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Our neighbors were:  the Treselers, Jungemeiers, Ballmeiers, Schlingmanns, Kochs and Kahlenbergs.

Wedding processions would always start by driving out the bridal carriage.  The nearest neighbors and relatives were invited to unload the bride’s dowry carriage.  This took place with plenty of time and without urgency.  They ate and drank, there were all kinds of jokes, customs and traditions.  Once everything was loaded and packed and the hardworking crew feasting on food and drink, suddenly a pillow or else another important piece of the dowry would get “stolen”.  Everyone would engage in the search, and after much back and forth – we took our time with it – the items would be retrieved.   But that wasn’t the end of it.  For the bride to have her possessions returned to her, she would have to bribe them for it with cash or a bottle of liquor.  In this way the time passed, until all of the carriages in the procession were ready to leave.  Up front on the first carriage the bride would sit behind her new, beautiful spinning wheel, beside her would sit a sister or friend, who would have fastened the first thread, and in return would receive a gift of money.  At the rear of the car dangled a ham, and the last piece would be a large side of bacon.  Sometimes a cow or a horse were also taken.  With the townspeople all in attendance, the carriage would drive through the village, shadowed by the children running after it and fighting for the coins that were thrown to them.  And even upon arrival in the wedding house, still more feasting would continue tirelessly.

In advance the Hochzeitsbitter, decorated by the bride with ribbons and flowers, would be sent across the land, inviting guests with little sayings.  Everywhere the drink was poured diligently, so the best man often found his own words, laboriously memorized, and often quite verbose rather difficult to recite.

In the meantime, over at the wedding house, the neighbors who would have cleaned and arranged it “like new” were now decorating it.  The young people tied the wreaths, the old peeled potatoes, roasted and boiled them.  The ceremony would usually commence at 10am.  Previously there would have been coffee and cake.  Then the carriages would line up.  Sometimes it would be a stately affair with up to 20 cars, and it would usually have some Jackel and box carriages includes as well.  (A Jackelwagen was the predecessor of the coach car, and a cross between this and the box carriage.)  I once attended a wedding, where even the bridal car was a box carriage.  After a quick hasty ride the procession would arrive in Oldendorf (or elsewhere), and all would head into a tavern.  There too schnapps would be served, for the women sweet liqueurs, until the bells rang and the bridal procession went to the church.

 

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On the return trip to the village the carriage was once again shadowed by children retrieving coins, and the “Tummelfaut” (the master of ceremonies) would pour drinks as needed en route.  At the boundary between the villages all the cars would come to a halt and drink would be served to all.

Upon arrival, the no longer young couple would now be greeted by a sister or niece carrying a giant beer glass, and uttering, “Prost, Vedder un Wierske, brother and sister-in law, etc. ” and all would toast the couple.  After the couple had drank, the husband would drop a coin, a D-Mark or 5 D-Marks into the glass, and then hand it over to the next of kin, and everyone would drink, donate and pass it on, until the glass was empty of beer and full of coins, and that the contents would be returned to the couple.  Then we all went to the wedding banquet.  The meal consisted of a very thick soup with noodles, and plenty of bay leaves.  Then there was pork and beef with gravy, which was practically pure fat, but which again was seasoned with generous amounts of bay leaves and peppercorns.  This was served with a mixed fruit compote, and for dessert there was a thick rice pudding topped with cinnamon and sugar.  This was distributed onto plates on the tables, and up to three or four people would then eat in peace from a single plate.  Everyone would have to bring their own flatware and cutlery.

The dishes were delivered by the innkeeper, who also made the roast and baked the cakes.  When it was time for coffee, it was enjoyed with “platenkuchen,” the only cake made for the occassion, but there were many varieties of this type to choose from, because it was the custom for married guests to bring this, as well as butter, as a gift.  The younger people, on the other hand, brought tableware:  cups and decanters , cake plates, knives and forks, and every so often a picture.

For dinner the same as lunch was once again offered and then after that coffee and cake were enjoyed again as well.  Right around 11 clock the first guests would start to depart, and it was then that the young people would dance and get into all sorts of mischief.  For example, unless they were hiding or had already left, the newlyweds would be carried off into bed and hold a frying pan or a mirror before them, Schnapps would be poured and all kinds of poems recited.  Soon thereafter the celebrations would be over.  Until Sunday, when the next of kin, and especially the hardworking helpers and volunteers, were invited again to partake in the leftovers.  This treat was called “Knochenleckerei” or “bone-treats”. All of these customs applied up until the time right before the First World War.  Later everything was modernized.  There were no more wedding party carriages or box carriages, there were only regular carriages, and today not even these exist anymore.  These days the weddings are all motorized, but it’s all not nearly as nice.

 

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Baptism celebrations were not nearly as lavish, and besides the godparents and closest relatives only the farmer who would drive the child’s baptismal carriage and relatives who had no horse, would be invited to come with the family.  The wife would cook and when there were daughters, they would carry the child into the church.  It was considered a great honor to play this role.  When the child was returned to its mother baptized, she would have it handed to her with the words, “A heathen child I brought, a Christian child I will return you.”  It was the custom that the new mother would not visit anyone, nor receive company until she’d once again returned to church after 6 weeks, and once the pastor had given his blessing.

Funerals, on the other hand, were big events.  One could almost call them Family Days, because just about anyone who had any kind of relationship with the family was invited.  Sometimes there was hardly any relationship to determine, and some people were only invited because they were on a list.  This list had been carefully preserved in the trunk/coffin, so that no one could be so easily forgotten.  But when one was invited, one also felt obliged to pay the dead their last respects, even if it was someone they barely knew.  Father always took the time to participate in a funeral procession, not out of curiosity, but rather, as he put it, “To treat the dead to one last remembrance.  And to remind himself of his own end.”

The catering for the funeral was as one can imagine simple:  there was coffee and biscuits.  The school children who sang at the funeral, which took place in the teacher’s home, received a cookie.  Those that sang at the coffin, got two.  These were baked especially for this purpose.  The school children would walk with the teacher in front of the hearse all the way to the cemetery.  Previously, it was only the boys who sang, but later the girls did too.  Lately, for many years the Pastor would hold the funeral at the peoples’ homes and as a result teachers and their students no longer participate in the ceremony.  Everyone with any kind of relationship with any relative, neighbor or villager would be invited for coffee.  The neighbors would already have brought a barrel of milk early in the morning, and those would then be given coffee and sandwiches.  This applied in the case of other family festivities as well.  In the case of funerals, the neighbors would play a greater role than in other celebrations.  As a result the family members would not have to concern themselves with anything.  Additionally, all other formalities would be addressed by the neighbors as well.

In the past an engagement was not all that formally celebrated.  The “Löfte”, a party celebrated shortly before the wedding, was supposed to be something similar, however it was not really celebrated in any way to distinguish it from an ordinary family get together.  There were no rings exchanged, nor invitations sent out, nor basically any kind of ado made about the affair at all.

Some years prior to World War I, however, engagements started to be celebrated as a more festive affair.

 

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When company would come it was not a big to-do and people would come and go as they pleased.  This was possible because this kind of visit would not require much preparation.  At teatime, a plate of biscuits would be set on the table if available, a good coffee would be made and placed at the table with a bowl of sugar.  Incidentally, the guests brought by all these things themselves as well so it was not disruptive to the conversation and flow of the visit.  For supper there would be a generous plate of sausage and ham, from which each person could cut as thin or thick a slice as they wanted for themselves.  In the summertime there was no skimping on eggs.  In the winter there were none to be had anyway.

In wintertime it was customary to go out daily to knit, in the past/earlier to spin.  The men would join us later.  On these winter evenings we often had potato pancakes for dinner.  This simple form of hospitality satisfied every stomach and still tasted very good.  Beer and liquor were only enjoyed at weddings, though the latter was also available during the harvest and threshing seasons.  Those with a more frequent thirst went to the local tavern.  Drunkenness was more common in the past, but never at family celebrations, and even at weddings it was a rarity.  One liter of gin, the most common liquor, cost 60 pfennig, a 1/2 pound of coffee: 50 Pfg, sugar was 23-25 pfennig, a pound of butter, 80 pfennig up to 1 Mark, eggs 6-10 pfennig each.  Not much was spent on the household budget, since we already had most of what we needed ourselves, such as rapeseed oil and linseed.  We even had chicory in the garden.  Barley and barley grits could be prepared at mills set up for such grains.  But money was always tight.  The housewife had butter and egg money.  The farmer fed his livestock from his grain crops but not at a scale that can compare with today’s standards, just keeping some pigs fat, along with a couple of piglet litters, some calves, and every once in a while a fat cow or bull.  Large revenues were not pouring forth, and the payments for the children’s dowries often had to be laboriously scraped together.  When all was finally reconciled, the estate was often still so cumbersome that the heir to the farm would be forced to keep on the lookout for a girl that could bring enough money into the marriage to at least fill the hole at least partially.  Such were the circumstances that led to most forced marriages, it was not always avarice and greed.  The funds an estate had to raise in a single generation can be illustrated by the following example, which very likely could qualify as the norm:  The Hüsemann property, Schröttinghausen No. 1, (it’s number 1 designated it to be the biggest in the village at the time) had two sons and three daughters with dowries to pay for from about 1895 to 1914.  Each child was given, I believe, 5000 Thaler, the equivalent of about 75,000 mark, plus the dowries. That was a huge sum at that time, and many a farm would never be able to dig itself out of the debt.

 

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Nevertheless, a farm was rarely sold, and when it was, foolishness often played a major role.  So it was in the case of Kisker property No. 7, which was in a state of slow decline.   Later, it must have been around 1907, the rest of this beautiful stately farmhouse was torn down.  Grandfather would gladly have bought the house and its properties had he not just spent the money on a new chamber compartment, a year earlier.  So he had to be content with buying up just some of the land.  Father, from all the way over in Obernfelde, purchased himself a large section of meadow in Wietkamp, as well as the four Scheffelsaat from the subdivision of the property.  Kisker had lived wildly and died young, and since his children were still small the estate could not be maintained as it was.

Until World War I the availability of work was good and abandonment of property was virtually unheard of.  Even children of farmers who were not needed at home, went to work as servants and maid on other farms where they were also consistently treated as they would treat their own children, and a sense that these surrogates were family was a given.  The older people were called father and mother and the adult children regarded each other as equals.  At least that was the way it was for us and probably for most farmers.  The work was done together, and the leisure time was the same for all.  During the Oldendorfer Market Festival the workers would get their afternoon off, as well as a Thaler to spend at the fair.  At Christmastime, girls would receive a dress or linens for their dowry.  At the time when line was still spun and cloth woven, they would receive an additional 3 rolls of linens, 7 meters apiece.  The annual salary was 50 to 80 Thaler.  In many cases a girl would stay at the same family until she married.  But every once in a while there were cases where a girl would look for work in the city, but property abandonment was something that just never happened.

What slowly did begin to occur was that farmers would start to send their daughters to middle-class households where by living with another family in a “tit for tat” relationship one was expected to learn to cook.  I myself was in such a relationship at the age of 16 when I was assigned to work for one year at the Minister House.  I was expected to be a maid and servant for Miss Karoline von der Recke, but I was sorely disappointed at how it all in fact came to be.  The parents were not there.

Luise and August
Obernfelde c1898

My childhood playmates were, like me, no longer children, and my best friend from back then, August Lückings, had, though just barely an adult, proven himself a good for nothing.  He ended up dying in World War I, as did his brother Fritz, who unlike his brother had himself become a very good and honest farm laborer on that farm.  After a year had passed, I returned again to Schröttinghausen with a happy heart, as it was a place I’d finally grown accustomed to.

My confirmation was April 5, 1908 in Oldendorf.  The event was not celebrated because my mother considered it unhealthy to allow gift bearing relatives and visitors to come and dilute the seriousness of such a solemn day.  Those I was confirmed together with on that day from Schröttinghausen included:  Louise Koring, Louise Jungemeier, Anna Koch, Anna Stegelmeier and Anna Stasing.

 

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When we went to school together we got along very well with one another, but after our confirmation we completely lost contact with each other.  Louise Jungemeier died at age 23 of tuberculosis.

My childhood friends were:  Lieschen Stegmann, Louise Tegtmeier (Frau Wellbad), Lotte Wärmker (Frau Hermscheips), and Anna Schmidt (Frau Benus).  This circle also included Aunt Liesbeth.  For the first 2 years after Confirmation, I went to the young women’s club meetings together with Annemarie Jobstfinke and Anna Schmidt.  These club meetings were extremely boring. We practiced confirmation hall songs out of the “Mission Harp” and “Young women’s hymnbook”, under the leadership of the Pastor’s wife.  Only sacred songs and hymns were sung, certainly not folk songs, not even the harmless ones.  It was considered unworthy for a church’s Young Women’s Association.   And so we sat amongst each other, stubborn and stiff, and practiced, practiced, practiced.  When we had met our singing quota, we dutifully headed home, untouched even by the smallest breeze of worldly pleasure or temptation.  The songs we’d been cramming into our heads were performed at Christmas, Good Friday, and during Mission Festivals for the edification of the church community, and to let us know why we were there.  Unmarried women would often stay in their respective clubs until the end of their lives and some members remained until they were in their 70s.  We were really quite restrained in our youth, but after a while the soulless inanity of the whole thing just got to be too much for me, what with sometimes having to endure the trip to Oldendorf twice a day in the summer heat and winter cold when our turn had come and we had to additionally attend church in the morning.  A few years later, this association ended up putting itself to sleep out of sheer boredom with itself.  Surely someone must have recognized that it could not continue on as it was and a new group was started called, “The Young Girl’s Circle” in which a somewhat more refreshing breeze blew.  The new songbook was entitled, “When everything sings, I Join In”, and it contained beautiful folk songs.  Small groups formed and we sang the songs at special occasions such as birthday celebrations.

NEXT – Chapter 2, Part 3:  Church Life