This station, created at a late period of Hanseatic expansion, bears testimony to the colonial genius of the German merchants of the league and affords a glimpse into their business methods.
Continuing The Hanseatic League’s Story,
our selection from From the German Hansa: A Historical Sketch by Dr. Harry Denicke published in 1884. The selection is presented in nine easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in The Hanseatic League’s Story.
It was, however, in Bergen, Norway, that northernmost station of the Hansa, that the most interesting conditions prevailed. Here, that is, in Norway, the German merchant, by means of money or arms, gradually drove all competitors, including Englishmen, from the field, and in 1350 succeeded in establishing in the most favorably situated and liveliest city of the land, Bergen, the last of his numerous bureaus — a bureau which maintained itself, though in somewhat deteriorated form, until the eighteenth century. This station, created at a late period of Hanseatic expansion, bears testimony to the colonial genius of the German merchants of the league and affords a glimpse into their business methods. It may therefore be deserving of a more detailed consideration.
Twenty-one farms or granges, belonging to as many Hanse towns, dotted the shore. Each of these, surrounded by trees and lawns, covered considerable space and included spacious granaries and dwellings, most of which served also as warehouses. Each grange had its dock, where ships could conveniently land and discharge their goods. The entire space thus occupied by the Hanses was enclosed by a wall, beyond which and running parallel with it was the so-called “Schustergasse” — a street occupied by German artisans, who, though permanently settled here, nevertheless remained closely in touch with their German brethren of the bureau. Every bureau had its Schutting — a spacious, windowless room which depended for light and air upon a hole in the roof, which likewise served as a vent for the smoke issuing from the hearth. It was in this room that the agents of the Hansa merchants assembled to debate on judicial or mercantile affairs. During the long winter evenings the families of the agents, as the assistants and apprentices of the resident factors were pleasantly termed, congregated here, each group at its own particular rough-hewn, wooden table, to indulge in strong drink and pleasant gossip. When the interests of the entire colony were to be discussed, the Ælterleute (“seniors”) from every grange would meet in the Schutting belonging to Bremen and called Zum Mantel. This assemblage was called the “Council of Eighteen,” the representative of Lubeck enjoying the greatest distinction and wielding the greatest influence among them by reason of the hegemony exercised by his native town. When matters of particular importance arose, or in case of a serious dispute, the affair at issue was usually referred to the Bergenfahrercollegium (“the town council”), or more frequently to the general convention of the Hansa at Lubeck.
The expenses of maintaining the colony, in view of the almost monastic simplicity of life prevailing there and the large membership, were naturally small. In its zenith it probably numbered about three thousand persons, who were subjected to strict laws — as strict, indeed, as those of any camp or monastery. No woman was permitted within the colony, and no person was permitted out of doors after sundown, unless, indeed, he wished to run the gauntlet of the fierce watchdogs which guarded the reservations of the settlers. The members and employees of the Hansa who resided here were not permitted to marry Norwegian women, in order that their special rights and privileges might not be endangered through intermixture with the natives. How considerable were these special rights the reader may determine from the fact that, during the weekly markets, the members of the Hansa bureaus had the streets barricaded by powerful fellows who permitted no one to interfere with the valuable privilege of priority conceded to the Hanses in the matter of barter. Naturally enough the purchasing price of goods was arbitrarily set by the latter under these conditions, while the fixing of the selling price, in the absence of all competition, was a matter of course.
That the exercise of such pressure sometimes disturbed the serenity of the Norwegian can readily be conjectured, especially when it is considered that the average Northman is by no means indisposed to have a little brush with his neighbor now and then. But in such an event the Germans usually gave tit for tat, and that with a vengeance. On one occasion they killed a bishop in the presence of the king; at various other times they burned monasteries over the heads of the inmates; and frequently they sheltered criminals, or demolished entire dwellings in order to obtain kindling wood speedily and conveniently.
Only by means of concord among themselves and strict exclusiveness could the Hanses for centuries maintain their position upon that inhospitable and thinly peopled shore. The novice, who usually entered the service of the Hansa at the age of twelve, was compelled to serve an apprenticeship of seven years, during which his duties consisted also in cooking, cleaning, and washing for and in waiting upon the older clerks. Thereafter he advanced to the position of journeyman, his inauguration being attended by festive, highly suggestive, and, to the beholder, amusing ceremonies. These ceremonies began with a great drinking bout arranged at the youth’s expense. The next feature of the program was entitled Das Staupenspiel im Paradies (“the Walloping in Paradise”), a procedure to which every apprentice was exposed annually and to which on this occasion he bade a final farewell. This part of the ceremony consisted in setting apart a space enclosed within birch boughs, on entering which the blindfolded and scantily attired youth who was to be initiated into the order of journeymen was thoroughly trounced by “angels of paradise” in the form of lusty companions who were usually unsparing of the rod. A festive procession through the streets followed. It was led by two fantastically attired youngsters who impersonated a Norwegian peasant and his wife, and whose duty it was to play tricks upon the sightseers and to amuse them. After a baptism in the sea the unfortunate youth who figured as the hero of this festival was subjected to a procedure akin to that of roasting a herring in the flue; and it is singular enough that the records show only one case of death by suffocation consequent upon this ordeal. Good days, however, now followed upon evil ones, and the youthful novitiate was fêted and entertained by his companions and made to forget the sufferings and hardships of his initiation. Many other pastimes were indulged in by the members of the bureaus, which, however, cannot be touched upon here. Suffice it to say that they were characterized by the humor and roughness of the age. Despite repeated attempts of the Hansa and of the several cities to put an end to these sports, they nevertheless continued to be practiced for centuries, upon the rather plausible plea that they served as a wholesome training for the mercantile youth. Never before or since, however, has the pedagogy of the rod found so thoroughgoing an application as here.
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