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Cisterns and Draw Wells of the German Colony of Lustforf, Liebental Enclave, South Russia

By Vadim Vasilenko, Odessa, Ukraine


From the very beginning Odessa was settled by representatives of different nationalities. Different ethnic groups have been living here for centuries. We offer to your attention an article written by Odessa ethnographers K.Burnusus and V.Vasilenko, describing the traditional cisterns and draw-wells of the German village Lustdorf, located in the outskirts of the present-day Odessa.

While choosing locations for future Black Sea German colonies in the first half of the XIX-th century, it was important to find the source of water supply; other things that mattered were: the depth of the water bedding, the distance from the water source to the colony, etc. The ideal situation was usually when the colony was situated on a river bank. But the colonies were not always situated near a river, and some rivers "carried little water in the summer or dried up completely" (Karl Stumpp, The German-Russians: Two Centuries of Pioneering, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1993)

Almost in all colonies of the South of Ukraine the water-bearing stratum often lay at a big depth: from 10 to 55 metres. Very often the water was bitter and salty and the colonists gave it to drink only to cattle or used it in the household.

As for Odessa and the vicinity located around the city, we can mention here that there were no rivers, lakes or any adequate sources of water supply nearby. As to the local subterranean water pans, "they were considerably mineralized and hardly fit for human consumption" (G.Bass, Odessa Water Pipeline: 100 years of Existence", Odessa, 1973). Thus, it was not easy to obtain good drinking water. In search of water the colonists dug deep wells in their yards. It was quite often when a well with good drinking water was made for several households, sometimes one draw-well was dug for the whole village. The draw-well consisted of a wooden casing, a small shed, a rope or a chain, a drum and a pail. In villages located near the colonies or in the colonies German settlers used sweep wells (shadoof wells) called "Schwengel". The same name was given to a long post with a rope, tied to a bucket, with the help of which water was lifted up.

In the Historical Chronicle of Lustdorf, written in 1850 by H. Burkle, sexton, and the village Mayor Kurz, it was noted that Lustdorf, which was located in the steppes by Odessa, had no water reservoirs nearby. The valley, in which the colony was situated, was crossed by a few dales. After melting of the snow or abundant rains water swiftly rushed from the small dales into the larger valley, forming for a long time a lake in the western part of the colony, which was separated from the sea by a small sandy strip. Sometimes during a strong storm the sea water surged over this strip into the valley, mixing up with the water of the lake and thus increasing its size. In summer the lake dried out, leaving behind a thin deposit of salt on its bottom. In this valley colonists built three balance-beam wells, which initially provided the colony with sufficient quantity of water. However "during the strong earthquake of 1838 the water in the well, which was the nearest to the sea became somewhat salty" and unfit for drinking and hardly usable for washing. In the other two balance-beam wells the water remained good for drinking, but in winter it was hard to haul water to the village because of ice snow or the mud. Afterwards only one balance-beam well remained in the valley. This well's water was used by the local collective farm for watering cattle. In Lustdorf itself wells were not dug as the water was salty and bitter and lay very deeply.

The problem of water supply was considerably decreased in the 20-ies of the 19-th century through utilization of cemented cisterns - special underground reservoirs, the vault, walls and bottom of which were made of stone or bricks and covered inside with Puzzolan cement. The cisterns were filled with either "sweet" drinking water brought from outside, or filtered rain water.

The inhabitants of Lustdorf used also the water of the spring, which was located in Bolshoy Fontan Area (Big Fountain) in the place which got the name "Dacha Kovalyevskogo" later, and which used to belong to Lustdorf for a long time. The colonists filled their cisterns with water brought from this spring as well as with rain water.

Rain water was collected by the villagers by means of storm-down pipes, fixed to the roofs of their houses. Dirty rain water was diverted by a special device and drained outside. The rain and thawed snow water ran from the roofs through ceramic pipes, underground water ducts and finally through coal and gravel filters. They took out water from these cisterns by cylindrical pulleys - metallic roller drums. These pulleys were forged by local smiths with great skill. The walls of the cisterns were cemented with trass cement. A marble enclosure in the shape of a big jug was provided on the ground level; it was called "a jug", "a pot" (by Russians) or "tsebrinya" (by Ukrainians). The water from the cisterns was used for cooking and with the water from the balance-beam well, located in the valley, they watered the animals, it was also used for household needs.

Besides cemented cisterns (outside and inside), which one could find in practically every yard, there were several dozens ofjug-like marble ones and two three cast-iron ones in Lustdorf. Even now when the pressure in the pipeline drops in summer, the inhabitants of Lustdorf use cemented cisterns for storing water.

At present not so many marble cisterns and two cast-iron ones are left in Lustdorf, very few of them are still used. But even now you can see for yourself with what skill they were built, you can admire their shape and the decorative pattern in the centre in the form of a broken line, a zigzag, a wheat-ear, a herring-bone or a wave; they are distinguished by the shape of the cylindrical pulley and the metal frame of an original form on the top. The drum is usually 20- 31 cm wide, its length being 40 - 60 cm. The inner diameter of the "jug" is 45 - 65 cm, the outer diameter is 50 - 70 cm. The height of the "jug" is from 50 cm to 150 cm. The depth of a cistern is 9 - 12 metres.

The draw-wells and cisterns of Lustdorf present original, distinctive examples of the material culture of the Black Sea Area Germans, and those specimens which have survived, must be preserved and taken care of.

(K. Burnusus, V. Vasilenko).

Reprinted with permission of Vadim Vasilenko, Odessa, Ukraine.

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