The Wash (Die Wäsche)
The oldest form of laundry washing in Mecklenburg used a barrel which sat upright on a three-legged
stand. The laundry was placed in the barrel. A sheet was placed over the top of the barrel and two buckets full of sieved
beech ash were poured onto the sheet. Then water was poured over the ash. First cold water, then warm water, and at last boiling
water. After the laundry had set some time in the caustic solution to give it time to work, the solution was discharged from
a hole near the bottom of the barrel. A wood stick with a bent end was used as a paddle to prevent the laundry from clogging
the hole as the solution ran off. The runoff was collected, heated again, and poured over the laundry another time. This continued
until all the ash was leached out.
This process lasted 12 to 24 hours. The laundry was then rinsed as much as possible with flowing
water, wrung out by hand, and laid in the sun to bleach or hung on a line to dry.
materials besides linen began to be be used for clothing, the washing methods changed. A wash boiler for cooking the laundry
was set up in the kitchen. The laundry was placed in the upper part or tub of the boiler. The women then carried buckets of
water from the well or the pump to fill the tub. Rain water, soft water, was also collected. A fire was built in the firebox
under the tub and the laundry was cooked and stirred with a paddle. After the cooking, the women rubbed the laundry on a wash
board with a hot soap solution. Next it was rinsed in a tub, wrung out by hand, and then put in the sun to bleach or hung
on the line to dry.
When I was in Mecklenburg in 1997, I saw one of these wash boilers in the kitchen of the house that
had been my great great grandfathers in Muggenburg. It was still in use and it looked just like what you see in the picture
at the left.
After 1900 some farms got swing washers which saved the rubbing on the washboard and had a mechanism
for wringing out the clothes. These mechanisms still had to be cranked by hand, however. Also around this time the pump was
brought into the house so water did not have to be drawn from the well.
Because it was such a time consuming process, the laundry was only done once every 4 to 6 weeks.