Monday, January 17, 2011

Ærø - an Island in the South Funen Archipelago


Ærø is a 25 km long hilly island with a magnificent view across the Baltic and the Funen archipelago.The hills are the prettiest "dumlins" in Denmark. The island has a circumference of ab. 80 km and was originally divided in 2 islands by a land strip, where the road now runs along the water between Ærøskøbing and Marstal. There are several ferry routes from Ærø with a sailing time of ab. 1 hour. 

The first time the island Ærø is mentioned in history is in an Icelandic scald-verse, telling about a fight against the Wends.The Wends were Slavic tribes harrassing the Baltic coasts from their home island Rügen. In the Middle Ages 3 manors upon Ærø were outparcelled, which gave the Ærø-people the opportunity to cultivate some land.Some bought ships and exported corn and cattle.

In the 1200s the island belonged to the Crown, while it from the 1300s until 1864 was a part of the duchy Schleswig-Holstein and was not considered a part of the Danish kingdom. This meant a possiblity of smuggling via Ærø - and much luxurial articles, like French wine, spices and fine fabrics were being smuggled to the  nobility family at Tranekær castle on the island Langeland.

Today is a constant decline in the population. Many young people move from the island for educational purpose, and only few return to their home island. (7.200 inhabitants in 2002)  

Ærøskøbing is one of the most idyllic little market towns in Denmark Here are lots of fine old, well-kept houses with red tiled roofs; the street have pavements - and hollyhocls and roses grow on the walls.  The town is a perfect example of an old Danish market town. There are museums marked by the seafaring people, in the old workhouse is a collection of old bottle ships, created by a sailor, Peder Jacobsen, named "Flaske-Peter", (Bottle-Peter), who built 1700 of these model ships durin a long life's sailing on the oceans. 300 of those ships are at the exhibition. 

There are many fine houses from the 1700s and 1800s, among the finest the earlier pharmacy and a post office. On the market place are some old water pumps by a well which had existed here since 1250. Next to the market place the old Latin school. and town-hall. The present church is from 1758 with a fine view from the tower.

At the western beach, Vesterstrand are some very
picturesque beach houses. They belong to Ærø-families, who use them for their beach trips.

Marstal is the best preserved skipperby (captain's town) in the Funen archipelago. Here was a flowering shipping in the 1700s. The sailors transported agricultural articles in the Danish south sea and into
the Baltic and southern Norway.In the middle of the

1800s many 2 and 3-master schooners set out on a long voyage to places like Marokko, Rio Grande and Arkhangelsk. The shipping had 300 ships and was the largest next to Copenhagen.
Marstal is marked by low houses along narrow streets and alleys,  leading to the harbour. The town has some maritime museums with modelships, marine paintings, bottle ships, ship's bells, compasses, figureheads etc. One of the world's largest sunlight collector systems is in Marstal with ab. 19.000 km2,  which covers an important part of the town-requirements. 

Voderup Klint (Cliff)
Along the southern coast of Ærø is a several km long and about 30 m high cliff,  which has the form of an oversized staircase  from the beach to the top of the cliff. There are often landslides after rain, and in the sunny slides grow various chalk-loving steppe plant. In April grow hairy violet and coltsfoot in the dry grass and in May-June are plants like fairy flax, milkwort, Briza medid (Lady's hair), Carline thistle  and Fragaria viridis (a strawberry species).
Parking place with map, a winding path leads down across the cliff.

Source: Søren Olsen, Politikens Store Danmarksbog, 2002. 

photo Ærø 2005: grethe bachmann

Soap Wort/Sæbeurt

Saponaria officinalis

Soap wort is native to Europe and the Middle East where its cleansing attributes have been utilized for centuries.The Latin name Saponaria means soap and refers to the content of saponines, which in connection to water lathers and achieves some cleansing properties. Other names are Bouncing Bet, Latherwort, Fuller's Herb, Sweet Betty. The name Bouncing Bet refers to the washerwoman's attributes being bounced around while  the soapwort's cleansing properties were applied to clothing. Its aromatic light pink star-shaped flowers remind about carnations. In Denmark the plant is feral from klostergardens and hospitals and grows by villages and ditches near cities. All parts of the plant can be used for making a soap like decoction but the roots have the highest concentration of saponine. 

Medicine and Soap:
The plant was used in the tratment of abdomunal diseases if the mercury treatment failed,decoction was used to wash itchy skin and to drink to treat breathing difficulties.In the Middle Ages the plant was used to calm down buzzing on the ears and chest pain. The plant is also known for killing toxines in the liver.
The crushed leaves of soapwort officinalis have been used as a soap since the Renaissance. The medieval fullers would use soapwort during the finishing process for cloth. The Syrians used it for washing wool products, while the Swiss used it to bathe their sheep before shearing. The early American settlers used it as a wash to counter poison ivy rash. 

The soap wort was once considered a gift of God to the humans.

Today soapwort is used as a cleansing means for delicate linen and silken. Museum conservators still use the soap made from its leaves and roots for claning the delicate fabrics - and it also makes a fine shampoo, which is recommended, thoughh it might irritate the eyes. Soapwort officinalis is also used in the food industry , especially in the making of halva, a sweet made using tahini and sugar and honey.

Warning. Caution is advisable.  Soap wort should not be taken internally. The high saponine content makes it mildly poisonous, and it can destroy the red blood cells. 

Source: Anemette Olesen, Danske Klosterurter, 2001.

photo Bølling sø 2008: grethe bachmann

Christmas - The Nordic Pixy/Den Nordiske Nisse

The Nordic pixy (nisse) is a house-god from Denmark, Scania and Norway, he reminds about the Roman lares. Sweden has a similar character, named Tomte. The Nisse has got his name from the old Danish name Nis or Niels. He is known as a creature from Nordic folk tales and fairy tales, often wearing a red cap. Today the nisse is primarily a symbol of Christmas, but from the earliest tales are both forest-nisse, church-nisse and farm-nisse.

He lives in houses, stables and barns and act as a protecting spirit of the farm and household. He takes care of the livestock , especially the horses, and he works at the farm, bringing luck to the farm-people. But the nisse was not always a good person. If he was treated bad, he might take a terrible revenge and even kill people. If he left the farm, he took the good luck with him. 

He liked to do some easy  teasing, and it was not difficult to keep on friendly terms with him. He only needed a bowl of porridge with a big lump of butter at festivals. If he was respected, he made an effort to help the farmer, he might even steal from neighbouring farms - and there were often fights among the nisse-guys. The nisse also loved to tease the farm-dog- No one understood why it barked so much - but the nisse made himself invisible and was able to change into an animal, like a goat, goose or horse.

In his human figure the Farm-Nisse was the size of a 10-year old child, he looked like an old man with a beard, with grey clothes and red cap. Beyond his duties at the farm he also played cards and smoked a pibe.The ordinary old farm-nisse was always alone.

The Christmas Nisse was invented in 1836, he is the only one with a family.

The Church Nisse is present in many fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen. He lives in vicarages and churches, but he is not a part of Christianity. He did not like to hear God's name, and he left on Sundays, when the church bells were ringing. But he kept the church nice and clean.

The Forest Nisse is a new variation; he lives in nature , leaving mysterious traces, which cannot be explained. A forest-nisse is small, about 80 cm, he dresses in green and brown.

The Ship-Nisse is another variation, also named the Klabauterman. He can - if he is treated well - predict storms  - and it is wise to listen to his advice.

The Sætternisse = the Misprint Gremlin has existed since the introduction of typography. He loves to smuggle in misprint in books and magazines, and he is able to make them undiscovered in the proofreading. 

The Climbing Nisse is a new tradition, beginning in the 1940s.

There is an old saying that "the nisse is following you".  It is used on many occassions, like if you've got into some trouble - if you think you can just forget it or move away from it, then reemember that "the nisse is following you".  You cannot escape the problems.

He origins from various old tales. There is a tale of a man and his household, who were being teased so much  by their nisse that they had to move. After having loaded the wagon , drawn by oxes, the farmer let the coachman drive slowly ahead and went into the house to see if he had forgotten something. When he came out, he saw the wagon driving slowly down the road with the nisse on top of the load, laughing at him.

copyright grethe bachmann