Donauschwaben in den USA

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The History of the Danube Swabians

By Hans Kopp

from the book “The Last Generation Forgotten and Left to Die” The History of the Danube Swabians”.

All Rights reserved. ISBN No. 0-9701109-0-1  


Chapter 2

The Customs and Traditions of the Danube Swabians  



Their Towns and Homes

          The planners of the German settlements had very specific objectives in mind. They designed most of the towns in a north-east/south-west grid with its streets running mostly straight from one end of the town to the other end and in many cases had the appearance of a chessboard. The layouts of the towns resembled in many ways towns in “The Palatinate” (Rheinpfalz) and Alsace. In the beginning there were basically two types of homes, the standard smaller home and the larger farmhouse called “Langenhaus” (laid out in an “I” shape) and the “Winkelhaus” (laid out in a “L” shape). They were built side-by-side with the doors and windows facing on the inside facing south. The farmhouses, the type of home we owned, had the appearance of two capital “L’s” standing above each other, as most of the farm houses of my home town were constructed.


          The vertical leg of the upper “L” accommodated the living quarters, starting with the master bedroom facing the street, used often as the guest room (Paradi Zimmer), followed by a smaller bedroom adjacent for the children, a living room, a kitchen/dining room combination, and a storage room. Below these rooms you could find the cellar. The base of the upper “L” starting from the left, accommodated a hay barn, followed by a large wagon port and two rooms used as either a second residence or as workrooms. In the loft above these facilities was the storage for the grains, such as wheat, oats and corn. The neighboring houses were connected with a seven to eight foot high wall, provided with a door and a gate for the wagons to enter and exit. This gave the houses viewed from the street a closed appearance and the necessary privacy inside. The rectangular frontcourt formed by this enclosure accommodated the vegetable and flower gardens. It also had several fruit trees and a drinking water well (Brunnen) which was provided with a counterweighted crossbeam (Schwenkel), and therefore was called “Schwelkelbrunnen”. It also included a rainwater-collecting pit to collect and store rainwater used for washing clothes. The lower “L” housed the stables for the horses, cattle, sheep and pigs. The backcourt created by the lower “L” provided running room for the poultry and animals as well as the outhouse. It also contained a manure pile that was used as fertilizer for the fields instituted in these regions first by the Danube Swabians.


          The walls of the houses were built with the only material available to the pioneers at that time, soil that was bound with straw and rammed. The walls were plastered with stucco and painted white with a chalk based paint. Roofs were made of lumber and covered with reed, which was replaced in later years with firebrick shingles. The soil was taken from the center of the courts of the houses and later refilled with soil from the “Grundloch”, a pond created at the end of the street for that purpose. All the farmland pastures, vineyards, and forests planted by the pioneers were situated around the town. In the later years, many of these homes were redesigned and rebuilt to keep pace with the times. Larger farms called “Salasch”, spread over larger acreage and had the farmhouses on those spreads. We can compare the “Salasch” with the farms in the United States.


          It may be of interest to learn about the costs of a house. Following are the cost estimates made by Baron von Cothmann's (second period 1763 and 1773) on a large and a small colonist house:


          The large house: For ramming of the walls 12 Gulden, for three window frames @ 24 Kreutzer each totaling 1 Gulden 12 Kreutzer, for three doors including frames @ 25 Groschen each totaling 3 Gulden 45 Kreutzer, for two ovens 2 Gulden, for 50 boards @ 6 Kreutzer each totaling 5 Gulden, for wages of the carpenters totaling 6 Gulden, for wages of the roofers 5 Gulden and 4 Kreutzer, for three windows including glass @ 48 Kreutzer each totaling 2 Gulden 24 Kreutzer, hardware for three doors @ 27 Kreutzer each totaling 1 Gulden 21 Kreutzer, wood for 7 frames 1 Gulden 45 Kreutzer, two wall benches 2 Gulden, 13 beams 3 gulden 27 Kreutzer and for the foundation preparations, stucco and chimney 8 Gulden. This totaling 52 Gulden and 38 Kreutzer.


          The small house: For ramming of the walls 7 Gulden, for two window frames @ 24 Kreutzer each totaling 24 Kreutzer, for two doors including frames @ 25 Groschen each totaling 23 Gulden 30 Kreutzer, for one ovens 1 Gulden, for 34 boards @ 6 Kreutzer each totaling 3 Gulden and 34 Kreutzer, for wages of the carpenters totaling 4 Gulden for wages of the roofers 3 Gulden and 27 Kreutzer, for two windows including glass @ 48 Kreutzer each totaling 1 Gulden 36 Kreutzer, hardware for two doors @ 27 Kreutzer totaling 54 Kreutzer, wood for 5 frames 1 gulden 15 Kreutzer, two wall benches 1 Gulden, 30 Kreutzer, 9 beams 1 Gulden 11 Kreutzer and for the foundation preparations, stucco and chimney 5 Gulden. This totaling 31 Gulden and 85 Kreutzer.


          It took about 6 to 8 weeks to complete a house. The currency was Gulden, Groschen and Kreutzer. One Gulden was equal to 20 Groschen; one Groschen was equal to 3 Kreutzer.



Their Clothing and Fashions

          The clothing worn by our ancestors differed from town to town and was influenced to a certain extent by the regions of their origin. The clothing changed over a period of time, especially the women’s clothing. The change was influenced by many factors, such as their original origin, perhaps the tailors and seamstresses skills and tastes, as well as trends and availability of materials. It also took certain characteristics from other nationalities such as the Hungarians, Romanians, Serbians and Croatians. Although, all the clothing of the Danube Swabians had similar characteristics, their fashions distinguished themselves from town to town. Needles to say we refer here primarily to the women’s fashions. We can easily make the statement that every town had created their own distinguishable fashion recognizable to the point one could tell from which town the women came from by looking at their clothes.


          The women of Batschsentiwan wore some of the more distinguishable clothing fashions among the Danube Swabians. It was the length of the skirts and the jackets among some of the other features that had changed from the long skirts to short skirts and from short jackets to longer jackets, at the beginning of the 20th Century. Why this trend came into being no one seems to remember, but the pictures taken at the turn of century revealed the time the change took place. From pictures after WW I we can see that trends were established among certain women to wear dresses fashionable and popular during that time period.


          The typical Danube Swabian women dressed, starting from the bottom up, besides regular shoes made of leather, they also skillfully hand crafted footwear from yarn (Häkelschuhe) with a variety of patterns and colors. The men wore, besides shoes made of leather also boots usually very beautifully handcrafted with a variety of patterns. They wore “Patschker” leather moccasin type footwear to work in the fields and wore “Klumpen”; wooden shoes lined with straw, during the winter months. The materials used for their skirts consisted of a wide diversity of patterns and colors, darker for older women and lighter for the younger women. The skirt was made from several panels of material and pleated. Several starched underskirts (petticoat like) were worn, to give it shape and to make it stand out in the bottom to give it the baroque type (bell) appearance. The skirt of a Batschsentiwan woman was made from nine (9) full panels and pleated with four starched underskirts. What I found extremely interesting is the names given to those skirts. Many of them were named after flowers and other patterns like “Tulpenrock” (Tulip skirt), “Vergißmeinichtrock” (Forget-me-not skirt) “Guldenrock” and “Dinarrock” named after coins. Others were named after what they represented, like “Herzlrock” (Heart skirt) “Buwelockerrock” and “Männerlockerrock” (skirts made to attract men) or “Gottesnamenrock” (Godsname skirt) or the “Donnerwetterrock” (Thunderstorm skirt). Over the skirt an apron was worn with a multitude of colors as well as white with hand stitched patterns. The jacket was beautifully braided and hand stitched with flowers as well. Underneath the jacket they wore a white blouse with hand-stitched patterns. On top of the jacket a shawl with a flower pattern was neatly gathered, crossed in front and tied to form a beautiful bow in the back. The typical Danube Swabian women when married wore a head cover, while the single women did not. The head cover was a form of hat (Schlot) formed to shape the bandanna (Kopftuch). However, the Schlot was often worn without a bandanna, was made of colorful material and beautifully braided and hand stitched with flowers. That our women’s clothing was of colorful varieties and designs can be best seen when during the Danube Swabian festivals and commemorations our women of today wear their re-created costumes. We owe it to our surviving women of the last generation who have made the many replicas still in existence.


          The men’s wear did not have the many different characteristics from town to town as the women did. They differentiated basically between the old fashion and the new. The old fashions showed the men’s pants beautifully decorated with braids and designs to be worn with boots, while the newer fashions did not have these features. In the earlier years men also wore skirts in several regions and their long hair was often braided. The jackets featured wider lapels for the older fashions as compared to the newer fashions. You may refer to the picture section of our book “the Last Generation Forgotten and left to Die”. They also wore black vests with silver buttons, a tradition that has survived to this day and which are worn by the men during Danube Swabian festivals and commemorations and thus have become a distinguishing characteristic of the Danube Swabians and their descendants.



The Wedding Celebrations

          Getting married is one of the biggest events in our lives. A wedding in a Danube Swabian house was no different. Different, however were the elaborate preparations, costumes and traditions. Let us reflect briefly on a typical wedding. The parents themselves had very little to do with the selection of the mate. The young people usually met each other at the dances in the “Wirtshaus” (guesthouse). The eligible male candidates were often sharply scrutinized by the eyes of the future mother-in-law, during those dances. Most of the time couples found themselves without any interference from their parents. After the engagement, preparations were made for the bride’s dresses and the groom’s suit. In Batschsentiwan the bride made four white aprons with beautifully stitched patterns two for the groom and two for her, to be worn one on each day of the wedding. As wedding pictures show this custom may have been unique for Batschsentiwan.


  Die Versprechung (the promising) was a wonderful ritual and was held the fourth Sunday prior to the wedding in front of the parents and in the presence of the bridesmaid and the best man. The groom placed a golden coin into the hands of the bride and both promised to love each other. This promise was sealed with holy water. A festival dinner followed this ceremonial ritual. The next day on Monday, the couple went to church together with the bridesmaid, the best man and the Godparents, who had to be selected as part of the preparation prior to the wedding. After the church ceremony, the registration into the church book had to be made, so that the announcement of the couple’s intent to marry could be posted for the next four weeks. This was done for anyone to see and could voice any objections against this union if there were any.


          The fathers of the couple went on to sample wine with the groom and discuss various other preparations such as how many chicken or pigs, flour and other goods would be required for the wedding. The bride and the mothers went on to invite the wedding guests that usually took several days and discussed the preparation of the food and bakery. Naturally the size of the wedding depended on the wealth of the bride’s parents.


          On the day before the wedding the “Hochzeitslader”, who were two young men received the list of guests from the mothers of the bridal pair. Their task was to go to the houses of the guests to bring greetings and personal invitations from the bride and groom and to inform them when they were to meet at the groom’s house the next day. The wedding itself was a two-day affair held on Tuesday and Wednesday. On Tuesday morning the guests met at the house of the groom. The groom thanked his parents for his upbringing and asked for forgiveness for whatever deeds needed to be forgiven and took leave from his home. Before the wedding procession got under way the band began to play and the people began to sing the song, “Schön war die Jugend, sie kommt nicht mehr” (beautiful was our youth, it will never return). Then the wedding guests lined up in pairs, the small children in the front, the brass band next. Then the bridal girls in white (Kranzljungfern) followed by the groom, the best man with a bouquet of flowers and the traditional rosemary (Rosmarin) branches. The groom was wearing boots if he wore the old traditional costume and a hat decorated with myrtle (Myrten). When the procession began, the young women followed behind the groom, then the older women, the parents of the groom and then the men.


          Upon arrival at the bride’s home the groom entered the room of the bride and said, “Jetzt treten wir in den Ehestand ein. Wir gehen und laden Jesus, Maria und Josef ein” (Now we will enter into matrimony. We go and invite Jesus, Mary and Joseph). The bride wore her white or black wedding dress styled in the local custom, her headpiece also decorated with myrtle. In her hand she held her bridle bouquet decorated with rosemary and a prayer book. Now it was the bride’s turn to thank her parents for her upbringing and ask for forgiveness for whatever deeds needed to be forgiven and took leave from her home. The band began to play again and the people began to sing the song a second time, “Schön war die Jugend, sie kommt nicht mehr. Then the bridal party went on their way to the church, where the priest was already waiting for them.


          Following the exchange of the wedding vows, the sermon and mass the bridal party moved on to the Wirtshaus or to the brides’ home to except the congratulations and begin the festivities with the bridal dance. After this short ceremony and picture taking one had to regroup for the evening festivities. The meals were always plentiful and exuberant preparations were made long before so that everything went as planned. After the invocation done by the priest it was time to eat. Some of the customary courses of the dinner were chicken soup (Hühnersuppe), whole chicken and beef (Rindfleisch) with horseradish (Kren also known as Pferderettich) and tomato sauce. There was veal paprikash (Kalbs Gulasch), stuffed cabbage (known as Sarmen originating from the French word sarment meaning grape wine), fresh bratwurst, veal and pork roast with celery roots. Then there was plenty of wine and sodas. The highlight of the dinner was a roasted turkey, which was a gift from the Godfather and Godmother. After dinner speeches were made and best wishes uttered to the bride and groom, followed by the world’s famous bakery and torts of the Danube Swabians.


          Room was made for dancing and the band began to play again. Later during the evening a ceremonious headpiece exchange took place. The bridal crown was removed from the bride’s head by her mother and replaced by the Schlot and Kopftuch, and once more the band played, “Schön war die Jugend, sie kommt nicht mehr”.


          Since the wedding was such a pompous feast, it lured many watchers (Hochzeitsschauer) to the scene besides the guests, who came to see and admire the bride and her bridesmaids. The celebration would go on past midnight into the morning, although the “Hochzeitsnarren” took the bride and groom home earlier and many of the guests had begun to leave. The “Hochzeitsnarren” were a group of fun loving young men who spit shined a team of horses and wagon accompanied by a band, which went from wedding to wedding, if there were more on the same day, taking the bride and groom home.


          On Wednesday breakfast was served, guests that went home to rest returned, the newly wed couple returned and the feast continued again. More meals were served, the band continued to play until all guests had gone home.


          The average age on which our ancestors married was younger than it is today. From information furnished by my ancestors in my Family tree, going back five generations; the statistics of 29 couples were as follows. Men, age 17 (1), 18 (1), 19 (2), 20 (3), 21 (5), 22 (5), 23 (4), 24 (4), 25 (2), 26 (1) and 35 (1). Women age 14 (1), 16 (4), 17 (9), 18 (3), 19 (2), 20 (5), 23 (3), 24 (1), and 25 (1). Going back one more generation we found the statistics of 20 couples. Men, age 18 (1), 19 (2), 20, (2), 21 (3), 22 (2), 23 (1), 24 (1), 26 (1), 27 (2), 31 (1), and 44 (1). Women age 15 (1), 16 (1), 17 (2), 18 (1), 20 (5), 21 (3), 23 (1), 26, (2) and 32 (1). From these statistics the average male married between the ages of twenty and twenty-four while the average age for the women was between sixteen and twenty-three.



Their Faith and the Christian Holidays

          One of the most celebrated holidays besides Christmas was the “Kirchweihfest”, the church carnival. The church carnival was held in honor of the Patron Saint the church was dedicated too. On this day, a lot of activities outside of the customary church services took place. Carnival rides and games for young and old were available during these days. Stands and booths were erected with a variety of items for sale, and a lot of food and wine were consumed. Dances were held at the “Wirtshaus” for the young. After the dance at times, the young men often took their young maidens to the carousel followed by the band they hired from the guesthouse to accompany them there to play. The young women took their seats on the carousel, while the young men set it in motion, to the dismay of the owner. The carousels of those days had to be set in motion with manpower from a platform above. At the end, they always did pay the owner generously for the rides and his inconvenience.


          In our towns, we had a custom during the Easter Holiday week. The church bells were silenced and the altar boys went in pairs from house to house to announce the time of the day with the sound of a ratchet. On Easter Sunday, after the boys were done with their duty, they went to collect their reward in the form of Easter Eggs, money, cookies, and other goodies. Also on Easter Sunday the traditional Easter bunny came to treat all the children with Easter eggs.


          One of the more interesting traditions, is the tradition of the Pentecost Holiday parade on horseback, the “Pfingstlümmelreiten”. This tradition can actually be traced back to the time of the settlement of the towns. The name, which is actually difficult to translate, derived from an early tradition. The young unmarried men prepared their horses on the commune meadow (Hutweide) outside of town, late into the night and slept near their horses that night. The young man who got up last the next morning was relegated to do the unpleasant chores, hence the name “Lümmel”, meaning bum. It was a tradition performed by the young sons of the farmers: After the young men spit-shined their bridles, polished their saddles, groomed and decorated their horses with flowers braided into their manes, they rode through the town reciting self authored rhymes and riddles. The rhymes and riddles they wrote were about events that took place during the past year. They wrote about good deeds and bad deeds fortunate and unfortunate experiences, as well as a lot of gossip and some of them were often very poetic. They wrote about lovers, heartbreak and like episodes. Some of the poems written by these young men contained also a lot of wisdom. For example:


People always say:

          The World is getting worse!

The World always stays the same 

          the people are getting worse!

Everyone should sweep in front of his door,  

           there he finds enough mistakes:  

He should write them down on paper,  

           in doing so he will finally learn.

This is the best thing in the World, 

          that death and devil do not take money.

If it would be so, many poor souls 

          would have to go to hell for the rich.

We love all beautiful maidens,

          the young women we do not sadden,  

          the old women we do not hate,  

          and all who live we let live.


          The Holiday of Corpus Christy was perhaps to most elaborately celebrated holiday of all the Christian holidays in the Catholic communities. This holiday  most recently known as; “Solemnity of the most holy body and blood of Christ”. Families would compete for the honor to erect one of the four altars for this holiday on the outside of their house. The altar could be anywhere throughout the town. The family selected for this honor beautifully decorated their altar with flowers and holy pictures. The preparation started a week before the holiday, which is toward the end of June, two weeks after Pentecost Sunday. Streets were usually lined with flowers, the day before the holiday. On this holiday everyone in the community dressed up in their most festive costumes to participate. Usually the parade started with the women in the congregation, and the boys and girls who had their first communion during the year who were dressed in their communion clothes. Behind them followed the brass band, the volunteer firefighters, the unmarried young women and the unmarried young men dressed in their special attire. In particular unmarried young women carrying the statue of the Holy Mother Mary were dressed in white. They were referred to as “Muttergottesmädchen” (Girls of the Mother of God). The next to follow in the procession was the city council followed by the altar boys and the clergy all dressed in their attire. Followed by the priest with the Holy Body and Blood of Christ walking under a sky, a beautiful stitched cloth held up with four poles by young men. Now following in order were the older generation men and women. The procession took most of the day to complete since it had to stop at each altar to perform certain ceremonies and prayers.


          Every Christian holiday celebration had its own traditions especially Christmas. Our Christmas traditions were wonderful and started on December 6, with St. Nikolaus day. On this evening, St. Nikolaus visited the children with his helper Ruprecht, also called Krampus. Ruprecht would punish the bad children with his whip made of thin willow branches. If you were very bad, he would chain you and take you put you in his big bag and take you with him. At his arrival, Ruprecht would rattle his chains to make loud noises to frighten the children. He then would seek out the children, and make attempts to hit them with his whip. Usually the children’s father would courageously wrestle with Ruprecht to get him out of the room, while the children kept hiding in safety behind their mother. After Ruprecht left the room the children were always quite relieved. Ruprecht also left his whip behind for the parents thus creating respect among the children. When St. Nikolaus entered the room he was dressed in bishop’s clothes with a miter on his head. The children went before him to sing a song and say a verse or rhyme. He showed his kindness by rewarding the children with apples and their favorite fruits, oranges.


          The children waited with great anticipation for that one day, December 24, Christmas Eve, the day the “Christkindl” (Christ-child) would come and bring a beautiful Christmas tree decorated with apples, nuts, oranges, and a toy or two. On this day the children were sent to see their Godparents and bring them Christmas gifts. The main reason for sending the children to their godparents was to get the children out of the house so that they would not see the preparations made by their parents for upcoming the evening. One of the neighborhoods’ older girls would be asked to dress in white and be the Christkindl for the children. Before the Christkindl arrived and brought the beautiful Christmas tree, you could hear the bells ring from afar, announcing the arrival. Like on Nikolaus day, the children would sing a song and say a verse or rhyme. Before the children were allowed to open their presents or take a candy from the tree, everyone would take his seat at the dinner table. The family would say their prayers together and eat the Christmas dinner, which of course had its own traditions. After dinner several Christmas carols were sung, one of which was “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht” (Silent night, Holy night). Then children were allowed to open their presents and play with their new toys, while the adults entertained themselves by telling stories until it was time to go to the midnight mass.


          When New Years came all the children were excited to go and wish their parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and neighbors a Happy New Year. For this they were rewarded with money from everyone to whom they took their wishes. The holidays finally ended with the “Sternsingen” (Star Singing) on Holy Three Kings Day on January 6th. On this day the children dressed up as the Holy Three Kings, teamed up in threes and went from house to house singing songs, similar to what children do here in the United States on Halloween. For their efforts, they were rewarded again with fruits, nuts, candy or money.


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