The Dog of Bretten

The story of punishment for faithfulness comes from the Rhenish Palatinate, especially in Kraichgau, where an associated phrase is also popular: “It may happen to you, like the dog of Bretten.” In some area the story revolves around a fish, however moral is the same.

In the small town called Bretten lived a man who had a faithful dog. He trained the dog to serve him many ways. Not only it helped him at home, but also carried out tasks outside home. The man used to send it out to shops, giving it a basket in its mouth, in which the needed amount of money and a list of goods to be purchased were written. That way it brought meat and sausage from the butcher as well. Needless to say, the faithful dog never touched the meat. It was happy with meal its master gave.

However its protestant master committed a big mistake one day. He sent the dog on a Friday to a butcher who was catholic and strictly kept the fast. As the butcher saw in slip that a sausage was ordered, he grabbed the poor dog tight, cut off its tail and put it in the basket with a note: “Here goes your sausage!” The faithful dog, even though hurt and wounded, carried the basket faithfully through the alleys to the master’s home. It died after keeping the basket before him.  The whole city mourned its death. An image of a dog without tail was curved in a stone and placed above the city gate.

The dog without a tail in a monument in Bretten – credit Wikimedia commons

But another version of the story contradicts the moral. As per the other version, the unfaithful dog used to steal meat and sausages from the basket which it had to carry for its poor master. Finally a butcher caught it one day and punished it by cutting its tail.

Same story; two opposite versions teaching two different morals – first one is the peril of being too faithful and second one, punishment of betrayal. Which one should learn? Obviously that depends on one’s own discretion. But the monument in memory of the dog in the city of Britten points to the first version.

The Eye of the Needle in Bilefeld

At the Bilefeld Abbey, on the left hand side, next to the Harz road, a heavy stone-block stands noticeably on a high mountain. This has a long and narrow passage in its centre. All the farmhands of Nordhausen and the surrounding localities had to crawl through this thrice when they needed to go to the Harz-forest behind Bielefeld to bring fire-woods. Crossing this eye of the needle was cumbersome as well as act of bravery, needless to say. On top of that their comrades behind mercilessly torture them with whip-butts, while they crawled in and out.

If some of them did not want to endure that diversion, they had to liberate themselves from their masters in exchange of money. Farmhands were bonded surfs otherwise. The authorities had forbidden this custom several times, but even their prescribed punishment went in vain. The surfs who tried to avoid the custom of being hurt could not live peacefully with their own group members because others were not ready to accept their rejection of the custom anyway.

But how did the weird stone come their? We have a popular story here: a giant was travelling through this region once. He crossed miles before reaching behind Bilefeld. Coming here he felt that something was pricking him in the shoe. He took his shoes off to check and found a stone inside. He removed the stone and tossed that in the wind. It fell in the place of mountain where it is seen today. It became the eye of the needle.

Through these mountain holes towards the forest behind? – picture credit Wikimedia commons

A stone thrown by a giant and it’s turning a terrible route to cross an otherwise difficult mountain can be a story not so unusual but when people need to tolerate physical torture by own group member while crossing the route, it becomes uncommon.  Content wise a unique story to me; cannot remember any similar story from anywhere.

The Wheel of Fortune

Twelve mercenaries returned from Ditmar war. They could not gain much from the war and hence, were little depressed. They were walking through the country-roads faint-hearted having no idea what they would have for food next day.  

On the way they met a gray-bearded short man. Greeting them he asked, “Where are you coming from? Where are you going?” The twelve men replied together, “From the battlefield and want to go where we can become rich, but could not find the place as yet.” The little gray-bearded man said, “The trick of being rich will be clear to you if you follow me; only don’t have a desire to have anything out of it.” The soldiers asked, “What is it you mean?” “It is called the Wheel of Fortune. It is under my control. The one I bring to the wheel learns fortunetelling and in course of time learn to dig treasure out of the earth using their knowledge. I will do this for you only on one condition – I will have the authority to select one from your group to place on the advantageous position on the wheel.”

Wheel of fortune: an woodcut by Albrecht Dürer 15th century: credit Wikimedia Commons

Now they wanted to know which one of them would be the fortunate one. The gray chap replied, “The one I am in the mood for! Anyway that I will decide later; do not know that in advance.” The mercenaries pondered long to decide whether they should accept the proposition or not. Finally they reached an unanimous conclusion, “Man must die once. We could die in the battle of Dietmar; or the devastating plague could have dragged us to hell long back. We survived all threats, and as long as we did, we dare to play the game with you. This is anyway much easier while it will hit us only once. So they joined together to submit themselves in the man’s hand, with the condition that he would take them to the Wheel of Fortune, and would offer one of them the opportunity to become fortunate.

The gray man led them to the wheel. Arriving at the spot where the gigantic wheel stood, they sat far away from each other, each one maintaining a distance of three cords from the next. However the old man forbade them not to look at one another as long as they were sitting on the wheel. Whoever does do that would break own neck. After they sat as instructed, the master seized the wheel with the cords tied with both his hands and feet, and began spinning until it went upside down, twelve hours in a row, and once every hour.

To them the world under them seemed as if clear water. Like it is seen through a mirror, they could see everything they intended, good or evil. When they saw people, they recognized them and knew each of their names. But above them it was like fire, as it burning pivots hung down.

They had endured twelve hours. The master of the Wheel of fortune singled out a delicate young man from the wheel, the son of a minister from Meissenwaar, and led him through the middle of the fire-flames. The eleven others did not know what had happened to them while they sank into a deep sleep as if intoxicated. They woke up after lying out in the open for several hours; found that the clothes on their bodies became brittle. The glowing heat they had to go through crumbled all their shirts. They got up to start walking once again with the fresh hope to find fortune and happiness. No, luck did not support them. They remained poor forever  spending the rest of their lives begging for bread at other people’s doorsteps.

The Maiden from Wilberg or The Best Treasure

Wild flowers Centaurea cyanus: credit Wikimedia commons

A peasant from Wehren near Höxter (town in NordRhine-Westphalia) went to the Amelungs mill to grind corn from his field. On the way back he wanted to take little rest near a cool pond. He was lying on the green grass when he saw a young lady coming towards him from Wilberg that lies opposite to Godelheim. Coming closer she requested, “Please bring me two buckets of water from the peak of the Willberg; you can expect a good reward for this.” He went to the peak of Wilberg and carried the water from there as she asked. She said, “Please come back at this hour tomorrow morning with a bunch of flowers from the bushes which shepherds from Osterberge wear on their hats.”

The next day the man visited a shepherd in Osterberg to get a bunch of flowers from him. The shepherd gave him one nice bunch, but only after many ardent requests. Glad receiving what he wanted, the peasant went back to the Willberg valley. He saw the young lady standing there. This time she led him to an iron door saying, “keep the flower-bunch in front of the castle-door.” He did what she said. And as soon as he did, the door opened. Both entered the hill-castle through the door.

There was a small cave inside which sat a little man at a table. His beard had grown so long that it touched the floor across the stone table. He was facing a large pile of treasure in front of the table looking like a mound. The elated shepherd kept his flowers on the table in without wasting time and began filling his pockets with gold coins from the pile.

The young lady was watching him silently. Now she said, “Do not forget the best!” The man looked around. He thought that the best meant a large and heavy chandelier studded with gemstones. But as he stepped towards that, a hand came out from under the table all on a sudden and slapped him on the face. The young lady was heard speaking again, “Do not forget the best!” However the man had nothing but the treasures in mind. He forgot the bunch of flowers by then.

Filling his pockets with as much of gold and gemstones as he could, he thought of leaving the space. The moment he stepped out of the iron-gate, it crashed terribly against him. Scared, he tried to unload everything he collected in the pockets. What did he see? All the treasures he picked up with so much of effort turned into pieces of papers. Now he remembered the bunch of wild flowers he left carelessly on the table. Finally he realized which best treasure he should have kept with him.

Saddened seeing the consequence of own foolish thought the man stepped towards his home downhill.

The Den of the Dragon

Image credit: Wikimedia commons

The story comes from Switzerland but it has another version in Austria

In the canton of Bern, a cave near the city of Burgdorf, which is famous for its castle is called Drachenloch, in English – Dragon-cave. They say two giant dragons were found here long back before the castle was built.

According to the local legend, in the year 712, two brothers named Syntram and Beltram, whom others called Guntram and Waltram were the dukes of Lensburg. They came to this area to hunt and discovered the deserted forest on the top of the hills. In a cave there, lied a monstrous dragon which had desolated the entire area till far. It was probably starving as there was no other animal left in the forest. As soon as it noticed the humans, it jumped at them and instantly devoured Bertram, his younger brother, alive. Syntram however was able to defend himself. He charged at the dragon with indomitable courage. After a long fight, he finally defeated the wild creature. The giant’s big stomach was split – Beltram was still alive inside.

The two brothers now had a reason to immortalize their victory. They decided to build a castle here and constructed a chapel dedicated to Holy Margaretha on the spot where the dragon was killed. The story of their encounter with the dragon was inscribed on its wall.