Being the Trove-ite I am, on the off chance I might find something interesting, I typed "Spreewald" in to the Trove search engine and found this great write up!
|1895 'In the Spreewald.', Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 - 1954), 21 December, p. 39, viewed 3 March, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article87168697|
So, a lesson to be learnt, think outside the box! You may just find something in Trove that will help with research on a family who did not settle in Australia for another century after the article was written.
Trove really does have something for everyone.
In tin* Spreenald.
'By the author of ' An Australian Girl,' &e.l
It was on the 1st of -September very early m the morning that three of us left Berlin by the Gorlitzer railway on a visit to the Spreewald. It was very sultry weather, and the atmo sphere of the city was heavy and dull, in ducing that languor and depression often caused by even- moderate heat in northern latitudes. It was in fact of all days the one best adapted for a journey from the stifling
streets to that primitive region of alternate waste and carefully tilled, land, of marsh and wood and water, which is known as the Spree wald, and - in which so many curious customs and superstitions of the Wendish race still linger. On the way we tried to find an outlet for our ignorance by telling each other all we knew of these same Wends — that curious remnant of the vast Slavonic hordes that passed from the plains of Asia into Germany in the fourth century. In little over two hours we reached Liibbe nan. In this quaint little old town with its umbrella-covered market square, its half deserted streets and alleys, along which now and then rumble long narrow ladder waggons drawn by slow-footed oxen, we seem to have come not only into a different atmosphere but a different century from that with which we arefamiliar. Here there is no trace of hurry or unrest — no sign of the storm and stress of modern life. The Berlin tourists who straggle about are not numerous enough to spoil the charm of the sleepy friendly little town, all enclosed by cornfields and shadowy gar dens. A path thickly shaded bv elms and limes leads from the railway -station to the spot from which we embark for the various points of interest which we wish to visit. Before us tramp sjn-e peasant women, whose peculiar headdresses and short skirts, affording a liberal display of abnormally developed legs, proclaimed them to be Wends Tile head dress of a Wendish woman is the most im portant and distinctive -article of her attire. Usually it is made of a single square piece of snow-white linen, closely bound about the head, and fastened in such a way that it standsout on each side like a great white fan — a ' form which the linen retains from beingstiffly starched. The wearer has always to J secure the services of a second person in the | proper adjustment of this headdress, which has a very nun-like aspect. Our choice of a boat is partly guided by the representations of a stalwart ferryman, who is a German, and who informs us that he has Wendish relatives on a farm half-way to our destination who will be glad to provide us ! with refreshments. We get into his boat i and next moment are gliding over the water I with the easy sinking motion that forcibly re calls a Venetian gondola. Our ferryman does not row or scull, but stands upright in the stern of the boat, and at once guides and pushes it on by means of a long pole. To do this with rapidity and safety necessitates a skill that can come only with long practice. For thb network of arms and arteries into which the natural depression of the land has dispersed the river is further complicated by the canals that have been made to drain the earth for purposes of agriculture. Thus few of the streams are more than 10 ft. wide, and as nearly all locomotion is carried on by boats and small canoes, the danger of collision in the more frequented thoroughfares has to be con Btantly guarded against. It is a Chinese say ing that to find pleasure it must be sought for either on the mountains or on the water. Thelatter is here unlimited, but the land is almost universally flat. The woods, too, which were once the glory and distinguishing feature of the Spreewald, as its name implies, are now in many places a thing of the past. Whole tracts have been entirely denuded of trees ; and only along the streams has a military-looking row been left, and even these are in many in stances severely pollarded. But on all sides far as the eye can reach are to be seen huts and logwood cottages, surrounded by well-manured and cultivated fields, by beds of vegetables and fruit trees. Now and then we pass boats loaded with farm produce on their way to Lubbenan, whence the goods are forwarded to the markets of Berlin and Dresden. Indeed, we are assured that the pickled cucumbers of the Spreewald are Bent in greatquantities over
Bea to America, where the Teutons who, like Hans Breitmann, give a 'barty,' never fail to garnish the festal board with this highly prized relish of the Fatherland. In rather more than half-an-hour after leaving Liibbenan we passed Lehde— a strangelittle fisher village over six hundred years old, that irresistibly suggests a time-worn print in an ancient book. The lowly habitations are all of stout logwood, thatched with straw and heavy reeds. The logs are seine times covered with a light coating of clav ; always the roofs are stained and mildewed and moss-grown, and over all there is an air of indescribable decrepitude of mouldering decay, as if these small tenements were being slowly, but surely, eaten up by the elements. In front of each lowly dwelling a little boat is usually fastened, for hardly any of them can be approached except by water. Sometimes between two close neighbors a small arched connecting bridge may be seen, on so minute a scale that it strikingly recallsthose which figure on old delf plates of the willow pattern. An hour after passing Lehde we stop at the small farmhouse that belongs to the relative of our ferryman. This house is a cottage of thn ordinary wooden wall and thatched roof order. In front is a charming little meadow covered with lush grass softer than sleep growing up to the water's edge. Fastened to a stout pole opposite to the door is a small slender boat— the everyday conveyance of the family. On .examining it near at hand we find that it is almost a facsimile of the fossilised canoes that are preserved in some of the Berlin museums as relics of a pre-historic age.* There is a garden close to the dwelling house full of plum, apple, and pear trees. The branches of the latter are still bent beneath a fertile crop of large yellow pears- -good to look at and good to eat. All round the garden stand beehives, and' the hum of bees rifling RoBenpappei(hollyhock) and Geissblatt (honeysuckle) tills the air with a slumbrous sound — ' a sound that brings the feelings of a dream.' The small fields that make up the farm are cultivated to the last inch. Corn, cucumbers, and- carrots are the favorite crops in the Spreewald. Two daughters of the house are at work on a patch of potatoes. They are stout rosy girls with flat wide faces that speak of WencVsh origin. The mother is of the same type to a yet more marked degree. We are shown into the stube, the general living-room, and there we find an old woman sitting in a corner of . the ? seat that half surrounds the Btove, knitting half asleep. She looks up but Rives no sign of seeing us. She is blind, the house-mother tells us, and close ohninety nine ! 'Sne is my mother-iu-law,' continues our hostess, ' and has a great-great-granddaughter married in the fishing district of Lehde. No, not my great-grandchild, but my husband's. I am . his second wife, and he is twenty-four years older than 1 am.' She goes ou to tell us that her man is at Liibbenan to-day with hisyoungest son. They have taken a boatful of apples there. Prices are not so good this season, but the harvest has been more plentiful than- usual. Thank the good God they want for nothing ; they have enough and to spare
after Uhristmas. Uretel, the eldest furl, is to be married ; but she is not going far away. There, that cottage to the left, is to be Gretel's home. We look out through the little four-paned window to catch a glimpse of a cottage half hidden by fruit trees.Then the good housewife busies herself with getting us some refreshments. In her absence we look round the room with some curiosity. It is rather low and dark, but spotlessly clean. There is a bed in one corner with stiff curtains of a texture and pattern that proclaim them to be the product of another age. Hound three Bides of the room runs a shelf half a foot wide, on which a great variety of articles are ranged. Massive two-handled delf goblets, basins with mottoes and big bright leaves, pewter measures sparkling-like mirrors, porcelain coffee pots and cups and saucers, one or two huge long-stemmed pipes evidently designed more for ornament than use — such are some of the possessions and heirlooms ranged on this com modious family shelf. There are prints on the walls, some of them deliciously full of anachronisms. There is, for instance, the prodigal son leaving his home with all his worldly substance. He is dressed like a prosperous German peasant, and has two German wagRons loaded with household goods, conspicuous among them being some of the billowy feather coverlets that belong to a properly -appointed German bed ! All this tune the century old grandmother knits away, alternately dozing and mumbling what sounds like the refrain of some song. The piteous little cracked treble of her voice somehow raises a lump in one's throat. What old soitow haunts the melancholy stave . that comes to her on this peaceful afternoon, when the swallows are gathering in the sky in anti cipation of coming storms ? All the tempests of her life are over. She has entered on the pathetic second childhood of a great old age, when any vivid emotion is impossible. Alreadythe veil is drawn between her and the outer world. How is it that a lingering old age, a surviving unto the third and fourth generation of descendants, ever came to De regarded as a felicity of life? Surely there is a more keen and sympathetic apprehension of the invincible limitations of the human lot in the old Greek thought that an early death is a boon from the gods? But a truce to moralising, for here comes the housewife with a piled-up plate of rye bread generously buttered, and with large cupfuls of good fresh milk. As we eat and drink she tells us of the long hard winters when the water around is frozen over, and all who go abroad— school children, pastor, doctor, postman, &c. — travel on skates. While she is speaking we are startled by a singular sound. There is a gentle bellow as if at our very ears. Ever since we entered the stube we have been conscious of a certain ordor of manure permeating the atmos phere, also of heavy lurching movements, as if in an adjacent room. Now the origin of this strong agricultural smell, of these mysteriousmovements, and of the bellow stands revealed. : The cow and poultry house is under the same roof with the living rooms, ..and divided from them only by a thin partition. To-day the stockroom is occupied by a cow that has newly calved. The housewife, explains this with no thought of. apology or sense of unfit ness in the arrangement, it is. in fact, one of the immemorial customs git the Spreewald, and though to us it- seems to traverse all hygienic laws, the results in this household at leaBt are apparently not hurtful. As we go on towards the village of Burg thelandscape opens out charmingly. Once or twice we catch sight of houses built of stone and roofed with tiles. Fowls abound every where, more especially ducks and steese, which
are so plump and. large and spotlessly clean that it is evident the mixture of 'richdamp fields and pure water in which they live constitutes an ideal milieu for poultry of the amphibian oder. Burg is one of the most important villages of the Spreewald. It is also the one in which the Wends still retain most of their own peculiar cus toms and observances. It was under the lengthening shadows of the trees that surround the friendly little Gast-haus at Burg we learned something of the legends and traditions that still held sway there. As, for instance, that to this day there are manywho believed that a King of the Wends, a, direct descendant of the old Royal family of the race, still lives and secretly rules over subjects who are loyal to him. Outwardly he is a peasant like those around him. He tills his small fields and rows his fruits and vege tables to market at Liibbenan or to the railway-station, there to lw dispatched to Berlin or Dresden. Yet he is in reality a king, and receives taxes and meet obeisance from those who know of his identity. He guards the old crown and sceptre of his line — he holds assemblies from time to time, at which orders are promulgated that are binding on the faith ful. Now and theu he grants special audiences to those who are entrusted with his secret. But so jealously is this guarded that from year to year he mingles with men who are' his loyal subjects, and yet have no clue to his identity. Then there is the tale of the old treasures that belong to the Wendish kings— golden and silver vessels, priceless jewels, and heaps of precious stones and great ingots of gold— all thb and more lies buried uuder an old ruin in Burg. Onceupon a time there was an abyss hard by this ruin, from which at times there issued a great roaring as if of infuriated lions. One day an adventurous-stranger looked down into this abyss, and lo he taw it suddenly becoming dear as noon-day, so that in the bowels of the earth he beheld four great doors. One looked towards morning and another towards even ing ; one towards mid -day and another towards mid-night. Upon every door was a golden lock hung with yellow ribbons, and before each a great serpent lay coiled in heavy folds. When these caught sight of a stranger prying into their mysterious retreat they hissed with fierce hatred and raised their heads menacingly towards him. Upon which he fled with all haste, and came no more to pry into the secrets of the hidden treasure of Scblossberg. It is in the same marvellous place that a Wendish maiden — the descendant of Wendish kings— sits bewitched. Her probation is to make twelve tine shirts and to sew but one stitch in a year. When all the shirts are finished she will then be released. The supernatural in every form abounds in the stories that arc most popular in the Spreewald. But besides the ghosts a, d fairies the naiads and pixies that are familiar in general folklore, there are beings in Wendish legends pf whom we have not heard elsewhere. As for instance, the Lutchen — the original inhabitants of the region — little creatures about an ell high, arrayed in red jackets and caps, who on the arrival of human beings took refuge in the earth. There are two things that the Lutcheu cannot abide, the chiming of bells for prayers and the calls of children at play. Then there are also people who live in close retirement in the marshes. But these must be singularly like average human beings, for it is said that on the rare occasions when they visit the haunts of men they are distinguished from ordinary citizens only by a wet border round their garments. But the most weird of all the Spreewald apparitions is the night huntsman (der Nachtjager). He is headless and rides a pale grey horse through the aiT, ever surrounded By a rushing storm, by the clanking of chains, and the furious howling of bloodhounds. As we wander through Burg after sunset, and watch a great red harvest moon rise over the wide expanse of water-separated dwellings and hamlets that stretch around, we under stand something of the awe and melancholy that enter so largely into the legends and superstitions of a people whose mode of life and surroundings cut them off so much from the outside world. On the morrow we delay our departure for Straupite by a couple of hours so as to see a wedding proces Bion come to the Wendish church in which service is still held on each Sunday in the Wendish tongue. First came a band of four or five musicians playing a lively march. Thencame the bride with her bridesmaids and women friends, followed by the bridegroom with his party. The bride is dressed in black silk liberally trimmed with broad ribbons. Instead of the usual head-dress she wears a wreath of flowers and small loops of narrow ribbon. The taste for vivid tints among the women is strikingly displayed in the bright colored short full skirts. Red, blue, green, and orange are conspicuous, all puffed out with the stiff crinoline lining which is de rigueur for holiday attire. Many of the femi nine jackets are of black velveteen with full white puffed sleeves, resembling those that are to be seen in some of the Swiss cantons. The men's dress is less ? picturesque. The bride groom wears a prosaic cylinder hat and a blue black cloth coat, very long and not too well fitting. Both men and women are lavishly decorated with flowers. It is worth noting that the Wendish word for bride is newesta, which signifies ' The ignorant oue.' It is after midday before, half-way between Burg and Straupitz, we reach a remnant of the old primeval wood of the Spreewald, untouched by axe or tillage. Great alders and wide-spreading oaks and elms make a canopy of foliage, through which the sun rays penetrate in shafts of gold green light. Here and there the white slender trunk of a birch tree gleams through the flickering shadows of the forest, making good its claim to the old poetic name of ''bride of the forest.' Round the stems of some of the forest giants the wild vine clings in trailing masses. Looking at these luxuriant creepers we find that the. leaves are already heavily touched with the hectic flush of decay. The trees, too, begin to show traces of the stealthy approach of autumn. But theswallows— Why are they gathering in the sky with such multitudinous chatter?
Surely there can be no question as yet of their annual pilgrimage to sunnier ?lands? But one of our number quotes an old German proverb — 'An Maria's Geburt ziehen die schwalben wiederum furt,' which may be rendered — On the Virgin's natal day Again the swallows flee away. This was the 2nd of September ; and the 8th ? is the day kept by good Catholics as. the Virgin's birthday. So there could be no doubt that these flying assemblages overhead and the noiBy meetings in the woods heralded t'he de
parture of the swallows. It was hard to realise this on such a warm clear summerlike day. But the thoughts inseparable from the year's decay seemed to add the lasttouch to the wonderful scene around us. The presageful twittering of the pilgrim birds, the lapping of the stream against the shore, the chirping of innumerable insects in the wood, and the Boft splash of the ferryman's pole as we glided on were the only sounds to be heard. When early on the next day we return to the ordinary haunts of men our brief sojourn in the Spreewald seems like a dream dreamt insome charmed solitude to the fall of the petals of the plum tree.