Sunday, August 02, 2015


The Brautfahrt

If you’ve been reading my blog posts for awhile, you know that I am very fond of the book “Die Dorfstrasse.” (“The Village Street”) by Maria Croon. It is filled with vignettes about the customs in a small German village; customs that have almost completely faded away in our time. But thanks to authors like Frau Croon, we, the descendants of the people of Kreis Saarburg, can learn about the traditions, rituals, unwritten rules, and observances of our ancestors who lived in small farming villages in the 1800s and early 1900s.

Today's post is a short sketch from the chapter "Die Brautfahrt," one of my favorites.  We are introduced to two young people, Veronica and Peter, but better known as Vron and Pitt.  It is the story of a special ride before they were married but already promised to each other.

Custom of the Bridal Ride and the Guardian Angel

As an old woman, Vron, the nickname for Veronica, works at her spinning wheel most evenings. One night her mind goes back to the time 50 years ago when she was a bride-to-be and about to go for the Brautfahrt. Her betrothed, Pitt, had hitched the horses to a small field-wagon and was about to help his Vronchen (little Vron) up to the front seat of the wagon.

Pitt's mother called to him.  He must take the Schutzenengel, (the guardian angel), with them on the journey to protect the reputation of this still unmarried couple.  The mother combed the tousled hair of Pitt's little sister, Resel.  Then she walked the little sister toward the wagon and seated her on the wagon's back seat, just behind the betrothed couple.  In two weeks time,  Resel would be Vronchen's sister in law, but today she had the responsibility of guardian angel.

Once they were underway, Pitt showed Vronchen his land as he held the reins and pointed the short whip this way and that, and directed the horse along narrow paths that ran alongside the fields.  Then they went back to the road and drove from village to village.  Vronchen came from a town some distance away, and this was her first look at the place that was to be her new home.

They had just passed a small village when they saw a stand of birch trees that almost formed a trellis above them. Pitt said it was a special bridal decoration he had created especially for his Vronchen.

 The next field was full of wild primroses, and the guardian angel shouted for them to stop.  She wanted to gather them.  She jumped from the wagon and began to collect an armload of the colorful blossoms.  While she picked the flowers, her brother had his mind on other things. He begged his Vronchen to give him a Schmatz (I think you can guess the meaning of that word).  As he teased and begged, Pitt paid little attention to holding the reins of the horse.  The animal started off, leaving the little guardian angel far behind before Pitt was able to retrieve the narrow straps and control the wagon again.  Little Resel ran after them, shouting for them to stop the wagon and scattering the flowers that she had gathered hither and yon.  The boulders and grass along the way were now graced with the flowers that fell from her arms.

Guardian angel with flowers
After that excitement was over, they drove through a village noted for the shop where especially fine spinning wheels were made.  The almost-bridegroom bought a well-made little spinning wheel for his bride to be and placed it in the back of the wagon next to the guardian angel.

Now it was lunch time, and they stopped at the inn where the Wirtin (woman innkeeper)  met them at the door.  She knew of the upcoming wedding and teased Pitt.  How had Schneiderpitt* managed to find such a special young lady to be his bride?  Veronica blushed bright red but said nothing.  Pitt twirled his mustache and enjoyed the banter and the praise of his Vronchen. Then the Wirtin went to the kitchen and brought out a large goose egg.  Vronchen said nothing as she  stared at it in wonderment. She could think of nothing to say.  The Wirthin told the young Veronica to put the egg in the bag she carried. Pitt explained to Vonchen that this was the custom in the town. If a person cames into the Inn and said nothing, the innkeeper must make a gift of a goose egg in order to please the guest enough to start the business transaction - the cost of either a meal or a place to stay for the night

goose egg
Vronchen had one glass of wine, her wagon driver two or three, and because of the guardian angel's important duty, she was given only a glass of raspberry water.  The innkeeper then served them a plate of bread and ham slices.  The horse, Braune, gladly ate his oats before they all left for home.

As they drove toward Pitt's home where his mother and the mother of Veronica were making wedding arrangements, Resel decorated Vronchhen's new spinning wheel with the primroses she had picked; then used the rest of the flowers to make a crown for her sister-in-law to be.  The movement of the wagon along the road eventually lulled the guardian angel to sleep.  Pitt put one arm around Vronchen's shoulder, and they rode home watching the stars and listening to the song of a cuckoo.

Fifty years later, Vron experienced the bridal ride as if it was yesterday while she sat spinning on the little spinning wheel purchased some 50 years before.

*Note for Clarifying Nicknames

It is necessary to know that in Kreis Trier and Saarburg, generation after generation of babies were named in honor of their godparents. It was the custom. Naturally there would soon be a surfeit of boys in a village who were named Peter or Johann or Michael or Nikolaus, etc. There would also be an abundance of girls named Anna Maria or Barbara or Susanna and so forth.  At first using nicknames to distinguish one child from another could solve the problem of duplicate names. But at the time Maria Croon writes about, nicknames were not definitive enough. In the case of the bridegroom Peter, his nickname Pitt was shared by many other boys.  When a father called for Pitt to stop playing and come home, there was a lot of confusion about which Pitt was being summoned.  One way to solve that problem was to say the surname first and then the nickname. It was necessary for the Papa to shout,”Schneiderpitt, come home at once; you are late for supper.”