Linguists on foot # 2 – The “linen men”

This handsome statue stands in Willingen and is known as the Linnenkerl, linen man.
Willingen is in the hilliest part of our region, the Sauerland in North Rhine Westphalia, and we were there to check out the possibility of paragliding there. If you would like to see some pictures of the area, try
Years ago, farming of oats, wheat and rye provided villagers with some food and employment, but not enough. Villagers had to look round for other activities such as making products from wood or the local mines, or hawking. They traded as far as the Netherlands, Austria and Poland. With the coming of the iron industries from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries economic conditions improved a little. Pedlars used to carry domestic ironware such as nails, hammers, tongs, pliers and axes made in the smithies and foundries of the mountain regions, situated near the mines.
Later they mostly carried fabrics such as linen and wool, hence their name. According to the history section of the Willingen web site, the Sauerland fabric trade reached its zenith in 1926. The advent of the second world war severely reduced the numbers of such traders.
To do business, the travelling salesmen would have needed enough of their sellers´ languages to discuss prices and exchange news. I can imagine that they used the walks between settlements to mull over the new expressions they had learned and to construct and rehearse the phrases they intended to come out with at the next stop-over. In fine weather they would have been able to enjoy the changing scenery but in rain or fog they were perhaps glad to have something else to fix their minds on.
Further information:
The German Wikipedia site gives more information under „Sauerländer Wanderhändler“
(Reminder to myself – see “Hanseatic League C13-17”, dimly remembered from school history lessons.)


About Fun with languages

Blogging about learning languages, making it fun Hobbies: paragliding, cycling, reading, BBC radio 4.
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