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December 2003 - Nr. 12


The Editor
The Youth Forum
Antje berichtet
Vienna Connection
Zurich Connection
K-W & Beyond
Opera York's La Traviata
St. Martin in Canada
Christmas Fairs
The Weeping Camel
Word on the Street
Woodland Memorial
The Theater Group
Who was Mozart?
Dick reports...
Sybille reports
Ham Se det jehört?
Germans shop for Christmas
Of True Love...
"Wheel of Time"
Baroque Dresden
Definition of Culture
Art Cologne 2003
HipHop Competition
Eagle Eye Survey
Weihnachten mit Hummel
Decorative "Bierdeckel"
German Rider...
Financial Advice
Fussball-Globus FIFA
MOMA Film Fest

"Of True love, pure hearts and prunes"


Memories of a French-German Romance in Nuremberg at Christmas

Toronto – When, at the beginning of every December, the good burghers of Nuremberg flock to their city’s Christmas market and sample the season’s first steaming mug of mulled wine, many of them smile wistfully at the two booths offering Nuremberg’s more peculiar traditional Christmas trinkets, little dolls made of dried prunes and walnuts. Called ‘Zwetschgenmann’ (prune people), the little figures have been a popular way of making gifts from local fruit harvest since the 17th century. A Nuremberg saying has it that a prune doll in the house will keep you in good fortune and money.

Since the beginning of the 19th century, though, the prune dolls have stood for more than a gesture of good will. At the Zwetschgenmann booths, pick out the couple – the market woman with the bright white apron and the lad sporting the pointed red cap – and you have the principals of a sweetly sad romance that took place some 200 hundred years ago. And the story goes like this:

In a Nuremberg compound called ‘Schützenhofˆ’, there once lived a group of unfortunate families. Refugees from famine and the Black Plague, they’d been granted permission to live inside the city walls on the condition that they take on Nuremberg’s most menial jobs – as hangman’s helpers or undertakers of people who had committed suicide or died under dubious circumstances. They had no civic rights. They could not sue any Nuremberger nor marry one, nor even apprentice a trade and thus become ‘honourable’ guild members and citizens. They were known as observant Christians, though, and had their own school in the local hospital courtyard.

At around the turn of the century, a very pretty girl could be seen leaving the Schützenhof and dancing and singing through Nuremberg’s cobblestone streets and alleys. Always neatly dressed in a starched bonnet and stark white apron, Schützenliesel, as she was called, was much admired by the local lads, but was never allowed to join the fun at fairs and dances. So, with no husband in sight, she developed into a very skillful artisan of non-guild crafts. She made brooms from hazel rods, guilded nuts for the burghers’ Christmas trees, folded angels for the trees from fancy papers and strung dried prunes on wire, forming little figures topped with walnuts for heads and dressed up as gifts for the Holidays.

Then one day, on their way east, Napoleon’s soldiers arrived in Nuremberg, needing a place to stay, rest and await further orders. As the city had seen better days and needed the extra income, the soldiers got a warm welcome. There were so many of them, a few were even sent to the Schützenhof for room and board, among them a handsome, yet raggedy-looking young sergeant.

He didn’t look ragged for long, though, as Liesel took a shine to him, and he to her, and she made sure he looked smashing, tidy and neat. The young couple could be seen around town holding hands and happy. But soon, people started to wonder what would happen to them once Napoleon sent his marching orders. The burghers had grown fond of Schützenliesel and didn’t want to see her desolate and left behind. They underestimated her. Smart as she was, she had prepared for the day. When the orders came, Napoleon was short one sergeant and Nuremberg had one more artisan, dressed the part and trained.

Months passed, Liesel made her sergeant-turned-craftsman into a presentable Christian, and the day came, on early Whitsunday morning, that they were married. Quietly, with no bells or fanfares (a privilege reserved for ‘honourable’ townsfolk), the wedding party proceeded to the hospital chapel. A curious looking party it must have been, dressed in their motley finest – the cast-off clothes of criminals and suicides that they were entitled to take.

After the ceremony, the wedding party moved to a neighbouring town that was holding its local carnival. Here they danced, ate and drank in celebration, and no one recognized them as Nuremberg’s outcasts. At the very end of the party, though, misfortune struck, and again in military dress. Only this time it was the Prussians. The King’s men were out to conscript young men. This was a rough trade at times, rewards for draftees being awarded in thalers, the King’s current coin. Bull terriers and other dogs were often trained to help the roundup.

The Prussians had just arrived in town and no doubt set out to join the carnival fun. During the wedding party’s final dance, the minuet danced by the bride and groom alone, one of the Prussians’ dogs broke lose and knocked down the bride. Her friends instantly swarmed the dog and killed it. The Prussians then started a brawl. The groom ripped a sabre out of a Prussian’s sheath to defend his bride and himself. He ran and found a way out of the carnival grounds, taking the Prussians, who followed him, away from the crowd. Alas, shortly thereafter, a loud scream was heard, and that was the tragic end of the French sergeant.

Liesel recovered over time, but she never re-married. She took up her crafts again, adding one tall figure, dressed in a French uniform, to her selection of prune dolls she brought every year to the Nuremberg Christmas market. He was never for sale, and whenever someone tried to buy him, Liesel would sob and tell her tale. "No, no, my man, my Sergeant! Mon ami! No, I won’t sell him – O, mon Dieu! O, mon Dieu, mon pauvre ami Sergeant!"

Every year she could be seen at the Christmas market, in her starched bonnet and white apron, until her death in the 1820s. Legend has it that she is buried next to her ‘honourable’ man, her ‘pauvre ami sergeant’. And at Nuremberg’s Christmas market ever since, there have been prune dolls sporting white aprons and pointed red caps, symbols for pure hearts and love that lasts forever.

For more information on German Christmas markets and Christmas traditions, please contact the German National Tourist Office’s toll-free number 1-877-315-6237, send an e-mail to gntonyc@d-z-t.com, or visit GNTO’s Web site www.germany-tourism.de or www.cometogermany.com.


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