Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Kiepenkerl- Keepers of news and history

I went on a family history search to middle Europe in September, 2001. As I walked around Munster, Germany, I looked for sculptures and statues around city parks or squares that might depict the clothing styles and culture of the past. Three quarters of my ancestors on my pedigree were German-born before they immigrated to America in the 1880's.

I was sitting in an outdoor cafe having a Tass der Kaffee (sometimes I mix my weak French with my weak German). Across from my table was a statue or sculpture honoring the "Kiepenkerl". Asking around in my weak German, I learned that these men were traveling salesman of sorts who sold housewares. While traveling around the country, they also picked up local news and stories and passed them on to eager listeners in the next village. So, the Kiepenkerls were news reporters and story tellers as well as salesmen. I guess this was the old-fashioned equivalent of TV or the Internet.

I mused that genealogists and family historians are sort of like the Kiepenkerls. We collect family history and news and pass it on from one generation to the next. What an honor. What a privilege. What responsibility! And so, when I saw a representation of a Kiepenkerl painted on a small dish, I bought it as a souvenir for my genealogical curio cabinet.

As far as clothing styles go, the next image shows two views of an outdoor fountain in Lambert Square, Munster, Germany. The fountain was a sculpture depicting a family of Germans dressed in the styles of the 19th century, at least that's my presumption. First I noticed that they were carrying canes or walking sticks. The canes I surmise helped arthritic individuals to walk around. But, I am not sure of the purpose of the walking stick on a casual stroll to town. Perhaps it was used to keep stray dogs away. The women wore bonnets and bows and long dresses and aprons. The men had beards and smoked long-necked, curved pipes. They also wore three-quarter length coats which look like smocks. Their hats were what I would call captain hats with a brim. The shoes look like wooden clogs, like I imagine the Dutchman wore.

Later in the day in Munster, I found myself in the middle of a parade. I do not know what was the specific occasion for the parade. But in my experience, Germans don't need any particular reason for a celebration. They always seem to be celebrating and having a good time.

In any case, these "farmers" are wearing hats similar to that worn by the man at the fountain. Apparently bandannas and scarves were popularly worn around the neck. And if you look closely (click on image), the little slip-thingy on the twisted ends of the bandanna holding it in place is in the shape of little wooden clogs- which of course are like the ones worn on the feet, if you could see them.

Thus, you can see what your German ancestors might have worn in the 19th century if, on a trip to that country, you keep your eyes open and your camera ready.


My Pedigree presented in earlier blog entry.

My Family history trip to Gemany, Alsace, Switzerland, 2001

Two of the slides in this entry were created with Microsoft's Powerpoint application. I just came across a genealogy blogger who also uses the program for making genealogical slides and images and posts an instructional blog. Go to: http://professordru.blogspot.com/

A panoramic view of the park (square) and Kiepenkerl in Muenster, Germany. Scroll down on left margin to "Kiepenkerl".

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