious service or observance. Thus, the church bells could not be sounded three times a day for the praying of the Angelus, in respect for the passion and death of Jesus Christ.

Maria Croon, in her book, Die Dorfstrasse, starts most of her chapters by describing things she sees from her window in the village, the customs and conditions that my ancestors knew well. On this particular Good Friday, she turns her attention to the sound of the Klapperjungen.

The Klapperjungen Come:

Each year, some older boys are chosen to lead a procession on the three days before Easter Sunday. They will remind the villagers, in lieu of the church bells which do not ring during this time, that a church service will soon begin or that it is time for the prayers of morning, noon, and evening. These Klapperjungen take their job seriously. They carry a heavy wood rasp, or Holzraspel, in their left hand and turn its handle with their right, making a sound, says Frau Croon, rather like 20 grinding coffee mills. After each stop along the way, they cry out "Heh Mettech." Not finding this phrase in my dictionaries, I'm guessing that this is dialect and might mean something on the order of "Hark, Matin time." 

The four leaders of the procession that Frau Croon is observing are strong for their age, the Pitt, Kläs, Klos and Häns. So are the other boys of similar age who are part of the official procession. However, a spontaneous procession walks behind them, for almost all of the children of the village come along, even those as young as two. The little ones don't have any kind of a rasp; they carry a "Klipp-Klapp" rattle which is made of light wood, a wooden shell which they shake. Always there are some of the youngest ones who stumble over stones, tumble over their own feet, or step into puddles and fall. But they get up again, usually howling over their mishap, wipe the dirt off their faces with any tears and nose "moisture" there, mostly smearing the Dreck very effectively as they struggle to catch up with the rest of the procession again.

The older Klapperjungen are annoyed by the unwanted "tail" of "Klippklapp-Buben and of girls. They would like to make frightful faces at them, trying to convince them to stop following along. However they control their annoyance because they know they are now grown up and dedicated servers of the Church and community - and also because their mothers, grandmothers and aunts are watching at windows and doors.

By Easter Sunday, the responsibilities of the Klapperjungen have ended, but it is decided by these Klapperjungen to do a bit extra. Very early Easter morning, on their own, they make a last round through the village to wake up the sleepers, calling out that the Savior is risen from the grave.

The Water Mirror in the Fountain

Zerf Frommersbach

The Klapperjungen are not the only early risers in the village, says Frau Croon. The young women may go quietly to the village water fountain to get Easter water, believing the superstition that if they wash their faces with this special water and also if they drink it, they will be made beautiful in the eyes of others. Also, if they take three joyful little jumps and then look closely into the water just as the sun's first rays appear, they will be able to see in the water a picture of their future.

On this Easter morning, one young woman, slender little Eva, head covered with a cloth and wearing red slippers, comes quickly and quietly to the fountain so that no one will see her. At the same time, a cow named Sarah with a crumpled horn, awakens earlier than usual and makes her way out of the barn door, through the front yard with its manure pile, and her children and grandchildren follow after her. But there is no hay or grain out for them so early in the morning so they head toward the fountain to find water. Most onlookers would not know why the cows are out so early, but Franz, their young owner had pushed them along this morning. Franz, you see, secretly loves Eva. He has often seen her go to the fountain, but has never had the courage to say something to her because someone is always nearby.

For the first time, Franz and Eva will be alone at the fountain. He has worked up the courage to speak to her, taking the cows along as an excuse for being there so early. He is in luck. Eva is standing at the fountain's edge.  The sun is just about to come up, putting gray-blue fingers of light into the dark sky. And as Franz comes after his herd, old Sara with the crumpled horn has put her tongue in the water. Eva is staring at the water mirror to determine her future and sees the face of a large cow with a crumpled horn as her fate. She gives a cry that strikes pain to Franz's breast and puts her hands over her face.  She cries, "No, no, no! I will not have horns!" Franz kneels next to her and gently pulls her hands from her face. "Can this be the picture for your future, Eva," he says, as they both stare at the water mirror which now reflects them together. "Yes, that is what I want," the flustered Eva replies. In that moment as the sun leaves its bed to climb to the heavens, Franz places a brightly-dyed goose egg in Eva's apron.  Eva finds she has much to say to Franz, and so t
he cows wander back to their shed alone


Croon, Maria, "Die Dorfstrasse; eine bunte Heimatchronik," 1956/1989
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