Monday, August 13, 2018

Legends of the Rhine (Following folktales around the world 78. - Germany)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

I bet you thought Germany would be represented by the Grimms! But since I recently worked my way through the early Grimm tales, and also already blogged about the Schönwerth collection, I decided to read something else this time. 

Legends of the Rhine
Wilhelm Ruland
Hoursch & Bechstedt, 1906.

This book contains 94 legends. It proceeds geographically from the source of the Rhine in Switzerland all the way to the Netherlands, retelling tales and legends city by city, castle by castle. Because of the borders, the book contains some Swiss stories at the beginning, and some Dutch at the end, but it is still very much a collection of German lore. The language is poetic and romantic, which is occasionally very fitting, and other times annoying, but at least it represents an era of re-telling German legends that precedes WWII. Because it is a literary collection, there are no notes or sources for the stories, but it was still a very entertaining read - I encountered some old favorites, and found new ones as well. If you even decide to take a trip along the Rhine, don't go without this book.


Obviously the Niebelungenlied is featured in the book, in two parts: Siegfried's death and Kriemhilde's revenge are attached to the city of Worms, while Siegfried's childhood and the slaying of the dragon are told in Xanten. Other famous classics also made an appearance: I read about Lorelei (St. Goar), Roland (Rolandseck) - the knight here survived his last battle and returned to his German love, but she was already dead -,  Lohengrin (Cleve), and the infamous Lady of Stavoren.
Several legends along the Rhine feature Charlemagne. I especially liked Eginhard és Emma (Ingelheim), in which the king's favorite daughter fell in love with a young courtier, and when snow fell, she carried him on her back across the courtyard, so that the footprints would not give his visit away. Charlemagne did find out in the end, and exiled the lovers - but they lived happily together anyway. The legends of Aachen also featured the king. There was the story of the famous cathedral, in which people threw a wolf in first, so that the Devil waiting for his payment (for helping build the cathedral), a "living creature's soul", would kill the wolf and not the first person to walk in. Also, my personal favorite, the Ring of Fastrada: A magic ring that made Charlemagne fall madly in love with whoever was wearing it - including his wife's corpse, and his good friend Bishop Turpin.
As a collection of romantic legends, the book contains quite a few love stories, both of the tragic and the happy variety. Gerda és Helmbrecht (Rheinstein), for example, live happily ever after - after the girl is almost married to an evil old suitor, but her horse goes wild in the wedding procession, kicks the guy into a ravine, cripples the stern father, and throws the bride right into the arms of the true love. The Minstrel of Neuenahr was a beautiful, but tragic tale of a singer who went off to the Holy Land to earn the hand of the lady he loved - but returned too late, after she died of loneliness.
Of the less well known stories, I really liked the Knave of Bergen (Frankfort), a dashing stranger who danced with the empress all through a masquerade - until it was revealed that he was an executioner by trade. The story had a happy ending, in which the executioner convinced the emperor to knight him, to wash the "stain" of his profession off the empress. Smart guy. I also liked the Blind archer of Burg Sooneck, who was kept as a prisoner by an evil robber baron, until he was called on to show off his skills of shooting after sound - and, unsurprisingly, he shot the baron dead, after he clinked his glass.
German common sense featured into the legend of the Cathedral of Cologne. The building master made a bet with the Devil that the cathedral would be ready faster than the Devil could dig a canal to the city, with cheerful ducks swimming in it. The underground canal was done quickly, but the Devil could not really get the ducks to cheerfully swim in it... until he tricked the master into disclosing that the ducks needed air holes along the underground tunnel. Holes were made, the ducks moved in, the bet was lost, the master killed himself, and the cathedral was only finished by the 19th century.
As an archaeologist, I also enjoyed the legend of the Roman ghosts in Bonn. Roman martyrs Cassius, Florentius and Melusius helped a poor man out with some gold - but they only spoke Latin, which the man did not understand, so all that they could say together was "Vivat!"


Giants appeared in various stories. In one, a giantess picked up a farmer from the fields, and took him home as a toy - but her father told her to take it back where she found it (people are friends, not toys). In the story of the Seven Mountains, people paid the giants to cut a path for the river, and they did so - and surprisingly, no one got cheated or killed in the deal.
The legend of the Orloj in Prague was repeated about the cathedral clock in Strassbourg - the clockmaker was blinded so that he could never make another one (it was tough to be a clockmaker in the middle ages). The Polish legend of Popiel was repeated in the Mouse Tower of Bingen, where an evil archbishop was eaten by mice. There was also a virgin offered to a dragon (naturally), but this time she was rescued by her own faith, and the cross she was carrying (Drachenfels).
The story of Richmodis of Aducht from Cologne still goes around today as an urban legend - it's the one about the wife who is buried alive, and wakes up when grave robbers try to cut her rings off. Cologne also had a connection to the Grimm tales: legend says goblins used to live in its workshops, helping people with their crafts, until a tailor's wife left out peas on the floor to watch them trip and fall. Ever since then there have been no shoe-making elves in Cologne (or trade elves of any kind).

Where to next?

1 comment:

  1. Sounds good! I’ve found this on Gutenberg and downloaded. While I was there I found another folktale volume called Fairy Circles.