"Im Sommer kühl, Im Winter
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.
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".
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.