About Cultured People. Who Took Care of Dune Plantations in the Curonian Spit during the 19th century?


About Cultured People

Who Took Care of Dune Plantations in the Curonian Spit during the 19thcentury?

“Work in connection to dune fortification and describing the success in connection to these efforts is a very rewarding task”, - pointed out the author of the major work on dune fortification by planting throughout the entire 19thcentury. Handbook of German Dune Fortification(Handbuch des deutsches Dünenbaues) by Paul Gerhardt.  Seconding this undisputable statement, let’s touch a small facet of this wide topic. As of today, virtually everyone who supervised the works on dune planting, who promoted innovative methods and improved efficiency of plantations, or who selflessly took care of the young, difficult to root plants – have been forgotten, except for the Kuwerts.  And even less is known about their engagement in cultural activities which they took part in addition to being very busy when discharging their direct duties in taking care of the dune plantations.

In this regard a person from Nidden (Nida), Hans Heinrich Zander should be mentioned. He was a local dune ranger who took care of the dune plantations. (In German the position was called Dünenaufseher, the Dunes Overseer). He was born in Ruß (Rusnė) in 1812, but most of this life took place in Nidden. When a lawyer and publisher Ludwig Passarge met him in Nidden in the 1870-ies, he mentioned that Zander had been working as an overseer of dune plantations for more than three decades by then. When describing the eternal resting place of the Kuwerts family in the Nidden forest, Ludwig Passarge emphasised that “the tireless, smart, persistent, and patient Zander deserves perhaps even a better monument; it is only because of his most admirable activities that this forest is thriving now”. According to Passarge, Zander’s dedication in taking care of the dune plantations was witnessed by such circumstance:  during early morning hours when they met with Zander in order to look around the plantations, Zander came soaking wet because of the rain. A rainstorm was ranging during the night, and Zanders, still in the dark, rushed to take a look on how the plans in the dunes were doing, how they endured the elements. 

Following genealogy research, the Zanders family had a daughter and two sons born in Nidden. In 1841 Hans Heinrich Zander (called Hans) was born, and in 1844, Julius Hermann Zander (called Hermann). Both left a trace in the history of the Curonian Spit: the elder brother Hans Heinrich continued his father’s work in supervising the work on dune planting. In 1883 he opened a guest house in Nidden, which, by the begging of the 20thcentury, had been turned into a famous hotel Kurischer Elch(the CuronianElk) due to the efforts of his descendants.

There is an old postcard extant with an inscription “Explaining archaeological finds at Zanders”, which reveals the roles of two brothers in Nidden at the end of the 19thcentury: Hans owned a guest house, and the younger Hermann assisted archaeologist Otto Tischler in collecting archaeological finds, the inspection of which took place in Zander’s guest house as it is depicted in the postcard below. Besides, Otto Tischler himself is also shown on this postcard. It is because of him that Hermann Zander was “infected with archaeological virus”.

In several years since the first meeting of Zander and Passarge, there were archaeological research carried out in Nidden during summers of 1874,1875,1876 and in 1878 by Otto Tischler who was a member of the Physical-Economic Society of Königsberg (Physikalisch – ökonomischen Gesellschaft zu Königsberg).  The meeting with Tischler was important for Zander because he acquired a new hobby – to collect archaeological artefacts, which lead to a number of significant consequences, enriching the so-called “Collection of the Curonian Spit” (Nehrungssammlung) which was displayed in the Provincial Museum founded in 1879 in Königsberg. The Museum belonged to the above mentioned Physical-Economic Society and its purpose was to educate the public about the peculiarities of geological development in the East Prussian province, while the second floor was dedicated to showcasing the archaeological and anthropological collections. Later, the museum changed its location and the collection, however, during the initial stages of the museum’s development the archaeological collection was significantly enriched by stone age artefacts (mostly) from Nidden that were collected by Otto Tischler in the Curonian Spit. According to Tischler, during several summers he step by step walked across the entire Curonian Spit and discovered about one hundred sites that were interesting from the archaeological point of view. After more thorough exploration of the most prominent sites, he took back to Königsberg a huge collection of artefacts consisting mainly of pottery fragments and stone tools. Tischler emphasised that during the majority of his expeditions in the Curonian Spit he was accompanied by a faithful companion Hermann Zander from Nidden, who was fully introduced to Tischler’s research methods and who himself discovered and handed over to Provincial Museum a large number of interesting and noteworthy artefacts.

In 1890, when giving a speech for a meeting of the Physical-Economic Society, Tischler mentioned that during 1889 the archaeological collection of the Provincial Museum increased significantly, and that “our old collector” from the Curonian Spit, Hermann Zander from Nidden, donated the Museum with many interesting artefacts from Neolithic settlements: fragments of pottery, stone axes, hammers, knives and spearheads from flint, etc.  Besides, Tischler added, some spearheads were very interesting because they were unfinished, which confirmed the hypothesis that these tools were of local origin, i.e., manufactured on the Curonian Spit.   

Therefore, Hermann Zander’s help was important during the initial stages of the stone age archaeological research in the Curonian spit. 

Paulius Schiweck, another forest ranger or dune overseer as they were titled at that time in the Curonian Spit, was also mentioned multiple times by Otto Tischler in connection to archaeological research in the Curonian Spit.  For instance, in 1891 he mentioned that Provincial Museum’s collection was significantly enriched not only by professor Bezzenberger’s artefacts, but also by the artefacts donated by dune overseers Richter from Rossitten (Rasytė) and Schiweck from Sandkrug (Smiltynė). Earlier Tischler mentioned that the bronze age display in the museum was only fragmental, however, dune overseer Schiweck from Sandkrug donated the Museum with bronze bracelet and some ancient coins.

Overall, by the end of the 19thcentury forest rangers performed a very important dune planting mission, besides, they also often engaged in cultural activities, assisting archaeologists who were actively researching the spit at that time.  The names of these rounded personalities should not be forgotten. Especially, it should not be forgotten that it is only because of the efforts of those people that we are able to walk on solid foundation now -  on sand which was then fortified with plantations. 

by Assoc. Prof. Nijolė Strakauskaitė PhD

Institute of Baltic Region History and Archaeology under Klaipeda University