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The Vine Dressers of Deidesheim

As noted in an earlier chapter, Mathias’s (paternal) Berger/Bürger ancestry was documented in the Deidesheim kirchenbuchen back several generations until at least as far back as 1699. And at least one other, distant cousin of ours has reported a generation further back in the family line (to 1650).

I need to stress that my research into the European Bürgers has been basic. True, I have been successful in terms of locating the most recent ancestor and village. But I have done very little research in the library or via German sources or have spent much time going further back in this line. I expect local government offices in Germany, or libraries there or in the US, have additional family history, including the locations of the houses or plots of land on which our Bergers lived. I definitely want to explore such sources, but they will likely require hands-on research in Germany. Nothing’s guaranteed, but more details may be available out there to be gathered by whomever is ready to take this up.

About Deidesheim: Deidesheim is a small-ish village (current population under 4000, maybe half of that in the early 1800s when Mathias was born, and as low as an estimated less than 500 in 1699). The town is located in the Rhine Valley, or plain, in Pfalz, Western Germany.[1]  I will here flag Deidesheim for a vacation alert for what looks like a great place to visit, because it’s directly on the Weinstrasse (the Wine Road), a famous and worldly loved vacation place for wine lovers. It’s economy seems to be based on wine and tourism.[2] Deidesheim, as with other villages along the Weinstrasse, has almost immediate access to the Palatinate Forest, and its numerous hiking trails. There are many historic sites to see[3], and a strong tourism industry to promote wine tasting and the region’s history and culture.[4]


Palatinate Forest showing locations of Ober and Deide

Location of Deidesheim in relation to the industrial Mannheim area across the plain and river to the east, and the Palatinate Forest to the immediate west.


Deidesheim’s Overlords

Peasants formed the backbone of European agricultural labor over many centuries, from the Roman era through feudalism and beyond that. More likely than not, our Bürgers and their kin were assigned to raise wine grapes on specific plots of land to tend to wine grape vines — primarily for the benefit of their overlords: the landowning nobility.[5] Now, we can find out about the regional overlords who controlled the lives of our Bürger ancestores: for those eager to learn, there are many sources on the rulers of this region from throughout history. Much of it is buried in library books. The biggest challenge is in identifying the political boundaries in any given year, since over hundreds of years my research suggests the regional powers-that-be shifted the boundaries of control several times.

Deidesheim was a bit of a political island by itself for a very long time. It was, for roughly 700 years (c.1100 to 1802), an isolated island within the territory of the Hochstift Speyer, or Prince-Bishopric of Speyer.[6] In the Holy Roman Empire, a Prince-Bishop was (and here I go again, with my lay analysis) a religious ruler who also exercised general civilian regulation; it was a bishop who had the standing and power of a prince.[7]



Fuerstbistum_Speyer_Heris_1735 Prince-Bishopric of Speyer (by Homann Heirs, 1735)

Prince-Bishopric of Speyer (by Homann Heirs, 1735)  Note the “island” surrounding Deidesheim in the northwest; surrounding it is the Palatinate Electorate. (Fuerstbistum Speyer Heris 1735, Wikimedia Commons)


Wikipedia has an excellent list of the Bishops of Speyer over the centuries, and of course there are other websites and lots of library sources for the curious.[8]



Bishop Johann Hugo von Orsbeck, Prince-Bishop of Speyer, ruler of Deidesheim


Bishop Johann Hugo von Orsbeck, Prince-Bishop of Speyer, and thus ruler of Deidesheim, during the late 1600s and early 1700s, and when Bernardis Bürger was born in Deidesheim in 1699.  [9]

You can see from the above map that walking more than few kilometers north of south of Deidesheim, and you would find yourself outside of the territory of the Hochstift Speyer. You instead would be walking within the territory controlled by the Palatinate Electorate, which itself was represented in the Holy Roman Empire by scattered, oft-noncontiguous “islands”.[10] The Wikipedia article has an excellent and comprehensive list and summary of Counts of the Palatinate from throughout history.[11] That Palatinate Electorate, in turn, was at various times occupied by the House of Wittelsbach, the royal family of Bavaria.[12]  Yes, this is a complicated story, even to just fully grasp all of the players at any given time in history.

I would be curious to look for local evidence about the overseers who came around to collect their rents from our winzer Bürgers and acted as interface between them and the landowners. How indebted were our people, and to whom? What was the chain of command up to the Prince-Bishop?

Local officials were appointed within the administrative arm of the Hochstift Speyer called the  “Deidesheim Office”. Within this agency were persons assigned as stewards and local officials.[13] Fortunately for us, historians have assembled a helpful chronological list of them. For instance, between the mid-1600s and early 1700s, several of the local officials were from the Von Dalberg family a family that a Wikipedia article describes as of “lower nobility”. [14]  They apparently themselves weren’t even from Deidesheim. But there is so much more to discover:  I have not done any research into these local rulers other than superficially, and suspect much more information out there – and not found on Wikipedia – just waiting to be discovered.

“Civis Vinitoris”The record reveals our Bergers were of a long line of peasants who spent their lives working the land by cultivating wine grapes.[15] The emigration notice for Mathias notes he was a winegrower, or winzer. The August 17, 1807 baptism entry for Mathias in the Deidesheim kirchenbuchen (church books) identifies his father, Joannis Berger as civis vinitoris, or Latin for “a vine dresser”. Merriam-Webster defines a vine dresser as “a person who cultivates and prunes grapevines”. The same occupation is listed for other members of both the Berger and Andress families in kirchenbuchen entries. I note that I expect they must have been self-supporting farmers on top of being vine dressers, because American tax and probate records show the Bergers and Andresses had multiple different crops and animals.

I have to admit that to date I have been fairly ignorant about wine growing. However, I am not sure about the division of labor between one who grows the vines and harvests the fruit, versus the one who presses the grapes, versus the one who makes and bottles the wine. Although I have not yet looked at historic records, I am guessing that our Bergers and Andresses were involved from vine cultivation through grape pressing. My theory is that they then transferred the grape sludge to the winemakers. But this will have to be identified.

Winegrape cultivation and production is itself an entire world of art and science, and I can’t go into that here. But one thing we can say for sure is that our vine-dresser ancestors managed both the skill and the labor necessary to planting and nurture vines and harvesting the fruit. And they did all of this over the course of generations, improving the stock of grape vines. Throughout history, winegrowing played a special niche role in the economy, and served all levels of European society. Our Berger and Andress ancestors played a part in that production. And they surely worked those vineyards with personal sacrifice and dedication, and without the benefit of modern technology and conveniences.[16]



Der Winzer, by artist Christoph Weigel (1698) showing larger-scale grape harvesting operation (Generously shared with Wikimedia Commons by the Deutsche Fotothek of the Saxon State Library / State and University Library Dresden)[17]


Maybe 18th or 19th Century Wine Press

An old wine press, of the same basic model as depicted in the previous drawing, here turned into a garden decoration and on display at a former wine estate in Rheingau, about 50+ miles north of Deidesheim (photo by onecresap, 2015)



Rebmann-1568 The Rebmann from Jost Amman's Ständerbuch (1568)

Der Winzer, tending to the vines (Frankfurt, 1568) (Wikimedia Commons)[18]




Mendel_I_126_v_Winzer tending to the grapevine (1508)

Winzer tending to the vines, dated 1508 (origin Nuremburg)(Stadtbibliothek Nürnberg, now in wikimedia commons[19]



Plates from a Psalter, illustrating March (tending to the vines) and September (grape harvesting and pressing), Unknown Miniaturist, French (active c. 1180 at Fécamp)  (Koninklijke Bibliotheek collection; source: Wikimedia Commons) [20]


Grünernte von Weintrauben. Aus dem Handbuch der Familie Corutti in Verona um 1375Fabrication_du_verjus_BnF_Latin_9333_fol._83

And because Deidesheim is a white wine region, here is a panel depicting the growing of white wine grapes, 14th Century, Aus dem Handbuch der Familie Corutti in Verona um 1375 Grünernte von Weintrauben[21]

Scene from grape harvest, Italy 14th Century[22]




Vineyard in Rheingau on a grey Spring day

Vineyard in Rheingau on a grey Spring day. In the far background is the Rhine Valley. (Photo by onecresap, 2017.)


Deidesheim, Battered Through the Ages

As described above, I have not as yet seen records going further back than the 1699 baptism of Bernard (Bernadis) Bürger, whose parents were listed as Michael Bürger and Gertrude Kaub. And again, substantial additional research needs to be done to confirm how far back we can go.

But, as many other researchers have found, we should not be surprised if records of our German peasant ancestors are permanently missing much further back than Bernardis Bürger. That’s because Deidesheim, like so many other Pfalz-area localities, over the centuries suffered from a long history of violent attacks, raids, plundering, pandemics, and other horrible events that devastated the village. Sometimes records survived such events. Often, they didn’t.

Even so, we can get a meaningful glimpse into what life was probably like for our Bürgers and their kin over the centuries, simply by looking at the significant historic events that occurred in Pfalz and were also recorded in Deidesheim. Here are some of such events:


French Revolution + Napoleon:   The kirchenbuchen show our Bürger ancestors were living in Deidesheim during the French Revolution (and its immediate aftermath), and we can only imagine how difficult things might have been for them during those times.

When we refresh a bit on the French Revolution, we are reminded that the Holy Roman Empire in Germany, with its Prince-Bishops, was essentially a political religious state run by an aristocracy; thus, it was natural for that to be the next kingdom to fall, after the French monarchy. At the outbreak of the Revolution (which I am going to lazily declare was the late 1780s) both France and the Holy Roman Empire of Germany were governed by the aristocracy. The Revolutionaries formed the First French Republic in 1792. This was also a government that fundamentally altered the relationship between both church and state in France.

The next step was for France to expand French territory to include all lands west of the Left Bank – i.e., extending France’s territory eastward to the western (“left”) side of the Rhine River.[23] This push meant France invaded all areas west of the Rhine, including Deidesheim and surrounding towns. In the early to mid-1790s, a backlash by Pfalz locals raised up against the French invaders, but this only solidified the French invasion. During the War of the First Coalition (1992-1997), Deidesheim was beseiged. The French Revolutionary army marched into Deidesheim in 1793, and according to the German-language Wikipedia article, was thereupon “plundered by the lax French troops massively, which led to a serious plight of the population”.[ 24] Meanwhile, In the late 18th Century, even after the French Revolution began in the late 1780s, Deidesheim’s status began to weaken just as did the Hochstift Speyer of which it was a part. Sadly, the Prince-Bishop of Speyer did not fend off advancing French forces, and battles took place in Deidesheim and surrounding areas between French troops and Prussian forces, until a treaty was reached affirming the area being subsumed into the new French Government’s Department du Mont Tonnere.[25] During the War of the First Coalition, some parts of Deidesheim were destroyed.[26]

I am also intrigued to find that “limitation of the Frondienste” was at issue for Deidesheimers during this War. From what I can find, the “Frondienst” refers to drudgery in personal services by farmers in relation to their landlords. Surely we Bürger descendants are interested in this subject, because we know our ancestors worked the land in this community. Well, apparently the rulers of the Hochstift Speyer were so much in a bubble that they began subjecting Deidesheimers to almost feudal-sounding restrictions, including the Frondienst.[27] I’d like to find out more of what this really meant, but it sounds like lots of drudgery for little payback – sort of like before the age of enlightenment. Meanwhile, French and Prussian military forces were taking turns at conquering the area, and keeping Deidesheim a war zone of successive occupation for several years.

Deidesheim’s struggles of the 1790s were followed by the era of Napoleon. Napoleon, proclaiming himself savior of France and much, much more, beginning in 1804 solidified France’s hold on the Left Bank and also marched his troops through the area on his way to Poland and Russia. The Holy Roman Empire dissolved under the crush of the Revolution and its Napeolon aftermath. It was now gone. But Napoleon fell in 1815, and the area was once again given back to Germany, this time to Bavaria.

After being subjected to authoritarian rule for so long, I have to wonder if our Berger winzers felt vindicated by Napoleon’s rise — even if he wasn’t their panacea. But the preceding few decades must have overall been unnerving for them.


War of Palatinate Succession:   One full century before the French Revolution – 1689, in fact — and just 10 years before Bernard Bürger was born – the village of Deidesheim was one of many villages ruthlessly destroyed by one Ezéchiel du Mas, comte de Mélac (c.  1630 – 1704). This was during the Nine Years’ War, also known as the War of Palatinate Succession. The Bürgers were either already in Deidesheim when this happened, or they at least lived there when the community was healing from this particular war.

The war was waged by none other than the Sun King himself, Louis XIV,  against the Holy Roman empire with a fierce goal of employing ruthless means of establishing territorial and economic dominance.[28] I think that’s the general story, although some have ascribed as one of many causes a dispute over the inheritance of one Liselotte von der Pfalz, from Heidelberg, who had married into French royalty.

Pierre Mignard, Elisabeth Charlotte of the Palatinate , approx. 1675–1680

Liselotte von der Pfalz (1652-1722) (by Pierre Mignard, who labeled here under her French name Elisabeth Charlotte of the Palatinate , approx. 1675–1680.)[29]   Liselotte seems to herself had an interesting life – although I wonder if she even had feelings about how French forces were torching the villages of her homeland.[30]

The French turned Pfalz into a large battleground for its forces to attack native civilians. Du Mas de Melac was a general in Louis XIV’s army and became known as the “Murderer Burner” since his M.O. was a notorious, vicious scorched earth campaign of torching villages. The King told him to put down the Pfalz, and du Mas followed through by invading, destroying and burning them down.[31]


The Comte de Mélac_ General under Louis XIV

Ezéchiel du Mas, comte de Mélac (c.  1630 – 1704) standing in front of burning villages (german copper engraving c. 1700). Pardon my translation, but I think the inscription reads: “Actual illustration of the French murder burner. de Melac. [32]


Thirty Years’ War: Just a half century earlier, the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) also had a severe effect on Deidesheim, and Pfalz generally. If you can recall from your high school history class, you will remember that this was a war primarily between Protestants and Catholics (or, anti-Habsburg forces and Habsburg forces) that ended up becoming much more than a religious war, and involved many European countries.[33] Pfalz was severely hit during this war. The conflict resulted in over eight million fatalities throughout Europe, mostly in the German part of Holy Roman Empire (that figure includes both military and civilian population lost through violence, famine, and disease). Germany lost an estimated 20 percent of its population, and some areas in and around Pfalz dropped 40% and more.[34]

During the war, Protestants invaded Deidesheim several times, the forces each time plundering and devastating the community.[35] This was a story shared by many communities throughout Pfalz. With each attack, the local citizenry would have to heal and re-assemble their communities. That could not have been fun times for either the upper class, or the residents and poor vine dressers who just wanted to live out their lives in peace.

Peter Ernst II of Mansfield invaded and plundered Dedeiseheim and nearby area in 1620-21

Peter Ernst II of Mansfield (and from Luxembourg) was a mercenary and military leader who invaded and plundered villages throughout Pfalz, including Dedeiseheim, in 1620-1621.[36]


The Peasant Uprising in Pfalz (1524-1525) Feudalism lasted for hundreds of years in Germany (c.9th Century – c.15th Century) and was the general social system between the ruling classes and the lowest peasants working the land.[37] There’s a lot to read about how peasants lived throughout the middle ages and afterward. It’s safe to assume our German ancestors, as peasants working the vines or other crops, must at different times have suffered some of the worst misery as serfs or vassals. Even after medieval feudalism vanished, a split of severe inequality still existed between peasants and the ruling classes (especially landowning nobility, royalty, and the church).  The ruling classes stayed in their bubble and subjected peasants and farmers with horrible oppression and economic servitude. There had been peasant revolts at different times, but the pressure burst when in 1524 thousands of peasants banded together and created an army against the ruling classes. Large assemblies gathered and marched through the landscape, attacking castles with reckless abandon, and generally disobeying the laws enforced by the nobility. [38]  The peasants’ military was not as strong as that of the more wealthy ruling classes, but they were not without effective arms and also the means to inflict some substantial damage to certain members of the ruling classes, who no doubt exacted severe revenge when it was all over.[39]


German peasant army on a c. 1525 woodcut of The 12 Articles, which listed written demand to the nobility for improved rights for peasants. [40]

Peasants attacked and looted Dediesheim Castle and also occupied other castles in the area.[41]

Unfortunately for the peasants, the German royalty and ruling classes violently crushed the revolt. There were some sizeable battles involving thousands of soldiers on both sides.[42] In Pfalz, one of the largest battles of the Peasant’s War took place at the Battle of Pfeddersheim (which is a long day’s walk from Deidesheim). This was a crushing defeat for those peasants engaged in warfare against the ruling classes in that area, and some 8,000 peasants lost their lives. [43]

Peasant villagers were often very supportive of the peasant army. I have to wonder how many moral decisions are ancestors made to support the revolution at the risk of being punished later on. In fact, I have to wonder if they, in fact, contributed and were also punished by their overlords.


George von der Pfalz served as Prince-Bishop of Speyer during the Peasants’ War of 1524-1525, and was forced to flee from advancing peasant armies who violently siezed castles and church buildings, including in Deidesheim and Speyer. He negotiated a written settlement agreement with the peasants – alas, he did not need to abide by it, since the peasant army was soundly crushed. [44]



The Black Death and the Massacres of 1349 Another significant historic event through which our German peasant ancestors lived was the Black Death of 1349. Overall 45–50% of the European population died in a four-year period between 1347 and 1351.[45]  Pfalz was severely hit in 1349. As with so many other historic subjects, there is an enormous amount of interesting information to gather on this event, and how it affected life, including in and around Pfalz.[46]

I feel it’s important to remember that pandemics can and do happen, and one can only hope we can learn from our experiences by not repeating mistakes. One mistake we can remember are the Jewish pogroms that were set up to destroy or murder entire Jewish communities. They weren’t the first pogroms against Jews in Germany, and they certainly wouldn’t be the last — but these were fierce, because throughout Germany vicious rumors and conspiracy theories were spread amongst the general population that the Jews were the cause of the plague. The conspiracy theory took off and spread rapidly.

Historians writing in the comprehensive 1916 edition of The Jewish Encyclopedia (a massive tome to which over 400 historians contributed), summarized the Black Death pogrom phenomenon as follows:

Though the Jews appear to have suffered quite as much as their Christian neighbors (Honigcr, “Der Schwarze Tod in Deutschland,” 1882; Haser, “Lehrbuch der Gesch. der Medizin,” iii. 156), a myth arose, especially in Germany, that the spread of the disease was due to a plot of the Jews to destroy Christians by poisoning the wells from which they obtained water for drinking purposes. This absurd theory had been started in 1319 in Myth of Franconia (Pcrtz, “Monumenta Ger Well- maniaz,” xii. 416). On that occasion punishment had fallen upon the lepers, by whose means the Jews, it was alleged, had poisoned the wells. Two years later, in the Dauphiné, the same charge had been brought against the Jews.

In 1348, once the accusation was raised, it was spread with amazing rapidity from town to town; and offical reports were sent by the mayors of various cities containing alleged confessions of Jews who had been seized under the accusation and put to torture (see Schilter, in “ Konigshovcn Chronik,” pp. 1021 et seq.)”[47]


As the panic continued through the ignorant and frightened population, the saying “ignorance + fear = hate” became appropriate: Jewish communities were massacred, often burned at the stake in large numbers, in some instances by the 100s.[48]

Deidesheim, like some of other of its Pfalz neighboring villages, had its own pogrom. A financially successful community of Jews had grown over some time in Deidesheim. In 1349, villagers attacked and drove out that community (although it’s not clear to me how many were allowed to escape).[49]


1349_burning_of_Jews-European_chronicle_on_the Black_Death of 1349. Brussels, Bibliothèque royale de Belgique

The Burning of the Jews during the Black Death of 1349. The caption for a color version of this drawing identifies this particular image depicting the massacre at Strasbourg.[50]





[2]     See: Wikipedia on the Weinstrasse: ; town website: ; article re: Deidesheim:



[5]      Of course that’s a simplification. I need to disclose again that there is no way we here in this blog can become experts at German wine growing, let alone German history. The primary scope of this analysis is to identify our ancestors and only briefly touch upon the historic contexts of their lives.




[9]      Wikimedia commons re Bischof von Orsbeck.jpg; Leonhard Heckenhauer (* 1655 in Augsburg; † 1704 in München) [Public domain]

[10]     See;





[15]    There is no evidence I have found yet that suggests they were anything more than peasants, although I am mindful of the fact that there were different levels of peasantry: some had more rights, social privileges and material possessions than did others. It’s evident to me they were not of nobility.

16]      For the eager researcher, here are some links to get the mind moving on this subject:

Article German Wine Regions and History, by Rodolfo Morais, 2011 on the Grapes and Grains website:

Short article on German wines during the middle ages on the Vintners Pride of Germany website:

German Wines: The Middle Ages

The awesome historic gardening / garden history site, Wyrtig, has great  discussion about medieval cultivation:

The fun website has a fascinating article about tracing the history of the DNA in European wines:  What the DNA of Grapes Tells Us About Ancient and Medieval Wine:

[17]      Wikimedia Commons, shared by the Deutsche Fotothek of the Saxon State Library / State and University Library Dresden (SLUB)  Original caption: Ständebuch & Beruf & Handwerk & Weingärtner & Weinzierl & Rebmann & Kelterer

[18]       Vine Dresser by Jost Anman (1568). Wikimedia Commons:  Rebmann: Historical Profession Source: ”’de:”’Eygentliche Beschreibung aller Stände auff Erden, hoher und nidriger, geistlicher und weltlicher, aller Künsten, Handwercken und Händeln …” / from Jost Amman and Hans Sachs / Frankfurt am Main / 1568; found on Wikimedia Commons, where it states: “Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled GNU Free Documentation License.”

[19]       Wikimedia Commons:  Winzer tending to the vines, dated 1508 (origin Nuremburg) ((Fritz) Rugenstein , weingertner; taglonner (Winzer; Tagelöhner); Transkription und weitere Informationen siehe; Source: Hausbuch der Mendelschen Zwölfbrüderstiftung, Band 1. Nürnberg 1426–1549. Stadtbibliothek Nürnberg, Amb. 317.2°, via

[20]     Wikimedia Commons: Weinbau_Psalter_1180

[21]         (Original at Bibliothèque nationale de France (BNF).) The original uploader was BorgQueen at English Wikipedia. – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons_curid2057463)

[22]         (Acuina Sanitatis (XIV century), 9-autunno,Taccuino Sanitatis, Casanatense 4182  (wikimedia commons Taccuino_Sanitatis%2C_Casanatense_4182..jpg)







[29]      Wikimedia commons: File:Madame_by_Mignard.jpg

[30]        Wikimedia Commons: /Liselotte_von_der_Pfalz#Schwierigkeiten_und_Trag%C3%B6dien


[32]      Wikimedia Commons (WP_Melac.jpg )


[34]        For the Thirty Years’ War, see:;; and

As with many Wikipedia articles on European history, I like to check both the English and German versions. In case you have not yet read any of the non-English language wikipedia pages, you can easily translate them by opening them in Google Chrome.





[39]      You can check out some beautifully done images of the German peasant militants at these websites:

[40]      Wikimedia commons, File: Titelblatt_12_Artikel; Zwölf Artikel der Bauern; Flugschrift von 1525; eingescannt aus: Otto Henne am Rhyn: Kulturgeschichte des deutschen Volkes, Zweiter Band, Berlin 1897, S.21

[41]    Deutsche Wikipedia under Schloss_Deidesheim; also,   Deidesheim#Mittelalter_und_fr%C3%BChe_Neuzeit



[44]       zeitgenössisches Gemälde auf Holz;  Wikimedia Commons under Bischof_Georg_von_der_Pfalz.jpg;



[47]       The Jewish Encyclopedia (1916), page 234, available on Google Books.

[48] Jewish_persecutions_during_the_Black_Death



Deidesheim is also listed in the 1916 Jewish Encyclopedia for this event.


[50]       By Unknown – European chronicle, scanned and cropped from A History of the Jewish People by H.H. Ben-Sasson, ed. (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1976) p.564-565 ISBN 0-674-39730-4, Public Domain, wikimedia commons,   File:Jews_burned_to_death_in_Strasbourg_Feb._14_1349_during_the_Black_Death.jpg






















Me (on the phone): "That's "C-r-e-s-a-p".

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