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Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm first published German Legends in 1816 and 1818, in two volumes. The first volume was regional, the second historical and mythical.

Wilhelm's son Herman produced later editions in 1865 and 1891. He worked added material into the text from hand-written notes of the brothers.

The Brothers Grimm published 585 legends in all from German-speaking regions, including Alpine countries. A recent German collection is Jacob Grimm's Deutsche Sagen. (Berlin: Neues Leben, 1986). A number of the legends are here in German: [Link]

Something to compare with is Ludwig Bechstein's one thousand summative legends in Deutsches Sagenbuch.

The sources that the Grimms used are not all reliable, and the brothers edited the material subjectively too, suppressing some material, etc., informs Donald Ward, who has translated all of them into English and furnished painstaking commentaries to them (cf. Grimm, Jacob Ludwig Karl (1981) in the book list).

The selections that follow, contain in part translations and in part "retellings for the sake of a good story". If it whets your appetite, there are German sources on the Internet, and in book form also the solid two-volumed work of German legends translated into English by Donald Ward.

I have included about fifteen English translation of German legends in the book list too. Some such story collections cover the countryside along the Rhine, others the Harz Mountain, and others translate tales from other areas. Swiss and Austrian sources (Alpine sources) are on separate pages.

German Legends and German Folklore

German legends have features in common with Scandinavian and British folklore, and reflect similar blends of influences, in part from old Germanic ideas of gods similar to gods in Norse mythology in modified forms as time went by. There are, likewise, magical characters, and regional legends focused on nature parts like mountains, lakes, springs, streams, towns and slopes, and many famous persons of the past.

Taken over from Germanic mythology are such as Frau Holda (Hulda), a patron of spinning; the Lorelei, a dangerous Rhine siren, the Wild Hunt (with features in common with the Oskorei in Norwegian folklore, for example). There are giants, changeling legends; and such folkloric entities as the elf, dwarf, kobold and erlking. Holiday-related folklore includes the Osterhase (Easter Hare - the original Easter Bunny). Character folklore includes stories of such as the Pied Piper of Hamelin (Hameln), the trickster hero Till Eulenspiegel and the Town Musicians of Bremen.

The educated German-speaking public was alerted to folklore in the states that united as Germany in 1871, since the 1700s and 1800s. The Saxon author Johann Karl August Musäus was an early collector. The Prussian poet and philosopher Johann Gottfried von Herder promoted folklore study too, and inspired the Brothers Grimm and others.

Folklore studies have also served to find and document traditional customs and other culturally determined ideas, outlets or forms.

Figures in German legends

  • Frau Holda is also known as Mother Hulda. In German folklore she is a protectress of agriculture and women's craft, and in particular spinning. She also taught the craft of making linen from flax. This symbolic sprite or siren helps adjustments toward domestic thrift and good order.

  • Lorelei is the name of a feminine water spirit, similar to mermaids or Rhine maidens. She is associated with a rock bank on the bank of the Rhine, although she is much "a work of art" that further inspired poets, sculptors, musicians and others.

  • The Osterhare (Easter Bunny) is mentioned in 1682 as part of a German tradition. He has made his way as the Easter Bunny or Easter Hare since, and has had a good time offering Easter eggs to children in large parts of the West since.

  • The Pied Piper did not get paid as agreed on for his good work as a flutenist, and took a horrible revenge.

  • Till Eulenspiegel is a trickster of Medieval times. He has become famous in the world, if he really lived.

  • The Town Musicians of Bremen were domesticated animals looking for their own place to live in the world.

  • The elf in Germanic folklore is a supernatural being. In medieval Germanic-speaking cultures, elves were thought of as a group of beings with magical powers and supernatural beauty. They were ambivalent towards everyday people and capable of either helping or hindering them. However, conceptions of elves changed with time. Moreover, fairies and elves came to mean about the same. Folkloric ideas of supernatural beings are a bit tricky and fluid.

  • A dwarf in Germanic folklore is a being that lives in mountains and in the earth, and can be associated with wisdom, healing, smithing, mining, and crafting. Tales of dwarfs go a long way back. In the early Norse mythology sources there is no mention that dwarfs are short, and were perhaps thought of as lesser supernatural beings, suggest the folklorist Anatoly Liberman. "Christianisation made them small," is suggested.

  • The kobold (cobold) is a pixie or sprite that has survived into modern times in folklore. It is usually invisible, but can take on the shape of an animal, a fire, a candle, and a human being. The most common depictions of kobolds show them as humanlike, tiny figures. Kobolds follow suit when it comes to clothing: Those who live in human homes wear the clothing of peasants; those who live in mines are hunched and ugly; and kobolds who live on ships smoke pipes and wear sailor clothing.

  • Erlking, from Erlkönig, is the figure of a spirit - a "king of fairies" - in German folklore.

  • The Wild Hunt is a spectacle from the folklore across Northern, Western and Central Europe. It is a spectral group of huntsmen with horses, gear and hounds faring across the skies or along the ground, or just above it. Their leader is some historical or indecent figure, like the Germanic Woden (Odin). The spectacle is variously referred to as Wilde Jagd (German: "wild hunt/chase") or Wildes Heer (German: "wild army") or Wuotis Heer ("Wuodan's Army")
[For more on each: Wikipedia articles are suggested.]


German legends by Grimm Brothers, Literature  

In German

Bechstein, Ludwig. Deutsche Sagen. Berlin: Buchverlag der Morgen, 1987. (Deutsches Sagenbuch. Leipzig: Georg Wigand, 1853.)

Grimm, Jacob. Deutsche Sagen. Berlin: Neues Leben, 1986.

Musäus, Johann, K. A. Volksmärchen der Deutschen. On-line, 1994-2007.

von Alpenburg, Johann Nepomuk Ritter, coll. and ed. Deutsche Alpensagen. Wien: Wilhelm Braumüller, 1861.

On-line in German on-site

Till Eulenspiegel
Ludwig Bechstein Märchen
Deutsche Sagen (Grimm - A Selection)
Ludwig Bechstein. Deutsches Sagenbuch

In English

Frary, Marie Harriette, and Charles Maurice Stebbins. The Sunken City and Other Stories. Springfield, Mass.: Milton Bradley, 1919.

Grattan, Thomas Colley. Legends of the Rhine and of the Low Countries Vols 1 and 2. London: Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley, 1832.

Grimm, Jacob Ludwig Karl. The German Legends of the Brothers Grimm. Vol. 1. Ed. and tr. Donald Ward. Philadelphia: The Institute for the Study of Human Issues, 1981.

⸻. The German Legends of the Brothers Grimm. Vol. 2. Ed. and tr. Donald Ward. Philadelphia: The Institute for the Study of Human Issues, 1981.

Guerber, Helene A. Legends of the Rhine. 3rd ed. New York: Barnes and Co, 1899.

Kiefer, F. J. The Legends on the Rhine from Basle to Rotterdam. 2nd ed. Mayence: David Kapp, 1869.

Lauder, Maria Elise. Legends and Tales of the Harz Mountains, North Germany. 4th ed. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1885.

Lear, H. L. Rhineland and Its Legends, and Other Tales. Translated from the German by William J. E. Bennett. London: Swift and Co, 1868.

Ruland, Wilhelm. Legends of the Rhine. 8th ed. Köln am Rhein: Verlag von Hoursch & Bechstedt /Gutenberg E-book, 2007.

Snowe, Joseph. The Rhine, Legends, Traditions, History, from Cologne to Mainz. Vol 1. London: F. C. Westley, 1839.

⸻. The Rhine, legends, traditions, history, from Cologne to Mainz. Vol 2. London: F. C. Westley, 1839.

Spence, Lewis. Hero Tales and Legends of the Rhine. London: George C. Harrap, 1915.

Sylva, Carmen, and Alma Strettell. Legends from River and Mountain. London: George Allen, 1896.

Thoms, William John. Lays and Legends of Germany. London: G. Cowie, 1834.

Thorpe, Benjamin. Northern Mythology: Comprising the Principal Popular Traditions and Superstitions of Scandinavia, North Germany, and the Netherlands. London: E. Lumley, 1851.

Tibbits, Charles John. Folk-lore and Legends. Germany. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1892.

Trautmann, Franz. Legends and Tales of Old Munich. München: Lentner, 1912.

Westall, William. Tales and legends of Saxony and Lusatia. London: Griffith and Farran, 1877.

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