Land reform in Schäftersheim

Those houses in the photo are already in Schäftersheim, so it’s not far from Weikersheim — unless you insist on going by car, in which case you have to turn back and drive around some other way.

If you were to turn right at this junction you would immediately come to the Sun at the beginning of the Weikersheim Planetary Trail leading up past the Observatory (Saturn) to the ex-village of Queckbronn (Neptune).

Both Queckbronn and Schäftersheim were incorporated into the city of Weikersheim on January 1, 1972, as part of an administrative reorganization that was going on in most rural areas of western Germany at that time.

Village Hall in Schäftersheim

On the nicely renovated stone facade of the village hall in Schäftersheim are two plaques, which I assume were mounted there quite deliberately to show the difference between then and now.

The old metal plaque

The older plaque, above the archway, is made of metal and dates perhaps from the nineteenth century. It lists the institutions that held administrative, religious and military power over Schäftersheim at that time, namely:

  • Oberamt Mergentheim (District Authority, located 11 km downstream)
  • Pfarrdorf Schäftersheim (village with its own church and minister)
  • First Battalion Mergentheim
  • Fifth Württemberg Militia Regiment no. 123
  • Fourth Company Mergentheim

There is no indication of any power in the hands of the local population, except perhaps in religious matters (though there was only one church and one minister).

The new stone plaque

The lower plaque is made of stone and lists the three main reforms of the 1970s and 80s that laid the foundation for Schäftersheim’s current prosperity:

  • Flurbereinigung 1972-82 (consolidation of agricultural land holdings)
  • Rebumlegung 1973 and 1977 (replanting of the grape vines)
  • Dorfentwicklung 1978-80 (village development)

As in many other villages, these reforms were supervised by an agency of the Baden-Württemberg state government, but the details were negotiated and implemented by the villagers themselves, who are rightfully proud of what they have achieved.

The original intention of these land reforms was to improve the efficiency of mechanized farming by creating larger fields, but it soon became apparent that this alone was not very helpful for the environment, for instance the destruction of hedgerows deprived birds and small animals of their habitats. So the land reform program was soon expanded to include protection of biodiversity as well as improvement of water quality in the streams and rivers and the building of paved access roads, some of which could also be used as bicycle routes.

In contrast to the forced collectivization of agriculture in East Germany, the West German authorities instituted an elaborate system of grass-roots participation in the land reform process, so that all the landowners and other residents could have their say in what was decided. This slowed things down considerably, but also led to a high degree of satisfaction with the results.

Wine fields behind Schäftersheim

Looking now at the neat rows of carefully tended grape vines on the gentle south-facing slope of the Klosterberg behind Schäftersheim, you would think they had always been there, but in fact by around 1970 wine growing had nearly ceased to exist in this part of the valley. The problems were not only the fragmentation of land ownership, but also diseases and severe winters that had killed off some of the grape vines and the fact that other forms of agriculture had encroached on the good wine-growing slopes. When land reform began here in the 1970s it was agreed to re-zone the agricultural land around the village and replant the grape vines on the south-facing slope of the Klosterberg. This was done in two stages, in 1973 and 1977, with good results. Most of the grapes grown here are sold to the wine-making cooperative in nearby Markelsheim.

Get thee to a nunnery!

In medieval times Schäftersheim was the site of a large convent for aristocratic women, presumably the daughters of aristocratic families who had misbehaved, failed to get married or were otherwise an embarrassment to their families.

Or maybe the ladies were just pious and wanted to become nuns, that’s also a possibility.

In 1172 the convent came under the protection of the Emperor Barbarossa, and for the next three centuries it seems to have been quite prosperous, at least it kept expanding and taking control of other convents and villages in the region.

In 1525 the convent was heavily damaged during the Farmers’ War.

In 1543 the convent was dissolved because the local rulers converted to Protestantism and thus had no further use for a Catholic nunnery. This conveniently allowed the ruling family (the Protestant branch of the Hohenlohe family) to take over the property and assets of the convent.

The original buildings of the convent were all demolished by the end of the sixteenth century, but newer buildings were later erected on the old foundations, so even today we can see how big the convent was and more or less how it was arranged. Today these buildings are used partly by the regional electricity supplier for a voltage transformation station.

Bauernhalle (Farmers’ Hall)

The Bauernhalle is a village pub but also a place where meetings and public events are held, like film showings on certain evenings and also live comedy performances by a local theater group called the Doredräwer. They are said to be very funny, but since they perform in the local fränkisch dialect I’m not sure how much I would understand.

A perfect street corner

Like just about every other street corner in Schäftersheim, this one is newly paved with asphalt, trimmed with brick edges, and is absolutely clean. There is an excellent sewer system. The houses are in perfect condition and have all been recently painted. The small yards are bounded by low stone walls and filled with carefully tended flowers, bushes and small patches of neatly trimmed grass. While I could never live in a place like this — I’m a city person, after all, and have a somewhat more relaxed concept of tidiness — I do have a grudging respect for the amount of effort and persistence that people in these places invest in keeping their villages clean and in perfect repair.

As a general rule, the most prosperous parts of Germany are in the South and West. Since Baden-Württemberg is in the Southwest corner of the country it benefits from both of these trends. The West/East divide can be explained by the former division of Germany into two separate countries, a Communist one in the East and a country with a “social market economy” in the West, but I’m not so sure how the South/North divide can be explained. In the 19th and early 20th centuries the northern parts of Germany were more industrialized and thus more prosperous than the South, but now that has reversed itself. The steel, coal and shipbuilding industries in the North have all declined. Today Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg, in the Southwest, have higher income rates, lower unemployment rates, lower indebtedness per person and also higher birth rates than the rest of the country.

Just for decoration

The old cannon in this driveway is of course just there for decoration, but it does serve as a reminder of the region’s (and the country’s) military past. The old water pump in the second photo is also just there for decoration, and perhaps to remind some of the older people how they used to get their water when they were children.

The inevitable cigarette machine

Sorry, but there’s no such thing as a German village without at least one cigarette machine mounted in plain sight by the side of a street. Traditionally, these machines were mounted close to the ground, so even the smallest child wouldn’t have to stand on tiptoes to start getting addicted. But in 2007, after years of bitter political struggle, a new law was passed requiring people to insert a card proving they are at least eighteen years old before they can buy cigarettes, so the children are now dependent on finding some misguided adult to help them get started. The number of smokers has been declining in recent years, but according to the German Cancer Society one quarter of German adults still smoke. The fewest smokers are in the age group over seventy, because most smokers die before reaching that age.

The old railroad bridge, built in 1909

Don’t bother waiting for a train to take you to Schäftersheim, because scheduled passenger service was discontinued in 1974 and the tracks were removed in 1992. I took this photo of the old railroad bridge in the summer of 2009, a hundred years after it was built as part of a single-track railroad line called the Gaubahn that connected Ochsenfurt (Bavaria) with Weikersheim (Württemberg, now Baden-Württemberg). By 2009 the old railroad bridge over the Tauber River had gotten a bit rusty and overgrown, and was fenced off to prevent people from walking or driving on it.

My photos in this post are from 2009. I revised the text in 2019.

See more posts on Weikersheim (and vicinity), Germany.

6 thoughts on “Land reform in Schäftersheim”

  1. When we were in Bavaria, we noticed how incredibly clean and neat everything was. I somewhat jokingly asked a local young man if they went out and raked their farmyards every morning and he said they did. He also said they painted their houses every spring. I asked what would happen if someone didn’t take care of their place that well and he replied, “they would be shamed by their neighbors.” Nothing like a little peer pressure! It was absolutely beautiful though.

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