Nieland Family History     

      Wooden Shoes

"Im Sommer kühl, Im Winter warm"   (Cool in summer, warm in winter)

When Americans see wooden shoes, they think of Holland and not the Westphalia area of Germany. But the farming people of Belgium, northern France, Lower Saxony and the Westphalia area where our Nieland ancestors lived have worn wooden shoes for centuries. There are ancient folk tales in Westphalia of the witch who trampled the Devil and thwarted Hell with her feet firmly encased in huge wooden shoes. We can find surnames in the 12th and 13th century formed from the occupation of wooden shoemaker. People with the surnames "Holzchuher" and "Holschemacher" were no doubt skilled craftsmen at one time, making custom-fit and durable footwear at the right price for the farmer.

Photo at right: The wooden shoemaking exhibit in the Ramsdorf Local History Museum   Click image to enlarge

Wooden shoes were very practical and durable for farmers. They kept the feet warmer than the best leather shoes and were perfectly suited to the wet weather in areas of northern Westphalia. We have the old photos from the 50s with the descendants of John Gerhard Nieland (1840-1919) in wooden shoes on their farm near Ramsdorf, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany.

Our German Cousins Remember....

Elisabeth (Nieland) Upgand remembers that they bought shoes from a man who came to their house to sell the shoes he made. She and her brothers wore wooden shoes to school. Elisabeth says as a child she never had cold feet!

Bernedette Nieland-Fengenhauer remembers that wooden shoes were very good in the snow - "schlindern" or sliding was great with the "Klumpen". She says they had a special gliding ability and they were warm because you wore thick warm socks or inserted newspaper for extra warmth. She usually had leather shoes with ties, but she remembers that the Nieland children on the farm always had two pair of wooden shoes, with one pair used only for Sunday, or special occasions and the other pair worn on the farm. She tells us that there are still groups of dancers in the area around Ramsdorf that wear the old traditional costumes and dance in wooden shoes at special "Klumpendanzer".

Photo at left: When Herman and Bernard Nieland made a surprise visit to their brother Gerhard Nieland's farm in July 1956, they found Gerhard, Anna and several of their children working in the field. They were all wearing wooden shoes. This photograph was taken in front of Gerhard's barn. Click image to enlarge.

Andreas Finke, who lives on the farm of his grandparents, Anton (1889-1961) and Maria Bernhardine (Nieland) Finke (1888 - 1980) remembers his uncles wearing wooden shoes on the farm. He grew up after the wooden shoes were replaced with rubber boots.

When we visited Germany in 2004, Ludger Nieland told us that he still wears wooden shoes occasionally for gardening. He remembers that they were filled with straw to make them more comfortable and that the "old people" wore them almost all the time. They too danced in them. The sound of many feet in wooden shoes doing a dance must have been very loud and cheerful.

Worn for All Occasions

In even older days, the farmers cleaned the shoes every Saturday night with lots of water and a good brush and wore clean shoes to church on Sunday. Even without a calendar, you knew it was Saturday night by the cleaning of wooden shoes. It is said that a farmer might have only a single pair of leather shoes that he wore his whole life, and these only on very special occasions, like weddings, baptisms and funerals. The wooden shoes were not only cheaper than leather but more comfortable and better suited to working on the farm.

We saw a display at the Berg in Ramsdorf of the tools used by the wooden shoemaker. The wood used is birch, alder, poplar or willow, all of which can easily be carved with the razor-sharp tools of the shoemaker. The shoemaker could also repair worn shoes, adding repair patches with pegs.

Don O'Tool recounts in his Reising -O'Tool Family History and Genealogy that Gerhard Boes (1837-1915) the husband of Maria Anna Nieland (1843- 1919) brought many skills from the "old county" to Iowa. One of them was the ability to make wooden shoes for his children from cottonwood. There are family stories about these handmade shoes and how comfortable they were for the children wearing them.

Wooden Shoe Online

Here are some links to websites with more information about wooden shoes:

       Klompen Museum
 Klompen Museum
       Roelof the Klompenmaker
 Padfinder website — Holzshuhe
 Bernhard Berning Holzschuhmacherei

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