An article of the Fellbacher Zeitung in October 1998
Ein Artikel aus der Fellbacher Zeitung vom Oktober 1998
Ein Artikel aus der Schwäbischen Heimat 3/1998

One Eater less at the table

Children as tenderboys and geesemaid in the Schwabenland

When the snow started melting im march, troops of poor children of Tirol, Vorarlberg and Graubünden moved into the rich Oberschwaben since the 16th century. On the servants market, the 7-14 years old children offered their service as seasonal workers in the agriculture. Till Martini (11th of November) they did heaviest work. As salary they received often only "ein leinenes Kleitle und ein wenig Gelt" (a linnen dress and some money).

Two Schwabenkinder from Graubünden (boys with hat) at a farmer family in in Arnach.

Leo Kerber is sitting at the tiled stove of his Lechtal farmer room and remembers quite well, when he - radiant with joy - put 25 marks on the table for his father, that he earned during the summer for goat tending. At his time as "Schwabenkind" there were already real contracts with bargained salary.

On and after 1901, the pastor Alois Gaim travelled regularly to the service places of the children in commision of the Hütekinderverein (tending children association). If a farmer did not give enough food or was even beating, he had to fear that at the Ravensburg servant market he would not receive another "meager boy" as cheap worker.

The liberal press pilloried especially these "slave markets", where around 1830 about 4000 children looked for a employer. "It is ashaming for the country of Württemberg to see, how some hundred welthy farmers in their stinginess flay and bother the children of poor parents, only to spare a knight or a maid." could be read in 1892 in a journal for children protection and youth care.

Leo Kerber has always found a good place, in opposite to his brother Josef, who being 9 years old left his employer crying at night and looked alone for a new employer. As coming home in the autumn without any money he could not imaging. And a big advantage existed with it: the catering was good. Much better than at home. Still today the brothers are enthusiastic about the breakfast with plenty of greasy "Kratzat" or about Preßsack (sausage), whet sausage or even beer together with the snack.

Many a farmer had to feed up his Schwabenkind anyway in the last century. An exhibition in the Ravensburg Vogthaus documents till the 28th of October the marching of the children, lasting for days, especially dangerous due to the avalanches. From 1884 onwards there was the Arlbergbahn (railway), but for many poor mountain farmers the tickets remained exorbitant for a long time. And so the complaints of the Vorarlberg citizens about the emaciated, begging children along the way to the Bodensee (Konstanz sea) increased. Happy those who had an experienced leader, who knew in which Kapuziner cloister there was a warm soup and a place to sleep.

In November, the Schwabenkinder travelled back the same way then. Equipped with "doppeltem Häs" - two shirts, two legs and two new pair of shoes had been the salary - and some Gulden (florins), the children indulged themselves in frolicsomeness in a pint of wine now and then. And again the "disorderly rabble" gave occasion for complaints. But why should they not behave like adults? Finally they had performed heavy work for months. As an example the daily task of a girl: getting up at 5 a.m., cooking of pig- and geese food, weeding the kitchen-garden, bringing food to the field, arranging the beds, cooking the dinner for 10 persons, casting the dung out of the cowshed, feeding the children, swaddling, bringing to bed, carrying the milk cans to the Alpine dairy, washing the dishes, clear out the hearth, going to bed at 11 p.m.

After such a day, the stable wooden bed in the Ravensburg exhibition would have been a real comfort. The reality was mostly different: a shaked up sack of straw in the barn and even no door to lock. Yet something such trivial as a door lock would have saved many a girl from an awful destiny. The village chronists mention only: "Ins Wasser gegangen." (went into the water). Because the biggest shame was to come home with a child, kneeling the Sunday at the Communion bank and standing there as a sinner in front of the whole village.

The female Schwabengänger were not only cheap workers, but partly also sexual fair game. In the life memories of Regina Lampert this sounds still relativley harmless:" One late afternoon, it started already to darken, when I was standing below a tree and was tending the cows, a man was coming and tried to touch me under the skirts. I shouted, turned around and choped him one in the face. Only then I recognized, that it was Bentele, the farmer himself."

For the sorrows and needs of the girls there was no intercessor. The catholic pastors rather feared the "import of lutheran thoughts". This fear was unfounded. Because between the time of getting up and laying down the Schwabenkinder had not much time for thinking.

Hadwig Perwein


Exhibition in the Vogthaus Ravensburg

Tuesday till Sunday, 2 p.m. till 6 p.m., Sunday also 11 a.m till 1 p.m. 14 bis 18 Uhr, entrance money 4 Mark, Tel. (0)7 51/ 8 22 01.


Otto Uhlig:

Die Schwabenkinder aus Tirol und Vorarlberg.

Universitätsverlag Wagner.

Regina Lampert:

Die Schwabengängerin.

Limmat Verlag.

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