Next summer’s BreyerFest has been inspired, in part, by the incredible folklore of Germany. Not to be confused with Germanic folklore, which dates from the first millennium and earlier and includes the mythologies of the Anglo-Saxons and Norse peoples, German folklore (while inspired by earlier tales) traces its beginnings to the 18th century.
From this folklore, we have inherited the tales of Lorelei, the Krampus, the Pied Piper of Hamelin, the Doppelgänger, and The Wild Hunt, just to name just a few. Codified in the late 18th century and early 19th centuries by a variety of authors (including the legendary Brothers Grimm), some of these tales had been largely kept alive through generations of oral tradition, but some were new and would soon become legends in their own right.
Lorelei is a 433-foot tall rock on the banks of the Rhine River that was named after the distinct murmuring sound the water flowing through it makes. Inspired by this sound, in 1801, Clemens Brentano crafted the tale of a woman who fell to her death while atop the rock looking for her lost love, and thus a folktale was born. This story changed hands and details over the years, including turning the woman Lorelei into a siren, who lures sailors to crash into rocks on the banks of the river. Like a good game of “Telephone”, this simple story of lost love evolved into a story of mythological proportions over time, inspiring music, poetry, opera, and art.
From Christmas trees to Advent calendars, many of the traditions associated with Christmas can trace their origins to Germany – even St. Nick! A lesser-known assistant to St. Nicholas is the legendary Krampus, a horned monster who punished naughty children instead of delivering them gifts. Likely derived from pre-Christian supernatural figures, costumed revelers mimicking a horned monster have been a part of German Christmas traditions since the 16th century; by the 17th century, the pairing of the Krampus and St. Nicholas became a cultural fixture. These days, the tale of the Krampus endures in Germany, inspiring costumed Krampusnacht parades each December 5th, and internationally, inspiring film, television, and video games.
The tale of the Pied Piper of Hamelin seems to come to us from the middle ages, with the earliest known depiction of the story being from a stained glass window dating to 1300 (and subsequently destroyed in the 1600s). The story tells the tale of a 13th century Piper who lured the rats from the infested city of Hamelin, but when the mayor refused to compensate him as promised, the vengeful Piper lured all but three of the city’s children away. The earliest known historical record from the town of Hamelin appears to be from a century after this event, so no one really knows how true the tale is, or what historical events it might be an allegory for. Goethe, Grimm, and others have crafted their own versions of this tale over the years, breathing new life into it with each iteration.
Have you ever seen a stranger who looked exactly like someone you know, even yourself? A Doppelgänger is just that! The word was coined in 1796 by German writer Johann Paul Richter and is derived from the German words meaning “double” and “walker” or “goer.” This strange phenomenon was often attributed to spirits or other paranormal phenomena mimicking a living person and was traditionally seen as bad omen. According to German folklore, all living things have their own spirit double!
In Germany, it’s often said that the howling winter wind is the sound of The Wild Hunt. While the idea and the characters of The Wild Hunt may come to us from Germanic mythology, the term was actually coined in 1835 by German master storyteller Jacob Grimm in his “Deutsche Mythologie.” Always inspired by stories from the past, the Grimm tale wove together ancient figures like Wotan and Holda, along with fairies and other spirits, lead across the land by a horde of ghostly hunters. So, when you hear the wind howling this winter, stay cozy and inside to be sure to avoid the Wild Hunt!
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