Saturday, June 13, 2015

Spinnstubenfest in Kreis Saarburg

18th Century Flax Spinning Wheel 

In some areas of Germany, especially those close to the French border, there is a celebration known as Karnival, the equivalent of Mardi Gras. Now and also in the past, the week before Ash Wednesday had many special "fests" during the Karnival time. One of them, to the best of my knowledge, is no longer celebrated. Because of changing times and industrialization this fest is only remembered because of a narrative in memoirs or history books or examples at open air museum celebrations. This Fest took place on the Thursday evening before the beginning of Lent. It was known as Spinnstubenfest or, roughly translated, the Spinning-Wheel-Stube Celebration.  Fortunately, Maria Croon called my attention to this festivity in her book, Die Dorfstrasse (The Village Street).

Little is written about the many winter evenings that Kreis Saarburg women spent spinning. However, like a quilting bee in this country, the Spinnstubenfest could be a time for getting together with other village woman.  As they worked, they talked while spinning the thread for the family's clothes, sheets, or anything else that needed weaving.

Frau Croon describes one such night that was very special. On the evening of the Thursday before Lent, called Fettendonnerstag (Fat Thursday), the sound of women's shoes were heard tapping on the streets in her little town as evening fell. Every woman was dressed in Sunday best from head to toe.  The young women wore colored ribbons in their hair and most had shiny buckles on their shoes. Each woman carried a spinning wheel that was decorated with red and blue ribbons. The spinning wheels were freshly polished until they fairly gleamed.  Fettendonnerstag was the time for the spinning wheel celebration, the Spinnstubenfest.

A Spinnstubenfest was held in a home with a large Stube.  It lasted at least three hours.  In the first hour every Frau and Fraulein did her spinning, creating thread from wool or flax while they gossiped and told stories of current or older times.

In the second hour, the spinning wheels were put aside in another room and tables were set for coffee and eating such things as crumb cake or pear bread, made with the dried pears that were harvested in the summer.  I picture them in smaller groups: the older women exchanging recipes and laughing about the foibles of their husbands and children; the young women gossiping about any new romances in the village, including their own.

As the third hour arrived, tables were pushed back against the walls, and the men, single or married, were invited to come in for dancing.  Some of the men brought accordions, harmonicas or Teufelgei.   No German dictionary in my collection or on the internet has that last word, but I will make a guess that this was a dialect word for some kind of fiddle (Geiger) played fast as the devil (Teufel). A favorite dance tune was "Herr Schmidt, Herr Schmidt, What Brings the Maiden With" (exact word order of the German)

Late that evening, when the music and dancing was over,  the men "played the cavalier" and carried the spinning wheels for the ladies. While the very old and the very young slept, the rest of the village folk made their way home in the dark. The streets rang with their voices singing the old songs until one by one doors closed behind them and the streets were dark again.


  1. What a sweet picture of a special evening in village life. It was worth the wait to read it!

  2. Thank you, KellyO. I did waste some time trying to figure out what a Teufelgei was. I wonder if I guessed right.

  3. I just bought a German parlor wheel with two black forest carved figurines. And I'm trying to write an article about it. I will likely reference your lovely storey. Wish I could send you a picture. Try to friend me on Facebook so we can chat.