Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Surprising Village Residents

Johann Nepomuk
Government Worker

Regine Braconnier
Photo from Kommern Open Air Museum Website

The open air Museum in Kommern, with its costumed interpreters, allows one to step back into the lives of ancestors who lived in the northern part of the Rhineland. While the farm buildings are somewhat different from those in Kreis Saarburg in the lower Rhineland, many of the customs and living conditions would be very similar to those of the people of Kreis Saarburg's villages and small cities. 

In addition to interpreters who take on the identity of farmers, craftsmen, day laborers, etc., three of the historical figures described in detail on the museum's website were such interesting inhabitants of the area that I have translated their stories to share them you. The interpreters at the museum dress in the costume of their time as you can see in the two pictures above.  

The Government Man

Johann Nepomuk lived in Schwerz, a village in the upper Rhineland. He was a government worker commissioned by the Prussian government in 1816 to describe the agriculture of the Rhineland. For this purpose he spent three years creating records of Rhenish lands, coming in contact with many people and documenting the land they owned and the outlook for agriculture in a part of Prussia far removed from Berlin. At the open-air museum, visitors can look over his shoulder as he works with maps and writes down his observations about the farms for his reports to Berlin.

The actor who plays Nepomuk says, "It is exciting to see how we make a journey into history possible." The young and the old can observe the clothing of that time or watch a letter being written by the writing instruments of the past, using a font that some of the oldest visitors still know from their school days and that the young ones have never seen. They "can touch history."

The Upper Middle Class Frau

In 1892 Sybilla Schmitz was living in Poppelsdorf near Bonn, and her story is interpreted for visitors by a woman dressed as a visitor just arrived in her home village.  Sybilla was born in 1833 in Ruppenrod in the Westerwald, the daughter of wealthy farmer and mayor August Mungenast. In 1847 she moved to Bonn to live with her godmother, whose husband "had achieved something." As a trained cabinetmaker he ran a thriving furniture manufacturing business. In Bonn Sybilla attended a girls' school where she received lessons in music, handicrafts, painting and French. There she met her future husband Hermann, who worked as an administrative lawyer at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-University and later held a senior position in the direction of the Agricultural Academy in Poppelsdorf. Thanks to the elevated position of her husband, Sybilla Schmitz lived in a spacious house with front garden and there was a servant to take care of the house and its cleaning. Ladies of the house in those circumstances had spare time, and this was the case for Sybilla. She had activities like a Reading Society weekday visits to her friends, and opportunities to travel.

The invention of modern transport such as horse-drawn trams and the steam train made it easier for people of Sybilla's class to travel longer distances. It was possible to visit her family in Ruppenrod, the village of her birth and perhaps stay for a few days.

 The Traveling Trader and Mousetrap Maker

Regine (Jien) Michels was born in 1833, the daughter of a poor farmer in Kirchweiler in the Eifel. It was a place that was shrinking, partly on account of the bad harvests from 1843 to 1845. In 1858, Regine married Hans Braconnier, a trader, who owned a farm in Neroth which was only 5 5 kilometers away. Like almost all others in Neroth. Braconnier, in addition to his farm needed a trade route to survive. A third pursuit to earn money was the production and sale of mousetraps.

For Regine this marriage with Hans was an economic improvement. The butter and eggs which the farm produced earned money for the couple or could be exchanged for other goods. Regine ran the farm while her husband was working his trading route and with the additional money, they were able to buy sheep, lease some more land, and send their sons Robert and Francis to school. With the help of her ​​mother, sister and the Braconnier children, Regine was able to keep making the mousetraps when her husband was traveling, sending them to him in the mail. In 1872 Hans Braconnier had increasing discomfort in his knees, so that Regine had to become the traveling trader for the family. She enjoyed the change and tells visitors, (through the interpreter who plays her role at the Kommern museum), "Working as a peddler, I made money and saw something of the world!"

When any one of these three people entered a farming village to visit it, children probably stared and followed after them. For their parents, it made for a bit of excitement in their long day. For this blog, it adds one more lively view of the colorful Rhineland village life.


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