Zwetschgenmännla & Pflaumentoffel - Prune People

One popular item at German Christmas Markets (Christkindlmarkt) are 'Prune People' Zwetschgenmännla (or Zwetschgenmanndl) or Pflaumentoffel. These are little figures made from dried plums fruits and nuts.

Zwetschgenmännla and Pflaumentoffel are normally about 15cm (6 inches) tall and often have a wire skeleton with a body made of figs, prunes for their arms and legs and often a walnut for their head, which has a face painted on it. The figures come in a large range of characters which are dressed in different outfits.

Zwetschgenmännla at the Nürnberg Christkindlmarkt

Pflaumentoffel are sometimes all made of prunes and have a painted paper ball for their heads. Pflaumentoffel are dressed as chimney sweeps, wearing a top hat, and carrying a ladder over one arm.

Zwetschgenmännla/Pflaumentoffel are meant to bring good luck when given as gifts. In many parts of Europe, chimney sweeps are associated with luck, so that might be why the Pflaumentoffel are made to look like chimney sweeps.

You you DO NOT eat Zwetschgenmännla or Pflaumentoffel! The figures can keep for many years. The dried fruit can turn slightly white or grey, when sugar comes out of it. This can normally be gently wiped off.

There's a legend which says Zwetschgenmännla were created by an old man who lived in Nürnberg (Nuremberg). The man became sick and some local children sang to him, which he said made him better. To thank the children he made them little people out of dried fruits. The children really liked their little people and the story about the Zwetschgenmännla spread throughout the city and then to other areas.

Pflaumentoffel also might have been based on young orphan boys, who were employed as chimney sweeps in the 1600 and 1700s in the region of Saxony. The term Pflaumentoffel is also now a joking insult for a silly or clumsy person, especially children.

There's a record of a Zwetschgenmännla/Pflaumentoffel as 'little men made of prunes' at Christmas in 1801 and children first sold them at Christmas markets in the 19th century.

In some parts of Germany, and in many Austrian Christmas markets, you can get 'Zwetschgenkrampus' (plum krampus), which the look like the Krampus monster.

Pflaumentoffel and Zwetschgenmännla are also sold in other parts of the world, especially those with historic German connections.