CHRISTMAS ON AN ISLAND
By: E. Bügge-Wood
In the Baltic Sea, between Germany and Denmark, lies a small island called FEHMARN.
This was my home, being born there I remember Christmas and want to share it with you. Most of the islanders spoke Low-German since it was the oldest language we learned from our forefathers, but in school we had to learn High-German. As good as I can remember it was in the Winter of 1934 - 1935, we had enough snow piled up to make a slope, we children took turns in sliding down from it with our sleigh. We didn't have a school in our village "WULFEN" so we had to walk every day to the neighboring village of "AVENDORF", it took us about 30 minutes to get there on foot. The older children had already started a fire in the old-fashioned, pot-bellied stove by time I got there.
Our Teacher was Miss Hansen, she was a wonderful, kind person and she tried to have a treat for us when we were good; like reading to us out of a large fairy-tale book called "Peter's trip to the moon". Even my big brother "Harry" and my cousin "Heinz" liked it. Although in the month of December the temperature would drop below freezing, we were dressed warm and knew how to keep warm by playing many interesting games on the ice and in the snow. My grandparents lived in the same village, on the old "Bügge" place.
We called grandmother "Oma" and grandfather "Opa", their home was very old and the walls were made out of clay, the roof covered with reed; this type of building was called a 'Saxon Farm House' as the animals were kept on one side of the building and in the middle was a large hall called the 'Döns' where all the activities took place and on the other side were the living quarters. Oma had knitted a cape for me in many colors, it covered ears and neck. All of us had hand-knitted woolen stockings and mittens to keep us warm.
Mama had a knitting machine and had knitted me a brightly-colored shawl, it was always made from wool, for most of the farmers had sheep and cattle. Mama could sew and often would sew for the whole village, but that year she had made me a winter coat out of yellow, plaid wool material, with flannel lining, big golden buttons and brown fur trimming, I was so proud to wear it. We had two hours of bible study every day. We were preparing for the Christmas celebration, this also meant a whole weeks' vacation.
Every Christmas I had to tell the story of the birth of the savior "Jesus" as it is written in the New Testament, Saint Luke, chapter 2, verses 1 - 14. I was afraid to do the reading and thought somebody else should do it, but Mama encouraged me and told me to be proud for I was an unusual good reader. In our music class we sang all the old German Christmas songs, this was my favorite time and I always loved to sing, I knew all of the songs by heart, because we always sang songs at home, Mama and Papa knew all the words, while we were singing Papa would play the concertina and we all had our own mouth-harp. *** We had only Lutheran churches on the island "Fehmarn", our family belonged to the 700-year old church in Landkirchen.
When you walked into the church there stood a life-size cross, with Jesus hanging on it, the blood dripping from his wounds. It shocked me every time I saw it. The church was beautifully decorated, the old ships hanging on the ceilings to remind us of our seafaring forefathers. But we had old traditional habits that were not really biblical. Even believing, that the earth was flat and the North Pole was the icy edge, where Saint Nicholas dwelled and worked hard with the Elves (we called them: "Heinzelmännchen"), who made all the toys for girls and boys.
I always remembered the words from the New Testament: "Suffer the little children to come unto me, for their's is the kingdom of heaven". It gave me so much hope and as always, I was convinced, that Jesus was my great example and all the things he stood for were so genuinely perfect for the whole wide world, no matter what continent we were from. We would put our wooden shoes "Pantüffeln" in the window, next day we found a small treat in it, as a sign that Santa Claus "Knecht Ruprecht" was proud of us, for he was the person from the North, who liked all the little children in the world, but he did want us to behave. So we believed and celebrated all pretty much in the same tradition.
At home we celebrated Advent, Mama had made our two-layered wreath out of hemlock branches with four red candles and red ribbons tied together. Bronze-colored paint was used to brighten the pine cones and walnuts tied with red ribbons into a cluster unto the lower wreath, hanging down in four bunches immediately under the red candles. It looked very festive in the long hallway, where the family gathered every Advent-Sunday before Christmas around the wreath and sang the old hymn: "Wie soll ich dich empfangen und wie begeg'n' ich dir?" O how shall I receive Thee, How greet Thee, Lord, aright? All nations long to see thee, My hope, my heart's delight! O kindle, Lord most holy, Thy lamp within my breast, To do in spirit lowly All that may please Thee best. Advent wreath The only way anybody could ever get off the Island was by ferry-boat, at that time I had never been off the island but grown-up relatives talked about the long trip that Saint Nicholas
"DER WEIHNACHTSMANN" had to make with the ferry-boat. We hoped that the Sound wouldn't freeze over or that we would have such a snow storm that Saint Nicholas would not be able to find us.
The windows would freeze shut, leaving frosty sceneries on each panel, we children often stood by the window guessing what each panel might mean; my brother Harry came up with the answer and contributed all those pictures to the very steam from Mama's good cooking and even our very own breath. Mama would help us prepare our poems for Christmas Eve, she remembered many poems in Low-German, Oma would also try to teach us in Low German about the past. I always thought that Santa would like those Low-German poems better, for I only heard Santa speak Low German and to me they were the only poems that had a ring to it, or even ever made sense to me, at my age!
Oma always tried to tell us in poetry as well as stories about "long ago" and how different things were when they were young, at times it would even touch on mysticism, now when I think back, I can believe that she was psychic, and very superstitious. Of course, some poems were just plain silly and full of nonsense, like this one:
"Winachen Aven, Denn gaat wi na baven, Denn lüüd de Glocken, Denn danz de Poppen, Denn piep de Müüs In Grot-Fadder sin Hüüs."
The translation goes like this:
Christmas Eve, We go in the loft, Then chime the church bells, Then dance the puppets, Then peep the mice, In Grandfather's house.
My Grandparents played a very important role in our lives. I remember the gigantic entrance hall called "Döns" where you saw the large hand-made chests, filled with linen and bedding, the hand-made wardrobes, my forefathers were not only farmers but also knew the trade of cabinet making. They owned lots of land that Opa had to sell to the railroad company and a lot of their land was used when the dikes were built. Grandfather, "Opa" knew how to make shoes, finishing animal skins, making fishing-boats and nets. They had their own fruit trees and every night Opa laid some apples in the new stove to bake very slowly. I was always learning something when I went over to my grandparents. In that old farm house they used to have only one large fireplace with a big oven. The baking was done once a week, we children had to help with kneading the dough. I can still remember the wonderful aroma from baking that fresh bread. In the loft all the sausages and hams were being smoked with the smoke coming from the fireplace. I never learned the art of how that was done, because it was soon after, that I remember electricity came to the island and into everybody's home.
We took arts and crafts in school, all the girls had little projects and if it were only a pair of potholders for Mama. We learned early in life that it was more important to give than to receive. We were reminded of the little children that had no parents and we wanted to help them. We were making gauze diapers and little shirts for newly-born babies who were born without a daddy. In school we got ready for the "Yule Fest", every student brought a small gift and then wrapped it in a large box, very mysteriously. We were all sent home with a plate of goodies and our Christmas vacation started. In the evenings when it got dark and it was too early to turn on the petroleum (kerosene) lamp, we sat in the dark while an older sister would tell us stories or we would sing songs. Finally the petroleum lamp was lit and we had to set the table and carry the food into the sitting room from the kitchen. The small town of "BURG", the only town on the island, was the center for the Christmas displays. We could go to town by train, called "Theresa", named after the Austrian Empress "Kaiserin Theresa", but we called the little electric passenger train Aunt Reesa "Tante Reese".
In town I saw electric candles decorating the "Bugislaus-store" windows, at "Priesmeyer's" you could see a mechanical Santa Claus, who kept nodding and waving as if he wanted you to come in. In the "Thams and Carf's store" we would buy all the tropical fruit imported from southern Italy, some even from Africa. At home we had a catalog from "Quelle" where we could order all kinds of things, like a fountain-pen with a 14-karat golden pen for fifty "Pfennige". Mama had so much work to do, we had to help her make the cookies, black and white "Peppernöt (Pfeffernüsse)" they were rather spicy. But she also made other cookies that were taken to the bakery "Nagler's" then they were stored in large tins. My home village "Wulfen" is situated on the southern coast, there was more protection from the arctic wind, coming from the East, we called it "the wind of death". All the ponds in the meadows were frozen over and in the freezing weather we went ice skating. The bigger boys played ice hockey.
We really got carried away, Papa had to whistle for us, because we had completely lost all touch with time. But he warned us: if this happens again and I have to whistle for you like I would whistle for a dog, then I must reprimand you and we knew he meant it. When we got home we had to help, each child had their own chores to do and after a week they were switched. After supper we children cleaned the kitchen up, even my brother had to help. We were mostly singing songs when doing dishes, to avoid getting into any arguments as to who was responsible for what job. The weather played a very important role in the every-day life on the island Fehmarn. I remember how strong the wind would howl and make an awesome noise but still we carried on with our daily chores. The Driver of the milk wagon picked up the milk on each farm and then transported it to the dairy "Meierei", if you wanted to go to town, you could always get a free (very cold) ride on that milk wagon. The farmers had big barns, where the horses and cattle were kept. We bought our milk directly from the farmer. Papa was a mason bricklayer and only when it got very cold would there be unemployment. We had butchered two hogs and made our own sausages, which were smoked in the smokehouse. But for Christmas we always ate roasted goose, brussels sprouts, potatoes and gravy. For a treat Mama had made rice pudding with whipped cream and home-made black currant jelly. The whole house was filled with the aroma of good cooking mixed with the odor of the hemlock tree. The eve before Christmas "Winachen Aven", we children had to take a nap in the afternoon, no matter how anxious we all were. Finally we were allowed to get up, clean up and put on our festive clothing.
Mamma had been working with Papa in the parlor helping Santa Claus with the preparations for gift-giving "De Bescheerung", the door was kept locked. When we gathered around the table in the warm kitchen there was so much talk about the mystery of that very evening and how we would perform for Santa Claus. That night we children worked hard, for the food was delicious and in appreciation we worked with great cooperation to clean away the food and the dirty dishes. Our kitchen was sparkling clean. Mama and Papa would start the gift giving with the oldest child, only one child at a time was allowed into the parlor, one by one; since I was the youngest one I also was the last one to stay in the kitchen, that place began to look rather spooky and it got bigger and bigger, I could hear the large Angora cat "Lia" purring in the wooden box under the kitchen coal-stove.
Then it was my turn, Papa came to fetch me, holding my hand he said: "Kumm min lütt ELSCHEN," come on my little Elskin it's your turn now.- I saw the tree in all it's splendor, filled with glass-blown bulbs, tinsel, hand-wrapped chocolates and Marzipan, real candles flickering and at the very top an angle. The smell of balsam and spices filled the room. Then I spotted my old doll in a brand new dress, a brand new body, - the head, legs and hands were made out of paper-mosque. My mother was very talented, she did all the sewing in the village as well as teaching the young girls how to sew. My doll really looked like brand new. Then came Santa Claus "De Winachsmann", I had learned my poem very well, I also knew that I was very accomplished in rehearsing poetry that was one of my greatest joys, although I was very apprehensive about confronting Santa Claus in person. We had learned how to pray and sing in High German but since we spoke only in Low German at home we also could still pray in Low German and we felt that Santa was one of our kind, and since I had only heard him speak in Low German I took it for granted that Santa was one, who would only speak Low German. The first thing he asked my father was: "Have the children been good or bad?"
For the bad children he carried a switch "eine Rute", [by the way, I never ever saw him using it on anybody not even my brother]; then he wanted to know if we had learned our prayers, then we really got scared; we were all guilty of neglecting our religious upbringing and thought that it was very unnecessary, this changed later in my life. I had worked very hard on my prayer for I really wanted a doll that could talk; I can remember it going something like this:
"Winachsmann, Winachsmann, bring mi een Pop de schnacken kann.
"Translated it sounds like this: Santa Claus, Santa Claus bring me a doll that talking doth.
To my regret I never got such a doll that could talk. I also thought that Santa had a voice just like Mama's. After the gift-giving Santa Claus departed, warning us all that we better be good. I am sure we all had a warm spot for Santa Claus in our heart, although we knew very well, that we were far from perfect. We enjoyed our gifts and were allowed to play till midnight.
Then we gathered around the lit Christmas tree singing the old Christmas carols "Oh, Christmas tree, Oh, Christmas tree, "Oh Tannenbaum, Oh Tannenbaum" - we thanked and praised our God, I felt like I had a lump in my throat and felt very thankful toward my parents, my family and our God. Then the church bells were ringing all over the island, we left our warm parlor, dressed warm to go outside and wishing our neighbors a "Merry Christmas" all were singing to the sound of the chiming bells: “Now thank we all our God With heart and hands and voices, Who wondrous things hath done, In whom his world rejoices; Who, from our mother's arms, Hath blessed us on our way With countless gifts of love, And still is ours today. Amen.” In my heart I felt so secure, I didn't feel the cold snow.
After we went back into the house, we sang the beautiful hymn: Silent Night, Holy Night. "Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht". With a strong emotion, I couldn't hold back the tears, now we were ready to celebrate Christmas for two more days. On Christmas Sunday we had to go to all the relatives in the village and wish them Merry Christmas, our Grandparents were first on the list. The Christmas Monday was spent by playing with our toys. And enjoy our new clothing, we were also allowed to have a snow-ball fight outside. Then of course, we had to prepare for New Year. On New-Years-Eve we were going from house to house with a rummelpot singing songs and wishing our neighbor good luck, in return they would give us a treat to take home. I remember the song: "Rummel, rummel ruuten,
Translation: "Rooten, Rooten, Tooties, give me a bit of goodies leave me not stand here all alone I must go to our neighbor's home Rooten, Rooten, Tooties!”
My brother had made himself a devil's fidel (noisemaker made out of old tin cans tied to a heavy broom stick, topped with two lids as cymbals).
He always brought home the biggest sack full of goodies. Mama cooked a fine traditional fish dinner. Afterwards we got to take down the tree. We called it "Dannboom plünnern" (cleaning up the tree). The chocolate and fancy sugar candy was equally divided, all the ornaments returned and put back in storage for next year. This is how I remember Christmas 1934 - 1935 from my childhood, on the small island Fehmarn in the Baltic See, in Germany.
E. Bügge-Wood, 3096-1A Maryland Avenue, Columbus, OH 43209 Phone: (614) 237-4972
Fehmarns Friedhoefe - 3400 Graeber im Internet
Von Michael Kirchner, Luebecker Nachrichten Fehmarn/Miami -
Der Friedhofsbesuch über das Internet - eine Vision oder Realität? Zumindest für die Angehörigen der auf den sechs Friedhöfen Fehmarns Begrabenen hat die Zukunft schon begonnen: Sie können sich per Mouseklick die Fotos der rund 3400 Gräber auf den heimischen Computerbildschirm holen - weltweit. Hier können Sie die virtuellen Friedhöfe besuchen Verantwortlich ist dafür der Perfektionist John Kostick, dessen Wurzeln nach Ostholstein reichen. Was er einmal begonnen hat, das führt er akribisch und mit Ausdauer zu Ende.
Das gilt nicht nur für sein Unternehmen in Miami/Florida. Auch die Ahnenforschung, für ihn wesentlich mehr als nur ein Hobby, betreibt der Amerikaner gründlich und mit Leidenschaft.
An den Ergebnissen seiner Arbeit will Kostick gern aber auch andere teilhaben lassen, die wie er genealogisch interessiert sind. Zunächst richtete er daher im Internet eine umfangreiche Datenbank mit den Namen und der Herkunft von 82 000 Fehmaranern ein, die ständig überarbeitet und aktualisiert wird.
Drei Mal stattete er aus diesem Grunde der Insel zusammen mit seiner Schwester Judy schon mehrwöchige Besuche ab, zuletzt im vergangenen Juni. Behilflich waren ihm unter anderem Melitta Ehler vom Kirchenarchiv in Neustadt, Burgs Heimatforscher Karl-Wilhelm Klahn und dessen Vetter Dieter Klahn aus Bremen.
Fehmarns Familienforscher Max-Otto Rauert überließ Kostick sogar seine riesige Sammlung mit 55 000 Personennamen, die bis ins 15. Jahrhundert zurück reicht. Zahlreiche Fehmaraner stehen darüber hinaus per E-mail mit John Kostick in Verbindung. Beim Besuch des alten Burger Friedhofs sei ihm vor drei Jahren die Idee mit den Fotos der Gräber gekommen, berichtet Kostick, den wir telefonisch in Miami erreichten.
Sie soll Fehmaranern in aller Welt die Forschung nach den Vorfahren erleichtern und zudem einen optischen Eindruck der Grabstelle vermitteln. Ausgerüstet mit modernen Digitalkameras habe er sich in Wochen langer Arbeit zusammen mit seiner Schwester Grab für Grab auf den beiden Burger sowie dem Bannesdorfer, dem Petersdorfer und den beiden Landkirchener, aber auch den beiden Großenbroder Friedhöfen vorgenommen.
Das Ergebnis: Rund 3400 Gräber können zurzeit überall auf der Welt aus dem Internet abgerufen werden. Auf den Friedhöfen der Insel haben sich die Aktivitäten des "verrückten" Amerikaners inzwischen herumgesprochen und die verschiedensten Reaktionen ausgelöst.
Skeptiker, die die familiäre Privatsphäre oder den Datenschutz gefährdet sehen, kann Burgs Pastorin Christiane Klinge beruhigen: "Juristisch ist nichts dagegen einzuwenden." Denn Friedhöfe sind öffentlich zugängliche Plätze und die auf den Grabsteinen enthalteten Geburts- und Sterbedaten unterliegen nicht dem Datenschutz. Es sei sogar zu begreifen, so die Geistliche, dass auf diese Weise das Andenken der Toten gewahrt und die Namen erhalten blieben. Fraglich sei indes in diesem Zusammenhang, ob wirkliche Andacht und echte Trauerarbeit vor einem Monitorbild geleistet werden koennen.
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