General description A Munich lady made of dried plums, dressed to go a-visiting
Dimensions 21 cm x 9 cm x 9 cm
Date when acquired 1990s
Original Date 1990s
Source An open-air market in the centre of Munich (Viktualienmarkt). Present from Elizabeth H.
Her body is made of wire and dried plums (prunes), though her head is made of wood and has painted features. A little bit of grey straggly hair pokes out from under her scarf. She is standing on a slice of silver-birch branch.
She is wearing a high-necked sleeveless black bodice with three gold buttons on the front and a gold embroidered flower on the back. The back has also a pattern of flowers painted on the material. At the back, the bodice forms a point over her derriere. Her black knee-length skirt has a pattern of large red roses with green leaves. Her apron is made of ivory brocade with a pattern of silver and gold flowers and leaves. The bottom is edged with white lace. The ties are pink silk which form a bow at the back.
On her head is a red scarf tied under her chin.
In her left hand she is carrying a black umbrella made of black silk and wood. In her right hand is a bouquet of dried flowers.
This doll is a typical representative of the German dried fruit people, known as Zwetschgenmaennla, Zwetschgenmännchen (Germany) or Zwetschgenkrampus (Austria) for male dolls or Zwetschgenweibla (Germany) for female ones. They were originally based on child chimney sweeps and called Pflaumentoffel [plum fire devils] and have been around since about 1790. They became first officially known as little men made of prunes (“Männlein aus Backpflaumen”) when they were sold at a Christmas market in Dresden (Striezelmarkt) in 1801. In the 19th century, children (Striezelkinder) sold these self-made dolls at the Christmas markets throughout Saxony and the Erz Mountain region. Originally, only the limbs were made of prunes, the head was made of a walnut and bodies were made from dried figs. This handicraft, however, is found in many fruit-growing regions in Europe with different stories about how they evolved.
Although these dolls are available throughout the year, they are especially sold at the Christmas markets in Bavaria like that in Nuremberg or Munich. They are given as Christmas presents or for New Year’s Eve as a symbol of luck, reflecting their original chimney sweep form although these dolls can be dressed in many different styles nowadays (350 different ones). Indeed, there is a German saying
“”You will never be without gold and happiness, if you have a prune person in your house.
(Hosd an Zwetschga im Haus, gäid dir es Geld und Gligg ned aus.)
Chimney sweeps have been considered lucky for a long time. Legend has it that William the Conqueror (King of England) decreed in ca. 1066 that all chimney sweeps were lucky as his life was saved by a chimney sweep.
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