Sunday, January 13, 2019

Dutch drainage workers on the Upper Spree

                                                The Hollaenderwindmuehle in Straupitz

As the recently-established project, Vertrokken Nederlands/Emigrant Dutch is demonstrating, people have been emigrating from the Low Countries to elsewhere in Europe and indeed in the world for hundreds of years. There are many reasons for this including difficult economic conditions, religious persecution and the search for 'a better life'. In some cases, it is the skills that migrants from the Low Countries have that allow them to emigrate. In previous posts on this blog, I have discussed the contribution textile workers from the Low Countries made to revitalizing the economies of English towns such as Norwich and Colchester. Another skill that the Dutch in particular have in abundance is drainage engineering.
In England, the Dutch drainage engineer, Sir Cornelis Vermuyden, led teams from the Low Countries and England to drain land in Essex, the Fens and the Lincolnshire/Yorkshire border. The Dutch River in Lincolnshire is one toponym that bears testimony to Vermuyden's work. In Poland, too, many workers moved from the Low Countries to assist with draining land around Gdansk and marshy land along the River Vistula. Settlements with 'holender' or variants thereof in their names are testimony to the Dutch presence there.
Another suggestion is that drainage workers from the Low Countries moved to the Upper Spree region in Brandenburg in Germany in order to assist with draining this marshy area. One physical, although by no means, conclusive, piece of evidence for the Dutch presence is of a 'Holland' wind mill at Straupitz (Tšupc) neat Cottbus. This was built in the early nineteenth century, replacing an earlier mill from the seventeenth century. Further work would need to be done before the presence of Dutch drainage workers could be confirmed, but it is certainly a suggestion that deserves attention. If it were found that Dutch were in this area, the question would arise whether any traces of the language remain. One challenge would be to distinguish between the influence of varieties of German and varieties of Dutch. The other main language spoken in the area is Lower Sorbian, a West Slavic language, still spoken in some villages around Cottbus. It would be interesting to explore whether any traces of Dutch can be found in this language.
                                             



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