Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Blog Anniversary: A Few Favorites of 2005

A farmer's implement - the hackplow

The Halfen room updated
A barge stop at the inn

Saarburg's upper city

June 24 is my blogging anniversary for 'Village Life in Kreis Saarburg." I wrote my first post on June 24, 2005, working at the dining room table with my sister giving me verbal instructions on how to set up a blog and how to write a post. At that point I didn't know the difference between those two words. When I had finished that first post, I wondered if I would want to write another one and, if I did, how long it would be before I ran out of ideas. That was eight years ago and the ideas keep coming!

I had a nostalgic look back at those first posts this anniversary morning and am glad that I wrote them (even though I knew very little about what I was doing at the beginning). Some of those first-year posts are especially dear to my heart because of the circumstances that surrounded my choice of subjects.  To see the full post, click on its title.

"The upper city is slightly newer than the lower city. Houses and shops began to spread up the hill as the city grew. Saarburg was a market town and the markets gave names to streets and squares in both the upper and lower city. There was the horse market, the fruit market, the butter market in the upper city, and the old market in the lower city. The Butter Markt runs along side the Leukbach, a stream which runs through the upper city, then forms a waterfall and drops toward the old city. The waterfall on the Leukbach powered a water wheel for the former grist mill which is now a museum. Above the city stand the ruins of a castle built in 964. All around the city there are steep hills covered with vineyards."
Have you ever seen a place for the first time and fallen in love with it at first look - almost as if it might be the place you were always meant to be. That is what happened to me on a sunny day in July 1984 when I arrived in the upper city of Saarburg. I had been many beautiful places all over the US and Europe and seem some spectacular scenery, but the upper streets of this city of approximately 6,500 population claimed my heart forever. When, some years later, I had a chance to buy a two-volumn history of the city, I jumped at the chance, even though I knew how heavy it would make my luggage. This very early post was a pleasure to write, bringing back memories and explaining much of the history I had not known.

"Each day there were also rest stops and during that time the sailors and the Halfen would discuss any problems along the next stretch in the river. Lunch would be carried ashore from the ship and eaten at an inn or tavern, with the landlord providing the dishes, tableware and the wine. The shipowner, of course. paid for the wine that the landlord of the inn placed on the table."
This subject was special to me. It was very likely that my ancestor, Johann Meier, had been a handler for the horses pulling the barges, guiding them along the tow path along the Saar River. I had heard that these men were called "Halfen." Since my apartment was on the west bank of the Saar, I asked my German landlord if he knew anything about these men. He looked at me in amazement and then excitement. He was a descendant of a barge-building family of sailors. The apartment which I had rented was once a place where the men who handled the barge horses took shelter and slept after a day of encouraging their team of horses to pull one of the heavy barges against the tide of the river. It was very possible I was sleeping in the same place that my great-great grandfather once laid his head. I'm sure though that my lodging was much more comfortable.

"Up here we bind the grape vines, and below us runs the plow. Between wine hill and plow, between furrow and vine, that is our way of life on our farms. And year in and year out all life and all nature go back and forth; spring and fall, summer and winter between wine hill and plow. With dung spreading, digging, planting, cutting, tying, binding up, and harvesting. With plow, sower, mower, sickle and plow, so must we all struggle and toil."
That is a description of a Kreis Saarburg farmer's life from sunrise to sunset; from spring through the winter time. It is written in German and in rhyming verse which, in this post, I did my best to translate into a prose description. The book was a gift from Herr Ewald Meyer who had translated it from the old dialect of Kreis Saarburg to modern German, managing to keep the rhyme, rhythm and mood. I grew up on a farm, and the lovely descriptions brought back many memories of farm life in the 20th century. These poems, however, described farm life in the 1800s. It was like spending a year with my farming ancestors, learning that they had worked even harder than their descendant, my father.

"An older person acts as the matchmaker. If permission to marry is given, the engagement is announced. It is made official when the young man and the members of his family are invited to a fine dinner at the home of the bride-to-be. It is also the occasion of the first gifts."
I wanted to write a novel about a young woman who runs away to marry a suitor from a poor family against her father's will. But without knowing the marriage customs of the time, I wouldn't be able to create an accurate setting. Then, in 2003, on a river cruise in Normandy, I had found a book that described in great detail their marriage customs in the 19th century. I knew enough Spanish to figure out the general content of the chapter on weddings, even though the book was written in French (the pictures also helped a great deal). With the additional help of my sister and one of my best friends, I learned so much about the wedding customs of Normandy. Then within a short time, I also found two books in German that explained wedding customs, those in Bavaria and those in the Hunsruck (the very places I needed). To my delight, almost all the customs were the same as in Normandy. And I had the stuff of a great chapter for my novel.

Each time I compose a post for this blog, I increase my understanding not only of Kreis Saarburg but also of most of the rest of Germany.  Blogging has been fun and very educational for me.  But there is a problem.  The mass of information I've collected is not as easily accessible as I would like.  If you are a reader of my posts, I hope to have a partial solution to that problem in year nine of "Village Life in Kreis Saarburg."

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