Zee Farmers of Northern Germany

by Heidi Obermeyer

During my last trip to Hamburg we stopped by Kiekeberg, a historical village. Much like historical villages in the States, this one was full of lots of small children, farm animals, and a lot of exclamations of “But did they REALLY live this way?!” It was a great time.

I really like going to Hamburg because I know so little about Northern Germany but my extensive knowledge of Bavaria means that I can participate in all the jokes about Bavaria that get made. It works out perfectly- in Bayern I can talk about how much I love it there and how dirty of a city Berlin is, but in Berlin (and the rest of Germany, where Bavaria is pretty uniformly mocked for their pomp and general conservatism) I can talk about how homogeneous and kind of hoity-toity the Müncheners are. Both statements are at least a little true- Berlin isn’t about to win any beauty contests, and diversity in Bavaria isn’t really their strong suit (believe me,they already have many others) and for me most of the mocking is all in good fun- I’ve enjoyed both places immensely.

So on that note, if there’s one thing that brings together Germans of all creeds, it’s mocking the accents and dialects of the Germans of yore. At Kiekeberg, there were signs all over in Plattdeutsch– a kind of country bumpkin German that, to your average Hochdeutsch (high German) speaker (and Hamburg has, in my inexpert opinion, some of the most pure and easy-t0-understand Hochdeutsch I’ve ever heard) is roughly equivalent to an accent from the deep South in the United States.

The houses (or more specifically, house/barn combinations) were very beautiful, with large thatched roofs and tidy, bright colors in some cases. This whole thatching thing is very environmentally friendly, and, when done correctly, can last for a really long time! It is, however, a serious fire danger, so buildings with these charming coverings are insanely expensive to insure. In this style, the living quarters and barn were combined under one roof, making chores in the winter no problem (you would literally have to walk into the next room to get everything done for the day) and harnessing the warmth of the fireplace and animal body heat in one space. If I’m not mistaken, similar layouts were used by European settlers in the United States back in the day- I seem to remember Laura Ingalls Wilder writing about how scandalous this type of setup seemed to her pioneer family when they passed by a settlement.

Anyway, Kiekeberg was an interesting experience- it made me realize how little I know about German history outside of former monarchs and the Third Reich. What were normal Germans up to in the 18th and 19th centuries? I really ought to investigate further. For now, der Countdown läuft- A little over a week left in Germany!