The Maiden of Staufenberg

On the Harz near Zorge, a Braunschweig village, lies the area named Staufenberg. It became Staufenburg after the castle was built. On a particular cliff on the mountain, there is an impression of a human foot. This was created by the footsteps of a daughter of the old castle owner.  She often stood here for long. This was her favourite spot from where she looked at the enchanting surrounding. The delighted little girl with curly golden hair is still visible on the cliff at times.

Burg Stauffenburg , bailey at the entry gate. Credit: Wikimedia commons

Stauffenburg is the ruin of a former hill-fort at Seesen-Münchehof in the district of Goslar in Lower Saxony. The first buildings of the castle were probably built in the 11th century by the Counts of Katlenburg. Over the centuries, it has been constantly rebuilt and rebuilt till they began demolishing it parts in 18th century for the construction of other buildings in the area. It was built to protect the Harz mining area as well as securing the Thuringian army road, which lies below the castle of Seesen from southeast along the Harz to Nordhausen. The first documentary mention of the name Stauffenburg is found in 1154 CE and the castle was then in the name of a ministerial family, which is mentioned in a document of Henry the Lion. This indirectly suggests the existence of the castle. Obvious that it changed hands several times through the ages. Which owner the story mentions? – We have no way to determine.

The Village at the Sea-side

A Story from Holstein

A holy man walked to the shore, looked at the sky and went on praying. As it was the Sunday afternoon, all the villagers came to celebrate there well dressed – mostly in shining silks, with their sweethearts in their arms. They began jeering at the saint’s devoutness. He did not pay attention to their words. What’s more – he prayed to God not to attribute that sin of mocking at a saint to them.

But God has his own will. Two oxen entered the village next morning. They walked straight towards the sand-dune close to the village and began rummaging it with their long crooked horns. They continued doing so till the nightfall, till the time they went invisible in the darkness. The night came with a strong stormy wind that blew the entire loose mountain of sand over the village. Whole village including agricultural fields and water bodies were soon buried under the layer of sand. Nothing that could breathe survived.

Again in next morning, people from nearby village gathered to measure the loss and dig up the buried land. They worked all day, but at night came the storm to cover everything again. For many days they toiled hard during daytime to remove the sand while a sandstorm buried everything again at night. Finally people gave up. And the village looks like a desert even today.

German Warden Sea – Schlesswig Holstein : picture from Wikimedia commons

Men of the Mountain

Numerous Swiss folktales tell the tale of mountain ghosts. The stories are popular not only among the folks in the mountain region but also in the valleys till Gelterfingen and Rümlingen in Bern midland.

The mountain–ghosts are actually dwarfish mountain-men. They were shepherd by profession but their livestock does not include goats, sheep and cows. As a matter of fact they reared chamois. From chamois-milk they made cheese which grow again to make a block whole again once a piece is cut or bitten from it. Anyway the eater should not be too careless to consume the entire block without leaving leftover.  

Chamois -photo from Wikimedia commons

These mountain people lived peacefully in the quiet and innermost cliffs of the mountains. They were diligent and introvert; seldom appeared before our kind of humans. In fact their appearing indicated suffering and misfortune for other humans; however seeing them dancing on the mats was considered the forecast of a blessed year ahead.

Their lost lambs at times led them to human’s houses; also poor kids who went to forest to collect woods, at times found milk bowls or small baskets with berries left by those dwarves.

Once a herdsman was plowing his field accompanied with his servant when they saw steam and smoke on a stone wall. The servant said, “The dwarf-men are cooking! They are boiling stew I see. Also we are very hungry. Only if we had a bowlful of that!”

As soon as they turned their plough, they saw a white sheet spread before them on which a plate with freshly baked cookies was placed. The thankful men ate to their heart’s content. By the time they returned home in the evening, the plate and knives disappeared, but the white tablecloth was still there. The peasant took it to home as a memento.

Buttermilk Tower

This is the story of Buttermilchthurm  or Buttermilk tower. Once it was located in Marienburg in Prussia. Now it lies in Malbork area in Poland where we find ruins of a Teutonic castle too. One powerful Teutonic knight lived in that castle. He had ordered some buttermilk for himself from the neighbouring village. But the peasants jeered at his message-carriers.  Two men from the village carrying a large barrel full of buttermilk arrived at the knight’s castle only after a few days. The enraged knight imprisoned those two farmers in one tower. He kept them locked there till they drank all the buttermilk from the barrel. The tower is called Buttermilk tower since then.


We have heard another story as well: the inhabitants of a neighbouring village had to make a road to the building site spending a fortune. Through the road they carried gallons of buttermilk instead of water to prepare the lime.  The mortar they prepared this way was more than what they needed for the road. Hence a tower was built using that mortar later. Obviously the tower was named Buttermilk tower.

Story of Nickel Brothers

In the island of Rügen a deep lake lies in a dense forest. The lake is abundant in fishes, but its water is muddy, and for the same reason, one cannot fish well in the lake.

However, many years back one group of fishermen planned fishing here. They brought their boats into this lake, caught good amount of fish and at the end of the day, returned home with their fishing nets. But the next day when they came back to the lake, all the boats and barges had disappeared. One of the fishermen tried to find out what had happened. He looked around and found his boat stuck on the top of a tall tree. He screamed: “Who is the devil who took my boat on the tree?”

A voice answered from seemingly a spitting distance: “Not all the devils did that. Only I and my brother Nickel did it together!” None could see the speaker.

Obvious that none of the fishermen came back to the lake again.


Carl Gustav Carus – Mondnacht bei Rügen from Wikimedia Commons.

An apparently absurd story which reveals some historical fact related to early metal mining activities in German speaking regions. Nick derived from Saint Nicholas was considered as another name of devil. But German Nickel has added significance. German miners in 17th-18th century were keen to discover more valuable metals than the traditional gold, silver and iron. In the process of discovery, they found copper and then nickel. Both the metals were difficult to extract from its ore, but nickel was most difficult for its high arsenic content. Miners believed that devil had changed or contaminated the ore to a strange one which is poisonous. Hence copper and nickel became two devil siblings in their stories. Interesting is we don’t know existence of nickel or copper in Rügen area though there are some coal mines.

We have some more stories of the region. The ruin of Hertha castle, especially the outer wall of the castle is seen in Jasmund, which is not far from Stubbenkammer. We don’t know how many centuries old this castle is; presumably it is there from the time of heathenism. Goddess Hertha, the mother earth was once worshipped in this castle. The Goddess used to take bath in a lake there. Accompanied with her consecrated priest, she travelled to the deep, dark lake in the middle of the dense forest by a bullock-cart covered in a mystery-veil. If any unconsecrated person caught sight of the Goddess, he would have to die. That was reason all the slaves who came along to look after the bullocks were drowned in the lake after the bath-ritual was over. Hence none survived to tell us how the ritual was.

Some believe that Goddess Hertha was the form of devil and that is why the lake is still haunted.  Another belief is that the unhappy spirit of an ancient princess who was deported to that forest cause supernatural incidents in that area.  Anyway witnessing those happenings can be life threatening for humans. On the full-moon days the beautiful Goddess Hertha can be seen traveling to the lake along with her lady slaves emerging from the castle. The sound of splash can be heard and all the slaves disappear after that. Any human watching them is dragged to the lake by supernatural power.  The ill-fated person dies drowning in the lake powerlessly.

The stories of Hertha indicate the pagan past of the region seen through the eyes of later Christian inhabitants. The history of the ancient idol-worshipping inhabitants of the region was unknown, and medieval Europe did not favour curiosity. In fact in many stories of medieval period curiosity is described as reason that draws humans to life-threatening situations.  

Story of the Vibrant Alps

The Alps region that is covered with ice and debris of pebbles today looked glamorous with colourful flowers and fruit-bearing trees once. This region in Switzerland was not only beautiful and fertile, but also home for numerous legends – more than any other locations in Switzerland. Particularly Bern uplands had a popular story about mount Clariden.  

Alpine uphill was once rich and gorgeous. The cattle here thrived in all aspects; cows were milked thrice a day and each cow gave two buckets of milk every time.

A wealthy herdsman lived in one of the hills. He became too proud of his wealth. He furnished his old country home as elegant as a rich man’s and began courting Catherine, a beautiful milkmaid. Above all he built a staircase in the house with cheese, polished it with butter and washed it with milk. His love Catherine, his favorite cow Brandyl and pet dog Rhyn walked across those steps.

His pious mother did not have any idea of the sin her Alpine dairyman son committed. One summer Sunday, she thought of visiting him. She got tired on the way. Reaching her son’s home, she went upstairs and asked for a drink. The shepherd instructed his lady-love to take a milk-barrel, fill it with sour milk, sprinkle with some sand and serve that as drink. Shocked by the despicable act, the mother came out of home. She ran down the hill. Standing still at the foot of the hill she cursed at the wicked one – “May God punish you!”.  

A devastating storm rose within moments, ravaged the beautiful meadow, destroyed the cattle and cottages. All the people and the animals of the hill were buried. The spirit of the herdsman was condemned along with his property till the time they learn to handle the mountain properly again. He screamed – “I and my dog Rhyn, my cow Brandyl and my Cathy will be in Clariden forever.” But their salvation depended on one condition. Only if a milkman could milk Brandyl’s thorny udder in complete silence then only they could escape the curse. But the village destroyed and wild plants came in its place. The cow too went wild. Milking a cow that didn’t stand still became more difficult. Once one milkman had milked half a bucket-full when another man arrived there out of the blue and asked tapping his shoulder: “Does the milk foam well?” The milkman forgot the condition of silence. He replied: “Oh yes!” With his response the chance of the salvation of the cursed one was over. Also Brandyl the cow disappeared before his eyes.

Bernese Alps – From Wikimedia Commons

Stories of Stone-bread

This story is told in many locations; especially in Westphalen. At the time of great famine one poor woman asked for some bread for herself and her children from her rich sister. But the stony-hearted sister denied.  Revealing sheer unkindness she said, “Even if I had bread, I would rather want those to turn into stones!” All breads in her store immediately turned into stone. One person at Leiden in Netherlands brought one of these stone-breads in the great St. Peter’s Church to prove the historical fact showing that to the people.

Stonebread!

During the famine of 1579, a Becker in Dortmund had bought a lot of wheatgrains. He was cheerful at the likelihood of preparing breads enough to fill his store using the wheat. But one day when he was in the middle of making breads, all the bread in his house became stones. He grabbed a loaf and wanted to cut it with a knife. As soon as he cut the bread with his knife, blood flowed from it. He hanged himself in his room right away.


Traditional four (bread-oven) from chalk stones in the Dordogne near Liabou-haut from Wikimedia Commons
 

In the prime church of Landshut consecrated to Saint Castulus, a round stone in the shape of a bread hangs in a silver case. Four small holes are seen on the surface of that stone. This also is associated with another legend. The savior had appeared just before the fest of death began. Saint Castulus came to a widow in the city dressed as a poor man and asked for alms. The woman told her daughter to give him the sole bread left in her home, which was kept for the needy. The daughter, however reluctant had to give it but she tried to save a piece from it before. The bread was actually meant for the Saint. Hence it turned into a piece of stone the moment one piece was removed. The sin of the girl showed it. They say that the fingerprints of the starving one are still seen clearly in that stone.

Another story of stone bread: at the time of the great famine, a poor woman was walking on a road of Danzig city having one child in her arms and another beside her. The one walking with her was crying for a piece of bread. They met a monk from the monastery of Oliva. She begged for a loaf of bread from him. The monk replied, “I don’t have any.” The woman said, “But I see you are holding one in your bosom.” He replied, “Oh! This one is a stone only to throw at the dogs.” After some time when he took out the bread to eat, he found that it had really turned into a stone. The incident shocked him. He understood what wrong he had done. He left the stone in that church – it still hangs in the monastery.

All stories show how the sin of ignoring the poor and needy is punished by God. The content itself shows the time-frame when the stories were developed.  Obviously these stories were developed after Christianity established and its morals were well accepted in Central Europe.

Summoning the Mountain Dwarfs

From where did the great wisdom and the amazing secrets of the world emerge?

We have a story from Nürnberg. Paul Creuz was an inhabitant here who knew an amazing magic. To fulfill some of his wishes, he used his miraculous magic spell. He placed a new table in his garden, covered that with a white cloth, placed two milk-bowls on it, and also two honey-bowls, two plates, and nine knives. Then he took a black hen and shredded it on a pan in which cabbage was being cooked. The blood dripped into the boiling food. An unimaginable dish was prepared.

Next morning he took one part of it left it on the table. In the evening he kept the rest of the cabbage on the table and began chanting a spell. Finishing the incantation, he ran towards a green tree and hid himself behind that. He saw two small mountain people emerging from the earth. They sat at the table, and ate the precious smoky dish that was left there.

After they finished, Paul came to them and asked some questions. They answered. His wish was fulfilled.

Paul Creuz practiced the same repeatedly. The little men became so familiar that they too visited him in the house quite often. But he needed to give them time to finish the food first. If he did not wait, they either did not show up or disappeared soon. He finally got their king to support him. One day after hearing his sincere chant, the little king of the dwarfs came alone in a red scarlet cloak, under which he had a book. After finishing dinner, he threw the book on the table and allowed the host to read it as long as he wanted.

Eventually humans earned knowledge of all valuable secrets and great wisdom from that host of dwarfs.

The Weighing Scale of Bamberg

Curving the image of justice on the tomb of a king is an ancient practice. Also on the tomb of the Kaiser Heinrich in Bamberg, the idol of justice is carved with a weighing scale in hand. But the tongue of the scale is not on the middle; instead it leans a little in one side. The reason hides in an old belief – it was told that having both tips of a weighing scale at same level would bring the world to destruction.

Tomb of Kaiser Heinrich in Bamberg

Who wants to destroy the world only by maintaining balance in justice’ scale?