A relic from the middle ages: the timber law

In gray work pants and a blue-and-red checkered lumberjack shirt, klaus scheller stands next to several freshly felled trees in the forest between iphofen and birklingen. The ground around him is wet and softened by the rain – the air is damp, smells of wood and earth. The pensioner is accompanied by josef rading and gustav guckenberger, his cousin.

Since his childhood, scheller has come to the forest of the town of iphofen every winter, to a different place every year. There he cuts trees and processes them, often with the help of his cousins, into firewood. Free of charge. He and many other residents of iphofen are allowed to do this because of an ancient right that only exists in a few francophone communities today.

Regulations from the middle ages

The so-called timber law goes back to regulations from the middle ages. "In the past, people simply went into the forest and fetched what they needed," explains rainer fell, the forester responsible in iphofen. In the middle ages, however, the increasingly intensive use of the forests made it necessary to regulate forest management.

So first it was divided up which community was allowed to use which forest areas. Over time, however, it became necessary to establish clear rules within these areas as well: in the 16. In the 19th century, iphofen finally agreed on the use of the area as a middle forest, which – in a modified form – is still valid today. "At that time, firstbishop julius echter had determined the type of use and iphofen had to adapt," fell explains.

The areas are drawn by lot

The regulation states that the forest, which covers about 300 hectares, will be divided into many areas of equal size. Today, each of them has an area of about 450 square meters. Every citizen who has the right to wood is allotted two of these areas – one with more and one with less wood, so that the division is fairly fair.

The special thing about it: there are so many individual sections that each of them is only managed every 30 years – in between the forest can recover. Since the trees do not grow too tall during this period, the areas are called "mittelwald".

Some trunks belong to the city

The trees on the allotted areas may then be felled and processed by the rightholders. Only some of the larger trunks are cut down by the city itself for sale. Some others have to be left standing so that they can grow bigger and be sold as timber.

Were there 16. In the 19th century, all adult, male citizens of iphofen held the right to wood, but today this is distributed differently: a right is attached to every building in the old town, provided the owner lives there and uses the wood for heating himself. Those who cannot or do not want to take advantage of the opportunity to obtain wood free of charge can return the right to the city.

"Many people don’t get their wood anymore, it’s too much work for them," says klaus scheller. "The young move away and the old cannot do it alone." he himself wants to use the opportunity as long as he can. He only had the heating system in his house modernized in 2005 – and he intends to continue using wood. "It’s a tradition here, and i think it’s a good thing."

Timber law in other communities

Tradition has the wood right also in other municipalities in the kitzinger land. For example in willanzheim. However, the legal situation there is different from that in iphofen, explains klaus behr from the office for food, agriculture and forestry: "usually, the soil is owned by the municipality and the wood belongs to the rightful owners. It’s different in willanzheim, where the right holders are also the owners of the land."

In many other communities in the district where there used to be timber rights, these were dissolved in the mid-2000s. At that time, the forest became the property of the rightholders – today, each of them manages his own land. This is not the case everywhere: "in other regions outside france," explains behr, "the right to cut wood is still widespread today."