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The Staff that Became a Tree

Otto III was but a child when his father died and left him heir to the Western Empire. The cares of the government were entrusted to his mother and a handsome and capable young nobleman named Ezzo.

The young emperor was brought up at court under his mother's eye, but Mathilda, his sister, was sent to the convent at Brauweiler. She spent many years, and only left the place to witness the coronation of her brother when he came of age.

The young and handsome count Ezzo fell deeply in love with her then. However, Mathilda soon returned to her convent, and the count became so melancholy and absent-minded that the emperor began to marvel at the sudden change. To divert him from the sad thoughts, one day challenged Ezzo to a game of chess, laughingly exclaiming that the victor of three games in a row might ask the other for any boon he chose

Ezzo began the game, and played so skillfully that he beat his sovereign three times. Then he asked for the hand of Mathilda. Otto, mindful of his promise, agreed, providing he could win the young lady's consent.

Ezzo was soon ready to ride to the Brauweiler convent convent, where he was allowed to see the Princess Mathilda alone. He soon informed the prioress that he had come to escort the princess to court, where she was to be married. The prioress, hearing this news, tried to persuade Mathilda to remain a nun rather than getting an earthly spouse, but in vain.

As the young couple were about to ride away, she angrily exclaimed: "I'd sooner believe this withered staff could again bud and bear leaves, than that any good will accrue to you out of this alliance."

This was different from the customary blessing. Ezzo saw a cloud pass over his beloved's countenance at these pestering words hurled after her, suddenly caught the staff out of the holy mother's hand, thrust it into the earth near the convent door, and exclaimed, "Let it remain there, and we will see whether or not God approves of the union of loving hearts, and sanctions earthly marriages."

Then he rode gayly away at Mathilda's side. The marriage preparations were soon ended, the wedding ceremony took place. And as the benediction was pronounced over the newly married couple, the mulberry staff put forth its first tiny little leaf. Little by little it grew and developed, till it became a mighty tree, and flourished as proudly as Ezzo and Mathilda, who lived happily together and had many children. They grew up to be as good and happy as they.

The mulberry tree is still standing near the Brauweiler convent at a short distance from Cologne, and whenever it shows any signs of decay, if true lovers kiss beneath its shade, it is sure to send forth a fresh shoot.

[Legends of the Rhine, p. 75-77]


The Prying Woman

In the days when fairies, elves, and dwarfs constantly visited the earth, when wishes were granted at once, the virtuous always rewarded and the wicked invariably punished, the inhabitants of Cologne were particularly favoured, for they were under the protection of the Heinzelmannchen, a tiny race of benevolent beings. These brownies stole noiselessly into their houses at night, and deftly finished all the work which had been set aside before it was ended.

Relying on their aid, the bakers set their dough to raise, slept soundly, and when they awoke found piles of newly baked loaves; the miller's grain was ground, and the flour tied up in sacks; the housewives' rooms were swept and dusted, the spinner's flax all spun, and a tailor in town always found the garments he had begun to cut out, duly made and pressed, lying neatly folded on his table.

Now, the tailor's wife was a very prying woman, and very eager to see the benevolent Heinzelmannchen who laboured so kindly for them. As she was a heavy sleeper and could not easily wake up, she strewed dry peas all over the floor before she went to bed one evening. The tiny Heinzelmannchen, racing to and fro in their busy haste, stepped on the peas, tripped and fell, making such a clatter with the irons, tongs, scissors, and so on that the tailor's wife woke up and hastened to take a peep at them.

The Heinzelmannchen saw her and guessed that it was she who had strewn peas on the floor. They became so indignant that they left the house and town forever. Since then the people of Cologne have had to do their tasks unaided, and all the work that is not finished at nightfall, is sure to be found in the same condition in the morning, for the Heinzelmannchen have vowed never to visit the town again.


The Lorelei

You have perhaps seen the picture of the maiden sitting on the rock, high above the water. The old stories tell us that Lorelei was a maiden of wondrous beauty. She lived in the river Rhine. All day she would hide in the river so that no one could see her; but when night came she would climb to a high rock where she could be seen in the moonlight by all who passed by on the river. There she would sit and sing, and comb her beautiful golden hair.

This curious maiden had a wonderful power over all who listened to her sweet singing. The boatmen and fishermen were so enchanted by her wondrous songs that they forgot to guide their boats, which drifted about, and were finally dashed to pieces on the rocks. So many were lost while listening to her song, that a band of soldiers was sent to carry her off in the darkness. When the soldiers neared the rock where the Lorelei sat singing her sad, sweet melodies, they, too, were spellbound, and could not move.

While the men stood there, held by her magic spell, the Lorelei took off her sparkling jewels and threw them into the river, which began to rise. When the water had reached the top of the great rock, where she was standing, she jumped into a green chariot drawn by horses with white manes, and vanished from the sight of the wondering soldiers who had come to seize her. The water flowed back where it had been; the magic spell was broken; the river Rhine flowed on peacefully as before.

Another story is that of all the suitors the Lorelei had, there was one knight that she loved best. He wanted to go to the war to win honor and glory for her sake. She begged him not to go; but he was determined to do so. A long time passed. No word came from the knight, and the maiden was very unhappy.

The people declared she had caused so many to be lost in the river by her wondrous singing, that they brought her before the magistrate. She flung herself at his feet and begged to die, for she loved only the knight who had gone away.

The magistrate listened to her story, and bade two knights take her to a convent where she would never be troubled any more.

They crossed the river, and drew near a huge rock, which the Lorelei asked leave to climb and take a last look at her home.

The knights consented. As she reached the top of the rock, a boat came in sight. In it stood a knight, clad in complete armour. At once the maiden saw it was the knight who had gone to war, and whom she mourned as dead. With joy she called to the knight as he stood in his boat far below her. He heard her wondrous voice calling to him, and paid no heed to his boat, which was carried swiftly away by the strong current of the river.


The Lorelei (Loreley) is a famous German legend. Heinrich Heine wrote a song about this maid in 1822, and a statue has been erected (picture). The 132 m high Lorelei Rock sits across the Rhine from Sankt Goarshausen and soars some 120 metres above the water line. After leaving Switzerland, the Rhine is at its narrowest and swiftest here. A very strong current and rocks below the waterline have caused many boat accidents. So the stretch was considered dangerous for ships until modern times. On this rock is a huge, erotic Lorelei statue.

In the best known invention of the legend, Clemens Brentano's (1801), Lorelei falls in love with the Count of Katzenelnbogen, who marries a girl of noble birth, and Lorelei throws herself off the rock in despair, and thus kills herself. She then becomes a siren. Afterwards she takes her revenge by drowning any men foolish enough to come along the river by her song, which is related to the murmuring echo among the steep cliffs in the area.

The story dates back to the 1200s, when many believed the treasure of the Nibelungen was buried here at the foot of the Lorelei Rock, guarded by Rhine nixies. Lorelei is the name of one of these beautiful Rhine Maidens. According to legend they lured navigators of the river to their doom with their alluring singing, much like Sirens of ancient Greek myth. The water spirits also appear in Grimm tales.

Heine's Lorelei

1. Ich weißß nicht, was soll es bedeuten,
Daßß ich so traurig bin,
Ein Märchen aus uralten Zeiten,
Das kommt mir nicht aus dem Sinn.
Die Luft ist kühl und es dunkelt,
Und ruhig fließßt der Rhein;
Der Gipfel des Berges funkelt,
Im Abendsonnenschein.

2. Die schönste Jungfrau sitzet
Dort oben wunderbar,
Ihr gold'nes Geschmeide blitzet,
Sie kämmt ihr goldenes Haar,
Sie kämmt es mit goldenem Kamme,
Und singt ein Lied dabei;
Das hat eine wundersame,
Gewalt'ge Melodei.

3. Den Schiffer im kleinen Schiffe,
Ergreift es mit wildem Weh;
Er schaut nicht die Felsenriffe,
Er schaut nur hinauf in die Höh'.
Ich glaube, die Wellen verschlingen
Am Ende Schiffer und Kahn,
Und das hat mit ihrem Singen,
Die Loreley getan.

I don't know what it may mean
That I am so sad;
A tale from ancient times
I cannot get out of my mind.

The air is cool and twilight is falling
and the Rhine is flowing quietly by;
the top of the mountain is glittering
in the evening sun.

The loveliest maiden is sitting
Up there, wondrous to tell.
Her golden jewelry sparkles
as she combs her golden hair.

She combs it with a golden comb
and sings a song as she does,
A song with a peculiar,
powerful melody.

It seizes upon the boatman in his small boat
With unrestrained woe;
He does not look below to the rocky shoals,
He only looks up at the heights.

If I'm not mistaken, the waters
Finally swallowed up fisher and boat;
And with her singing
The Lorelei did this.


The Seven Maidens

A bit above the Lorelei Rock you may see seven small rocks rise very nearly in the middle of the river when its waters are low. On a hill near Oberwesel are the remains of the towering castle of Schonberg, once the proudest castle on the Rhine. It has been in ruins for ages. Once the Schonberg family lived there - in ancient times a knight and his seven daughters. He had no son, and it grieved that his family line would die out with him. As a result he had a dangerous illness that soon made his children fatherless.

Unfortunately, his daughters had a poor upbringing, for he had been long a widower and had troubled himself very little about them. A distant relation, who ought to have acted the part of a mother, had nourished more vanity and coquetry in them than home virtues.

When this relation died, the knight's now grown-up daughters were left to themselves. And as these seven countesses were all in the bloom of beauty and youth and owned much in addition to their large castle, they had many suitors.

But these beautiful orphans were incapable of any tender feelings. Though every guest met with a friendly reception, and was suitably entertained as long as he liked to remain at the castle, if he ventured to ask one of them to marry him, he received only scorn and disdain instead of words of consent, as the hearts of the sisters did not know as yet what it was to reciprocate the love they inspired. As a result, many of the suitors left the castle and were indignant with the seven sisters, or heart-sick, while others came to like moths to a candle. So the beauty and property of these maidens continued to attract fresh competitors. It led to great gaiety and feasting.

Years went by in this way, and still their feelings remained untouched, while knights from far and near still teemed around the attractive women in their quite alarming game and flattered themselves with hope, and trying to win over their rivals.

At one of these great feasts a quarrel arose between two warlike knights, on account of the lady of their choice. Both knights considered they had been encouraged by the lady, and so they were on the point of settling the issue through duelling. This attracted general attention, and also a wish that they settled their disagreement more peacefully. The many suitors who were guests at the castle, banded together and all agreed that the lady the two were willing to duell for, should make a decision so that that the discord should proceed no further, and that all might at last know how each stood.

As a result all the seven ladies of the castle were pressed to make a final choice and marry. The demands could not be evaded, and next day each of the damsels saw herself compelled to point out her spouse.

The knights appeared in the reception room, full of expectation. Then a servant appeared. He announced that the ladies were waiting for them in an arbour in the garden on the banks of the Rhine. The candidates hastened there, only to see see their ladyloves in a flatbottomed, open sailboat that was already at some distance from the banks. At the stem stood the eldest of these ladies. She said:

"It has never come into the mind of anyone of us to love any of you, or to have you for husbands. We love our freedom too much so to sacrifice it to any man, and we refuse to be coerced into marriage. Further know that we are going to leave our castle for some time now, to pay a visit to an aunt in the Netherlands. And wherever we are, we intend to carry on the same game with the knights there that we have had with you. So good bye, dear sirs, fare well, and do not let your grief spoil your appetites."

This speech was accompanied by an echoing laugh from the ladies, and the boat sailed on. But while the confounded and deceived knights were still looking after the jeering ladies, a storm suddenly arose, the little vessel tossed more and more, struck with great violence on a hidden rock was dashed in pieces, and the maidens were drowned in the deep waters.

On the spot where this happened there soon afterwards rose out of the water seven rocks. They are known to this day as the Seven Maidens, and there they remain, a warning to the disdainful and a terror to the skipper.



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