Tag Archives: germany

Northern German Cough Remedy

Context:

The informant, AH, grew up in a small village in northern Germany and learned this cough remedy from her mother.

Main Piece:

Mix crushed onions with brown sugar and let it sit until the juice is pulled out. That resulting juice helps with coughing.

Analysis:

This type of cough remedy seems to be pretty common in northern Germany, as I have heard other onion and brown sugar based cough remedies from people who grew up in different villages in the same area. This form of cough syrup is safe for kids and accessible, which makes it very convenient for rural mothers. I do not know how or why this remedy works, but I do recognize a sweet syrup base as a common form for cough remedies, usually paired with something very sour or bitter.

For reference, this piece of folklore collected is a cough remedy that uses lemon and honey, and contains additional insights about similar sweet syrup + sour or bitter ingredient cough remedies: “Folk Medicine, El Salvador,” Iris Park, USC Digital Folklore Archives, September 10, 2020, http://folklore.usc.edu/folk-medicine-el-salvador/.

German Wart Treatment

Context:

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

Main Piece:

“Knüpfe soviele Knoten in ein Band wie du Warzen hast. Dann vergrabe das Band bei Mondschein unter einem Stein. Wenn der Faden zersetzt (verfault) ist werden die Warzen verschwunden sein.”

Translation:

Tie as many knots into some string as you have warts. Then bury the string under a rock by moonlight. When the string has decomposed, the warts will have disappeared.

Analysis:

This practice is a folk magic ritual that utilizes the Homeopathic principle. The knots on the string represent the warts, and the decomposition of the string metaphorically decomposes the warts along with it. An interesting note here is the need to perform the burying part of the ritual under moonlight. The moon is a highly magical and superstitious symbol in many societies, and is widely associated with magic, and especially women’s magic (though the moon is a masculine noun in the German language).

The rock under which the string must be buried does not seem to bring anything specifically auspicious or magical, but could serve multiple other purposes. First, placing the string beneath a rock would help speed up the decomposition process, as it creates an environment where organisms can more easily break down the string than if it was in an open space. Next, the rock weighs down the string and keeps it in place. If the string is anchored beneath a heavy object, it’s less likely to move around due to environmental factors like weather, or be taken and moved by an animal. Finally, placing the string beneath a certain rock makes the burial site easy to identify, which is helpful for tracking the decomposition of the string.

German Birthday Rhyme

Context:

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

Main Piece:

Am Fenster heute Morgen
Da saßen ohne Sorgen
Drei Spatzen und drei Meisen.
Ja was soll das den heißen?
Sie haben’s mir geflüstert.
Ich weiß es ganz genau:
"Name" hat heute Geburtstag.
Darum der Radau!

Translation:

At the window this morning
There sat without worries
Three sparrows and three tits.
What is that supposed to mean?
They whispered it to me.
I know it exactly:
It's "Name"'s birthday today
Therefore the noise!

Analysis:

This rhyme is longer and a bit more complex than the now ubiquitous ‘happy birthday’ song is in America, but it serves the same function. Both verses have a space to insert the name of the person who is being celebrated, which makes the chant personalized to the birthday celebrator. I think the inclusion of specifically named bird varieties, sparrows and tits, interesting because while these are common birds, they do place locational limits on the rhyme.

The final line of the verse, “Darum der Radau!” I found a little difficult to translate. I chose to translate word for word, but fear that the implied meaning may not be clear from this literal translation. ‘Darum’ can mean because of, therefore, or hence, and ‘Radau’ has a lot of adjacent translations including noise, racket, and hullabaloo. In effect, the final line of the rhyme is the speakers explaining why they are being boisterous and causing a racket (either through the loud reciting of the rhyme, or the celebratory event they are in the midst of).

German Easter Fire Tradition

Context:

AH grew up in Westergellersen, a small village in northern Germany and attended these Easter fires throughout her childhood.

Main Piece:

“Leute in vor allem ländlichen Gegenden sammeln Holzmaterial und Buschwerk und türmen es möglichst hoch auf. Es soll weithin sichtbar sein. Es entsteht ein Wettstreit um das höchste Feuer. Am Karsamstag wird es angezündet. Das Dorf versammelt sich dann um das Feuer, es gibt Bier, Glühwein und Würstchen.”

Translation:

People from all the surrounding rural areas gather wooden material and shrubbery and pile it as high as possible. It should be able to be seen from far and wide. There is a contest for the highest fire. On Karsamstag (Holy Saturday, the day before Easter) it is lit. The village gathers around the fire, there’s beer, mulled wine, and sausages.

Analysis:

This part of the Easter festival celebration in northern Germany seems very useful for promoting unity and connection within a town. Because the villages compete for the tallest fire, the one that can be seen from the farthest distance away, this creates an in-group out-group boundary. Also, since gathering the materials for the highest bonfire takes time and work, the townspeople must work together, as they wouldn’t be able to achieve this highest fire on their own. Then, on the evening before Easter, when the fire is lit, this festival ritual turns into a communal gathering place for the village people. Beer, mulled wine, and sausages are all extremely common foods in northern Germany, and are generally associated with any festivals and gatherings, or seen as something like ‘fair food.’

North German Canning Superstition

Context:

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

Main Piece:

“Frauen sollten kein Gemüse einkochen wenn sie ihre Regel haben. Die Gläser werden dann nicht richtig schließen.”

Translation:

Women shouldn’t be canning any vegetables while they’re on their period. If they do, the jars won’t close right.

Analysis:

There are many superstitions about the female menstrual cycle, many delineating the things women should and shouldn’t do while they are actively menstruating. The informant does not recall any further logic behind the superstition, only that the jars won’t seal correctly. Given that canning is largely seen as women’s work, and that having a good seal on the jars is vitally important for the long-term preservation of the food, it does seem reasonable that a superstition around women’s bodies would be connected to this important facet of women’s work.

Given that this is a superstition, and therefore a magical folk belief, this belief would fall under the umbrella of Sympathetic Magic, specifically Homeopathic. My interpretation of the metaphor involved in this magical belief is that if the woman canning is menstruating, her body is momentarily shedding bodily substances and fluids, rather than how she is ‘sealed’ during the rest of her cycle. So, a woman must be ‘sealed’ herself while canning, otherwise the ‘unsealed’ trait of her body would metaphorically translate to the jar, not letting it properly seal.