Archive for the ‘germany’ Category

Let’s get back to Martin Luther today.

The Frog and the Mouse
by Martin Luther

A mouse would have liked to cross the water, alas she could not do it. So she asked the frog for help. The frog was a jokester and the mouse’s enemy and so he said to the mouse: “Tie your foot to my foot and I will swim across the water pulling you with me.”

But as they were in the water, the frog took a dive and wanted to drown the mouse. And while the mouse is struggling and fighting, a harrier comes a-flying, snatches the mouse with the frog still tied to her leg and eats them both.

This fable shows that the world is filled by evil and betrayal. But in the end, betrayal beats her master.

Copyright for the fable’s translation: TaleTellerin


The jump from past tense to present tense is actually in the original text and it’s very interesting. Obviously, we know this from novels and stuff as a technique to quicken the pace so the reader is pulled in and left breathless. It’s interesting to see it in such a short text. Not sure it’s quite working.

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The fables of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing were one of my subjects in my final exams at university and I still cannot remember having ever read this one. Or actually these ones as there are four of them. Did I skip them because otherwise I would surely remember as they are awesome. Right?

The Animals’ Contest
in four fables by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing


A heated dispute about rank arose amongst the animals. In order to sooth the tempers, the horse spoke: “Let us ask the human for his advice as he is not part of the disputing parties and can thus be all the more impartial.”

different animals, same dispute of egos?

“But does he possess the intelligence necessary for such an undertaking?” asked the mole. “He certainly needs the most precise one to recognise our often times deeply hidden perfections.”

“That was very wisely remarked!” said the hamster.

“Certainly!” cried the hedgehog. “I shall never believe that the human has the necessary ingenuity.”

“Be silent!” the horse ordered. “We all know: who can rely on his own qualities the least, is always the most eager to doubt his judge’s insight.”


The human was made judge. – “Upon a word,” the majestic lion called, “before you deliver your verdict! On which standard, human, will you measure our worth?” (more…)

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still mysterious today

I found a legend about the Wolf’s Spring, which is actually in walking distance from where I live! Thusly, the pictures in this post have been taken by myself when I went there a few weeks ago. Such a pretty place and apparently with much more history than one would think. 🙂

The Wolf’s Spring (Der Wolfsbrunnen)

When the Jettenbuehl near Heidelberg was still covered by thick forest, there lived a seeress named Jette in his shadow. She was of a slender, noble figure and in her grace and dignity she was equal to an immortal. A noble Franken youth heard about the seeress and decided to pay her a visit and ask her about his destiny. His heart knew no fear but as he stood before her, she appeared to him like a maiden from Walhalla. Thus he answered somewhat timidly when she inquired as to what he wanted: “Lovely maiden, you have the gift to see into the future. Please let me know my future.” Jette examined the handsome hero closely and suddenly something seemed to change in her heart.

the wolfhunter's house

“Come back tomorrow when the sun is about to set. I will ask the runes in the meanwhile.”

The next day at the certain hour the youth was back at the ailantery. He found the seeress pensive and almost sad. “What did the runes say?” he asked. She shook her curly head and sighed. “The meaning has not become quite clear to me,” she said, “but I fear our life stars meet.”

“I would be overjoyed then,” cried the youth and sat by her feet and took her hand which he covered with passionate kisses. “Will you tie your destiny to mine?” asked the maiden. The youth assured her by all the gods that he would.

view across the Wolfsbrunnen

“Our happiness needs to remain hidden from human eyes,” said the seeress and showed him the well that is now known by the name Wolf’s Spring for their nightly rendezvous. But in the first night as the youth came to the spring, he happened upon a gruesome spectacle: The maiden lay on the ground and over her body stood a horrible wolf mauling her soft flesh. The moon illuminated the gruesome scene. The youth immediately tore his sword from its sheath and rushed towards the beast which resisted but was soon enough killed.

The seeress was buried near the spring which from then on was given the the name Wolf’s Spring.

Copyright for translation: TaleTellerin (text source: Sagen aus den Gegenden des Rheins und des Schwarzwaldes. Gesammelt von D. Aloys Wilhelm. Zweite, sehr vermehrte Auflage. Heidelberg: J. Engelmann, 1829.)
Copyright for images: TaleTellerin


A bit cryptic and sad but beautiful. And much more fascinating than the story that the info posts tell at the spring: Apparently, the wolfhunter of some lord or other who resided in Heidelberg was given this place as his home. Then it became a hotel and a restaurant and right now, the house is empty. Which is a shame as the place is truly magically beautiful.

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illustration showing Luther as Devil's Bagpipe

The tradition of fables used for didactic purposes did not start with Lessing and Co. Martin Luther knew all about it as well.

The Town Mouse and the Field Mouse
(by Martin Luther)

A town mouse was taking a walk when it met a field mouse. The latter was enjoying acorns, grains and nuts and whatever else she could find. But the town mouse said: “Why would you want to live in poverty like this! Come with me and I will secure enough delicious foods for both of us.”

The field mouse moved with her into a wonderfully pretty house in which the town mouse lived. And they went into pantries which were bursting with meat, bacon, sausages, bread, cheese and so much more. The town mouse said: “Now eat and enjoy! Such foods I have every day in abundance.”

But then the waiter came and rumbled with the key at the door. The mice started and ran off. The town mouse soon found her hole but the field mouse did not know where to go, she ran along the walls and believed her life over. (more…)

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he certainy looks the part of the librarian to me

Ludwig Bechstein (1801-1860) went from pharmacist to librarian to poet. He wrote in a number of genres but his travelogues, historical novels, novellas and poems have been pretty much forgotten today. The only genre he is still remembered for are the folktales he collected. And this is one of them.

About a Hermit and Three Rascals

Once upon a time, there lived a hermit and he went and bought himself a she-goat to keep her in his hut and enjoy her milk. Three thieves witnessed this from afar and discussed with each other how they could bilk him off the she-goat without succumbing to violence. Soon they spread out so that one after the other would meet the hermit. (more…)

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I kind of like finding folktales recorded by the Brothers Grimm which are not so well-known. And this one? Is so hilariously German. Really. Choosing your wife-to-be by her cheese cutting skills? Maybe the French can understand. 🙂

Choosing a Wife

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

Once upon a time there lived a young shepherd who wanted to marry and he knew three sisters. As they all were equal in their beauty he could not decide to choose one of them. So he asked his mother for advice and she told him: “Invite all three of them and serve them cheese and be careful to observe how they cut into the cheese.”

So the youth did but the first one devoured the whole cheese with the rind. The second one hastily cut off the rind but in her hurry she cut it so there was still good cheese on the rind which she threw away. The third one cut off the rind without cutting of too much or too little.

When the shepherd told his mother, she said: “Take the third one as your wife.” And so he did and they lived happily ever after.

Copyright for translation: TaleTellerin
Copyright for image: portrait of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm


I am so fascinated by the different forms of beginning and ending a fairy tale in different cultures. For example, in German we begin a folktale with “Es war einmal…” (There once was…) and end it with “…und wenn sie nicht gestorben sind, leben sie noch heute.” (And if they haven’t died, they’re still alive today.).

Translating these highly stylized parts of a folktale is always a challenge, I find. Do you stick to the original but risk that the folktale-y feel might be lost upon the reader who won’t recognize it. Or do you substitute the forms of the language you translate into, in this case the English tradition, thus perhaps taking away from the feel of it. Gah.

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As you probably know Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is generally considered one of the most if not the most important German author/poet/writer. Through school and university, I majored in German Literature, I got to read quite a bit by him and I still nurture something of a love-hate-relationship with him.

But if there is non literary piece by him which I love dearly, it is “Der Erlkönig” (The Erl King). I love the pace, the sense of being hunted that Goethe manages to create. To me it feels very folktaley in its atmosphere which is captured quite well in the two musical adaptations included in this post. Or what do you think?

The Erl King
(translated by Edgar Alfred Bowring)

Who rides there so late through the night dark and drear?
The father it is, with his infant so dear;
He holdeth the boy tightly clasp’d in his arm,
He holdeth him safely, he keepeth him warm. (more…)

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