The Main House –
Möllering farm from Rödinghausen
Horse stable I
“Capable horses of a broad kind”
The most common and mainly-used type of horse used on farms in the area of Ravensberg was the Oldenburger. For two reasons, the horse was the most important animal on the farm. Firstly, it was required for the heavy-load work that was too hard for the farmworkers to do alone. Second, the number of horses on a farm represented its size; to own horses became a status symbol.
However, with the invention of the more efficient engine the horse gradually fell out of use as a working farm animal until being eventually replaced by the Tractor. Despite this, as late as 1978 the power of tractors and other farm machinery was still measured in horsepower.
Horse stable II
“Care for your horse like a friend”
The farmers either bred their own horses or bought them from local traders or at horse markets. On average, it took up to three years for a horse to become fully grown, and for it to learn to pull loads and to listen and respond to the farmer’s commands. Despite their heavy workloads, with a little luck and diligent care a healthy horse could reach an age of up to 20 years.
It was imperative for horses to be healthy. To keep a horse in good health, it had to be well fed and treated with special care. Daily brushing was not only important for appearance, but also kept the skin well supplied with blood. It was also important that a horse’s hooves were kept in good condition. The hooves needed filing or shoeing every six to eight weeks, and these tasks were undertaken by Farriers who travelled over the land and provided their services to different farmers.
The feeding room
“Good food, litter, new forces to replace“
In the feeding room the fodder was prepared for the daily feeding of the animals. The farmers in Ravensberg cultivated many plants such as clover and shamrock, beetroot, lucernes, potatoes and oats. Oats, straw and hay in particular were considered to be good food for horses, and were cut and prepared daily using a fodder-chopping machine called Schneidelade.
The driving power of cattle (harnessed via the use of a yoke) was increased by adding the extra nutrients of raw potatoes and flour to their chopped hay and straw. Cow’s milk productivity was also increased by feeding them bran, bruised grain and stamped beetroot. All of this food was kept safe and dry in the fodder-box. When a cow fell ill, it was common to mix its fodder with herbal medicine. Some farmers also believed that a woolen cap placed on the horns of on ill cow had the power to cure the animal.
„Without cows the rural dwellers cannot subsist“
As well as horses, on a small farm such as the Möllering farm cows also had many important functions. They were used as milk-cows, they worked the land, pulled carts and their manure was spread on the fields to fertilize the soil.
Around 1850, a small country breed of cow was typically used in the Ravensberg region, whose milk-yield only amounted to about 5 liters a day. The cows were primarily cared for by the milkmaid, whose main chores included cleaning and tending the cow’s udders, as well as taking scrupulous care of the milk-pails in order to keep the milk clean. If the cow had been used for heavy work in place of horses, then the milk yield would decrease.
The dung was kept on a dunghill, to be utilized later as fertilizer. To compost the dung for this use, straw was mixed with the cow-dung on the dunghill which was then covered with turf to keep it moist until it was to be taken to the fields.
„Because the milk into the household brings an excellent value“
In the 19th century milk was consumed directly on the farm, or it was turned into butter and/or later sold in a nearby town. In the dairy, all the dishes and implements used had to be kept very clean in order to keep the butter fresh and tasty during the churning process. On some special occasions, ornamented butter-moulds were even used to make and press the butter.
It was the job of the farmer’s wife to sell the butter; both on the market or to the retailers that frequently visited the farms to buy butter and other goods. Fresh milk was also sold at the market but the sale of buttermilk or curdled milk was more profitable. To ensure the quality of the milk, special machines in town checked its water percentage.
“By Easter I will have found a place as a maid”
The maids on a farm like the Möllering farm often came from smaller and less-wealthy farms nearby. In the years between leaving school and marriage, these young women provided for themselves independently of their families, and were often able to earn some extra saving-money.
On a farm the maid had the privilege of sleeping next to one of the farmer’s daughters. While this was a good way to warm each other, male intruders were also discouraged.
In a chest like the one shown in the servant’s chamber the maid kept not only her belongings, but her hopes, dreams and memories as well. This aspect can be seen in the museum; on the inside of the chest’s lid, one can see an unsigned, printed love-letter that the former owner probably pasted there herself. In the chest there is also evidence detailing a case of a maid’s abortion.
“Till the last drop – the role of water”
Water is essential for life. Whenever people thought about building a new farm, their first concern was finding a source of water. Only when a good water source was available could the construction start.
The farm’s animals consumed most of the water. Watering the cows was among the maid’s many tasks. In order to carry the heavy water pails, which weighed about 10 kg each, she generally used a yoke.
The Waschlucht to the right of the hearth has many functions. It is a place for washing all the clothes and equipment, but it was also used for cooking and cleaning the dishes from the dairy. For the in-house water storage, a deep sandstone trough was used. Dirty dishwater was disposed of through a drain (Gossenstein), which ran straight through the wall and the water then seeped away into the ground near the house.
“Very dirty and very black – the role of fire”
Up to the middle of the 19th century, to have an open hearth was typical for a Ravensberger farm. Even though contemporaries were already criticizing the smoke caused by the lack of a chimney, because “the smoke was unhealthy for man and animal”, there were various reasons why the open fire was still used. It gave a unique kind of light and warmth to the room, and allowed the housewife more room to cook. The open hearth also enabled the smoke to preserve meat and herbs, whilst the bread could be kept dry. Feed-grain and hay were dried in the loft, where the drifting smoke repelled vermin.
Also, some traditional rituals of these farmhouses relied on the open fire: When a bride entered her new home for the first time, she was led around the fire. After that, she would put the hook of her cauldron next to her mother-in-law’s. The act of touching the hook of the cauldron over the fire was even used to make agreements and conclude contracts.
“Food keeps body and soul together”
Next to the open fire the big table in the dining area was a central place in all farmhouses. Everyone on the farm had his meals at the same time, and they ate the same food. The farmer sat at the head of the table and had the job of cutting the bread. His wife, daughters and the maid sat next to him on the chairs. The sons and the male farmhands used the bench next to the windows. Older generations of the family sat at the opposite end of the table.
Mash, gruel and soup were the most frequently served meals. Until the early 19th century everyone ate with wooden spoons out of a common wooden bowl. Later pottery bowls, wooden boards or simply pewter plates were used. Even though the pewter was soon replaced by china, it was frequently kept for show in the farmhouse.
In the museum, the pewter jugs and plates can be seen in a dresser next to the dining area. The dresser was the most important piece of furniture in this part of the house. Well stocked with the farmer’s wife’s presentation of her most beautiful bowls, plates and pitchers, it was another wealth-and-status symbol of the farm. At the same time, it was also utilized as a safe storage place for precious food, like eggs and ham.
“Outside all summer, spinning all winter”
On a farm with an open fire, the parlour was the only heated and smoke-free room. This heating was done using a stove, which was kept stoked and cleaned via the use of a damper from the dining area. In the summer only the elderly and little children used this room, as the life and main work of the farm took place in the fields or in front of the house.
In winter the parlour was used more often. Everyone would gather in here, and on the long evenings flax was spun to linen thread while people chatted, answered riddles, sang and told tales. All the members of the farm – except the farmer and his wife – had to produce a certain amount of thread. But these gatherings also provided an opportunity for the farmhands, the unmarried daughters and their admirers to get together under supervision.
However, the davenport and armchair in the corner of the room call attention to the fact that farm life often was anything but idyllic. On the contrary the farmer had to carefully organize the work on his farm. He had a lot to worry about; the farming crisis at the beginning at the 19th century brought heavy debts to small farms. Bad weather periods might result in crop failure and in illness or the death of men as well as animals, all of which could threaten the very existence of the farm.
“Beauty fades, bridal treasure remains”
A new bride’s arrival on the farm was called Auffahrt. This was a very important event because of the dowry the wife brought along with her. In Ravensberg, this dowry was called Brautschatz and consisted of money, furniture, cattle and grain. Usually the parents of the intended couple negotiated the conditions of the Brautschatz and made a contract prior to marriage.
Because a good marriage was very important for the farm’s future, the wedding celebrations could be very elaborate and extensive. The family, neighbors and friends celebrated with a huge feast, where the wedding guests usually brought some money as a gift for the young couple, whilst alcohol flowed freely and dancing was staged in the farmhouse’s hall – the Deele. The bride got ‘hitched’ meaning that from now on she had the right to wear a golden- or dark-embroidered bonnet; the headdress of a married woman.
The weaving chamber
“The trade of linen and yarn has stagnated the whole year”
The weaving chamber represents two things; on the one hand, it demonstrates the importance of rural, small-scale domestic linen production for personal use during wintertime. On the other hand, the illustration of a spinning machine represents the downfall and loss of an ancient trade in the middle of the 19th century.
The import of English yarn and the installation of spinning machines and mechanical looms caused an immense loss of income for the small and domestic production lines; it meant a sudden drop in the price of linen, and so the artisan spinners and weavers lost their livelihoods.
The Fruchtboden was an area in the farmhouse where various kinds of crop were stored. In the museum, the loft is used to raise the issues of the migration and emigration of people to-and-from the farm over time.
The farmhouse system could only survive, and the farm assets could only be assured and increased, if the farm could be passed on to later generations. Its success thus depended on a high and long-lasting productivity on the part of the individual farm dwellers. In addition, the number of people on the farm had to be adopted to its size, in order to maintain efficiency and wealth. Coming and leaving was therefore always important; by birth and death, marriage, change of staff, military assignment or emigration to North America.
The birth of a child was a momentous event for the farm, not least because the laws of hereditary succession called for a male heir. In Ravensberg, it was usually the youngest son that inherited the farm. Since the child mortality rate was very high in the 19th century, only a large number of children ensured that there would be an heir who reached adult age. On the other hand, too many children could be an economic burden for a smallholding. Therefore, as many as 5 persons would stand godfather or godmother to a child, in order to provide additional support for them, and give them gifts like bread, cake or clothes. Sometimes they gave special baptism letters to the child, which were placed into the cradle before the christening.
Making a good marriage within the same social class was indispensable to establish future economic security for the farm. The bride’s dowry or “bridal treasure” was needed to keep the farm going and to pay off those siblings that left the farm. Their inheritance depended on the size of the farm, the number of children and especially on the local marriage prospects.
The richer the dowry, the more important was the position of the new “arrival” on the farm. Money, animals and seed accompanied her in the bridal cart as did equipment for the household in general, such as flaxing and spinning implements and dairy equipment. In Ravensberg, farmers were very proud of their elaborately decorated and painted furniture like cupboards, four-poster beds, wardrobes and chests with hand-woven linen, bedspreads, shirts and towels.
With an arranged wedding like this, the farmer and his wife became equal owners of the farm. The youngest son or sometimes the youngest daughter inherited the whole farm. Other children, however, had to be paid off. Therefore on the Ravensberg farm the cradle was – up till the last pregnancy of the farmer’s wife – the subject of conflicts.
Arrival of servants
The hiring of the servants often took place at Easter. The wages of maids and farmhands consisted of money, clothes like shoes and shirts, flax and linen cloth, and the so-called hire-cloth. Around the time of 1850 a maid in this region earned about 8-12 „Reichstaler“, a farmhand 12-20 „Reichstaler“. Although a smallholder needed the labour of servants, he sometimes could not pay out their wages on time. Because of this, a lot of protest-letters, in an effort to get the wages they were promised, were sent from maids and farmhands to the local authorities. Many original examples of these letters have been found.
“The farmhouse system had its limitations”
In the farmhouse system, there was not always enough space or resources for everybody. Particularly in winter and springtime, work and food would run short. Therefore from November until April maids and farmhands would often be unemployed. During this time, they would spin linen on their own account in order to earn money.
Three years of military service was a requirement for all healthy young men, but this was a great burden for the farms because it meant the best workers frequently had to be absent and could not work.
1840s was a bad decade for farmsteads. A famine broke out and at the
same time the linen workers were not able to find a market for their
products. This caused a large number of people to suffer hunger and
misery. Life here was very wretched. In the absence of any
alternative, thousands emigrated in the 1850s, mostly to North
If a member of the farmhouse system died, they left behind a gap in the social and economic life of the farm. With the frequent loss of friends and family, it was a comforting thought to imagine a life on the ‘other side’; a life without work, close to god in heaven. This formed a bond between the living and the deceased, and a bond between the farmsteads and the local churches.
“The farm feeds the farm”
In the middle of the 19th century the rural population still lived according to the principle: “the farm maintains the farm”. In normal years from August to December food was abundant: fruit, vegetables and grain were harvested in autumn and cattle and pigs were slaughtered from November to January. In February began a time of shortage that lasted until the end of May. During this time the people on the farm had to live on those reserves they could keep in loft and cellar.
Grain was stored under the roof and grinded only when actually needed. Smoked meat was kept in the hall (Deele); pickled meat, fruit and vegetables were kept in the cellar. Fresh fruit and potatoes were also stored in the cellar, always at a cool temperature. Carrots were preserved in a heap of sand. The bottles and jugs on the shelves in the museum were used for keeping juice and oil.
In times of shortage, great importance was put on the white-heart of the cabbage, which was turned into “Sauerkraut” by the addition of salt. This cabbage was well preserved and could be kept for a long time. Beans were also preserved in a similar way and kept like the sauerkraut in big clay pots. In the cellar in the museum you can also see salted meat. The great importance of salt as a means for preservation and as a seasoning is demonstrated by the saltbox – the example in the museum’s cellar is in the shape of a house (Salzhaus). Also in the cellar, alongside the saltbox, you can see smoked sausages and ham preserved by salt and smoke. Although on display in the cellar, both saltbox and preserved meats would be kept in the hall; the former was hung near the hearth where it would easily be used for cooking, whilst the latter would be kept above the fireplace, where they would catch the smoke from the fire.
“The countrywoman’s pride and profit”
To translate the word “Bauerngarten” literally as farmer’s garden is, strictly speaking, misleading: It was not only farmers who cultivated such gardens but also the families of millers, teachers and ministers. Therefore “rural garden” would be the more appropriate expression. However, it is true that most gardens of the style shown at the museum were cultivated by farm dwellers.
The term “garden” can etymologically be derived from fencing or en-closing a space. Fences were meant to protect gardens from potential damage by game and other animals. They also demonstrated that the enclosed land was private property; the flower garden and the ornamental elements of the vegetable garden also further demonstrated the wealth and status of the farm. This was particularly the case after Ravensberg was influenced by urban culture at quite an early stage (around the turn of the century); in the towns it was fashionable for the owners to use a flower garden in front of the house to represent their wealth. The garden was an integral part of the rural economy, for its products (along with the meat and grain provided by the farm itself) provided the basic nutrition for the farmer’s family and their domestic servants.
The garden of the BauernhausMuseum reflects the period between 1850 and 1900. A more precise date is not possible; only a rough basis from existing historical sources can be demonstrated. Here you find plants, which you might have found, during that time in the gardens of Ravensberg. The different kinds of plants correspond to the historical sources, although some varieties that were grown are no longer known or are no longer available.
As the rural garden initially was a kitchen garden, it contained various vegetables as well as root vegetables. Later, other ornamental plants joined decorative medicinal flowers such as roses and iris, whose medicinal effects were known at the time. These plants bordered the vegetable beds, climbed house walls, or embellished otherwise unusable areas. The rural population also welcomed foreign plants, and today they are an integral part of many a garden if they have not, in their turn, been displaced by other exotic plants. Indeed, they have become so natural that many people do not know that it was not until 16th century that tulips and lilac were first imported from the Orient.
In the Ravensberg countryside dividing the garden into two parts often made sense due to the hilly landscape. Quite often a single piece of land big enough for both gardens was not available. As such, kitchen gardens and flower gardens were mostly not separated, but formed a single unit. Since the 17th/18th century (the age of Baroque), in particular the beds were bordered with box-trees, and the garden was further divided into four parts with paths between them, forming a cross. Other plants like carnations could also replace the box borders. Monastery gardens as well as the baroque princely gardens served as models for the geometric basic structure seen at the museum.
This structure also served, however, a practical purpose, as it allowed the farm to implement a rotational system similar to the three-field system, which created a yearly change in the crops. Today, we would call the traditional system of mixed plants ecological. Unlike in a monoculture, pests and diseases could not easily attack the plants in a rotational system, as they protected each other. Biochemical processes in the roots support the growth of plants reciprocally. This knowledge was learnt by observation and experience and handed down from one generation to the next, in particular from mother to daughter.
This is an important facet in the history of the traditional rural garden; tending the garden was the responsibility of women. Men only lent their help for certain tasks, for example when a fence had to be built or a beanpole erected. It was almost exclusively women who sowed, grew, separated, cultivated, cut, harvested, and processed the plants; and it was they who sold the surplus at the market.
The rural garden was also not complete without an orchard, a “Streuobstwiese”. Different varieties of fruits – apples, pears, plums, cherries, quinces, medlars or walnuts – were grown here. The fruit trees were planted with high stems, and in this way the meadow could be used for grazing small livestock or for bleaching.
Only in recent decades have much greater varieties of fruitage been able to grow without danger of dying out. However, orchards like this today have become less common as they cannot be cultivated as effectively as modern wall-fruit plantations with low-stem trees. But they are rich in another sense: They are full of different kinds of plants and small creatures, including insects. This is why ecologists are nowadays engaged in the preservation and recreation of such gardens, orchards and meadows.
The garden at the eastern back wall of the museum building is a combination of kitchen garden and flower garden: it has herbs and berries as well as purely ornamental beds. The vegetables in this garden are further to the east of the herbs, just front of the beehive. Here we grow vegetables which are hardly known in Germany any more today, such as parsnip or purslane, Spanish spinach and stock beet (Roman cabbage).
Hollyhocks and annual sunflowers grow along the sunny back wall of the house, which gives them warmth and support when they grow tall. Kitchen herbs and medicinal herbs were planted in the herb beds as close as possible to the kitchen. Many of these herbs can be used in the kitchen as well as for healing, for example sage or mint. There is a commonly held idea that wild herbs for exclusively-healing purposes were grown in these gardens. However, they were not an essential part of these rural gardens, as such items could easily be picked from the edge of fields or woods. This means that if wild herbs were grown, albeit rarely, in these gardens, they were assigned to the marginal areas of the garden, for example near the hedges enclosing the garden.
Redcurrants and gooseberries grow in the sunny northern bed of the museum garden. Below them you find a row of strawberries. Unlike these strawberries, raspberries and blackberries would not be cultivated in gardens during the 19th century, but picked in the woods. Additionally within this northern bed were planted bulbs in springtime, as well as annual summer flowers (marigold and nasturtium) during the summer. These flowers were ornamental, but they also kept pests away from the berries. All other beds were planted mainly with ornamental flowers, perennials as well as annual or biennial summer flowers. We have kept the roses in this garden that were planted here in 1988, although contemporary witnesses report that roses and alpine roses were rarely found in rural gardens before World War I. Roses and lavender decorate the round plot in the center.
Unfortunately, the round bower in the south part of the garden was cut incorrectly several times. It will take years before it will have a roof of leaves again. The path to the bower from the house initially led around the arcade to the entrance. From a historical perspective, however, such an arrangement seems very unlikely. Usually there was a direct connection between house and arcade, and between garden and arcade. Therefore a new entrance has been built north of the bower along the garden to shorten the distance between house and bower.
The Baking House
“Give us our daily bread”
The Lord’s Prayer was spoken several times a day. The words show how important it was – the need for the daily bread for the farmer, his family and the farmhands. It is important to notice that bread was eaten in great quantities; Bread was eaten at breakfast, with vegetable soup at lunch and sometimes with broth at supper, and so it had to be available in sufficient quantity and quality all the time. In the northwestern part of Germany, also in Ravensberg, it was customary to eat rye bread. The name was, and still is today, “Pumpernickel”. It is a very dark bread, almost black in colour. A loaf of this bread weighed up to 20 kilograms. It had to stay in the oven for up to 24 hours. One day before it was put in the oven, the grain was ground and a leaven was prepared. For this a little piece of dough from the previous baking was used. Dough was made of flour, leaven, water and salt. Kneading the dough was very hard work when done by hand, so sometimes people did it with their feet.
The fire in the bake house oven had to be started 6 hours before baking. For really good bread the heat had to be just right – not too hot and not too cool. When the oven was hot enough, the fire and embers were removed from the oven and put into the ash-pan and then onto a bread-slide. The hot stones of the oven baked the loaves, and after 24 hours the “Pumpernickel” was ready.
“For want of bread – starvation”
In Ravensberg and in other parts of Germany a major famine occurred in the 1840s. There were several reasons for this. One of them was a very dry summer in the year 1842. The result was a poor flax harvest. Flax was and is the raw material for linen. For many of the peasants, spinning and weaving linen had been the basis of their existence for centuries. Since the beginning of the 19th century, however, hand-made textiles could no longer be sold, because in England after the industrial revolution machines did the spinning and weaving and introduced cotton, and thus prices had dropped dramatically. The linen spinners and weavers in Germany resisted this industrial development. For example, they attempted to spin and weave more than before. For this they needed to grow large quantities of good quality of flax, because they could not afford to buy flax from other regions.
The other reason for the nutrition crisis was poor harvests in the year 1845 to 1847, because the weather was cold and there was too much rain. The potatoes were affected by blight. In those years beetles also attacked the grain. As the crisis became worse, all food became more expensive and the population grew poorer and poorer. In one petition to the government information on the peasants’ nutrition is to be found. They ate remains of old Pumpernickel, a little bit of oil and salt. They ate whatever they could find that was edible. There was no help from the government, and only little help from private individuals. People had no money, no food and no jobs; they had no future here. What was the consequence? Thousands decided to emigrate. Most of them went to North America in the 1850s.
“Don’t take off your clothes before you go to sleep”
Until the 19th century farmers were provided for in their old age by the farmhouse system. When the farm was handed over to the younger generation, a contact regulated the rights and duties of the young towards the old.
The main points were the provision of a dwelling, food, clothing, the obligation to care for the older ones in case of sickness and mostly the payment of a certain amount of money.
On the large and rich farms a special dwelling provided housing to the aged parents. Often it had a separate little garden, and went with some acres of land and some livestock. However, smaller farms, which had often overextended their economic possibilities, were frequently overburdened in this situation. Instead of a harmonious and peaceful old age, the actual situation was characterized by continual conflicts of interest, so much so that it was not uncommon for the conflict to escalate, even to extent of physical violence or legal action before the courts.
„The farm is all, the human little, sometimes almost nothing“
The traditional farmhouse economic system was the basis of the existence of the whole family living on the farm. The system included economic independence for the working members of the family and security for the younger and older ones. It was the custom in Ravens-berg for the youngest son to inherit the farm. Their so-called “bridal treasures” or dowries compensated the other children. Before the economic liberation of the peasants in the early 19th century, the local lord of the manor profited in a number of ways from the farm. For example, even the handover of the farm from one owner to another was a process for which the lord of the manor had to be paid. Besides this, the lord of the manor had the right of decision in almost all matters of importance.
After French troops conquered Westphalia, Jérômes Napoléon (Napoleon’s brother and King of Westphalia) proclaimed the liberation of the peasants in 1807. The farmers hoped now to be rid of all their former restrictions, obligations, and burdens. But what at first appeared to be liberation, soon turned out to be a long-lasting new system; they could get free from it only by paying for it – a price that most of the small farmers were unable to pay.
The Flax Mill
“Flax-growing is our only source of prosperity”
To get the soft flax fibers need for spinning and weaving linen a lot of work was necessary. The hard stems had to be fermented in a small pool, after which the flax was softened and broken. The last remaining hard particles were removed with the flax comb. The flax mill in the museum comes from Wittloge and is dated to 1826. The display shows the manual softening of flax and the mechanical work with the flax mill, driven by carthorse. With the mill, much more flax could be processed in shorter time. The work was very hard because of the noisy falling hammers, the dust and the long shifts required of farmhands to run the machines.
“It is just as well for the miller that the bags can’t speak”
Rustling sails, creaking gears, rattling and vibrating mill shoe, flour dust in the air: mills seemed sinister to the rural population. Their power could only be mastered by specialists who knew to handle the complicated machinery. Obviously they knew all about the material they worked with, but to a large degree, however, the miller was dependent on nature. He had to work when the wind was blowing or when there was not enough water available, as well as by day or night, and even on sundays.
In calm weather the miller was forced to do nothing – a strange concept for the farmer who got up with the hens and liked nothing better than his daily routine. Many windmills were situated far away from settlements, where there were more favorable winds, or in deep valleys where the water of creeks could be dammed up. In the opinion of the farmers, the places were bewitched and besides, they thought they had to pay too much for grinding grain into flour. The farmer couldn’t check whether he got back his own grain or whether it was exactly the right quantity.
In his opinion the miller was a crook. And indeed, the miller knew a lot of tricks to keep more grain than was legal; many farmers believed he exchanged good cereals for bad ones before he started to grind.