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Myths and legends

The Black Forest stretches from Karlsruhe as far as the Upper Danube and from Pforzheim to Lörrach with its pine forests, pastures and mountain lakes. There are monasteries, castles and ruins – wonderful places where wonderful things can happen.

Places from which tales can be spun: sinister, comical, fanciful, mysterious and mythical.

Those who collected and recorded legends listened to what the people believed, especially the old people, retelling stories their forefathers had told them. On long winter evenings, people would sit together in the spinning room at the spinning wheel or at the cutting trestle on which roof shingles were cut for the house, the stable, and the threshing floor. This was a time when people loved to hear what deeds were accomplished by good or evil fantastic beings.

The sorcerers and wizards appeared in many different guises. They came as so called Freischützen, marksmen who fired off bullets with the help of the devil, bullets that never missed their target in the dark forests. Or they came as werewolves, like the wolf in Freudenstadt who always caught a juicy sheep for himself, a truly amazing feat, as nobody ever saw him. And when the hunter stayed awake and shot the wolf, one of the citizens was found lying wounded in his bed the next morning.

There were apparitions like the two monks from St. Blasien. These two had mercilessly oppressed the abbey’s subjects and therefore remained to haunt the monastery after their death. They were finally banished by a devout Capuchin monk from Staufen who exorcised their ghosts, captured them in sacks and threw them from the Feldberg Mountain into the Feldsee Lake. Down there in the lake itself were the “Erdmännlein” – dwarves who helped out wherever it was necessary.

Cruel individuals, such as Knecht Ruprecht von Bärenfels, hated such helpers: His sister whom he intended to force into marriage with Knecht Bruno von Steinegg was unhappy and deeply troubled because of this. When she fled and was pursued by her brother and the furious Knecht Bruno, the dwarves showed her the way to a secret cave. The pursuers came closer along the narrow cliff but were struck dead by falling rocks.

The secret hiding place was the dripstone cave in Hasel in the southern Black Forest. Naturally, there were female dwarves as well, possessed of kindly natures. But more often than not the legends tell of wicked women: weather witches, herb witches and cattle witches, who completed their evil handiwork in all parts of the Black Forest. The terrible thing about the fantastic witch stories are the real-life consequences, when women accused of being witches were interrogated under torture, as statements in countless legal transcripts of witch trials show.