Chimney sweepers keep holiday tradition alive
January 21, 2009
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany -- Schornsteinfeger (chimney sweeper) Thomas Scharwatz isn't sure if it has been 28 or 29 years that he has been a part of the New Year's reception in Kaiserslautern, but thanks to his 17-year-old daughter, Kim, he knows this "good-luck" tradition will continue for years to come.
Kim, who is a first-year Schornsteinfeger apprentice, stood next to her father on the receiving line for the first time Jan. 8 at the New Year's reception hosted by the 21st Theater Sustainment Command and U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern at the Armstrong Community Club on Vogelweh Housing.
"It was fun for me to have her here so I can train her right away so she can step in if I am not able to do it anymore," said Thomas, who admitted that he didn't want his daughter to be a chimney sweeper.
But she did.
"I like being outside and doing something where I am in contact with many people," said Kim, who explained that chimney sweepers must visit every house in their district once a year.
More than 350 German and American military and community members attended the event co-hosted by the 21st TSC Commanding General Maj. Gen. Yves Fontaine and his wife, Kathy, and Kaiserslautern Garrison Commander Lt. Col. Mechelle Hale and her husband, Ricky Martin.
After guests greeted the hosts, they received a "happy cent" or Euro cent from Thomas, and a hand shake and good wishes for the New Year from Kim.
"I figured that (the Euro cent) was for good luck, so I kept it because I need all the good luck I can get it," said Sgt. Maj. Richard Miller, from the 21st TSC, who at the time wasn't familiar with the German tradition of chimney sweepers being associated with good luck.
Thomas remembers the "lucky penny" or pfennig he used to hand out. "By all means - yes - I miss the pfennig," he said. "A 'happy cent' just doesn't make sense, and people want a 'lucky penny.'"
Good luck has been associated with chimney sweepers here since the medieval times.
Thomas explained that in those times there were open fireplaces that produced a lot of residue - soot, dirt or dead birds - which caused fires.
People who had a visit from a chimney sweeper were said to have good luck throughout the year because it meant that their houses would not burn down.
Miller said he liked the "costumes" the chimney sweepers were wearing, but actually, they were wearing their uniforms - including the top hat - that they work in every day.
Thomas has a set just for the reception, but being new to the trade, Kim just has the one uniform.
It is mandated by the German government that houses are visited by Schornsteinfeger every year and that one be present when a house is being built starting with the blueprint, Thomas said.
More than eight years ago, the 21st TSC and garrison combined efforts and resources to cosponsor a New Year's reception instead of separately hosting one, which had been done in previous years.
Holiday receptions also were held in Heidelberg Dec. 4 and in Mannheim Jan. 15.
Angelika Lantz from the 21st Theater Sustainment Command Public Affairs Office assisted with this article.
(Editor's Note: Christine June writes for the USAG Baden-Wuerttemberg newspaper, the Herald Post.)