September 2, 2012

Family History

While writing the previous post about my refrigerator quilt, I took advantage of the "interwebs", which didn't exist to such a great extent at the time I made the quilt, to research this postcard from Germany.  It features my last name in the original German spelling.  "Wasser" is the German word for water, pronounced "vah-ser".  

Once I was told by a checker at the grocery store that she remembered stories her grandmother told, with a "wassermann" being a scary bogeyman who lives in the river, awaiting the chance to steal away naughty children.  That's not my idea of a fun family heritage!

When I received this card from a friend traveling in Germany, I thought "wassermann" might also be the German word for "snowman".  

On the interwebs, I found that a "wassermann" is a male mermaid, aka "merman", and is sometimes used as the symbol for the sign of Aquarius.  No mention of snowmen anywhere.  So maybe the word on this card is a pun, joking that a snowman is made of frozen water.  

As I was poking around, I discovered that Robert Schumann wrote a lovely a cappella piece called "Der Wassermann."  In it, a handsome young man joins a group of beautiful maidens dancing in a field and ends up taking one of them back into the river with him to be his bride.  She was, shall we say, rather distressed to be forced to say good-bye to her parents and friends.

The very next day, I bumped into some more family history on the Quilt History list.  There's been an on-going comparison of European vs. American names of patchwork and embroidery styles.  A couple of posts included mention of embroideries from Moravia.  Moravia isn't talked about much these days.  It no longer exists as a country; the lands are now part of the Czech Republic.

I have ancestors way back in my mom's family who were Moravian.  Not to brag or anything, but in the late 1700s, my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather was the rabbi of Brno, then Brünn, capital of Moravia.  His son married the daughter of the so-called "Bavarian hop king", proprietor of a hugely successful beer brewery.  I imagine there must've been some interesting family conversations about that pairing.  

It's true that if you explore far enough into any particular topic, you can eventually end up learning about many, many different fields of knowledge.

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