The small house from Leutwil, which belonged to a day-labourer who could not earn his living from farming alone, stands directly opposite the enormous house which was owned by a wealthy full-time farmer from Oberentfelden AG (No. 221). The social and economic differences are particularly obvious in the two neighbouring thatched houses from Aargau.
On 10th August 1802, seven houses in Leutwil were destroyed in a village fire, including the predecessor of the house «im Zopf». The date 1803 and carpenterís tools were painted onto the barn door and are evidence of its immediate reconstruction. The work was probably authorised by Heinrich Aeschenbach, who was known as «Schmidheiri». Since 1819, apart from one short interval, the owners of the property were all members of the same Gloor family. The house was owned by women for 60 years.
During almost the last 40 years, the house was unoccupied. The advantage of this is that the original structure has, for the most part, survived largely unaltered. The multi-purpose house meant that the living quarters, stable, threshing floor and storeroom were all under one roof. The living conditions were cramped and modest and the low-lying roof let little light into the living rooms. The tiled stove, which was probably built at the same time as the house, at least provided some warmth and cosiness. An inscription showing the year 1734 indicates that tiles from an older oven had been reused. On no other type of house is the roof the dominant feature, as it is on a thatched-roof house. With its inner framework and high post construction, it embodies an ancient way of building which over the centuries acquired perfection in its carpentry techniques.
In Leutwil, around the year 1800, a third of the population were engaged in the textile industry and worked mostly with cotton. However, as a result of the mechanization of weaving, there was already a massive reduction in this industry during the first half of the 19th century.
Straw-weaving, especially straw hat-making, and tobacco processing provided partial alternatives. The last inhabitant of this house, Adolf Gloor who died in 1964, described himself as a farm labourer. In summer he helped several farmers with hay-making and in winter he worked in the woods. His only animals were cats and rabbits, but he looked after the 1/10 of an acre of orchards and plants that belonged to the house.
The Museum Ballenberg strives to preserve and display not only the large and splendid buildings which are part of rural architecture, but also the houses and living conditions of the peasant farmers and day-labourers. On comparing the two architecturally similar and yet otherwise so different thatched houses, one is impressed by the social and economic differences which are obvious and visible. As the original fittings and furniture were no longer available when the Museum acquired the «Zopfhüsli» from Leutwil, the craft of basket-making is demonstrated inside the house. This handcraft is well suited to a day-labourerís house and provides a link with the exhibition about itinerant workers which can be seen in the other rooms.
Charly Rudolf Ė an itinerant worker in Switzerland
The itinerant workers played an important role in Switzerlandís rural culture. In the past, they provided the population with articles for their daily needs, mended household effects and brought new ideas to remote areas. It was a stroke of luck that Karl Rudolf (1927Ė1998), known simply as Charly, decided to give his collection to Ballenberg. The objects, some of which he himself had made, give us first-hand information about the culture of the Jenisch (Swiss gypsies). Perhaps the most striking object is the apron that Charly, who in the meantime had found himself a permanent home, used as a decoration in his living-room. In his younger days, he regularly went on extensive travels with his horse and cart through the Swiss-German part of the country.
The heavy, portable knife-grinding machine, belonging to Josef Righi (1921Ė2000) from Sachseln OW, completes the exhibition.
Rich and poor
Most images of the rural past are of the lifestyles of wealthy farmers in times of economic prosperity. Upon closer examination a gloomy picture of very difficult work and living conditions becomes apparent.
Not all aspects of rural life can be shown in the Open-Air Museum. Conditions of poverty and disease can only be shown incompletely because the houses of poor people have hardly survived and their possessions were only seldom kept by later generations. If you stand, however, in the narrow kitchen of a day-labourerís house, you can get a sense of the oppressive existence of poor people. The architecture, the size of the rooms and the furnishings and equipment convey at least a sense of the living conditions of the occupants.
A comparison of the farmerís house from Ostermundigen BE (No. 331) with the day-labourerís house from Detligen BE (No. 371) makes the wide differences clear. The Ostermundigen building, with its ostentatious ornamental painting, its excellent location and magnificent workrooms, its tasteful furnishings and its large driving entrance, bears no comparison to the day-labourerís cottage tucked away on a sunless slope and built as cheaply as possible with a minimum of materials. The rooms here are narrow and low in order to save fuel and include a stall in which two goats, the «poor manís cattle», could be found.
Or compare the proportions of both thatched-roof houses from the Central Midlands (building group 2). The construction techniques and room division of the house from Oberentfelden AG (No. 221) does not differ to a great extent from those from Leutwil AG (No. 231). The differences in space are, however, enormous! While the attic loft, the room which offered space for the storage of grains, is 7 meters high in the Oberentfelden building, it measures a mere 4.5 metres in the house from Leutwil. Social differences are also reflected in the living space available in the two houses.
Cramped living conditions were also the rule in the house from Blatten VS (No. 1111). The parlour, the only heatable room in which the whole family, sometimes three generations, and sometimes small or young animals stayed during the winter, measures barely 3.5 by 3.5 metres.