crafts History

The autumn come and all men vanished – the peddler’s trade in Kočevska (Gottschee) region

“The Gottscheers were peddling folks. The autumn come and all men vanished. They ventured forth to various cities – all the way to Berlin. Many of them earned well and I must admit that at that time in the Kočevska region – particularly in the city of Kočevje itself – prosperity bloomed.  In taverns, you could treat yourself to the best snacks that you would not find even in Ljubljana,” wrote Fran Saleški Finžgar in his book Years of My Journeying.

Every year men from Kočevska region took to other lands of the then Austro-Hungarian Empire and Germany to seek their fortune. They carried their goods in knitted peddler’s baskets and sold it in the evening in guest-houses. They offered “fix-nix” – a lottery with numbers from 1 to 10 or attracted passers-by with games “higher or lower”, “three below a hundred” or “even–odd number”. A product in the peddler’s assortment was the prize for winning the bet or drawing of the correct number. And this was the way of life all up until the Second World War.

Gottscheer peddler in the city of Gottschee (Kočevje). Photo by: Herbert Otterstädt. Published in: Got
Gottscheer peddler in the city of Gottschee (Kočevje). Photo by: Herbert Otterstädt. Published in: Gottschee, verlorene Heimat deutscher Waldbauern, 1962; available at: www.gottschee.de.

Since 1492, when King Frederich III, granted them the right of tax-exempt free trade of their own products, the Gottscheers, who were among the first European peddlers, i.e. vagrant merchants (havzirarji from Germ. Hausierer, Eng. peddlers) sold their homemade products around European cities: woodenware (suha roba), dormouse pelts, linen, cattle, etc. In addition, in the 18th century, they also obtained the license to resell products that were carried on horses or in a wagon from the ports of Rijeka and Bakar: fruit, rice, sardines, mussels, wine, etc. Some of them, the so-called chestnut sellers roasted and sold chestnuts, while others traded in sweets, lottery games and small items for everyday use.

The peddling licence from 1932. Published by: www.gottscheer-gedenkstaette.at.
The peddling licence from 1932. Published by: www.gottscheer-gedenkstaette.at.

The denomination of peddler (Slov: krošnjar) originates from the knitted basket – krošnja – in which peddlers carried their goods. The Gottscheer peddlers wore the basket in front, while the peddlers of Ribnica carried them on their backs. 

The peddler’s trade was a kind of social corrective that helped the Gottscheers survive in an inhospitable environment or offered them opportunity of extra earnings. However, since peddlers with their trading intruded on the business activities of city merchants, they often opposed them. Some houses even bore signboards prohibiting peddler’s trade. The ordinance from the year 1928 prohibited peddlers from calling upon private residences in Ljubljana, Maribor, Celje, Ptuj and other Slovenian tourist resorts uninvited, however, the Gottscheers had the privilege to sell the so-called Gottscheers goods – exotic fruit and confectionery – everywhere. What’s more, they even used to smuggle forbidden goods in double-bottom baskets.

The plaque from above the front door of one Viennese house: "Begging and peddling are prohibited in this house." Displayed at the Showcases of Memory Exhibition.
The plaque from above the front door of one Viennese house: “Begging and peddling are prohibited in this house.” Owned by Ludwig Kren, displayed at the Showcases of Memory Exhibition by Zavod Putscherle.

Yet, peddlers were present elsewhere in Slovenia as well. The Prekmurje region was home to bošnjaki, while the Obsotelje region was visited by saharinke from Croatia and pičkurini from the Dalmatia region, inhabitants of Ribnica were selling woodenware (suha roba), umbrella-makers went from house to house and repaired umbrellas, and time never stood still when urmoharji (clock- and watchmakers) from the Osilnica valley came to visit, etc. Nowadays, especially in front of big shopping centres across Slovenia, we still come across modern-day peddlers from Ribnica. However, instead of baskets they use small lorries or vans to distribute their wares.

Sources:
– Saleški Finžgar, Fran 1957: Leta mojega popotovanja, Celje: Mohorjeva družba.
– Fontaine, Laurence 1996: History of Pedlars in Europe. Duke University Press.
– Drnovšek, Marjan 2005: Kočevarski krošnjarji in nacistična propaganda. V: Prispevki za novejšo zgodovino.
– Drnovšek, Marjan 2007: Podoba kočevskih in belokranjskih krošnjarjev v očeh javnosti do začetka 20. stoletja. V: Kronika: časopis za slovensko krajevno zgodovino.
– Počivavšek, Marija 2016: »Krošnjarjenje se je tako razpaslo po deželi, da teh posili trgovcev kar mrgoli«: Krošnjarstvo kot oblika nelojalne konkurence med svetovnima vojnama. V: Zgodovina za vse.

Do you want to know about caves in Gottschee? Click here: https://www.kocevskibrlog.com/sl/koblarska-in-crna-jama/

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