Spoonfuls of Germany

Field of coins



Although I never lived in the house, the place in Germany that I associate the most with “home” is my grandfather’s ancestral farm and mill in east Westphalia. It is filled with many happy childhood memories. That’s where I learned to ride a bike, snuck into the pig stall, got muddy playing in the stream, and lingered around my grandfather’s two older brothers (my grandfather died in the Second World War) as they were working the fields with Ella the draft horse.

It was on one of those farm fields that in 1958, a farm worker made a stunning discovery when the plough hit something solid in the ground. He dug out a three-legged bronze vessel and placed it in front of the barn door. My mother’s cousin remembers how she and her mother took it to the kitchen sink and slowly washed away the heavily compacted soil. Out came 60 large silver coins, three silver garment ornaments, and three silver knife shafts from the early 17th century.

The treasure had been buried during the Thirty Years War. It was a war as complex as it was long, fought over religion and territorial hegemony in Europe and involving, at different stages, the Holy Roman Empire under the rule of the Habsburgs, Denmark, Spain, France, and Sweden. The war started on May 23, 1618 in Prague when a group of Protestant Bohemian noblemen threw three Catholic officials of the Holy Roman Emperor, Matthias of Austria, out of a window, an event known as the Second Defenestration of Prague. And it ended with the Peace of Westphalia, a series of peace treaties signed between May and October 1648 in the Westphalian cities of Münster and Osnabrück.

Being located in center of Europe, the Thirty Years War took an especially high toll on the land that is now Germany. Historians associated the treasure found on my family’s estate to the passing through of the Danish army in 1625. The famous poem Tears of the Fatherland, by Andreas Gryphius, written in 1636, draws a harrowing picture of what the population lived through, and under what circumstances the treasure must have been hidden:

(…) The towers are on fire, the churches turned upside down.

The town hall is in ruins, the strong ones are destroyed.

Young girls are raped. Wherever we turn our gaze,

Fire, plague, and death pierce through heart and spirit.

Ever-fresh streams of blood run through town and ramparts.

It’s been three times six years now, since our mighty rivers’ flow

Was blocked almost by corpses, just barely trickling through. (…)

A few years ago, my mother’s cousin, who has lived on the family estate all her life and devoted herself to the never-ending task of preserving it as a historic landmark, gave me one of the coins as a necklace. It is one of my most treasured possessions though I admit it gives me a bit of a shiver each time I wear it.



7 thoughts on “Field of coins

  1. Wow, what a story! Very interesting. I loved that you remember the draft horse’s name.

  2. Was too quick on the “send” button…

    This is a coin displaying the “Wilder Mann” motif that is rather typical for coins from the Braunschweig-/Harz-Region and if I have seen this right it was minted in the first years of the 17th century. During this period the coins still had a rather high fraction of silver, later, during the early 1620ies there was a real currency crises: the silver fraction was rather poor and people tried to keep the “good” (older) money as long as possible.
    As you described during the 30yW there are many treasure hoards in central europe: people tried to hide their valuable belongings by burying them somewhere “behind the house”/the barn/nearby the willow. And one can easily imagine that they did not come back to get their things back. There are regions in Germany where 2/3 of the inhabitants died during the 30yW.
    Congratulations, this is a wonderful piece of both, family history and as well German history of the early 17th century!
    And it is really adorable that you keep this an this wonderful necklace…

    • Richensa – Yes! I am impressed, sounds like a numismatic specialist has spoken here! It is indeed a coin from the Braunschweig-Harz region, and of a a better silver quality than other common currency at the time.

  3. Great post, Nadia!
    I’ve always loved the term “defenestration” – it sounds so technical for shoving someone out the window (Prager Fenstersturz).
    And my mother’s family homestead is near Gütersloh in Westphalia and I (=suburb girl) can relate to your childhood memories of farming. I remember the tractor “rearing up” when we hit a big root with the plow near the willow. Sadly, no treasures!

    • Ha! Yes I stumbled upon the word ‘defenestration’ too when I reread the post again, it’s been a few years since I wrote this. – I might own an artifact but I never got to sit on the tractor like you 🙂

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