Station: [15] Island Customs

F: Many customs and traditions are still practiced on the island. They include Rummelpottlaufen on New Year’s Eve, Biikebrennen with its bonfires, the courting custom of Ausschießen, and the Kenkenbuum – the local variant of the Christmas tree.

M: Take the straw manikin on the right of the display case. It’s a New Year's Eve disguise from the old days – a ghostly mask made of cow horn and wool. It was worn to drive away the demons at the turn of the year. Of course, you had to make a lot of noise to expel those pesky spirits, and that’s where the rummelpott came in. It was a clay pot covered with a pig's bladder into which a reed had been inserted, and it made some very odd sounds. Equipped with disguise and racket-making pot, people went door to door on New Year's Eve, symbolically drove out the spirits and were given an edible treat in return. These days, the rummelpott has been replaced by pop hits, or songs people have written themselves, and instead of food, they’re more likely to be offered some schnapps.

F: When Christmas trees became popular in 19th century Germany, the Föhr islanders didn’t want to be left out. But there were no fir trees on the island, and bringing them in by boat would have been much too expensive. So people made tree-shaped wooden frames that were initially draped with paper garlands, and later perhaps with evergreen ivy or boxwood. And they called it a Kenkenbuum.
To this day, it’s decorated with apples, raisin chains and special pastries: biscuits cut out of sweet dough, shaped like everyday things: animals such as a cow, a cockerel or a horse. And sailing ships or windmills. The religious theme is reflected in the figures of Adam and Eve, which adorn the trunk of the tree.
These stylized Christmas trees are still around today, and during Advent, you can see them in the windows of people’s homes on Föhr.

M: On the evening of the 21st of February, the locals light huge fires outside the villages to burn tree pruning waste. This custom, known as Biikebrennen, is often combined with eating a dish of kale. In the old days, Biikebrennen was a celebration for the children. They painstakingly gathered piles of material for the bonfires and guarded the heaps from possible incursions by the neighbouring village youngsters, and to stop them being prematurely set alight. It was, and still is, great fun to blacken each others’ or the grownups’ faces with soot. On some of the bonfires, they’d burn a straw effigy, symbolically driving out winter. The modern tradition of Biikebrennen originated in the 19th century. Before then, there wasn’t enough fuel on the treeless island.

F: The custom of "Ausschießen", on the other hand, has disappeared as society has changed. Take a look at the display case, where the small watercolour drawings show what went on. If a young man had visited a girl at home several times, shots were fired into the air to make him come out of the house and publicly announce the engagement. If the man didn’t agree to an engagement, the other lads of the same age put him on a dung cart, drove him through the village, and tipped him on to a dung heap – a disgrace for both the young man and the young woman involved.

Fotos: © Dr.-Carl-Häberlin-Friesen-Museum