The local Costume as part of the costumes of the Ringgau region

Excerpt from:
“The Thuringian Costumes” by Luise Gerbing, 2nd unrevised edition, Herbert Stubenrauch Verlagsbuchhandlung, Berlin 1936. Courtesy of the new editor: Böhlau GmbH & Cie., Ursulaplatz 1, D-50668 Cologne; , “The Thuringian costumes”, editor Moritz, Marina, 1998, ISBN-10 3-412-00998-9, ISBN 978-3-412-00998-4

IV. Chapter
3. The Ringgau

Between the rivers W e r r a  and S o n t r a , bordered by the N e t r a  creek, runs from southeast to northwest, surrounded by large beech forests, a rarely visited landscape stretches. The old Thuringian R i n e c g a u, now Ringgau. Surrounded by rugged ridges of limestone ranges it separates the north Schlierbach forest from the Graburg of Eichsfeld. Towards the south the Hessian mountain range provides the boundary. Only few, but significant villages, such as Netra, Renda, Grandenborn, Röhrda, can be found with extensive plains. The residents declare themselves as Hessian and yet their dialect spoken reveals them as old-Thuringian. ( L. Hertel, cited Rule 21 and OS II, p. 628 on old thuringia country). Their costumes are closer related to Hessian than to the Eichsfelder way of clothing.

It is difficult in this border county to distinguish the various village costumes for the people moved back and forth a great deal. Thus, for example, Ulfen, where the dialect spoken is Thuringian, yet the costumes worn were clearly Hessian. Very low round hoods were cupped over the hair partings. Since we find ourselves in a protestant area, the coloured Eichsfeld skirts have disappeared, darker colours prevail.

As characteristic costumes my research for the area established the following:  The bride wore black cloth skirt and jacket, silk or wool apron, around the neck a so called white “Striffel” (ruffeled), complimented by the so called “Geldnunster” (money ribbon) or just called “Nunsterschnur”. It consisted of black, with beads embroidered ribbon that tied in the back with a loop, sign for honoured brides. Netra brides adorned with white, fine, cross-stitched neck embroidered scarves. The head gear of the bride was distinct Thuringian! The “Ufgefiatz” (means “up sitting”), featured a triple twisted red cord band and as appreciation of the Virgin Mary's coronation, a rosemary twig.

The festive costume for the Holy Communion was very important. The common head gear for such varied highly from village to village In Nesselröden and Wommen they wore a black church caps the so called ”Abendmahlsbätzel” over the so called “Ziehbätzel”. Like in Steinbach-Hallenberg (Thuringia) the “Ziehhube”, with black spinal cords at the endings. (Figure 1). In Netra, Renda, Blankenbach the basic hat was white, pleaded, close fitting, and decorated with beads. (“Saumagen” = “Pork Stomach” or “Inger (Inner) Bätzel” = inside cap)  (Figure 2). The “Mullziehbätzel”, a black bonnet with cords (Figure 3), or a black velvet one “Samtbätzel” were worn over top. For adult women a black apron was customary, for girls a colourful one.

Both females wore a white, embroidered bandana around their necks. Usually a gift from a godmother to her godchild for confirmation. Beautiful head gear (Bätzel) from the area between Eschwege and southern Ringgau border are owned by the museum in Eschwege. Evidence for the fine taste and skill of the ladies of the southern calibration field and Ringgau. The  basic form of the church hat “Bätzel” is of Thuringian origin. The tassels and the hooded piece are usually black or purple. The latter being colourful for the “Kirmes” (main village festival) . The skirts for this occasion were dotted and the apron collared.

Very unique was the head gear for funerals (wakes). Black skirt, jacket, apron, cloth coat, black bonnet topped with white gauze or veil that reached the back of the knees. It shows the Wendish influence as well as the neighbouring Eichsfeld.  (Renda, Netra).


The demise of the dress in Lower Hesse: Last life expression
Rudolf Helm in “Hessian sheets for Folklore”, Volume 56, 1965

“In the magazine “Hessian home” 1937/2, I briefly touched on the state of the then almost extinct folk costumes reported of lower Hesse. My investigation was based on a survey in 1932/33 locations in all counties of Kassel, Hofgeismar, Wolfhagen, Fritzlar-Homberg, Melsungen, Rotenburg, Witzenhausen and Eschwege and I have followed a total of about 500 communities. Roughly 60 percent of the questionnaires were answered, so that a sufficiently broad base existed. It was then the follow results:

  1. Within the entire area existed alongside the remains of two older great costumes zones: The really lower Hessian in the districts of Kassel, Wolfhagen, Melsungen, Fritzlar-Homberg, with the emphasis in the old “Hessengau” and the costume of the Hessian-Thuringian border area, mainly in Ringgau the counties of Eschwege and Rotenburg. 1937 I have only discussed the costume of lower Hesse, but the conditions of the costumes of the border county were almost the same.
  1. Costumes at this time had become, apart from the hat, quite unremarkable: Draped in colour, mostly black, which was intended only for older women, who after a bereavement not returned to bright tones. On average, not mentioning the respective fashion, but also not very old; without any feeling for form. The number of women still wearing traditional costumes in 1932 was already very low. But based on the questionnaire the process of costume’s death is quite reliable. Almost always, it is the unmarried person who changes over to urban clothing.  Women who got married in costume hardly decide change. The hope chest content calculated for life would already prohibit that. Possibly they would make it a slow transformation and simplification of Costume. Taken the average marriage age of 20 to25 years it can be determined when the last costume wearing women had no followers.  The map of the decline in lower Hessian folk costume, which I published 1937, can be used to establish nearly the same results for the Ringgau region costume.
  1. The special importance of the bonnet is noticeable. In contrast to the slow slurring of all other costume pieces they retain their character. This bonnet is of strict form, distinguishes between Sundays and work- days, the usual church visit from the Holy Communion visit. It takes over the function of all other costume pieces which lost their importance long ago. The closer this hood gets to the point of final extinction the more rigid and exclusive it becomes in shape.  While in the second half of the last century (note: 19th century) several simple local forms exist in Lower Hesse, at the turn of the century (note: 19th to 20th century), only a single, rather complicated hood form for a costume unusually large for the area of Kassel to the Schwalm prevails Here we have the not uncommon case of a single costume piece shortly before disappearing to take over the role of the whole costume, ultimately becoming the ‘Tracht’ (costume).

As I said, a frequent phenomenon, but worth the reason to get to the bottom of the truth.  Given the fact that during this period a strong will still existed in the formative rural population living, enough for the whole area to create a uniformed hood form, is out of the question. The whole lower-Hessia costume area had no real unity, rather was a conglomerate of small retail landscape, with no real centre and no common market, not knowing of each other and not wanting to know. The reason for the increasing unified look of the hood and with the death of the costume, the number of award-winning hatters decreased and the rapidly declining production and repair of the hoods  was left only in the hands of a few, which of course, only mastered their own form.

As the drawings show, the manufacturing and maintenance of the hoods was not a simple task.  The bonnets had to be cleaned and freshened up from time to time, the ribbons detached, in beer or sugar water strengthened, ironed and artistically newly attached.

This activity was only mastered by a few skilled women more or less professionally. Originally each village had their hat maker. With the extinction of the costume one hat maker could take care of more than one village. But the number of hat makers also decreased. Both go hand in hand – the shrinking of the local clientele with through the dying  of the costume at the same time the extension of the customer base to other villages through death of competition.

This way a balance is achieved for a little while. Rather fragile and extremely difficult, for the distances to travel now were partly enormous.
The map shows very clearly the radius each hat maker covered. It also shows the consequences if one person failed to work at this stage of development. In 1930 one single woman in Unhausen Wabern provided service for over 20 villages, one from Harle looked after 1 and one woman from Rockensuess Sontra cared for 14. It is clear that if one of these women failed to perform, a balance could not be established – the costume was at the end.

Obtained questionnaire information from the county of Rotenburg and Eschwege reveal: At the age of 60 to 70 years in the proper location, is still alive probably refers solely to such cases. Likely none of these old women volunteered to understand the creation of the Holy Communion Bonnet.

With these bonnets the frozen end form and their sudden disappearance is most noticeable. One only needs to think about the famous Spree forest and Alsatian bonnets, which were also apotheoses of perished costumes. This counts for other similar costume pieces as well. Since roughly 100 years the costume stands on shaky ground, due to the lapse in rural economy. The industry products were fitted to the country style taste. Fabric and ribbons were sorted according to the various area costumes. Manufactured with care and delivered over decades. It was a peaceful, safe and lucrative business. Dozens of craftsmen worked exclusively for the costume industry. This way the costume became so dependent on coincidences that the farmers had no further influence. Since the First World War lamed the industrial production of special costumes and also the manufacturing of these outfits was not an accredited occupation any longer, could not be counted on substitution or new purchases. Then happens what is mentioned above: An early death or a rustic long life of a single craftsman can either prolong or end the existence of costumes. We notice the effect, but not the cause. Therefore are tempted to see in acknowledging or rejecting still an act of will, where there is in reality the decision has been made on different levels.


Final thoughts

As Horst Hucke1 by the Working Rural clothing Alkreis Rotenburg of the 19th Century writes, we understand under ‘Tracht’(costume), ‘was man traegt’ ( what you wear). ‘Man’ does not leave room for contradiction. It does not determine whether it dresses you or whether it is fashion. One wears it because the parents already did so and because all others are wearing it and because one cannot exclude them self from society. The costume gives security in insecure times, the feeling of togetherness, the knowledge of security, provided it is not outside the village community. Costume also had an order function. They ordered people by sex, origin, life stages, family status and villagers. Costume distinguishes between city and country. “The city person seems to think of himself elegant and better than country folks. He seems to show this with exterior clothing and because he wears what was urban, he is more inclined to rewards himself through elegance and fashion.”2 Hucke adds that the costume changes and again fashionable influences are considered. It was tried to adjust to urban clothing. Hucke supported this historically with reference to the dress code of Landgraves of 1773, when foreign products such as cotton and Zitz, velvet and silk were banned in order to curb the clothe splendour.  The use of indigenous materials such as flax and wool was
ordered. The ban, however, affected only the lower class people. Whether the ban was followed up on or not is not clarified. Since the costumes were given from generation to generation, despite the request from the ruler, there could still be cotton band be founds on the skirt hems. But they could only be seen if the skirt was lifted.

Probably the increasing industrialization with jobs in the cities and the incoming of modernity in the village led to the dissolving of social and community forms, so that the old rules for clothes lost their meaning. The clothing as such, including the costume took on a modern, urban look and grew individual. The costume slowly disappeared from Datterode. Only elderly women would still wear it into the 20th century.

In Datterode however, the costume was brought out off and on, usually for the harvest fair. That is when the robes and gorgeous head gear were shown to the villagers during a parade. Datterode even had a Costume Group once. Its members had old costume re-manufactured for handsome money. They also performed old folk dances.

In essence, if you speak of costume it is always the women’s being discussed. Evidently the decoration of the women stood in the foreground. As for the clothes of men there are no sources that mention any. The clothing was the everyday work clothes, but also the so-called Hesse coat. In general, blue, linen shirt with embroidery on shoulders and sleeves (see photo archive).

The two wedding photos in the archives show the bride the wearing a rosemary branch on the head. The white ribbons are today replaced by a veil. For the wedding night a bonnet was put on the brides head.   Thus getting married means – getting under the hood.  Did you know that the German adage finds its source here?

The description of the costume by Luise Gerbing contains older happenings and authentic documents. The review by Rudolf Helm describes the snapshot at the same time documenting further development findings by Luise Gerbing .

Many pieces of the old Datterode costumes are probably lost. A recent appeal to the residents of Datterode to submit old costume pieces to the “Heimatverein” had little response. There are still some parts to be had, which we hope to document in our photo archive.

If you, dear reader, know of any costumes or parts of it in Datterode or the Ringgau area, please let us know. It would be nice to document this remnant of the old-time. So, starting in the attic!

1 Horst Hucke, “Dress of the women in Datterode 150 years ago” in “850 years Datterode”

2 Staatsarchiv Marburg: 5. Hessischer Geheimer Rat Nr. 1609



The Datterode Costume

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