Germany’s Dried Fruit People, the Zwetschgenmännla

By Francine McKenna on Email


Prune Men, or Prune People really because over the years Zwetschgenmännla, prune boys who have been around since 1790 were joined by prune girls or Zwetschgenweibla, are one of the most popular traditional German handcrafts to be found all year, but as “Good Luck” symbols especially around Christmas and Silvester (New Year).

Also known as Pflaumenmaennchen and Quetschenmaennchen, plum people are usually around 15 cms (six inches) tall and are actually ‘Dried fruit people’ as they are made from dried plums, figs, raisins and nuts: figs for the bodies, prunes for arms and legs, raisins for hands, sometimes peanuts in their shells for feet, and with painted walnuts as heads.

Using scraps of fabric the dolls are dressed in hundreds of different ways, to become little men and women.  Everything from Gardeners, Chimney Sweeps and Cooks to Guitar players, Priests and “Oma’s”, Grandmothers, knitting with their half finished pieces on needles.

In fact there is a community of Prune People, and as a handicraft it is found in various European fruit-growing areas with more than one story as to how they first came about. Ranging from a Nuremberg father whose work involved using wire and invented the doll as a surprise for his children; orphans who were given the job of making toys in order to bring some money into their orphanage in the Cologne region; and a sick old man whose neighbor’s children used to help him. However being poor he could not pay them for their work so, as a “thank you”, made little dried fruit people from the fruit and nuts which originally had come from his garden.

The handcrafted figurines could also have been brought into Germany from the East, created during Europe’s 17th century Thirty Years War as children’s toys by Croatian cavalrymen, as the word “Zwetschge” is not of German origin but a Slavic expression for “plum”.

Whatever their real origins, Dried Plum People are considered a “Good Luck” symbol in Germany, and it is said that: “You will never be without gold and happiness, if you have a prune person in your house”.

Often a dried plum Chimney Sweep is a gift given at Christmas, New Year and Weddings and one of the many Zwetschgenmännla chosen as a Birthday present, which, as there is a longstanding German tradition that a Chimney sweep is also a ‘Good Luck’ symbol, means twice the amount of luck.

It isn’t difficult to make Zwetschgenmännla, so if you would like one of your own head on over to the source link below to get started. Feel free to post a photo of your own Zwetschgenmännla on our Facebook or Google+ page.


Source: Bella Online
Photo by James via Flickr

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Francine McKenna