North Rhine--Westphalia Emigration and Immigration

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Seasonal workers (Hollandgänger)

In order to support themselves, the landless population of preindustrial Germany had to resort to seasonal work. Causes were diminished fertile land and social structures. Many farmers’ sons and daughters found themselves without any economic prospects due to inheritance laws (the father’s farm went to a single heir also known as “Anerbenrecht”). The trend was to migrate in order to find work. Most migrants found an occupation within a ten to 30 miles radius. Some were not as lucky and had to look for work farther away from home, sometimes 100 miles away. Between sewing and harvest most were able to earn enough money to pay their rent and to survive the winter. Each spring and autumn the roads in Germany were filled with villagers who were seeking employment. Some such workers were known as “Hollandgänger”.
Thousands of migrant workers from Northern Germany hired on as seasonal workers in the Netherlands, especially in the provinces of Holland and Friesland. They worked as gardeners, turf workers, seamen or hired on at the East Indian Company. People also found work as masons, carpenters, and stucco workers. Other Germans went to the Netherlands to become soldiers, and women found work as servant girls or worked in linen factories.

The trend to search for seasonal work in the Netherlands goes back to 1620 and continued into the second half of the 19th century. The Dutch became a predominant maritime power and needed many workers, especially seasonal workers, since their own workers migrated to the cities. In Germany, the situation for landless laborers or peasants with plots too small to support a family became direr. Therefore, finding work for six to 12 weeks was a welcome opportunity.

Hollandgänger came from what is known today as Emsland, Osnabrück, Cloppenburg and Vechta. It is estimated that every third to fourth man in these areas was involved in Hollandgängerei.

It is known that migrant workers preferred certain cities in the Netherlands. Many citizens from Lienen/Steinfurt went to the Netherlands (Linschoten) as well as many workers from the Earldom of Tecklenburg. The Lidmatenboek of the Reformed church in Linschoten has a record of some 34 migrants who originated in Lienen. These were usually young men who settled to have families.

Here is a list of men whose origins go back to Lienen.
After 1870 the situation in Germany changed and workers were no longer dependent on seasonal work.

Steve Hochstadt. Migration in Preindustrial Germany in Central European History. Vol. 16 No 3 (Sept 1983) pp. 195-224 ( http://www/ )