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Hungary's Ethnic German Farmers around 1800

Part One: Their homes

© by Felix G. Game

Hungarian settlers of German origin (mostly Svabians from Bavaria and Austria) numbered about 1.2 million by 1857, making up 8.8% of the total population in fifth place after Hungarians (44.6%), Rumanians (16.3%), Slovaks (10.9%), and Serbs (9.1%).

This column is intended to provide a sketch of the housing and the general standard of living of these German colonists in the setting of a typical village near the Balaton and the Bakony forest. There is a striking uniformity in the way the households were arranged, which may have been dictated by necessity, or perhaps by custom - if not by a higher decree (it is reported that Empress Maria Theresia, who actively encouraged colonization, took a personal hand in designing a "typical farmhouse" as she saw it).

The houses had white plaster exteriors, the wall facing the street was gable-shaped, following the roof-line. There were three rooms, a 'front room' at the end of the house closest to the street, a kitchen, and behind it the 'back room' where the entire family lived, grandparents, parents and children (the older boys often preferred to sleep in the stable). Behind the back room, the floor plan allowed for stairs going up into the attic, and a tool room. Walls were made of clay brick or a clay-straw mixture without insulation of any kind. The roof was covered with straw and reeds, and had an overhang which on the inside, the side of the court yard, protected a narrow corridor that occasionally had a row of support posts added. 

From the narrow corridor three doors, all painted blue, led inside the house; one into the kitchen, one into the tool room, and the third to the steep attic stairs. The upper half of the kitchen door also served as a window, while the lower one kept out the fowl.  

A heavy support timber across the ceiling was the first thing noticed when entering the kitchen because it divided it into a cooking and an eating area. Above the cooking area arched the open chimney which served, without any further assistance from stove pipes, to catch the smoke from all open fires. An "open kitchen" in the truest sense of the word.    

Right under the chimney was the squat and square baking oven which could hold seven to nine loaves of bread each weighing ten pounds. To the right of the baking oven was the cooking stove which had been built from burnt brick and half of which provided heat to the all-important copper kettle, while the other half served as an open cooking area where earthen pots were suspended from a three-legged, iron contraption. On the other side of the baking oven stood a wooden bench holding water pails. 

The 'front room' or 'clean room' was only used for important family events (births, marriages, deaths) and church holidays. A 'blind window' behind the entrance door provided a lockable alcove where bottles could be kept. Of the furnishings in both rooms, the comfortable, painted eating corner with its massive table deserves the most mention. The tamped-down dirt floor of the rooms and the kitchen was covered with a yellow loam mixture to prevent the formation of dust. All walls were whitewashed.

Inside the village  (fundus intravillanus) each farmer owned land of about 3240 square meters (about 3/4 of an acre) which was occupied by the home, the barns and the garden. The barns for horses, cattle, and other animals, as well as the bee hives, were joined wall-to-wall with the home on one of its sides, while from the other side were strung out the root cellar, the pigsty, and the well. Behind these was a larger, more open area, the threshing floor, and finally the hay loft, which separated the buildings from the garden area.

The garden held apple, pear and plum trees. Half of the remaining garden plot provided clover for the horses, while the other half provided the kitchen with vegetables, beans, potatoes, and cabbage from spring right into the fall.

All major acquisitions, such as kitchen utensils, tools and implements for working the fields (wagon, plow), or for storing the produce (sacks, tarpaulins, barrels) were always bought for several generations and amortized over 50 to 100 years. Because it was not customary to buy new things until absolutely necessary, the traditional equipment remained evident well into the 1930s.


After the book: Die Landwirtschaftliche Lage eines Fronbauern um 1800 im deutschen Dorf Bakonypéterd in Ungarn. By Dr. Otto Péterdi-Hahn.
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