The origins of today's Hessian bakehouses date back to the middle of the 16th century: Count Johann VI of Nassau-Dillenburg decreed in the "Wood and Forest Ordinance" of 18 January 1562: "In every village, several common baking ovens are to be decreed". On the one hand, communal baking was intended to save wood, as resources were slowly becoming scarce in the region due to the immense consumption of wood, for example for iron smelting. On the other hand, the fire risk for the farms, which were mostly built of wood, clay and straw, with their dwellings and stables, was reduced by a separate location of the now isolated bakehouses. As a result of this ordinance, numerous village community bakehouses were built. Due to the exchange of information - trade, marriage and itinerant trades - that went beyond the borders of the lordship, this advantageous model quickly became popular throughout Hesse.
In the mid-19th century, communal bakehouse culture experienced a renaissance, starting in the then Prussian provinces in what are now Rhineland-Palatinate and Hesse. In 1846/1847, crop failures caused great hardship throughout Europe, including in the Kingdom of Prussia, which included the small town of Weyerbusch in the Westerwald. When the government issued flour, mayor Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen - who is also considered the founding father of the cooperative system - initiated a "bread association". The allotted flour was processed in a specially built bakehouse. The bread baked here could be distributed to the needy population at a favourable price. Neighbouring villages throughout the Westerwald, the Lahn-Dill-Bergland, the Burgwald and the Schwalm soon took up the idea of the "baking house and baking house association". Today there are many bakehouses whose foundation stones were laid in the same era.
The art of baking good bread in a bakehouse has always required a great deal of experience and has shaped the community. It began with the selection and cutting of suitable wood, the nightly heating of the oven and the determination of the baking sequence. This was decided in advance by the baking community, often by lot. The bread dough itself was usually made individually in advance according to a home recipe and carried to the bakehouse. Not only the choice of flour, but also the temperature at which the loaves of bread were put into the oven with the pusher was decisive for good success. The time during which the bread remained in the oven was used for communicative exchange among the "Backesbäcker/innen" and was therefore important for village cohesion. This traditional village bakehouse system was an integral part of the local supply almost from the middle of the 19th century until the 20th century. Due to technical developments, many households have had their own electric ovens since the mid-1950s, so that communal baking in bakehouses has become less and less important. In the 1960s in particular, many bakehouses were demolished. To this day, however, there are still numerous bakehouses and bakehouse associations, often with a long, unbroken tradition that continues into the present day, which bake in the time-honoured manner and cultivate the village community. Community baking is currently experiencing a rebirth in Hesse.
Text: Naturpark Lahn-Dill-Bergland
The bakehouse in Hirschberg
The bakehouse, built in 1847 with massive basalt quarry stones, is 8.10 m long and 4.50 m wide (approx. 36 square metres). The building blends harmoniously with the village smithy on the left, the large fountain on the right and the town house behind it.About twice a year, two families from Hirschberg still bake bread there according to the old tradition.Numerous bats have settled in the roof beams of the building.Until the 1960s, non-settled travellers could spend the night there on straw mattresses. On the first Saturday in August of each year, the people of Hirschberg and former members of the community celebrate the "Schiene Doag" (in High German: Beautiful Day) on the square in front of the bakehouse and the fountain.Every year in June/July, the fire brigade of the Hirschberg Volunteer Fire Brigade organises its internal "Backesfest".The bakehouse is heated on the above-mentioned dates.
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"Backes" are part of the rural tradition in many villages between Westerwald and Vogelsberg.