National Geographic : 1923 Mar
THE WENDS OF THE SPREEWALD Photograph from Frederick Simpich ON THEIR WAY TO SCHOOL In place of a street car or a bus, the children of the Spreewald use this method of trans portation when the waters are open. In winter they skate, the older ones often pulling the tiny tots on sleds. the labyrinth of water lanes dividing the Spreewald into a thousand charming green isles. Here, too, all kinds of socie ties and bounds come for their outings, many walking clubs of school boys and girls coming from as far away as Berlin and Leipzig. Once, rounding a canal bend in a deep forest, I came suddenly on a group of 30 red-bearded men, mostly bald, standing bareheaded and motionless under a great tree, all staring fixedly at a begoggled little fellow mounted on a stump. Swarms of mosquitoes kept me slap ping, and I knew others just as hungry must be working on the thirty bald headed men standing there on that weedy knoll in the swamp. Yet not a man moved; they only fixed their gaze on the little man and waited. Finally this leader threw up his arms, the 30 opened their mouths, and as the leader's baton cut the air they burst into the Pilgrims' Chorus! It was a Saen gerbund from some neighboring town, seeking pleasure in this typically serious way. How truly that Roman spoke who said that races of men differ in habits, etc. Fancy 30 middle-aged American business men from, say, Baltimore, grow ing full beards and hiding out for a week end in a Maryland swamp and singing all day! Drawn one night by faint shouts and the light of a distant fire, I quit the village of Burg and crossed the flat fields to in vestigate. Reaching a high knoll, where the crowd had gathered, I found an an cient ceremony, the ordeal of fire, being observed. Pairs of young men and women, grasping hands, were running and leaping over the burning wood. The feat was easy and safe enough un less some one stumbled. It was merely symbolical, I imagine, of some event or tradition in their history; but it seemed a solemn rite with them, the whole group shouting a set phrase in their strange tongue, as each couple leaped through the blaze. Slaves still to some ancient supersti tions, the Wends carve crude wooden fig ures of beasts, birds, and fishes and mount them on the gables of their humble huts.