Farming Among Mennonites in South Germany

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The Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) devastated large areas of South Germany and decimated the population especially in rural areas. For this reason a number of the many territorial rulers were willing to admit and to tolerate the Mennonite farmers, who were being expelled from Switzerland. This was particularly the case with Charles Louis, the Palatine Elector, whose domains at the time embraced large parts of the present Palatinate, but also extended to the other side of the Rhine, including Mannheim, Heidelberg, and even Sinsheim on the Elsenz. In 1672 about 359 persons were counted left of the Rhine, and 160 families right of the Rhine, who were registered as Anabaptists from Switzerland (Müller).

At this time the land was commonly cultivated on the traditional "Dreifelderwirtschaft"; that is, in a sequence of three years the farmers in one part of a given area had to sow winter grain, those in another part summer crops, and those in the third part leave their land uncultivated, thus creating a pasture for the cattle of the area, which were cared for as a single herd by a village herder. This method of farming, however, checked the development of better methods of cultivation.

After the first great immigration of 1671, many of these Swiss refugee families, usually without financial assets, were assigned to smaller farms or estates (Höfe) for a term of usually six to nine years (known as "Temporalbeständer"). But in a short time their industry, integrity, and their skill earned them such a good reputation that from 1680 they were permitted to lease larger estates without a time limit and with the right to pass such leases on to their heirs (known as "Erbbeständer"). These farms were usually outside the village land and were not subject to the rule regarding the common pasturing of cattle, but were under the control of the Hofkammer of the feudal lords. Thus these farmers had more freedom to experiment and develop newer methods.

Since the Mennonites had always practiced hospitality and their religious services were held in their homes, and they were thus separated voluntarily as well as by compulsion from the rest of the population, the knowledge acquired by one of them soon became their common possession and practice.

After the unfavorable consequences of the French War of Succession (1689-1697) had been overcome, a marked difference became evident between the fields of the "Mennists" and the other lands. Following a fundamental rule of farming, viz., no feed, no cattle; no cattle, no manure; no manure, no crop, the Mennonite farmers, seeking new methods of raising cattle fodder, found them in the cultivation of new varieties of clover, which permitted them to feed the cattle in the barns even in summer. The agricultural authorities of that time ascribed the introduction of Esparsette (Esper) to the Mennonites and Waldenses (?). To what extent they were responsible for the introduction of Lucerne can not be determined; but this "everlasting blue clover" soon found entry into all Mennonite establishments. The first experiments with mineral fertilizers were made at this time by scattering ground gypsum over the clover fields. The results far exceeded expectations. The careful handling of manure, the preservation of the liquid manure, which were traditional practices brought from Switzerland, played an important part. The liquid manure keg (Jauchefass) is popularly attributed to the practical sense of the Mennonite farmers.

The culture of potatoes, tried experimentally by a Mennonite of Mannheim, was quickly adopted on Mennonite farms. These potatoes, not yet accepted for human consumption, were used commercially for the manufacture of brandy; this produced as a by¬product an excellent feed for fattening cattle. Also the first cultivation of mangels is attributed to the Mennonites of the Palatinate; these beets were at first also used for distilled liquor products.  Thus one advance led to another, finally producing a completely new method of farming and bringing it to a high fruition on exemplary farms. Where previously there was only one skinny cow with a poor udder there were now three fat cows with high milk production or three fat steers.

Outstanding leaders in the progress of South German agriculture were David Möllinger (1709-1787) of Monsheim, Johannes Dettweiler (b. 1738) of Kindenheim, his son Christian (1765-1838) of Wintersheim, Valentin Dahlem (I754-1840) of the Koppensteinerhof near Wiesbaden, and David Kaege (1767-1846) of Offstein. They were considered the best farmers of their time, and were cited as models by specialists and by the government authorities. Thus the reputation of the model Mennonite farms spread into wider and wider circles, and they were called into more and more distant areas, and even into foreign countries. Thus the Mennonites moving into remote parts were motivated both by economic and religious concerns.

In 1785 there were 250 Mennonites in the area of Usingen in Hesse-Nassau. In 1784 there were 28 Mennonite families among the settlers called into Galicia by Emperor Joseph II. In 1802 eight Mennonite families, upon the wish of their lease-lord, settled in Donaumoos in Bavaria. They were soon followed by others, especially from Alsace, but also from Baden and Württemberg, who later settled in various parts of Bavaria. Beginning with the French Revolution, which extended the French border to the Rhine, the sociological development on the two sides of the Rhine no longer followed a uniform pattern. The French expelled all the feudal lords on the left (west) bank of the Rhine and introduced the French civil law. The former estates of the rulers and lords, as well as those of the monasteries, were sooner or later transferred to the possession of the renters and divided. On the right (east) of the Rhine conditions generally remained as they had been, unchanged. Even though the "Erbbestand" farms were replaced by "Pacht" (lease) farms, with few exceptions due to local conditions the leasing of large farms remained the dominant form of Mennonite farming, many families remaining for decades or even a century on the same farms. With the beginning of the 20th century began the transfer of large leased estates into Mennonite possession.

Even though after the middle of the 19th century the Mennonite farms were no longer so sharply differentiated from those of non-Mennonites, the Mennonite farms were on the whole still considered the best managed and exemplary. No exposition of the German Agricultural Association passed without giving a prize or award to a Mennonite for achievements in the culture of plants or animals.

Outstanding for plant cultivation in the 1950s were Hauter of Dreihof, Stauffer of Obersülzen (Palatinate), Hege of Hohebuch (Württemberg), Lichti of Herrlehof (Bavaria). As animal breeders there were Hauter of Herschweiler-Pettersheim, Stalter of Heckenaschbacherhof, Guth of Heyerhof (Palatinate), Hege of Hohebuch, Schneider of Eckhof (Württemberg). In leading positions in the German Agricultural Association were Dr. h.c. Hans Hege of Hohebuch and Dr. Erich Musselmann of Helmeringen (Bavaria).


Correll, Ernst H. Das Schweizerische Täufermennonitentum. Tübingen, 1925.

Hege, Fritz. "Beruf und Berufung des Mennonitischen Land­wirts." Mennonitisches Jahrbuch (1954): 19.

Müller, Ernst. Geschichte der Bernischen Täufer. Frauenfeld: Huber, 1895. Reprinted Nieuwkoop : B. de Graaf, 1972.

Author(s) Christian Galle
Date Published 1956

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Galle, Christian. "Farming Among Mennonites in South Germany." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 23 Oct 2019.

APA style

Galle, Christian. (1956). Farming Among Mennonites in South Germany. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 23 October 2019, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 309-310. All rights reserved.

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