The Westerwald

(by Karl Anhäuser)

When one talks about “The Westerwald” today, it refers to the whole of the “Mittelgebirge”. It consists of the areas around the rivers Rhein, Lahn, Dill and Sieg, also the easterly north wing of the “Rheinische Schiefergebirge”, between Cologne and Frankfurt. The High- Westerwald - the raw highlands around the Salzburger Kopf and the Fuchskante - is the heart of this region. The outer region - the Neuwieder basin, the Siegburg-Hennefer bay, the Limburger basin and the inner Lahn area - only since quite recently, is part of the  Westerwald. (geographically speaking)

The name Westerwald was first documented in 1048, when the Archbishop of Trier, Eberhard, consecrated the church of Haiger and talked of its boundaries. Part of the forest, which stretched between the Nister and the southernmost part of the church, was declared to be, geographically, ”in the west of royal court of Herborn”, therefore named: Westerwald. (literally translated: western forest.). This forest, with its outer boundaries, the boundaries of the rulers of the Westerwald and its later parishes Marienberg, Emmerichenhain and Neukirch, was, at the time of its first being mentioned,  no enclosed woodland area, but already populated. For more than three centuries the Westerwald was limited to this area.

Since 1390, the six Diezer parishes Hundsangen, Nentershausen, Meudt, Salz, Rotenhain and Höhn are named as “auf dem Walde” and in 1470 as parishes “zum Westerwalde”. A further extension of the name is to be found in the 15. Century, when a scribe in 1429, refers to Hadamar, Ellar and Drierdorf as “uffm Westerwalde”. A poem around 1450 states: “when you come to the Westerwalt, it’s summers and winters are equally cold”. But not only that, it has Schönstein and Koberstein in the north-west being part of the Westerwald,  the Seelbacher Grund and Friedewald however, are not so clearly shown.

In 1517 Liebenstein and Rabenstein and in 1527 Elsoff, are named as  part of the Westerwald. In Imperial documentation of 1547, the Westerwald is known as being on both sides of the river Lahn. A historical report of 1608 refers to the “Westerwald over the river Lahn” as belonging to the Westerwald, as well as the counties of Isenburg, Wied and Sayn. Shortly after, the geographer  J. H. Dielheim lists the dukedoms of  Nassau-Siegen, Dillenburg and Hadamar, Beilstein and the counties Wittgenstein, Leiningen-Westerburg and Wied as belonging to the Westerwald. Since the 17. Century, when the counts of Wied, Sayn and Leiningen-Westerburg formed the “Westerwälder Kreis” (district of the western forests), the name also embraced the very beginning of the forests. A geographical textbook of 1819 names the Westerwald as being “ the right side of the river Rhein, stretching from Montabaur, between the sources of the rivers Dill, Sieg and Lahn till Wittgenstein.” In another geographical manual of 1823, the dukedoms of Siegen and Dillenburg and the ruling bodies of Homburg, north of the river Sieg, are also included in the Westerwald. The name in its true sense, has only been used since 1900. At present, with its provinces Neuwied, Westerwaldkreis and Altenkirchen,  by far the largest part of the Westerwald belongs to the province Rheinland-Pfalz. Since about 1890 the Westerwald has been a popular tourist attraction. The well known soldier song: “Oh du schöner Westerwald” (Oh you beautiful Westerwald) has further popularized the area.

The people of the Westerwald have their own greeting, by which they acknowledge one another: “Hui! Wäller? - Allemol!” How did this come about? You may well ask. In the autumn of 1913, the chairman of the Westerwald Society, district Bonn, held a competition. He was looking for a greeting that could be used by all ramblers and walkers in the Westerwald. The prize for the best idea, was 12 bottles of wine. Out of 60 entries, the farmerspoet, Adolf Weiss from Mademühlen was chosen as the winner.

To elaborate, he wrote these poetic lines: “ the Hui, I learned from the gale, when wildly it blows through our heather, and Wäller we allemol (all) be.”

“Wäller” is derived from forest and only indirectly refers to the name of the Westerwald.

In the older language, forest not only meant woods but also woodland.

The Romans perceived the vast mountainous regions of Germania as a wilderness in contrast to the fertile and populated areas.

As the mountain ranges of the Hunsrück are colloquially called  “woods” , so is the Westerwald, by its inhabitants and neighbours. The locals are called “Wäller”, which accounts for the surname of “Wäller” or “Weller”, which is far from a rarity in the Westerwald, its neighbouring districts and in the industrialized cities of Cologne and Frankfurt. It could have come into being as a name of origin - passed on by an ancestor after he had left his hometown - or primarily through a crafts- or tradesman away from home, as for instance the family name Eifler ( = from the Eifel region) or Mosler(=from the Mosel region).

I would like to mention a few more “Wäller” idioms from times past:

“Wäller Vee” (= Westerwald pedigree cattle), “Wäller Glies” (= potato dumplings) or

“Wäller Toffelsqueller”; a name given to the people of the Westerwald by their Siegerländer neighbours purely to annoy them.

Melander von Holzappel, a General Field Marshal of the Thirty Year War, was supposed to have said: “I am German and also a Westerwälder; this is the same as being two Germans!”

Should anyone show interest in the Westerwald beyond purely family history, the following work is recommended:

Gensicke, Hellmuth - Landesgeschichte des Westerwaldes - 2. Re-print - Wiesbaden 1987 - ISBN 3-922244-80-7.

*) Note

Horst Weller however, established that the interpretation in part is not feasible. Being a family historian himself, he knows that the name is derived from “Mudhousebuilders”. Today, we would simply say “bricklayer”.

The name “Wäller” on the other hand is said to have been derived from Wallen or Sieden (=boiling)