Sunday, October 3, 2010

Pears and German Reunification

My home country of Germany is currently celebrating the 20th anniversary of its reunification, one of the most momentous developments in its modern history. Having been born in what used to be West Germany only a few weeks before the Fall of the Berlin Wall, I never consciously experienced the divided Germany and yet it is a part of our history that I have been acutely aware of for as long as I can remember, in large part perhaps because of my parents' enthusiasm to get to know those parts of Germany which throughout their childhood had been a different country, despite sharing the same language and culture. None of this would relate to gardens, gardening, or plants - the usual subjects of this blog - if it were not for a much-loved poem about a generous man and his pear tree which has been read and memorized by generations of German school children, myself included. "Herr von Ribbeck auf Ribbeck im Havelland" is a poem by 19th century German novelist and poet Theodor Fontane which is set in a region - the Havelland - just west of Berlin in the German state of Brandenburg, more or less in the center of what used to be East Germany. The family and estate mentioned in the poem actually exist and the German national news site today featured the following German-language video report about the fate of the estate and the family's continued involvement with it, including its renovation after the end of East German socialism and the re-establishment of its famous pear trees: Die Birnen des Herrn Ribbeck

If this has piqued your interest or simply made you nostalgic, here is the poem itself:

Herr von Ribbeck auf Ribbeck im Havelland

Herr von Ribbeck auf Ribbeck im Havelland,
Ein Birnbaum in seinem Garten stand,
Und kam die goldene Herbsteszeit
Und die Birnen leuchteten weit und breit,
Da stopfte, wenn's Mittag vom Turme scholl,
Der von Ribbeck sich beide Taschen voll,
Und kam in Pantinen ein Junge daher,
So rief er: »Junge, wiste 'ne Beer?«
Und kam ein Mädel, so rief er: »Lütt Dirn,
Kumm man röwer, ick hebb 'ne Birn.«

So ging es viel Jahre, bis lobesam
Der von Ribbeck auf Ribbeck zu sterben kam.
Er fühlte sein Ende. 's war Herbsteszeit,
Wieder lachten die Birnen weit und breit;
Da sagte von Ribbeck: »Ich scheide nun ab.
Legt mir eine Birne mit ins Grab.«
Und drei Tage drauf, aus dem Doppeldachhaus,
Trugen von Ribbeck sie hinaus,
Alle Bauern und Büdner mit Feiergesicht
Sangen »Jesus meine Zuversicht«,
Und die Kinder klagten, das Herze schwer:
»He is dod nu.
Wer giwt uns nu 'ne Beer?«

So klagten die Kinder. Das war nicht recht -
Ach, sie kannten den alten Ribbeck schlecht;
Der neue freilich, der knausert und spart,
Hält Park und Birnbaum strenge verwahrt.
Aber der alte, vorahnend schon
Und voll Mißtraun gegen den eigenen Sohn,
Der wußte genau, was damals er tat,
Als um eine Birn' ins Grab er bat,
Und im dritten Jahr aus dem stillen Haus
Ein Birnbaumsprößling sproßt heraus.

Und die Jahre gingen wohl auf und ab,
Längst wölbt sich ein Birnbaum über dem Grab,
Und in der goldenen Herbsteszeit
Leuchtet's wieder weit und breit.
Und kommt ein Jung' übern Kirchhof her,
So flüstert's im Baume: »Wiste 'ne Beer?«
Und kommt ein Mädel, so flüstert's: »Lütt Dirn,
Kumm man röwer, ick gew' di 'ne Birn.«

So spendet Segen noch immer die Hand
Des von Ribbeck auf Ribbeck im Havelland.

And here, of course, is an English translation:

Squire von Ribbeck at Ribbeck in Havelland

Squire von Ribbeck at Ribbeck in Havelland,
In his garden there stood a pear tree grand,
And when autumn came round, the golden tide,
And pears were glowing far and wide,
Squire von Ribbeck, when noon rang out, would first
Fill both his pockets full to burst.
And then, when a boy in his clogs came there,
He called: ”My lad, do you want a pear?”
He would hail a girl that chanced to pass:
“Come over, I have a pear, little lass!”

Many years thus went, till the noble and high
Squire von Ribbeck at Ribbeck came to die.
He felt his end. It was autumntide.
Again pears were smiling far and wide.
“I depart now this life” von Ribbeck said.
I wish that a pear in my grave be laid”.
And after three days, from this mansard roofed hall,
Squire von Ribbeck was carried out, `neath a pall.
All farmers  and cottagers, solemm-faced,
Sang: ”Jesus, in Thee my trust is placed”,
And the children lamented, with hearts like lead:
“Who`ll give us a pear, now that he is dead.?”
So the children lamented. It was unkind,

As they did not know old Ribbeck´s mind.
True, the new one is skimping niggardly,
Keeps park and pears tree `neath lock and key;
But having forebodings, the older one,
And full of distrust for his proper son,
Knew well what he did, when the order he gave,
That a pear should be laid in his grave.

From the silent dwelling, after three years,
The tip of a pear tree seedling appears.
And year after year, the seasons go round,
Long since a pear tree is shading the mound.

And in the golden autumntide
Again it is glowing far and wide.
When a boy is crossing the churchyard there,
The tree is whispering: Want a pear?”
And when a girl chances to pass,
It whispers: “Come here for a pear, little lass.”

Thus blessings still dispensses the hand
Of von Ribbeck at Ribbeck in Havelland.

If you want to know more about the estate, the poem, the pears, or the von Ribbeck family, you can visit the family's extensive website here. It even includes translations of the poem into Hindi, Chinese, and Afrikaans!


  1. It's hard to believe that 20 years have passed already.

  2. Ein wunderbares Gedicht! Ich hatte von der Geschichte schon gehört, aber das Gedicht nie richtig gelesen. Ein schöner Tribut zum Tag der deutschen Einheit.


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