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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Bollenhut of Gutach Valley

"The Bollenhut of Gutach Valley, Black Forest, Germany" or "How the Gutch Valley came to be named "Der Bollenhutgemeinde” (The “PomPom Hat Community”)"
Metaformic Theory, Fall 2007
New College of California

What is a Bollenhut, and why might it be of interest to me, or anyone else, for that matter? It is a hat. But a Bollenhut is not just an ordinary hat. It is an extraordinary hat. This hat, which originally was worn in only one district, in three small villages of the Black Forest in the south of Germany, has a fascinating history. As I have discovered, with the passage of time it has come to have a life of its own.

I grew up with the image of the Bollenhut: a wooden carving of a woman wearing a Bollenhut hung on the wall in the room I grew up in with other paintings and photos of Germany. I have always taken the Bollenhut for granted. I never really thought about it, though I had always liked it, and I never knew the hat was called a Bollenhut until I started the research for this paper. It was a very familiar image to me however.

As I have begun to explore and tried to grasp Metaformic theory, I have become aware that I am beginning to view objects around me through a different lens. Through this lens, suddenly the Bollenhut became very intriguing. I began to wonder about the origins and cultural implications of this highly stylized and remarkable hat. How did it find such a prominent place in the folk culture of the Black Forest and come to represent an entire region? What was appealing about this hat that I had never consciously thought about before? Why was it shaped the way it was? How did the design originate? For the answers to these questions, I began by going to the source, digging into my own roots.

I was born in Germany and spent the first three years of my life in Duesseldorf, Germany. This fact, as well as my German father and my American mother, who had enthusiastically adopted Germany as her second home, left an indelible impression on my psyche. I also have a large extended family in Germany; we have kept in very close contact throughout the years through frequent correspondence and less frequent but regular visits in both directions. Germany is still very much part of my life and I find it influences my thought processes and outlook on life. I am even more connected to Germany through my older sister, who married an East-German scientist and moved to Berlin twenty-five years ago.

My connection to the Black Forest is less direct, however. By German geographical and social standards, Duesseldorf is considered neither physically nor culturally very close to the Black Forest. In fact, the people of Northern Germany have very definite and not always positive images of Southern Germany. Although Germany is a small country, it is highly regional and varies greatly, particularly from north to south. There are numerous dialects throughout the country as well as distinctive cultural traditions that differ greatly from region to region. In the South, especially in Swabia, there are many distinct dialects of High German, some of which could be unintelligible to speakers of High German in the North. In the Black Forest region, this is particularly true, and even these days, older people can still tell which village a person is from by hearing their accent.

When I went back to Germany many years ago through a student work-exchange program, I was offered the opportunity to work in a family-owned restaurant-hotel in the Black Forest. My father, whose origins were Northern German, teased me that I would return speaking an odd variant (from his viewpoint) of the High German he spoke. I was interested in this area, however, and decided to accept the position, in spite of his concern that I would come back speaking a fractured version of German.

I found myself in the tiny village of Todtmoos-Weg in the Southern Black Forest. It numbered around only 10 houses -actually just a bend in the road- and it was true that I had some difficulty understanding my host-family. But I soon adjusted. I could get by language-wise, and I quickly found myself intrigued with the people and even more so with the beautiful surroundings. On my hours off (few and far between) I would take long walks through the woods, following the carefully placed tiny red markers on the trees, which guided me for miles through dark and lush forest. Along the trails there were numerous shrines to the Virgin Mary, and sometimes a tiny chapel. I loved the forest and the ancient pathways that seemed as if they had been there forever. My walks were a longed-for respite from the relentless hours of unending restaurant and hotel work (including climbing three flights of steps with heavy baskets of wet sheets and towels, waiting to be hung in the rafters).

I lived with a family in a traditional Black Forest farmhouse; they had been farmers until after the war, when it became more profitable to run a pension than a farm. The kitchen of the restaurant and the completely modernized hotel rooms were located in the former barn where animals had previously been kept (providing shelter for the animals as well as heat for the other floors of the house). The floor above had become the living quarters (which I shared with the family), and the “Speicher”, or attic, where the hay would have been stored, had become the drying space for the abundant laundry the hotel produced.

This transition from a self-sustaining farm to a commercial restaurant and hotel was abhorrent to me; based on conversations I had with the proprietor and former farmer, I felt that he also was sad about the huge changes that had occurred since the end of World War II. He was sad, but resigned. Meanwhile, I kept dreaming and imagining what it must have been like before cars had cut through the mountains and modern transportation and communication irrevocably altered the way of life in the Black Forest.

Economic realities and the war brought change: in the present day the region has become a tourist attraction, and many, but not all of the traditional ways have changed. Industrialization and new technology resulted in a migration to the cities. As the rural population decreased, so too did the old customs and costumes. The forest suffers from “Waldsterben” (dying forest syndrome) and the favorite plant of the region, the “Silberdistel”, or silver thistle, which is both beautiful and has numerous medicinal properties, is endangered. The Forest has not escaped the ills of modern life.

However, the Black Forest is remarkable because, in spite of this, the region has managed to retain some of its unique cultural traditions, a few of which have survived and even flourished following the changes brought on by WWII and the passage of time. Because of its isolated location and previously difficult to access forests and valleys, certain customs were slow to adapt to modern times.

The Black Forest has always been known for its dark dense forests and its unique cultural characteristics. It is also known for the aminita mascaria, (fly agaric) mushroom, a magic mushroom with hallucinatory properties, which was used by ancient people for insight and transcendental experiences. “Amanita muscaria grows only under certain types of trees, mostly firs and evergreens.” It is perhaps not a coincidence that early 20th century explorations of the unconscious were undertaken in the vicinity of the ancient German forests.

The Black Forest was said to be inhabited by a race of elves, along with fairies, gnomes, dwarves, and other mythical creatures. Many of the well-known fairy tales that were gathered by the Brothers Grimm originated in the Black Forest. Jack Zipes writes in his book “The Brothers Grimm: From Enchanted Forest to the Modern World” (1988), “the ‘old German forests’ are mythical places in German cultural history where “the essential truths about German customs, laws and culture could be found...”

The Germany identity has always been closely connected to the forest. German (i.e. Nordic) origination myths begin in the forest: man and woman were created from the ash (Asc/male) and elm (Embla/female) trees. In ancient times pagan religion dominated the region. The original inhabitants are believed to be of Celtic origin, and spoke a Celtic tongue, which only later was exchanged for German. The historical background of the Black Forest is a fascinating study, which reveals a complex and insular society, dominated by its geographical boundaries and surrounding woodlands. All these factors have influenced the social, religious, and cultural expressions of this unique region.

Of particular interest as regards my research on the Bollenhut, is the custom of wearing “Trachten”, the special clothing that is representative of each village or region. While I was living in the village of Todtmoos-Weg, I remember my host-mother showing me her black silk hat with long black ribbons (now I recognize it as a “Backenhaube”). I was interested at the time, but we had little opportunity for conversation or visiting. In fact, I was never made to feel like a member of the family, but I attribute this to their stressful and hard-working life, which left little time for socialization.

The search for more information on the Bollenhut led me to Doe Library on the UCB campus. The few books I could find included an English-language book on “Peasant Costumes of the Black Forest” and several German-language books on “Trachten”. At first it seemed as though there was not much information about this hat. As my search continued on the Web, however, another universe opened up and the formerly obscure hat revealed a ubiquitous presence on countless websites that had any connection whatsoever to the Black Forest.

This was becoming interesting! I recruited my sister in Germany to help with translation and to send me any information she might come across (I have a good understanding of German, but reading and translating academic papers takes yet another level of fluency; I can plod through, but it’s a time-consuming effort.) As she discussed my research with my mother, who happened to be in Berlin visiting, my mother remembered that on her very first visit to Germany she had had her photo taken in 1951 in the Black Forest, standing between two women wearing “Trachten” and distinctive hats typical of the region. I searched through the photo albums and was excited to find the photos. As a young mother she had come to meet her extended German family for the first time.

From looking at the hats, and searching through my books I was able to identify the region as Simonswald, in the southern Black Forest, and the hats as a “Backenhaube” and a “Schnapphuetchen”. My mother was a little disappointed that the hats were not the “Bollenhute”, but I assured her that every piece of information was interesting as I slowly started to uncover the background of the Trachten tradition, and in particular, the HERstory of these hats.

Image 5.
The Kinzigtal, home to the three villages (Gutach, Kirnbach, and Reichenbach) where the Gutacher Trachten and Bollenhut are worn.

Confirming my observation that Germany is highly regional, my brother-in-law, a native of East Germany, informed my sister that he had never seen a “Bollenhut” and had no idea what it was (!). Both my sister and I were quite shocked by this; of course, it’s possible that as a man and a physicist, he might have been less likely and less interested to take notice of a hat. However, as shall be revealed, this hat has become emblematic of an entire region of Germany, and appears frequently in advertising and commercial images throughout the country these days, so it was somewhat surprising that he had not ever seen it, or at least recalled seeing it.

Before examining further the widespread popularity and influence on popular culture that this hat has had, I should describe it in detail: a Bollenhut is composed of a straw hat, lacquered white both inside and out (both for color and to strengthen the frame of the hat), which is topped by eight or eleven (or fourteen, depending on which source you accept) very large Bollen, or wool pom-poms, arranged in the shape of a cross, “presumably of religious significance”.

The Bollen are made in two colors only: red and black. Underneath the straw hat, a little black eye-veil and cap made of silk and net is worn. This is called a Tuellschleier : literally, “net veil hood”. The edge of the veil is stiffened so that it bends up and sticks out at the sides of the face, slightly shading the eyes. On the forehead net veil there is fine embroidery work. This hood, or cap, is fastened under the chin with black silk ribbons. It is on top of this delicate silk and net hood that the straw hat with the Bollen is worn. A Bollenhut can weigh up to 2 kg, and sometimes due to the heavy weight on the head, the Bollenhut is removed and only the Tuellschleier is worn.

The Bollenhut is first worn by young unmarried girls at the time of their confirmation. Significantly, only unmarried women may wear the distinctive red colored Bollen; married women, or women in mourning or “dishonored” (?) wear black Bollenhute.

Image 7: Unmarried women wearing Bollenhut and Trachten from the Gutach Valley.
Image 8: Married women in black Bollenhut.

According to Albert Reinhardt in his book “Schwarzwaelder Trachten” , even the oldest rural costumes date back only to the middle of the 16th century. They developed from fashionable clothes of the middle ages, and adapted over time to regional conditions and tastes. The folk dress reveals skilled craftsmanship and an artistic sense for the beautiful.

The basis of the Bollenhut is a straw hat. The Bollenhut developed in conjunction with the art of straw weaving. “It was not until the 16th century that women’s hats began to emerge in their own right,” which approximately coincides with the beginnings of domestic straw plaiting in southern Europe. Originally the hats were painted with circles in red and black colors. Soon after this pompoms of red or black wool were sewn on. The pompoms became larger and larger in the course of the 19th century.

One book refers to the Bollen as “roses”. It also describes the hat as follows: “in the form of a cross fourteen thick woolen roses are sewn on the hat.” The hat was worn on Sundays and other special feast days or weddings. However, Frau Hedwig Kaltenbach, the only and perhaps the last Bollenhutmacherin (Bollen hatmaker) in the village of Kinzigtal , says that the hat did not develop until the 1800’s; she herself learned from her aunt, who was an established hatmaker. The tradition had been broken however, and was revived again in the 1950’s, according to Frau Kaltenbach.

While the women of the region were known for thick and plentiful hair, the hair would be completely concealed by the black damask hood or Tuellschleier. As previously mentioned, a fine veil covers the forehead. (It is interesting to observe that this is a VEIL, in an area of the world which we don’t usually associate with veils, i.e. women veiling themselves.) The Tuellshleier is still worn in some areas where the Trachten has been revived.

Image9. Tuellschleier cap

The fame of the Bollenhut spread when the Grand Duchess Luise von Baden adopted the custom of wearing the Gutach Tracht-style hat during her visits to the health spas such as Baden-Baden, a resort famed for its healing waters located on the Western foothills of the Black Forest. She set the trend for wearing the Tracht-style clothing and hat as evening wear among the fashionable upper class women of the time (1838-1923).

As mentioned, these hats were originally intended for use on Sundays to be worn when attending church. They were saved for other special ecclesiastical holidays such as Easter, Christmas, and special feast days (and these days, for touristic events). The region where the Bollenhut came from is predominantly Evangelical Protestant, but there are also Catholics living in the same area. Both communities wear the Bollenhut.

The Trachten outfits, including skirts, vests, blouses, socks, and special shoes, were expensive and valuable clothing, and were treasured by their owners. The Bollenhut Trachten was different from other styles, being somewhat simpler in design (perhaps to compensate for the audacity of the hat!).

The Bollenhut style skirts were made of Wiefel: handspun wool and linen. The black cloth was tightly pleated and ornamented with a velvet girdle at the waist, embroidered with flowers. The Schobe (jacket) was lined in red and black, having a collar decorated with sequins; a cotton blouse with large puffed-sleeves was worn underneath.

In other regions styles could be vastly different, with huge black silk hats, large white silk embroidered shawls with long fringes worn over the shoulders, and an apron often completing the outfit. Sometimes large white starched ruffs were worn at the neck. Each region had their specific style, which would identify to which village they belonged.

Image 10. Grand Duchess Luis von Baden, who popularized the Bollenhut among the upper classes by wearing the hat and Gutacher Trachten while taking the water cures at Baden-Baden.*

The basic colors of most Black Forest Trachten are always red, black and white, embodying and expressing the simple, ancient, and sedate qualities of the traditional inhabitants of the region. The native dresses and skirts were made only from natural materials, wool, linen, and silk. By the middle of the 10th century the Industrial Revolution and the introduction of milled cloth had a great impact on the clothes of the farmers and country people and traditional clothes were no longer as popular.

While the fashion and for wearing Tracht has decreased since the early part of the 20th century, there were periodic revivals and more recently beginning in the 1950’s, the formation of numerous Volkstrachtenverein (societies for the preservation of folk traditions). The first Volkstrachtenverein was founded in 1883, however, which would indicate that there has been an ongoing struggle to preserve these traditions. Today there is again a resurgence of interest, and there are now 52 organizations in the Black Forest alone that promote the wearing and preservation of traditional costumes and customs.

The popularization of Trachten and more specifically the Bollenhut were greatly influenced by two painters who lived and painted in the Black Forest, Wilhelm Haseman, and Curt Liebech. Their paintings brought the images of the Black Forest to the outside world and presented a picture of harmony between the land and people. Hasemann was from Muehlberg on the Elbe, but eventually he built his atelier in Gutach, and died and was buried there. Curt Liebich also lived and painted in Gutach. A friend of the Rudolph Steiner, founder of Anthroposophy, Liebich had a great love for the preservation of Trachten, and an affinity with the people of the Schwarzwald. He sculpted a WWII memorial in Gutach, which depicts a woman weeping with a Bollenhut at her feet. At the time, some people felt that a woman did not belong on a war memorial; Liebich prevailed however, and the memorial stands to this day in the town of Gutach. (I unfortunately could not locate a photo of it.)

Image 11. Curt Liebich, artist. “Schwarzwaldhaus”. 1918. A Black Forest house close to a river.
Image 12. Wilhelm Hasemann. “Strasse nach Gutach-Oberlehof”. 1883.

The Bollenhut again achieved fame throughout the country with the release of the film: Das Schwaarzwaldmaedel” (see photo page 21) in 1950. Through this film, the Bollenhut became the symbol for the entire Black Forest. “ Das Schwaarzwaldmaedel” was the first postwar film made in color. It was the first in the genre of “Heimat” films. The film was the debut of Sonja Ziemen paired with Rudolph Prack ; they became extremely popular together, and the film was a sensation. Following its success, travel to the Black Forest greatly increased and its popularity as a vacation destination was sealed.

Images 13 &14. Sonja Ziemen, actress: “Das Schwarzwaldmaedel”
Image 15. “Das Schwarzwaldmaedel” film poster, 1950.

These days the Bollenhut image can be found on the sides of streetcars , on tourist websites, and on advertising for everything from beer to cosmetics. In the spring of 2007 the Porsche company had a huge party for all its employees in Berlin; employees from throughout the country were invited to bring something representative of their region. The centerpiece of the offering from those visiting from the Black Forest region was a small gold Porsche that was decorated on top with HUGE red Bollen! On the side of the care a poster shouted “SEXY: Der Nordschwarzwald” (‘SEXY: the north Black Forest’) in large letters.

Other advertising and images from popular culture are included below, such as:
the logo for the Schwarzwald online sites (Image 15).
stamp (Image 18)
stained glass (Image 19)
teddy bear (image 20)
cuckoo clock (Image 21---note Bollenhut figure swinging)
graphic image advertising Black Forest (Image 22)
old posters (Images 23,24,25 )
advertisement for Kirschwasser (alcohol) (Image 26)
doll (Image 27)
mannequin (Image 28)
cartoon (Image 29)

While continually surfing the Web for any further information, by chance (I’m not sure how I found this) I found to my delight a film about the Bollenhut entitled:
“Der Bollenhut: Ein Symbol der Schwarzwaelder Tracht” . You can access this and watch the 25 minute trailer at the following URL:

(email me if you're interested in watching the film. I can't fit the URL into this format!)

It was made in 1995. In it, Frau Hedwig Kaltenbach (previously mentioned on page 12) is shown painting the straw hat with laquer, and carefully describing the process of making a Bollenhut. She shows how the red wool Bollen are shaped and reshaped, being continually steamed in between, and allowed to “breath” so that they eventually will hold their shape perfectly. After being sewn on the hat, she again takes scissors and carefully trims the Bollen until they are perfectly rounded, with no stray pieces of wool sticking out. It takes her one week to complete a hat. Earlier the straw hat was finely handmade; now it is bought from a factory. (Straw weaving was one of the cottage industries of the Black Forest.)

Frau Kaltenbach bemoans the fact that she is the last Bollen maker; each hat takes a week to make , and she charges 300 EU per hat. But she is not passing on the art to anyone. In the film, young women are interviewed and asked what wearing the Tracht and Bollenhut mean to them. They answer that they feel very special when they are wearing these costumes, and it ‘makes them proud’, and strengthens their identity with their local surroundings and community. It also gives them a sense of being grown up; they are of course only allowed to wear the Bollenhut for the first time to their confirmation ceremony. In this way, the hat takes on a particular significance. They quote the German saying
“Schoene Kleider machen auch schoene Menschen.”

Below are several pictures of women making Bollenhute in a museum: (perhaps this is Frau Kaltenbach, but I cannot confirm.)

Image 30: making Bollen, Gutach Trachten museum
Images 31 and 32 (following page): Bollen making demonstration: museum

In addition, there are some images that I find so fascinating I just can’t stand to leave them out. While the Bollenhut is the most well-known and popular of the Trachten hats in the Black Forest, there are many others of note, and I will include for comparison’s sake a few of these.
Images 33 & 34 are of Trachten hats from another region (unidentified) of the Black Forest. These are contemporary photos of women who belong to a particular “Trachtenverein”; these photos were taken at a contemporary annual “Trachten” festival in the Black Forest.

Image 35 is of a Hoernerkappe. This is an old photo, and I don’t know if these are worn anymore.
Image 36. ‘cap for an old woman’

In conclusion, one can observe that the Bollenhut has thoroughly captivated and taken hold in the popular imagination and culture, while continuing to be an important cultural link to the past for inhabitants of the Black Forest. Perhaps the bright red Bollen are simply too attractive to resist. It would seem obvious that metaformically speaking, the Bollenhut is most definitely a perfect example of a cultural expression that has a relationship to menarche and rituals surrounding its onset (even though the time at which young girls are first allowed to wear the hats comes later than the average onset of menstruation.) The red color, assigned only to “virgins” (as quoted from one of my sources), is surely representative of fertility, vitality, and also advertises availability (as a bride).

The strictly observed functions of the hat- to be worn on only specific occasions and specific time periods according to age and marital status- point to a highly evolved observation of life passage rituals; the Bollenhut both indicates and celebrates these turning points and rites of passage, announcing them to the world, while giving an opportunity to the girl or woman who wears it to become self aware of her own position in life and the community.

By extension, as authenticated with numerous images and background information, the entire region of the Black Forest, as well as the specific area where the hat is worn, has enthusiastically adopted the hat as its mascot. Thus, “Der Bollenhutgemeinde” or “The Pompom Hat Community “ is proudly proclaimed on the website for the Gutach Valley:

It also occurred to me, while gathering the different photos, that there might be a relationship between the following images, which I shall print here (photos are of amanita mushrooms next to Bollenhut) . (Unfortunately I have not figured out how to upload all the 33 photos that should accompany this paper, but please note the image of the amanita at the top of the page, next to the Bollenhut...)


Erich, Oswald. “Deutsche Volkstrachten.” Leupzig: Bibliographisches Institute, 1934.
Hahm, Konrad. “Deutsche Bauertrachten.” Berlin: Atlantis Verlag, 1934.
Pettigrew, Dora W. “Peasant Costume of the Black Forest.” London: A&C Black LTD,1937.
Reinhardt, Albert. “Schwarzwaelder Trachten.” Karlsruhe: Badenia Verlag, 1968.
Roehrich, Lutz, and Schlenker, Hermann. “Der Bollenhut: Ein Symbol der Schwarzwaelder
Tracht”. Institute Fuer den Wissenschaftlichen Film.Goettinge: 1995. (Film Synopsis)
Published by Lutz Roehrich.
Snowden, James. “The Folkdress of Europe.” Mayflower Books: New York City, 1979.

*images 10 & 20 courtesy of Keith L. Oshins

The Black Forest. Retrieved Dec. 10, 2007 from http://faeriekeeper.netforest4.htm
Information ueber den Schwarzwald:Wo der Bollenhut erfunden wurde. Retrieved Dec. 8, 2007
from (information about Gutach village) Retrieved Dec.7, 2007

Amanita Muscaria. and-santa-claus/ Retrieved Dec. 8, 2007

Und Ewig Singt die Kuckucksuhr.Von Kirschtorte bis Bollenhut. Christof Siemes.09/09/2006.Die Zeit.

Der Bollenhut.

Trachten am Oberrhein und im Schwarzwald.

The Gutach Valley.

Schwarzwaelder Trachten. Rika Wettstein.

Gutacher Festtagstracht. Badische Heimat, copyright.

Heimat Schwarzwald.

Wo der Bollenhut erfunden wurde.


Schwarzwaldt Freilich Museum.
Schwarzwaelder Trachten.


Catherine said...

I also read somewhere that there can be 11 Bollen: 4 for the directions of the earth, 4 for the directions of the sky, and 3 for the Trinity!
I myself really like the mushroom "connection"!

Anonymous said...

How facinating. One of my many interests is costume and you have answered many questions for me. A highly informative and very interesting piece of history. A pity that the custom is dying out. Like most things it is worth saving!