Prune Men, or Prune People as over the years "Zwetschgenmaennla", originally prune boys who have been around since 1790, were joined by Prune Girls or "Zwetschgenweibla", are one of the most popular traditional German handcrafts. Although as "Good Luck" symbols especially around Christmas and Silvester, New Year.
Also known as Pflaumenmännchen and Quetschemännchen, plum people are usually around 15 cms, six inches, tall and are "Dried Fruit People" made from dried plums, figs, raisins and nuts.
Figs for the bodies; Prunes for arms and legs; Raisins for hands; sometimes Peanuts in their shells for feet and with painted Walnuts as heads.
Using scraps of fabric the dolls are dressed in hundreds of different ways to become individual little men and women.
There is a whole community of Prune People, everything from Gardeners, Chimney Sweeps and Cooks to Guitar players, Priests and "Omas", Grandmothers, with their half finished pieces of knitting on needles.
A handicraft found in many European fruit growing areas, there is more than one story as to how Zwetschgenmaennla first came about.
Among others they could have been invented by a Nuremberg father whose work involved using wire who invented the doll as a surprise for his children; orphans in the Cologne region who were given the job of making toys in order to bring some money into their orphanage; by a sick old man who wanted to reward a neighbor's children who used to help him.
Poor, he could not pay them for their work, so as a "Thank You" made little dried fruit people from fruit and nuts grown in his garden.
The handcrafted figurines could also have been brought into Germany from the East, created during Europe's 17th century Thirty Years War as children's toys by Croatian cavalrymen; the word "Zwetschge" is not of German origin but a Slavic expression for "plum".
Whatever their real origins Dried Plum People are considered a "Good Luck" symbol in Germany, and as a Nuremberg saying goes:
"Hosd an Zwetschga im Haus, gäid dir es Geld und Gligg ned aus" ... "If you have a prune person in your house, you will never be without money and happiness".
A dried plum Chimney Sweep is a gift given at Christmas, New Year and Weddings and one of the many Zwetschgenmaennla chosen as a Birthday present, which, as there is a longstanding German tradition that a Chimney sweep is also a "Good Luck" symbol, means twice the amount of luck.
It isn't difficult to make Zwetschgenmanderln, so if you would like one of your own here is a guide:
What you need:
Flexible but strong Wire
Dried Plums, for arms, legs and feet
Peanuts in their shell an alternative for feet
Raisins for hands
Walnut, with smooth surface so it is easier to decorate
Small flat piece of wood as base
Glue or glue gun
The "How To":
Push two lengths of wire, about 7 inches, 17 cms, firmly into the base
Thread three dried plums on each wire
Bend the ones nearest the base slightly to make feet
Thread four dried figs through both wires, this is the doll's body
Bend one wire over the last fig and fix, keep one wire free as a foundation for the head
Take another length of wire, push it through the top dried fig. This will be the arms
Thread two dried plums on each "Arm".
There should be a little wire left over on each after the plums have been added, and a raisin can be fitted to these to make "Hands", or left bare so that one or both ends can be bent to "grasp" onto something
Decorate a walnut with eyes, eyebrows, nose and mouth. These can be painted on, or the nose can be something small that is attached.
Fix the walnut head over the remaining wire so its length runs as far as possible through the nut, and this can be glued to the fig for extra security if necessary
Now you can "dress" your dried fruit doll which ever way you want; with scraps of cloth and/or items from craft stores.
It will keep for years and need little care, just dusting, and if its body turns grey that is sugar not mold, so can be removed by wiping with a little alcohol.
Your Plum Man or Plum Woman is ready, to bring you, or the "Lucky" recipient, Good Luck.
Zwetschgenmaennla group photo by christkindlesmarkt.de © Stadt Nürnberg