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 Giant’s Blood-river

Between the town of Egeln and the village Westeregeln in Magdeburg, not far from the Hakels, there was a shallow water canal. The water is red here; and the local people call it the stream of Giant’s blood. 

The story goes like this: once upon a time one of the giants was being chased by another. Running fast to save own life, he crossed the river Elbe. But when he reached the area where now Egeln lies, he could place only one foot on the narrow ground, moreover could not lift the other foot enough to be able to hang from the tower-top of the old castle. He stumbled, tried to get up and crossed a few thousand foots in between, nevertheless finally collapsed.

His nose struck straight with a large boulder in Westeregeln in such a big force that his nasal bone was crushed. A steam of blood flowed and the red flow we see these days is the remains of that.

Reddish river? -picture credit Wikimedia Commons

We have another version of this story. That says that the giant lived in the area of ​​Westeregeln. He enjoyed playing between the mountains, jumping over the village and its small inhabitants and often indulged in this game. But one day he jumped and cut his big toe as it foot struck on the top of the tower. His blood sprang out of the wound in a thousand-foot arc to reach the pool below. Thus the never-ending stream of giant blood was created.

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.

Throwing the Shirts

This incident happened in Coburg. The girls of the village, curious to know who would be their future lover, were sitting together in a room on Christmas Eve. They followed all mandatory customs religiously. They did not even forget to collect nine kinds of wood-pieces from the forest the day before. As midnight approached, they made a fire in the room and the first one took off her clothes. She threw her shirt out of the door, and chanted standing beside the fire:

“Here I am waiting absolutely naked,

If here comes my lover awaited –

And throws my shirt in my lap, elated! “

Within moments her shirt was thrown inside again. She could also see the face of the man who did throw it. She was happy – this man was truly the person whom she courted later. Seeing her to turn lucky, other girls also undressed one by one, stood naked beside the fire and chanted the same lines. Only thing they did not know was the art of throwing their shirts together wrapped in a cloak. The spirits could not find the exact one they were supposed to collect and throw back. They began to hop around aimlessly outside, roaring and grumbling, so much so that the girls were horrified. Finally the poor girls had to douse the fire and crawl to bed silently to remain unnoticed to the restless spirits. When the girls came out of the room in the morning, they discovered their shirts torn into thousands of small pieces – scattered in front of the door.

Greeting card with Christmas Devil Krampus by 1900 – credit: WIkimedia commons

We know of pagan tradition of decorating homes with branches of evergreen trees during winter solstice; also know how this tradition was maintained, somewhat in a modified way especially by German speaking people even after their conversion to Christianity. Anyway I couldn’t find information about the significance nine types of woods here – would be grateful if any reader can enlighten.

Second interesting idea is the “spirits” – seemingly evil, which appears on Christmas eve when shirts are not properly wrapped by adolescent girls waiting to be selected by potential husband. The Christmas evil Krampus and associated Krampuslauf was popular in Austria and Bavarian regions. Krampus was supposed to take bad children away in his basket; do not know the spirit in the story is similar to that.

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.