Lucky Chimney Sweep

Lucky Chimney Sweep

The chimney sweep is also a major symbol of good luck, especially at New Year’s. Because fire was a serious hazard in the crowded conditions of medieval towns, having a visit from the chimney sweep at New Year’s was quite literally very good fortune. The traditional figure of the chimney sweep often appears in medieval-style signs over establishments (both actual Rauchfangskehrer services and as in this case, a restaurant “zum weissen Rauchfangskehrer” on the lovely, winding Weihburggasse, which runs between the Stadtpark and the Stefansdom). I’ve had a rather lucky/unlucky relationship with the real chimney sweeps myself. During my very first week in Vienna, my apartment doorbell rang slightly before 8:00 a.m. Jet-lagged and still in pajamas, I wondered who would actually be inside the building ringing my bell, but (stupidly, I later thought) I opened the door and saw two men with black stocking caps and puffer jackets, holding clipboards and papers. “Ofenkehrnen!” they announced themselves, Austrian-dialect for chimney cleaners – which also nowadays means heating inspectors – but I mistook this for some kind of donation seeker and I groggily shut the door again saying “Uh, nein, nein, Danke!”) Later my colleague at the Freud Musem, Daniela, laughingly set me straight. They were supposed to come in to do the quarterly heating inspection! So when the same thing occurred just before Christmas as the New Year’s inspection, I let them in. They were lovely and cordial, and again, I learned that although I spoke with them this time in decent German and it was all very friendly, they left me a New Year’s calendar for which I should have made a donation. Ach, weh! But I suppose since seeing a chimney sweep early in the day – and in the New Year – is a sign of good fortune, that I should consider myself very lucky! Another chimney sweep, this one from a Rauchfangskehrer in the old medieval section of Krems on the Donau: chimney sweep in Krems


About pcooperwhite

Christiane Brooks Johnson Professor of Psychology and Religion, Union Theological Seminary, New York NY
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