A Bessarabian German Happy New Year
"Schiessen und Krapfen"
By Alfred Opp, Vancouver, British Columbia, 31 December
Edited by Connnie Dahlke, Walla Walla, Washington
In my Bessarabian homeland, the closing out of the
old year and the ushering in of a New Year was celebrated according
to our traditions and customs. I was privileged as a child and
a young man to experience our traditions and also to hear about
customs from my Grandmother Zacher who had an excellent memory
and was able to repeat what her folks passed on to her. My ancestors
carried with them to Russia a New Year's custom that was called
Das Neujahr einschiessen" -- start the new year with a bang!
The old folks in my village of Teplitz used a "Boeller"
or "Moerser" for this purpose. My Opa (Grandfather) Zacher
had one of them in a desk drawer and I remember looking at it
a young child. It was made of a steel block 4 inches square and
about 8 inches in length. Down the center of the Boeller a round
hole was drilled nearly to the bottom. This hole was fitted with
a large-headed pin to which was attached a wire/metal loop.. Another
wire/metal loop was attached to the metal block. A length of rope
was tied through both of these metal loops, holding the pin and
block together with a little slack The rope was also the means
of holding the device so that it could be swung and brought down
a hard surface to discharge it. I do not know what the device was
loaded with. In later years, I learned of some small balls (pellets)
of explosives that were available in Germany that would produce
a "bang" when thrown against a hard surface. I never
witnessed my Opa's "Boeller" being discharged, but
this is how my Oma (Grandmother) remembered it and told it to
me. Maybe someone
out there can shed additional light on this! It is my impression
that my Grandpa Zacher learned about this particular device during
the time he served in the 1905 Russo-Japanese war - the war that
changed many ideas in my home village of Teplitz, Bessarabia.
mother also mentioned something called a 'knallerei" at New
Years. If anyone can add to this also, please contact me. In the
beginning of the settlement years, the pioneers found life so difficult
that they took no time off for celebrations! They needed all of
their energy just to survive. In the later years, times had changed
through hard work and progressive innovations so that there was
more time for leisure. Then the old customs were remembered and
celebrations were revived. The young people entered into the celebrations
with enthusiasm, but the church elders and the mayor did not always
approve of the ways of the young people. The rule of life for
older people was to live respectfully in the name of the Lord.
Singing non-religious songs, cheering,.and dancing were "verboten."
Many times the parties of the young people, even when carried on
behind closed doors, were brought to a halt by the elders of the
village. There were no second warnings. If the offense was repeated,
what came next was the strap. This was sufficient to put cold
on these "worldly" activities until after World War I.
My Grandpa Zacher was a blacksmith by trade - something he learned
as a young apprentice. Then along came WWI and he along with many
other young men in Bessarabia was conscripted into the Russian
Army. Once the war was over, the church elders soon lost their
control over the soldier-boys who returned home from the war. In
1918 Bessarabia was given over to Romania and the village mayor
was relieved of his previous law-enforcement duties. Law enforcement
was taken over by a Romanian official who did not understand the
religious traditions and culture of the older German townspeople.
The Romanians were quite tolerant of celebrations! Only if the
became unruly were violators of public order kept in check with
New Year's eve was celebrated solemnly by the village Elders, and
cheerfully by the village young people. In my family, Grandma Zacher
on the afternoon of New Year's Eve went to the graveyard holding
a candle to pay respect to her loved ones. My Oma (Grandma) Opp
spent New Year's Eve at home reading from the Scriptures. These
things I remember well because as a young child Grandma Zacher would
take me with her to the cemetery, and I would also spend time with
Grandma Opp. Then at the stroke of 12 Midnight, the church bells
would ring out the old year. The sound of the large bells was so
deep that it gave everybody goose bumps.
The morning of New Year's day most villagers would walk to the
church for services, then spend time at the cemetery to honor and
remember their loved ones. Around noon, families gathered for a
special dinner with close family members. The foods served were
very similar to the foods served at Christmas. There was generally
a meat dish, along with cabbage and potato salad, rice steamed in
milk, and root vegetables. To close out the feast, the women would
serve "Krapfen" also called "Berliner." These
were round doughnuts fried in oil or grease. When done, they had
developed a white ring in the middle into which jam was injected
for a filling. To be considered good quality, these doughnuts had
to be light. For an extra special touch, they were sometimes glazed
with sugar icing. What a treat! We ate them with "poor man's
coffee" which was a mixture of roasted barley and chicory.
This was the only coffee known to me until I was a teenager in Germany
after World War II. Making and eating "Krapfen" is a tradition
that we have carried from the Old World to our New World with the
exception of the war years. With this story, I want to wish each
of you a happy new Year. May peace be with us.
Alfred Opp and family
Alfred Opp is the author of "Pawns on the World Stage" - the memoirs of his childhood in Teplitz, Bessarabia and the experiences of his family in war-torn Europe (Poland during 1941-1945 before they fled to East Germany in 1945, then the reconstruction of West Germany 1945-1955).