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Farm Labor in Schleswig-Holstein (1911)
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The work day begins between 3 and 4:30 in the morning. At that time, the water carrier goes to each man at the place in the hay barn where, under lamplight, he had brought him the night before and shakes him awake. The awakened worker brushes his hair and wipes the straw from his face, thereby completing his morning toilet. He does not hold with washing; it supposedly dries out his skin. After first downing one or two large shots of schnapps, he goes off to work on an empty stomach, until morning coffee at five or six o’clock. To prevent a “dry throat,” every two hours there is a little “refreshment,” which the farmer has to supply if he wants to keep his workers. A round requires about two bottles of caraway liquor.

[ . . . ]

Sunday is the stumbling block of these people; they go wild. They are unable to have any money in their hands, and they do not reach equilibrium until complete destitution drives them back to the machine, whereas in the middle of the week they are the best workers and can be led like large children.

Thus one week follows the next. The wage is squandered by Monday morning. Even though rivers of caraway liquor flow in the process, it remains a mystery where all the money goes. Of course, often enough there may be festive wine drinking; they are also very generous in treating others.

In the final weeks of threshing season, the workers take stabs at saving by leaving part of their earnings with the master machinist, sometimes with his encouragement. You see, most of them do want to save, but they all leave our region as destitute as when they came. Within their circle of fellow workers, the temptation and seduction are so great that they simply cannot resist. It happens often enough that they manage to set aside 60 marks; and yet, in the end, nearly all of it is blown and only a pittance put into winter clothes. – And this even though their clothing is usually pitiful. Many go into winter without a shirt on their back, indeed, there have been cases where foreign workers, who may have travelled from far away, saved close to 200 marks and held on valiantly to the end, but then they were seized by temptation, after all.

Source: P[astor] Schlee-Heide, “Wohlfahrtspflege für Drescharbeiter” [“Welfare Work among Farm Laborers”], in Schleswig-Holsteinisches Kirchenblatt [Schleswig-Holstein Church Newsletter], Lunden, 12, no. 23 (June 4, 1911), pp. 221-23.

Original German text reprinted in Jens Flemming, Klaus Saul, and Peter-Christian Witt, eds. Quellen zur Alltagsgeschichte der Deutschen, 1871-1914 [Source Materials on Everyday Life in Germany 1871-1914.. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft,1997, pp. 135-37.

Translation: Thomas Dunlap

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