Prehistoric Hessian-Bavarian truckers
Born out of desperation
The beginning of the freight transporting trade in Frammersbach dates back to the early times of the glass blowing industry, which was already established in the 14th century in the vicinity of the town. Since Frammersbach did not have its own glassworks, the villagers worked in the neighbouring town's glassworks, sometimes as glass blowers, more often as freight carriers.
Since the business of transporting glass soon flourished, it did not take long before the carters began transporting other goods as well. For the people of Frammersbach, transporting merchandise would remain the most important industry for the next hundred years. The main reason lies in the poor soils in the area. The second factor was, that according to the Labourer Act of 1406, jobs in the glass industry were only inherited within in the family. It was thus nearly impossible to get a job in this line of work.
In the 16th century, at the height of carting trade in Frammersbach, over 30 Frammersbach carters were working for German merchants in Antwerp. After the turn of the century, the Thirty Years' War brought a serious depression to the trade. In the chaos of war, which brought famine and disease, more than two thirds of the villagers living in Frammersbach died. The carting trade in Frammersbach never truly recovered. Improvements to the shipping and postal infrastructure and eventually the development of the railway, further limited the need for heavy goods to be transported manually by the carters. The people of Frammersbach turned to collecting rags and scrap metal to supply the paper mills and black smiths in Lohr and Frammersbach with sufficient raw material. The rag and waste collectors of Frammersbach became important paper merchants, a trade which was to become economically very important for the village right into the 20th century.
Spessart life lines
Since the early Middle Ages numerous important long distance routes passed through the Spessart; the Birkenhainer Strasse (Birch Grove Street), Eselsweg (Donkey Way), Poststrasse (Post Street) and the Wiener Strasse (Vienna Street). Frammersbach was not only connected to the North-South transport routes, but also to the much more important East-West passages. The carters could thus easily pass home on their months-long voyages.
Their main travel route led the Frammersbach carters to Antwerp. At the time, this was Europe's foremost shipping port, the target harbour for uncountable ships returning from the New World. Here the "Hesse folk" - as the carters from Frammersbach were locally known, since they lived close to the Hesse border - inhabited their own home, the so-called "Hesse House". Since 1480 the Frammersbach carters were present in all the economic centres across central Europe - Augsburg, Bergen op Zoom, Frankfurt on the Main, Cologne, Leipzig, Nuremberg - working as carters, merchants and livestock traders.
The German economic motor
With their long wagon convoys, the carters - also called cabmen (in German "Hauderer") - brought life to all places they passed through and stopped at on their way through Germany and Holland. Among the carters, those coming from Hesse, especially those from Frammersbach enjoyed a very good reputation. In Antwerp a street was named "Hesse Street" in their honour. The word "Hesse" appears in several notarial deeds as the official job title of the Frammersbach carters. The guild of Antwerp transport workers, who loaded and unloaded the carts for the Hesse carters was called "atie van het laden ende onladen van Hessenwagen" or "Hessennatie" in short. The area before the Antwerp seaport, where the carts were loaded and unloaded was called "Hesse Square". Until 1928 the term "Hesse skirt" named the traditional costume of the Frammersbach carters.
A further reference for the economic importance of the Frammersbach carters is given in the town archives of Antwerp. The first recording of a Frammersbach carter in these books dates back to 1430. The carters transported pepper, salt, various fabrics, parchment, glass, precious stones and metals, arms and armour and numerous groceries. The returning freight comprised mainly Dutch quills and other light goods like used fabric and scraps of new fabric. These cuttings served as raw material for the paper mills in Frammersbach and Lohr.
The carter as trademark
When visitors come to Frammersbach in the Spessart, they will notice the ever re-occurring image of the "Fuhrmann" - the carter - depicted on the houses in the village and above all on most souvenirs. It is quite apparent, that Frammersbach uses its cultural heritage of the carter for its own promotion today. This becomes obvious when one looks at the composition of the town crest. This crest was officially introduced in 1956 together with the town flag. Half of the crest depicts the carter as immortalized by Jost Amman in his wood cut, while the other half shows three golden cross bars and a six-spoke silver wheel, the symbols of the Duke of Rieneck and the electorate of Mainz.
Most souvenirs in Frammersbach exhibit reminders of the carting tradition. Typical examples range from pictures or sketches of the carters on glasses or crest plates to culinary specialties bearing names like "Frammersbacher Fuhrmannsteller" - the Frammersbach Carter Platter or "Frammersbacher Fuhrmannsbrotzeit" - the Frammersbach Carter Sandwiches. The picture is completed with activities organised through the tourist agency like the "Fuhrmannlauf" - the Carter Run.
All this reminiscence, mostly serves to exploit the tradition to promote tourism. Questions concerning the historical reality of the carters' influence on traditional life and the cultural landscape, and whether the image, which is mediated is somewhat authentic, are generally not raised. To change this, the village of Frammersbach and the Archaeological Spessart Project have initiated a town museum dedicated to presenting the carting and home sewing traditions, thus taking a first important step to studying and revealing the truth around the "Frammersbach Fuhrmann."
How deeply the trade is anchored in the lives of Frammersbach people is easily told with the following anecdote:
For months the Frammersbach traders stayed away from home. Some only returned after the better part of a year. One time a man from Frammersbach stayed away for such an unusually long time, that people started worrying. "Something's happened to him, he's not coming back", they said. But alas one day he did turn up, and he was very happy to be back on his home turf, as were the villagers who greeted him happily upon his return. He just could not tell the people enough about his trip: why he had not returned earlier, how he met so many different folks in numerous countries and towns, how he never forgot his home town and how elated he was when he met people from Frammersbach abroad. "One day", he would often recount, "I got to the place where the world is boarded up. There I wanted to know what was on the other side. But the wooden fence was too high for me to look over. So as I strode back and forth along the fence, I found a knothole in just the right height for me to look through. It didn't take much looking before I spotted something. And what was it? There stood a man, and as I took a closer look - who was it? - it was a Frammersbacher!"
"Beobachter am Main", 1937, Nr. 256
Gottfried Anderlohr, Karl Steigerwald, Ludwig Weigand & Bernd Zänsel: So war es bei uns - Markt Frammersbach und sein Ortsteil Habichsthal in alten Bildern. Bd. 1, Goldach 1989.
Elisabeth Friedel: Geschichte und Fortwirken der Tradition des Fuhrmannswesens in Frammersbach. Masch. School thesis at the Franz-Ludwig-von Erthal-Gymnasium, Lohr am Main, Lohr 1984.
Hans Hönlein: Die Frammersbacher Fuhrleute und die Grippentracht ihrer Frauen. Schriften zur Geschichte der Stadt Lohr, des Spessarts und des angrenzenden Frankenlandes, Issue 1, Lohr a. Main 1949.
Peter Moser: Frammersbach 1339-1989. Entstehung und wirtschaftliche Entwicklung, Bamberg 1989.
Peter Moser: Mittel- und Nordeuropäischer Landtransport. Masch. Thesis. Mainz 1990;
Ludwig Schleyer: Frammersbach. Geschichte einer uralten Spessartsiedlung, Lohr a. Main 1961.