Site Map
German Folk Tales  ❀ D
Section › 23 Set Search Previous Next

Reservations Contents  

The Devil and the Card-Players

In the village of Hellewadt, close on the high road leading from Apenrade to Lügumkloster, there is an inn called the Kloveres (Ace of clubs). The name derives from the following incident.

At this house, which did not stand in the best repute, there was formerly much card-playing. One winter evening a company was gathered there. Among them there was no lack of cursing and swearing and unseemly conversation, and the devil was repeatedly invoked thus. Then, quite unexpected and observed by no one, a journeyman mechanic entered the room and seated himself among the players. In a short time all the luck turned to the side of the stranger, and the others found themselves not in the best possible mood. A card fell under the table, it was the ace of clubs, and when one of the party stooped to pick it up, he noticed that the stranger had a horse's foot. The man now laid down his cards and left the room without uttering a syllable. His conduct attracted the notice of the others, and a second person now designedly let a card fall on the floor. When he stooped to pick it up, he saw what the other had seen, and like him silently left the place. Their example was followed by the rest of the company, so that at length the devil was left sitting by himself.

The host was in the greatest embarrassment; in his perplexity, and sent for the clergyman to exorcise the evil one. The clergyman came with three books under his arm. them The devil at once kicked two of out of his hand, but the third the clergyman luckily held fast. The clergyman then requested the people of the house to give him a needle. With it he made a hole in the lead of the casement. Then, by dint of reading out of his book, he forced the fiend to pass through the hole and disappear.

[In one version of the story the priest used a stick instead of a needle.]

The Three Wood-fairies

Tje great plain north of the Harz mountains [1] was not always the smiling, fruitful tract of land the eye now beholds.

A great lake covered a large portion of it; the ground around this lake was swampy and unfruitful, and dense forests shut out the sunlight.

But the deep shadows of these woodlands, where the foot of man seldom wandered, this sacred stillness, undisturbed by the noise and bustle of human life, was notwithstanding peopled.

Creatures of tender form and rare beauty not so ethereal as the air, not so material as man danced lightly, as if borne by the breezes, through the woods, which were their possession, intimately interwoven with their existence, for they grew with the trees which they inhabited, and drooped and died with them.

When the moon mounted her blue throne, and cast her pure silvery glance over the silent and noble forests, it was as if a light shiver fell on the trees, as if they became animated, and assumed the forms of maidens, who in the pale light skipped on the mountains, or descended to the lake or the Bode, to visit their neighbours the mermaids, still and innocent as themselves, who swam the light waves radiant in the smile of the moon.

But as time went on these pleasant reunions were interrupted by the human race, which penetrated the forests, mercilessly cut down everything that stood in the way of its selfish ends, and made these peaceful regions the stare of its vain ambitions and aims, never dreaming that with every tree that was hewn down a life more pure and beautiful than its own was destroyed.

Soon the joy at these nightly assemblies was changed to sorrow, and when the moonlight called the fairy forms of wood-nymphs and mermaids into life, they wept together over their vanished sisters and friends, and not one was sure that the following day the same sad fate would not be her destiny.

A powerful kaiser was come into the district with a vast retinue and an army, had built himself a Burg on the banks of the Bode, and bestowed the land on his followers, who were to cut down trees, drain swamps, and transform the wilderness into a fruitful plain.

The woods gave place speedily to a bare tract, and the maiden circle grew ever smaller. There, on the mountain west of Thale, where in its bosom the antediluvian giant animal skeletons were found, an old warrior had received permission from the kaiser to clear the land.

He toiled unweariedly, dug the soil, felled the trees one after the other, till of the sacred grove only three trees were left standing.

"Now, only these three trees left," thought he to himself, stretched himself wearily in the grass to rest a minute and strengthen himself for the last stroke; but fatigue overcame him, so that he sank into a deep sleep, and only woke up when the moon and stars shone in the heavens.

Then he saw three maidens sitting under the green roof of a maple tree, silent and mournful; their eyes were wet as if dewdrops hung in the drooping eyelashes; they uttered complaining words in soft tones like the rustling of the night wind in the leaves.

"Let us take leave of each other," lisped softly the voice of one; "our time is come. When the rosy dawn awakes he will come who cut down our sisters; and as they are fallen, so must we. Desolate will be the spot that saw us so oft united in joy, lonely the moonlight that shone on our dance. The nymphs of the lake and the mountain stream will look out for us, longing for our coming, and ask, 'Where are our friends of the mountain? Why do they not descend when the queen of the stars illuminates our palace?' Happy sisters, you are as yet safe from our mournful fate, for you are secure in your retreat from the barbarian!"

"Do not weep, sister!" said another, with light moaning; "do not weep over our inevitable destiny. To see that we must die grieves me not, for all our beloved are gone on before us; but that we are the last of our race, and our line becomes extinct with us, that fills my heart with woe.

"That our race might continue I would live on, and if I could appear in person to him who will come in the morning with his axe to annihilate us, I would entreat him for the blessing of life, and he would not refuse my entreaty.

"But only night makes us comprehensible to men; the day confines us stiff and without form in our narrow house."

"Ah! if we could only appear to him!" added the third; "if we could only appear and beg him for life, we should not plead in vain; I have seen him mourn too, have heard him lament the beautiful forest.

"And what benefit would it be to him to destroy us also? What benefit has it been to him that he has destroyed our sisters? Will the products of this soil repay the labour of tillage? But we would gladly, though invisible, help him to cultivate the land during the hours when we have a form, if he would take pity and spare the last of a great race."

The old soldier, who had listened in surprise to this singular conversation, could contain himself no longer.

"By the sword of my kaiser!" he cried; springing to his feet, "cursed be the hand that should do you an injury, you innocent beings; destroy you I won't, but protect and defend you with my goods, blood, and life.

"But who are you? Was it a dream that charmed my senses?"

Terrified, the maidens had vanished at his first words. Now their voices resound from the trees as they reply to his question.

"No dream has deceived you. You have seen the last of the wood-nymphs who adorn this mountain. If you will protect them, so spare the trees of the wood that still stand; they will thank you."

Dawn broke over the mountains, the voices were silent; they sighed in the morning wind, but the soldier could not understand the tones. At first he was inclined to hold all for a dream, but what he had heard stood so clear in his mind that he finally doubted no longer, and zealously defended the three trees.

On his dying bed he commended them to his sons, and charged them never to sell the land.

A long time the fields near the three trees thrived above all others, and at night three maiden forms could be seen following the plough in the moonlight.

But alas! The trees and land came into the hands of an owner who held the story of the three woodfairies for a fable, and he cut the trees down.

Since then the mountain has been barren and fruitless, and the three sisters have never been seen with the plough again.

Note

Harz is a mountain area in Germany, 180 km long og 30 km wide. The highest mountain ini Harz, Brocken (1141 m.o.h.) is granite, and the highest mountain in Northern Germany. Harz stems from harth, a word for wood (forest) of olden times. Tribes migrated northward from this area to Hordaland, Norway, as the name of the county tells.

The Harz National Park is a nature reserve in the German federal states of Lower Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt. It comprises large portions of the western Harz mountain range, extending from Herzberg and Bad Lauterberg at the southern edge to Bad Harzburg and Ilsenburg on the northern slopes. 95% of the area is covered with forests, mainly with spruce and beech woods, including several bogs, granite rocks and creeks. The park is part of the Natura 2000 network of the European Union.

Rare animals of the Harz National Park include the Dipper, the Black Stork, Peregrine Falcon, the European Wildcat and especially the Eurasian Lynx.

The Wooing

Rheinstein Castle lies on a precipitous cliff overlooking the Rhine. Once lived a knight called Diethelm there. He was a robber baron. From one of his pillaging expeditions he brought back a charming maiden called Jutta, and in time the gentle conduct of this maiden changed the coarse baron to a noble knight who made her his honoured wife.

Their first daughter, Gerda, cost Jutta her life. Gerda looked much like her mother, and grew to be such a beauty that soon wooers from far and near came to ask for her hand in marriage. Her strict, aged father made many wooers depart in sorrow, but one young man, Helmbrecht, was liked by the maid, and not unkindly looked on by the old man. He was the oldest son of the owner of the Sternburg. The young couple fell in love also.

Then, according to the courtly customs of the time, young Helmbrecht appointed his uncle Gunzelin of Reichenstein to woo his chosen bride for him. It was a big mistake, for although Gunzelin was an old man, he was full of knavery and falsehood: Instead of wooing for his nephew he ingratiated himself with Gerda's father. Moreover, as the old knight was descended from an ancient family and had much wealth, Diethelm was easily induced to promise him Gerda. But to the astonishment of the two aged men Gerda would not listen to the suit of her rich wooer. Her heart belonged to the nephew, not to the uncle.

Now Count Diethelm was aroused, and with the blind fury of his earlier years swore to his rich companion that Gerda belonged to him, and should never wed the young cock-sparrow of the Sternburg.

In her quiet chamber the unhappy maid wept out her heart's grief, but burning tears did not thaw the ice-cold heart of the father. In vain the young lover tried to gain the old knight's favour, but Diethelm merely referred to his knightly word solemnly pledged to the lord of Reichenstein.

Soon the day approached on which Gunzelin, with smiling self-satisfaction and decked out to look like a young man, was to lead the fair maiden to his stately castle.

Gerda submitted to the inevitable. On a bright summer morning the bridal procession started from the courtyard of Rheinstein Castle, and moved towards a chapel in the neighbourhood. Horns blew and trumpets sounded. On a milkwhite palfrey sat the fair young bride, deadly pale. She was thinking of her absent lover.

Then all at once a swarm of buzzing gadflies came out of the bush and fastened fiercely on the palfrey which bore the fair Gerda. The animal reared and broke from the bridal procession. Boldly the bridegroom on his steed dashed forward to check the frightened animal, but his war-horse missed its footing on the narrow bridle path and fell over a precipice carrying its master with it.

The dying knight was carried by the wedding-guests back to Rheinstein Castle. The aged Diethelm had also tried to stop the runaway steed, but the maddened animal had struck him on the shinbone and wounded him. The servants thus had to carry the moaning greybeard back to his castle as speedily and carefully as possible. The surgeon had a sad time of it during the next week when he attended to the enraged old knight's wounds and bruises.

When the runaway horse had disappeared round a bend of the path, a man threw himself on it. Bringing the trembling animal to a standstill, he clasped the unconscious bride in his arms. Helmbrecht, hidden in the brushwood, had been watching the bridal procession, and now came to the rescue of his true love.

When the old lord heard of this he gave the lovers his blessing. Some weeks later a new bridal procession advanced from the chapel up to the festively decorated Rheinstein Castle. Trumpets were blown and horns resounded. Much more joyfully than on the previous occasion the musicians marched in front. On a milkwhite palfrey, as formerly, sat a noble maiden in bridal state, well clothed. Her head was modestly bent as she listened to what the youthful knight whispered in her ear. Behind rode the father of the bride sunk in thought, and along with him was his sister

A life of married bliss followed the union, and the pair had a long and happy life.

Beacon-Burning

On 22 February a great festival used to be held in North Friesland. It was a spring festival; for then the mariners left the shore and put out to sea. On the eve of that day great fires were lighted on certain hills. Then all danced round the flames with their wives and sweethearts. Every dancer was holding in his hand a wisp of burning straw that he swung about, crying all the time: "Accept the offerings, Woden [Odin]!"

As late as in the 1700s this festival was celebrated in North Friesland, and on the second day there were great feastings. The clergy had long declaimed against it without effect; but in Kantum, the night before the dancing day, the fires went out after the people according to custom had called on Woden. And all who had gone to rest by then were awakened at midnight, and saw to their astonishment an immense fire again burning on the Bükenberg.

When they hurried towards it to quench it, they perceived how a black monster that resembled a large poodle was slinking down the hill.

Now they feared that they would have to harbour the devil for ever, or that at least he would be a frequent visitor. So they made a vow that they would never repeat the beacon-burning from that day.

Founding of Aachen

The emperor Charlemagne used to establish his seat of government now in one part, now in another, of his vast dominions. He once held his court at Zurich, on the lovely banks of the lake. He had raised a pillar with a bell fastened to it on a craggy spot which was near to his own dwelling. Anyone who had a petition to present to the emperor was only required to sound the bell af twelve o'clock, and Charlemagne himself appeared at once and heard the requests of his subjects and gave his decision.

One day the bell sounded, but no one was in sight. The same thing happened on the following day. Then the emperor ordered a page to hide himself in the neighbourhood of the pillar during the day, in order to find out why the bell kept ringing. The servant saw with horror a great snake crawl out of a hole on the bank and set the bell in motion. As soon as Charlemagne was informed of this strange happening he got up at once, although he was at table, and went to meet the snake.

As soon as the snake perceived him, it bowed itself three times, and then began slowly to return to its hole. The emperor followed it, eager to discover what the reptile wanted. Before the hole sprawled an immense toad, and it appeared that the snake wished to get rid of it, since it stopped up the entrance. The monarch at once gave an order for the toad to be seized and killed.

A few days after this the snake appeared in the emperor's dining-room while they were eating. He crawled up to the drinking-cup standing in front of the emperor and dropped into it a precious stone of great size and beauty. Then it disappeared before the emperor and his guests had recovered from their astonishment.

Charlemagne sent the stone to his queen, and she prized and wore it as an ornament in her hair. But the jewel had the wonderful quality of giving to anyone who wore it the undivided affection of the emperor, and so the monarch devoted himself to his wife so much that he would never leave her.

The empress soon became aware of the cause of this increased attachment on her husband's part, and from that hour she always wore this precious stone about her. When she felt death approaching, she feared that the jewel might come into the hands of someone who was not worthy of her husband's love. She therefore hid it under her tongue so that it might go with her to the tomb.

Charlemagne's affection for his deceased wife did not diminish; he had her body embalmed, and it accompanied him in all his expeditions. This unusual tenderness at last raised in the minds of Archbishop Turpin and his companions a suspicion that there must be something supernatural in it. He therefore took an opportunity of searching for an hidden talisman on the corpse, and soon found the bright stone. From the moment he became possessor of it and carried it about with him, the emperor permitted his deceased wife to be buried with great pomp, and transferred his love from her to the archbishop. Such was his attachment that the latter could hardly ever be absent from him, and it became almost unbearable.

On an expedition through Western Germany, the very annoyed archbishop got rid of the precious stone by throwing it into a spring, where it was lost. In the meantime the magic worked on, so that the archbishop was no longer the one the emperor loved. Instead Charlemagne felt drawn to the spot that hid the wonderful stone. There he he built a palace and founded a city.

This city is Aachen, with its cathedral built by Charlemagne. The monarch loved most to loiter in the pretty meadow where the archbishop had dropped the precious stone in a spring. There he often sat for hours, gazing downwards into the beautiful water which contained the jewel that enchained him.

Contents


German folk tales, fairy tales and legends from the German, Literature  

German folk tales, fairy tales and legends from German sources, To top Section Set Next

German folk tales, fairy tales and legends from German sources USER'S GUIDE: [Link]
© 2009–2017, Tormod Kinnes. [Email]  ᴥ  Disclaimer: [Link]