Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Spring in the Saar Villages

Springtime in the Irsch of today.
Photo from www.irsch-saar.de

The first crocuses in my garden are showing, part of the reason my thoughts turned to the spring season as our ancestors knew it. When you are finishing your taxes, the allure of a spring day out in the open fields has an almost irresistable charm. Was it the same for the Meiers, the Rauls and the Hausers in their villages? What was spring like for them - a season to be longed for or one filled with work harder than most of us can imagine? Both those things, I believe.

Bird's eye view of the spring fields near Irsch. Photo from http://www.irsch-saar.de/

After the snow melted and the weather softened, it was time for planting. In the book, Hennerm Plou, the famous poet of the region, Ernst Thrasolt asks "do you hear the sap in the earth and the trees?' The farmer knew, from the smell of the air and wisdom of his father before him, that the plow should be made ready for the land.

According to the historians at the Roscheider Hof open air museum, the spring planting in the 19th century Saar and Mosel regions was, for the most part, still carried on the same way it had been for centuries.

Manure was spread on the fields before the plowing began. Then the soil was turned over with the plough. Most of the plows, called "Hackpfluge" were still made entirely of wood, fashioned by a cartwright. The farmer guided the plow pulled by a horse, an ox, or sometimes a cow, depending on the status of the farmer. Only the well-to-do farmers had a horse. The small-holdings farmers, the Kleinbauer, might have an ox or use cows both for field work and for milk.

Wooden plow in the collection of the Deutschen Historischen Museums, Berlin

Plowing with the Hackpflug left clods of earth which needed chopping and pulverizing by a harrow, a cultivating implement set with spikes. But on many farms, wife and children performed this labor instead - as well as removing stones turned up by the plow.

Once the land had been tilled, the seed could be sewn. This was done by means of a sewing cloth, which the planter carried on his front, rather like a half-apron. By pulling together the bottom edge of the sewing cloth with one hand and gripping it tightly, the farmer formed a cradle for the seeds. With his free hand, he would broadcast the seeds with a rhythmic motion as he walked the field. Common crops planted included oats, barley, wheat, potatoes, rye, clover and flax. Most farmers who lived near enough to the Saar to take advantage of the river climate also had a few vines for growing grapes.

Some seeds were planted using the horns of a cow or an ox. The tip of the horn was cut off so that the seeds could slowly come through. Different sizes of horns and how much of the tip of the horn was removed allowed for the planting of various sizes of seeds: beets, lettuce, and many other of the garden seeds could be dropped precisely using this method.

After the planting, the field was rolled flat with a heavy oak roller. This served two purposes. It pressed the seeds into the soil, and it would also flatten any remaining clumps of earth. This facilitated the swing of the scythe and made it easier and faster to cut the crops at harvest time

Spring along the Saar from direction of Beurig.

Although the plowing and planting was hard labor, it was not without its pleasures. The poet Ernst Thrasolt, who grew up in Beurig, just across the Saar River from the city of Saarburg, captures the joy of the farmer as the spring season arrives in a poem simply called "Spring."

The land is free!
Now we bring the plow from the shed.
Now it will go back and forth again and again.
Who would let his head hang?
See how clear is the sky!
An hour away the sound of the rushing Saar,
And the clods are so brown...

...behold the sun and the chaffinches and
the starlings and the larks and
the wagtails and the blackbirds and
the thrushes and all the rest.
Children, fetch the plow!

Around the village and in the meadows, the trees in bud would soon bloom. Ernst Mettlach who comes from a village about 10 kilometers from Trier says that in former times most farm fields had Streuobstwiese, literally "stray fruit meadows." In the pastures all over the region stood apple trees and other fruit trees as well. The "stray" trees had very high, knotty tree trunks. A traditional apple tree, says Ernst, looked like a very old man. (The modern orchard trees of today have very short trunks so it is easier to harvest them, but since no light reaches the ground, useful vegetation cannot grow beneath them). The Streuobstwiesen orchards gave space to a lot of animals and plants. These old orchards could be compared to a house where the ground floor was used by the cattle as pasture while the second floor produced fruit and gave space to birds like little owls.

Pear and plum trees blossomed too. One of the most important types of plum trees in the region is the Zwetschge. It is a tree that looks very similiar to the apple tree and very often grew in the Streuobstwiese orchard. When the trees were filled with blossoms in the later part of spring, apple, plum, and pear all together in some orchards, it looked like snow had fallen, for the ground was covered with white petals.

Edeltrud Heiser of Trier who grew up in Irsch remembers the apple orchard there and the spring wildflowers, including the the Maiglöckchen or May bells which we know as lilies of the valley.
Thus amid the hard work of spring, there was also beauty which was there for those who plowed and hoed and planted the land. It was the time of rain storms, rain showers and sun, of the brown, newly tilled soil brimming fresh green shoots and potential. Best of all, there was the long-term hope for the joy of a plentiful fall harvest.

Irsch on a spring evening. www.irsch-saar.de


  1. Anonymous10:40 AM

    I love Irsch ! When I have 7 years old i live in Irsch but when I live in France...
    Thank you for the photo.

  2. Thanks for your comment. I love Irsch too and there are many pictures of the village on my photo blog at http://orderlyrhineland.blogspot.com/.