Our Lighting Sources

Rüb, Albert. "Our Lighting Sources." Mitteilungsblatt, October 2010, 17.

Translation from the original German-language text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, CO. 

For lighting their living and work spaces the Bessarabian colonists – until even the time of the resettlement – used petroleum lamps and lanterns. They had been introduced around 1860. Prior to that, candles were the sole source of lighting during those long winter evenings. Now and again there was talk of using the existing mills to supply the farms with electric power, but all that remained was unexecuted plans. Since the Romanian state made no or only unwilling efforts to invest in a province whose affiliation with Romania was at best disputed (Soviet Russia never recognized the annexation of Bessarabia to Romania), the introduction of electric power, with the settlers bearing the costs without help from the state, could not be accomplished. Many communities would never have been able to come up with the finances. Although taxation of the settlers was at a high level due to high assessment values of their arable land, the South of Bessarabia remained a step-child of state support. The settlers, however, accepted this with cool calm. For many years the following story circulated among the settlers: subsequent to the annexation of Bessarabia the royal couple, Ferdinand ((1914 – 1927) and his wife Maria, paid a visit to the newly acquired part of the country. For that occasion, a reception was organized in Akkerman, and representatives of all minorities in Bessarabia were invited. When the Germans’ representative, Mr. Eduard Roduner, was asked by the queen how the Germans were doing, Roduner replied: “We are faring much like the sheep.” The queen, surprised by this answer, then asked: “How am I to understand that?” Roduner: “We are constantly being sheared, but thank God the wool always grows back.”

Not only was there a lack of financial development money, but there was also a lack of control over where the tax moneys went. I am familiar with a case in which only the threats from a German attorney caused taxes paid at the beginning of the year finally to be credited to the owed tax burden at the end of that year. The question as to whose pockets contained the earlier payments was never answered by the “Prätscheptor,” the tax collector himself.

During the famer’s winter evening rounds through the stables to convince himself that the stable hand had supplied the animals with their fodder for the long winter night, the farm family gathered for the “Obedesse” [dialect for “evening meal”] in the kitchen, accompanied by the glow of the kitchen lamp. Most of the time this would be hung on the wall, for which purpose it had a contraption for hanging that was made of strong wire that also circled the entire petroleum container to support the lamp. Hanging the lamp extended the lighting of the room. This was so because the hanging contraption also included a curved glass mirror that reflected the light back into the room.

During winter, after the meal was finished and the kitchen cleaned up, family members gathered in the heated living room while the snow outside might at times pile up as high as the house. The room would be lit by the yellow-red glow of the “Stubenlampe” [living room lamp] situated on a table, and the walls would display the shadows of those gathered around the table. The comfortable passing of the evening accompanied by craft work, conversation and making plans kept the family close.

The “Stubenlampe” [literally, “Room Lamp”] (table lamp) had a heavy, stable base with an appropriately large diameter. The correspondingly low center of gravity of the lamp added to its stability. The wick, although very thin, but rather wide, provided relatively sizable burning surface and thus an increased lighting circle. On the table of the Gute Stube [“Good Room” or “Large Room”], which during later times and in newer houses extended across the entire width of the house, thus serving well for family gatherings,  there often stood an especially charming exemplar of the table lamp. Since this was usually a unique and beautiful piece, special care was taken in cleaning the glass. The lamp shade, made primarily of heat-resistant, transparent glass (“milk” glass or, more rarely, parchment) and decorated with a lining of drooping, colorful glass pearls, often painted with flower motifs, restricted the light to a limited circle and protected the eyes from glare.

The lantern (storm lantern) had its flame surrounded by a transparent glass housing that protected against drafts, wind and even rain. The housing was clad with a wire basket to protect against impact. The wire also conducted the heat away from the glass and thus protected it from overheating. This kind of lantern was used in the dark inside sheds and stables. Additionally, it might serve to light people’s way in the dark (for example, when visitors came or when attending evening church services).


All three types of lamps used the same method of burning the fuel for lighting. The fine pores of the wick and its suction capacity would draw the petroleum up to its very edge. Lighting the flame with a match (“Schwefela” in dialect) -- thrifty folks might use a wood shaving they would light from the fireplace – at a certain spot on the wick caused liquid to turn into sufficient gaseous form to start the flame going and the resulting heat turned more petroleum into the gaseous form that would then mix with the supply of oxygen from the air to light the entire surface of the wick. If the burning surface was enlarged excessively by turning the wick too far up, the resulting petroleum gas might not burn the oxygen sufficiently and thus cause soot to be produced, which would adhere to the glass and thus reduce the flame’s effectiveness. But after the glass housing was cleaned again, the lamp would glow again with its old strength.   

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of these articles.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller