Sunday, 28 March 2010

Die Sorben

German is not the only language spoken in Germany. A few years ago when a group of Methodists from Birmingham District visited Berlin in Easter week at the invite of the Berlin District of the Methodist Church we were taken to the Spreewald and found there is a distinct ethnic group with their own slavic language.

Die Sorben, früher im Deutschen auch Wenden genannt, bezeichnet sich selbst als Serbja, Serbowije oder Serbjo. Sie sprechen eine westslavische Sprache und leben in der Ober- und Niederlausitz an den oberen und mittleren Spree.

As well as their own language and literature, they have their own music, customs, sayings and superstitions. Easter is a particular good time to visit the area as you'll see plenty of examples of their decorated eggs and you may be lucky enough to see people dressed in traditional costume - die Tracht. Unfortunately we were a few days too late to see das Osterreiten - a procession on horseback. The fires are also lit to celebrate Easter - Zu Ostern werden Osterfeuer entzündet - and young girls wash silently with Easter water so they can remain healthy and pretty - Junge Mädchen wuschen sich schweigend mit Osterwasser, um gesund und schön zu bleiben.

Eggs were, of course, associated with fertility rites - Fruchtbarkeitsriten. They are decorated with coloured wax or have patterns scratched into them - mit farbigen Wachs bemalt oder mit Kratzmustern versehen. Searching for Easter eggs is a popular game for children in England and I have heard of rolling eggs down hill. There is something similar amongst the Sorbs called Waleien. This involves rolling boiled and decorated eggs down a sandhill into a pit and every player tries to hit the eggs of others. Those who succeed get to keep the egg. Decorated and blown (ausgeblasene) eggs are hung from birch twigs in front of the houses. This custom has spread fairly widely and is not now confined to the Sorbs.

I may have missed seeing die Osterreiter but thanks to YouTube we can now see a procession.

I would love to hear from you about other Easter customs in Germany, Austria or Switzerland.

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