Tag Archives: germany

Pork and Sauerkraut

Background: The informant is a 55 year old mother of three who was born in Pennsylvania. She currently lives in Chicago, Illinois. She moved to Chicago when she was 28 years old. She participated in this tradition in her own childhood while she lived in Pennsylvania. Most often, her grandmother would make the meal and serve it at her home.

Context: The context of the piece is sitting at a restaurant and the table next over was eating pork, reminding TC about her own childhood tradition. She appeared nostalgic for her own childhood.

Text: 

TC: It reminds me of when I was younger, my grandmother would always make pork and sauerkraut for New Years Eve. The family would gather in her house in Pennsylvania, where I was born. I think it’s, uh, a German tradition that is supposed to provide the family good luck and wealth  in the coming year. It makes sense as, I believe, my great-grandparents, on that side, are from Germany, which is where my grandma picked it up.

Me: Do you make it for your own family now?

TC: No, no I don’t. Honestly, it’s something I never did after I moved away from Pennsylvania – like to college and work. I think, in a way, it’s more reminiscent of my grandmother and childhood. Usually, my family now will have turkey dinner on New Years Eve, which is like having a bountiful upcoming year.

Analysis: 

Informant: She views it as something rooted in the past, as an integral part of her childhood and her relationship with her grandmother. She doesn’t think about reviving it because there are already new traditions in place with her children.

Mine: Traditions, though they may fade away, can still remain integral to how one views themself. Even though the informant no longer eats/makes pork and sauerkraut, she still considers it to be vital to who they are as a person because of how it affected their relationship with their grandmother. As such, the tradition embedded special memories into the food and always serves as a reminder of childhood. Having a tradition can transform something “ordinary” into a symbol of remembrance – no matter how far away they become from participating in it. Additionally, past folklore can serve as a template for creating new traditions. The idea of having food on New Year’s Eve has the same spirit – providing wealth for the upcoming year – but is in a more modern form. Interestingly, the use of a turkey dinner may showcase the high prevalence of Thanksgiving in how traditional foods from that holiday are spreading to other parts of the year.

Pickle in the Tree

Background: The informant is a 55 year old mother of three who was born in Pennsylvania. She currently lives in Chicago, Illinois. She moved to Chicago when she was 28 years old. She started participating in the tradition after she was married and her three children were born. Since her children are now older, she also has her children’s romantic partners participate in the children – and grandchildren one day.

Context: The context of the piece was in the informant’s house. The information opened a cabinet and found the pickle sitting inside – leftover from being taken off the tree back in December. She gave a sound of surprise, laughed, and mentioned how it always happens each year without fail.

Text:

TC: “Well, every single year we hang up the pickle on the tree. Typically, me and my husband will wake up early in the morning, around 5 or 6 am, and spread a while trying to find the perfect hiding spot. We make sure nobody can enter the living room [where the tree is] to make sure there is no cheating in finding the pickle, until everyone is awake.

Me: Why did you start hanging the pickle?

TC: I never did it when I was younger but I heard about from friends and thought it would be a fun way to start Christmas morning. As a lot of my traditions, I think it’s Germanic but… that was an accident [laughs]. I wanted to… do a little more than just opening presents and stockings, and it brought the kids in for a game.

Me: Will you keep doing it?

TC; I want my children, their partners, my grandchildren – everyone to participate in it. So, yes, I do plan to keep hanging the pickle up, though we may have to get a bigger tree.

Me: That sounds fun. So, what does someone get when they find the pickle?

TC: As with hanging the pickle, my husband and I always shop together and find the weirdest gift we can and buy it as the “pickle gift”. Let me think, one year, we had something with My Little Pony; we had a spiky rubber ball; this year it was a mind game, where you had to figure out how to get all the colors on the same side, similar to a Rubik’s cube. It’s honestly a fun tradition for us also to go shopping for the pickle gift.

Analysis:

Informant:  To the information, the pickle is a sign of family strength. The pickle adds a fun element to the beginning of Christmas and allows her to have fun as well.

Mine: The pickle emphasizes globalization and how traditions can widely spread, even if their original root is unknown. I don’t believe traditions can only be celebrated if they stick true to their origins but can change and evolve as time passes, they aren’t supposed to be stagnant. As in the case of the pickle, it has evolved to fit modern times – it’s utilized to bring families together, inspire sibling friendship, and it’s meant to be utter fun. Also, it showcases how one tradition can inspire other new ones. The informant finds it a yearly ritual to go shopping with her husband, an event that strengthens their bond. Each tradition, in this way, is connected in a spiderweb in inspiring and creating other ones. 

New Year’s Eve Four Things

Background: The informant is a 75 year old female. She grew up in Illinois, attending both high school and college in the state. After she married her husband in 1963, she gained some new tradition from her mother-in-law, who had some German descent.

Context:  When catching up over dinner, the informant started talking about her New Year’s traditions, because someone at the table over had been served herring.

Text: 

MC: “I learned my New Year’s Tradition from my mother-in-law and I have now been doing it for around 50 years. It has four parts that you place out on your windowsill: Eating herring, which I believe is from Germany or Scandinavia, and the silver skin represents coins and prosperity; the silver coins which is money in your pocket; the pieces of bread which is good that you will have over the coming year; and sweeping out the front door which is sweeping out all the bad omens and bad lucks that happened over the year.

Analysis:

Informant: She didn’t do the tradition in her childhood but it has since become integral to who she is and remains extremely important for how it reminds her of her grandmother.

Analysis: The informant adopting the tradition at an older age represents that folklore comes and goes depending on the social context. In a sense, the informant taking up a new tradition upon getting married symbolizes how she has been “adopted” into a new family and is taking on their traditions. The informant has kept up with the tradition for over 50 years, symbolizing how strong even an adopted tradition can become. That is the nature of traditions, it should be allowed to be shared and taken up by whoever will respect it. The informant respects every element of the New Year’s Eve celebration.

Hamburg Greeting Exchange ‘Hummel Hummel’ ‘Mors Mors’

Context:

Informant RH grew up in Jesteburg, a village in the area surrounding Hamburg, Germany. He spent parts of his young adulthood living in or near the city of Hamburg.

Main piece:

RH: Es gibt so ein anderes das so ein 'call answer pattern' ist, das is "Hummel Hummel, Mors Mors." 

SH: Sag das noch mal?

RH: Hummel Hummel, also H-U-M-M-E-L, zwei mal, und die Antwort ist dann Mors Mors, M-O-R-S. 

SH: Ah, okay. Was bedeutet das?

RH: Also ich glaube da war früher in Hamburg jemand der, so irgendwie so'n Wasserträger oder so was, oder der so recht, so ein bisschen geistig behindert war, und ich glaub der hieß Hummel. Und den haben die Kinder immer geärgert und haben ihm dann hinterhergerufen 'Hummel Hummel,' und er hat zurück gerufen 'Mors Mors,' denn Mors is das Plattdeutsche Wort für Hintern, für Arsch.

SH: Also das war dann am Anfang benutzt als, so nur für den Typ, aber wie war das dann danach benutzt geworden?

RH: Ja so als, als, Grüßwort oder als, einfach wenn du jemanden triffst so 'Hummel Hummel,' 'Mors Mors.'

SH: Das ist interessant, dass hab ich noch nie eigentlich gehört in Hamburg. 

RH: Ja das, also ich weiß nicht ob's noch gemacht wird.

SH: Ist ein bisschen Altmodisch jetzt oder?

RH: Ist ein bisschen Altmodisch, ja. 

Translation:

RH: There's another one that's one of those 'call answer patterns,' which is "Hummel Hummel, Mors Mors."

SH: Say that again?

RH: Hummel Hummel, so H-U-M-M-E-L, two times, and then the answer is Mors Mors, M-O-R-S. 

SH: Ah, okay. What does that mean?

RH: So I think there used to be someone in Hamburg that was, so, some kind of like, a water carrier or something like that, or who was quite, like somewhat mentally disabled, and I think he was called Hummel. And the kids would always go and bother him and yelled after him 'Hummel Hummel,' and he would yell back 'Mors Mors,' because Mors is the Plattdeutsch word for behind, for ass. 

SH: So at the beginning that was used for, like just this guy, but how was it used after that?

RH: Yeah so as, as greeting phrase or like, simply when you meet someone like 'Hummel Hummel,' 'Mors Mors.'

SH: That's interesting, I've never actually heard that in Hamburg.

RH: Yeah it's, like I don't know if it's still done.

SH: Is it a little bit old fashioned now or?

RH: It's a little old fashioned, yes.

Analysis:

‘Hummel Hummel,’ ‘Mors Mors’ exists as a greeting form and as an identificatory symbol of those originating from or living in Hamburg. Before the advent of a running water plumbing system, the profession of water carrier was a pretty normal occupation and part of life in Hamburg The city of Hamburg even has an article on their website explaining the origins of the saying and pointing tourists in the direction of the multiple water carrier statues that still remain in the city. Hummel has taken on a sort of legendary status within the city of Hamburg, which led to the integration of his name (which may not even have been his true name) into popular speech.

One thing to point out here is the integration of a Plattdeutsch phrase that turned into the ‘Mors Mors’ portion of the greeting pattern. Plattdeutsch is a German dialect that is common to northern Germany, but has long been not taught in schools in favor of the standard ‘Hochdeutsch’ or High German. The dialect is associated with poorer, rural populations, and has a class connotation. The ‘Mors Mors’ is likely a shortening of a longer Plattdeutsch phrase, though I do not conclusively know what the full phrase is since I’ve found multiple versions and neither I nor RH speak Plattdeutsch.

The phrase recalls a part of Hamburg’s history, of the water carriers and of the Plattdeutsch dialect, that unites the people using it as a specifically northern German group. The dialect was the predominant language in northern Germany and was pushed out largely by the uniting of Germany and standardization of the German language under the Grimm Brothers’ dictionary which centered southern German ‘High German.’ The dialect survives mostly in rural communities (one set of my grandparents speaks Plattdeutsch, but did not pass it on to their children), but is largely not institutionally accepted. Preserving a part of the dialect in folk speech is a way for northern Germany to retain some of its linguistic identity in spite of attempted institutional erasure.

For more information on ‘Hummel Hummel,’ ‘Mors Mors,’ refer to the article “Wasserträger Statue,” by Hamburg.com (accessible at https://www.hamburg.com/sights/memorials/11747510/wassertraeger/).

German Easter-Water Ritual

Context:

HH is a retired former housewife who lives in a Westergellersen, a very small village in northern Germany.

Main Piece:

“Am Ostersonntag holen Frauen Wasser aus einer Quelle. Sie dürfen dabei nicht gesehen werden und es darf währenddessen nicht gesprochen werden. Dem Wasser werden heilende Kräfte nachgesagt und es soll die Fruchtbarkeit fördern. Mädchen erhoffen sich Schönheit und Verliebte bespritzen ihren Traumpartner mit dem Osterwasser um diesen für sich zu gewinnen.”

Translation:

On Easter Sunday, the women get water from the spring. They are not allowed to be seen during this and it is not allowed to speak. The water is said to have healing powers and is supposed to promote fertility. Girls wish beauty for themselves and those in love spray their dream partner with the Easter Water to win him for themselves.

Analysis:

This tradition follows step with Easter’s general association with fertility. The women gathering the water in silence, without being allowed to be seen, also aligns with some marriage customs that deal with purity. Since this custom was collected from Westergellersen, a very rural German village, from a grandmother who participated in this ritual when she was young, it follows that societal standards around purity, fertility, and gender roles were much more strict and strongly enforced than they are now.

Spraying the Easter Water on the subject of affection is a form of magic folk belief that falls into the Homeopathic category. I interpret the Easter Water to be symbolic of fertility, as Easter, also connected to eggs and bunnies/rabbits, has a general thematic connection with fertility. So, splashing a potential partner with Easter Water creates a metaphor for the future fertility of the relationship. This metaphor arguably even symbolizes a reversal of the typical conception process, as here, the woman splashes the man with a fertile liquid instead of the other way around.