Traveling people

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Traveling people (also traveling people ) refers to a variety of population groups of the lower and lowest ranks, especially the premodern class society. What these very different wandering individuals and groups had in common were of different origins and activities

  • their exclusion from the local society,
  • their poverty and lack of schooling,
  • an accompanying temporary or permanent labor migration in economic niches
  • and the suspicion of delinquency in the majority of society .

As a rule, the members of this section of the population were excluded from the subjugation under stigmatizing terms such as "homeless rabble". On the one hand, traveling people reproduced themselves from themselves. On the other hand, they received influx of relegated people from the sedentary lower-class milieu .

Today, the folkloric use of the term “traveling people” is reduced to the descendants of historical groups such as those found in the showman , circus and rural driver milieu. These refer to themselves as travelers.

A quack in the market


In the Middle Ages and early modern times , the members of numerous different subordinate and non-class social groups were described as traveling people (including traveling people or travelers ). The range of rights-free outsiders expanded and differentiated in the Middle Ages. Members of the "lower people" - that is the social sub-layers - outside the feudal hierarchy and without a permanent residence were considered Varende lute, a derogatory term associated with crime and infamy ( dishonesty ) was connotations.

Historical names for the members of this socially, culturally and ethnically inconsistent population of those summarily stigmatized as “homeless rabble” were e.g. B. "Gängler", "Landfahrer", "Landstreicher", "Landläufer" (cf. the term landloper used in the Netherlands to this day ) or "Vagabonds". From the point of view of a collective personality trait assumed to be work reluctance, they were also seen as “foreign idlers ”. In the 19th century, the term "wanderer" came up, later also "non-sedentary".

“Driving” is not to be understood in its current meaning. Until well into the 19th century, when caravans emerged as a means of transport and accommodation, “travelers” were mainly on foot with perhaps a two-wheeled cart as a team of dogs or pulled by themselves.

In the place of the folkloric term “travelers” there is common European, but also the usual German self-designation travelers today . Summarizing names for the descendants of the historical groups are self and foreign names in French gens du voyage, in the Anglo-Saxon-speaking area Travelers , in Swedish and Norwegian resandefolket or travelers and in Dutch irritigers . In English the term is delimited against Roma .


In Switzerland, on the other hand, traveling is a state-official and legal term. There he describes the Manouches (synonymous for Sinti ) and Yeniche with Swiss citizenship, which are recognized and viewed as a cultural and “national minority” - not as individual groups, but only together .

West Germany since 1945

In 1953, Bavaria issued what is known as the Landfahrordnung (Landfahrerordnung) . This regulation should make people with a nomadic way of life mad about the local stay, scare them away from there. The Bavarian politicians avoided the word gypsies because they assumed that they would be able to undermine the prohibition of racial discrimination in accordance with Article 3, Paragraph 3 of the Basic Law . There was talk of "farmer families" or "farmer hordes" whose monitoring the politicians left the police. In the implementing provisions of the Bavarian Ministry of the Interior , the status of a land driver was defined as follows:

"The nomadic way of life is decisive for establishing the status of a rural driver , which is expressed in the fact that a person without a permanent residence or despite having his or her own residence does not only move about temporarily unsteadily in the gypsy fashion."

This Landfahrordnung was Bavarian state law until 1970 .

In other federal states , Bavarian legislation was perceived as exemplary, but not adopted. There was no uniform nationwide procedure. Alleged criminal activities that the Sinti and Roma were accused of could not be statistically confirmed: in 1954, 1,743 Sinti and Roma were identified among 1.1 million suspects nationwide . All in all, their number was too small for the previous police practices from before 1945 to be continued.

The travelers continued to be discriminated against, as far as it could be hidden from the public. In North Rhine-Westphalia, for example, the state government had been promoting an administrative practice since 1954 to revoke German citizenship from Sinti and Roma by requiring them to provide detailed documentary evidence that they were right in possession of a German passport . In view of the administrative activities between 1933 and 1945, this was not exactly easy to prove. In the compensation offices and police authorities, the expertise of officials who had been involved in the persecution and murder of Sinti and Roma before 1945 was consistently used.

It was not until the 1980s that the systematic registration of people and the constant harassment of “Gypsies” by the police authorities came more clearly into the focus of a liberal public. In Hamburg the police had z. For example, in 1981 a six month old child from a Sinto family was recorded by the police as a source of danger. In 1983, in front of the BKA building in Wiesbaden, Sinti and Roma demonstrated that in the then intensified police data collection the attribute “ZN” was entered, for “Gypsy name”. Until then, this had been the practice of anti-Gypsy police work for decades.

After the reunification of Germany

Since the 1990s at the latest, the Sinti and Roma have even been included in the official commemoration of the Nazi murder practice. Individual representatives of the Federal Court of Justice have distanced themselves from the current case law of the 1950s since 2013, without judgments having been formally revised to date.

Legal, social and economic exclusion

Part of the population was poor and unable to fall back on their own resources in times of need. Those who had no access to the scarce, locally organized support, mostly slipped into non-sedentary life and were referred to an emergency economy. The number of these people increased by leaps and bounds in crisis situations. A large number of the members of the lower classes were constantly threatened with homelessness and immobility. The permanent emergency situation usually forced the members of the wandering part of the population to carry out several activities side by side or in chronological order and often to beg at the same time . Typical forms of minor delinquency were also part of ensuring survival. Insults related to this entered colloquial language ("belt cutter " or " bag cutter " at church festivals and fairs).

State entry, tolerance and acceptance bans legally excluded the vague poverty from organized subjects and forced a life in illegality on the streets and in the woods. They extended to the ban on contact and work, which was also formally safeguarded by bans on joining professional corporations. In the course of the administrative expansion of the European states, the number of exclusion regulations increased sharply from the second half of the 17th century.

The legal exclusion was justified with the general suspicion of criminal or at least community-damaging behavior. A remnant of the strict legal exclusion remained until well into the 20th century with the criminal offense of " vagrancy ". At least in German-speaking Central Europe, the relevant provisions were removed from criminal law in the course of social and legal reforms in the last quarter of a century .

In the poor society, the non-class and under-class population groups received a constant influx of people from the fixed lower classes, but increasingly during economic crises and military campaigns. Since reintegration into the majority society or even social advancement were largely ruled out, membership of migrant poverty continued for generations. It solidified itself in a “ culture of poverty ”.

Forms of inclusion

Socially and economically, the members of the minority, contrary to the avoidance and exclusion regulations of the authorities and the professional corporations, were really closely connected to the majority population. Their economic contributions to supplying the rural population with goods and services were indispensable. Their entertainment was widely appreciated and was often the focus of rural and urban festivities.

There was an overwhelming number of such groups. The affiliations overlapped. The lists of case groups in the defense regulations convey a picture of the variety of emergency activities with which those affected tried to survive in economic niches. For example, a Siegerland ban on acceptance and tolerance of tolerance listed in 1586:

" Gypsies , vagrants, abandoned garden servants, mumboys with geys, leyres and other side games, rascals, scouts, spokesmen, country beggars trained for idleness, troublemakers, wranglers and what the like, servants are, so many times on verretherey, murder, rob, steal and other misfortunes encountered, item fortune tellers , Teuffelsfenger, Christian seers, blessing speakers who claim to help doctors, people and cattle. "

A regulatory police document from the late 18th century called

" Scheer grinder , port binding, Kessler , Pfannenfliker , Kannengiesser, Wannenfliker, basket makers , brush-makers , Bücherbeschläger, buckle and Glockengiesser , sawing Feiler, drill maker, skinners and executioner , Kümmig-, oil, herbs, Wurzeln- and powder distributors, comb, Leist - or Zwekschneider, Hechelspizer, Tabakspfeiffenmacher , Hutschwärzer, printer , minstrels , jugglers and shopkeepers with a variety of goods. "

Cultural and ethnic diversity

In addition to the “travelers” of different rural and national origins, sometimes also referred to as Yenish since the end of the 18th century, Roma and “Schnorr” or “beggar Jews” belonged to this “street subculture” as ethnically independent groups ".

In view of the heterogeneity of this part of the population, it is not possible to estimate the proportion of the total population, especially for the whole of Europe, more than extremely roughly. According to the literature, five to ten percent is a mean estimate for the 18th century. It was able to increase rapidly in the course of the hunger crises and war ravages that regularly occurred.


Although a clear demarcation is impossible, a distinction must be made between historical traveling people and groups whose members, to varying degrees, also pursued gainful migration in narrower or wider areas of circulation, but were incorporated into a subject association, and therefore not "ownerless": wandering craft journeymen (craftsmen on the waltz , also free travelers ), unprofessional artisans ( Bönhasen ), long-distance traveling merchants as well as stationary beggars.

Today's forms of gainful migration and horizontal mobility - movement in geographical space, not in the space of hierarchical social stratification - does not capture the construct of “traveling people”, although there are structural similarities and similarities.

Since marginalization and exclusion processes and their consolidation are not ethnic or regional peculiarities, but universal and timeless, there were and are socio-culturally similar population groups as those in the Middle Ages and early modern times subsumed under "traveling people" elsewhere, such as the Burakumin in Japan , the Sarmastaari in Balochistan or the Gadawan Kura ("hyena people") who travel through Nigeria as jugglers and faith healers .

See also


Web links

Commons : vagabondness  - collection of images, videos, and audio files
Wiktionary: traveling people  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: traveling people  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


  1. The latter name of the vagabonds is lexically translated as vagabond , drudger : the word vagabund is derived from the late Latin vagabundus, which means wandering, unsteady and is derived from the Latin word vagabond , see: vagabond and vague . In: Duden: The dictionary of origin . 4th edition 2007.
  2. The well-known fairy tale of the Bremen Town Musicians vividly describes the entry into "abandonment".

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Fritz Gschnitzer, Reinhart Koselleck, Karl Ferdinand Wagner: Volk, Nation, Nationalismus, Masse . In: Otto Brunner , Werner Conze , Reinhart Koselleck (eds.): Basic historical concepts. Historical Lexicon on Political-Social Language in Germany, Vol. 7. 1992, pp. 141–431, here: pp. 245–281 (“Volk als Masse, Unterlass”), especially p. 277 ff.
  2. Wolfgang Ayaß : "Vagabonds, hikers, homeless and non-sedentary": a short conceptual history of help for the homeless . In: Archive for Science and Practice of Social Work, 43, 2013, Issue 1, pp. 90-102.
  3. See e.g. B. the self- image of the Swedish self-organization Föreningen Resandefolkets Riksorganisation, FÖRENINGEN RESANDEFOLKETS RIKSORGANIZATION ( Memento of February 21, 2009 in the Internet Archive ), on
  4. See e.g. B. the self-image of the European Roma and Travelers Forum: European Roma and Travelers Forum ( Memento of January 14, 2006 in the Internet Archive ), on
  5. See: Report of the Federal Office of Justice on the legal status of travelers in their capacity as a recognized national minority, March 27, 2002, p. 5.
  6. See for example Guido Schmidt , a National Socialist as a judge at the BGH, who after 1945 consistently defended all claims for compensation in the highest instance, even if they had been recognized by the lower courts.
  7. Martin Rheinheimer : Poor, Beggars and Vagants. Survival in adversity 1450–1850 . Frankfurt a. M. 2000, p. 16.
  8. Ulrich Friedrich Opfermann : “Don't be a goat tuna, but an imperial cornet”. Sinti in the 17th and 18th centuries. An investigation based on archival sources . Berlin 2007, p. 113 ff.
  9. On social decline and reproduction "from oneself" see z. B .: Jürgen Kocka : Neither class nor class. Lower classes around 1800 . Bonn 1990, p. 108.
  10. jurors Monday in the Official Rules Siegen, August 18, 1586 , by: Corpus Constitutiorum Nassovicarum , Dillenburg 1796, Vol I, pp 498-528..
  11. Outline of the Jauner and begging system in Swabia according to files and other secure sources from the author of the Constance Hans . Stuttgart 1793, p. 173. The anonymous writing is ascribed to the Ludwigsburg penitentiary pastor and orphanage director Johann Ulrich Schöll.
  12. Richard van Dülmen : The dishonorable man. Dishonesty and Social Exclusion in the Early Modern Period . Cologne / Weimar / Vienna 1999, p. 25.
  13. Wolfgang Seidenspinner: Jenische. On the archeology of a displaced culture , p. 81.
  14. ^ Carsten Küther: Robbers and crooks in Germany. The organized gang system in the 18th and 19th centuries . Göttingen 1976, p. 22.
  15. ^ Hans-Ulrich Wehler : German history of society , first volume. From the feudalism of the Old Kingdom to the defensive modernization of the reform era 1700–1815 . 3. Edition. Munich 1996, p. 175.
  16. Wolfgang von Hippel : Poverty, lower classes, marginalized groups in the early modern period (Encyclopedia of German History, Vol. 34). Oldenbourg, Munich 1995, p. 34.
  17. Uwe Danker , The Story of Robbers and Crooks , Düsseldorf / Zurich 2001, p. 65.
  18. See from the variety of cases e.g. B. truck drivers, touring theaters, columns of pushers or commercial escape helpers , agricultural and industrial migrant workers or sales representatives (e.g. pharmaceutical representatives ) who are colloquially and legally also referred to as " travelers ".