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
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,