Monthly Archives: April 2016

Walpurgisnacht #witches #history

What comes to your mind when someone mentions the 8th century? Could it be the introduction of the triangle harp by the Picts in Scotland? Or maybe the reign of Charlemagne, King of the Franks. Or the popular epic poem Beowulf, which could be as old as the 8th Century? Or marauding Vikings invading the coasts of Europe? Or of the Bendedictine nun and English missionary to the Frankish Empire Walburga, later to be canonized on May 1, 870, one hundred years after her death?

St. Walburga was born in Devonshire in 710. She was raised in a Benedictine Abbey during the time her father and brothers travelled as pilgrims to far-away holy lands. After twenty-six years in the abbey, she joined her brother St. Boniface in Germany to help with his missionary work there.

The goal was to strip the Germanic tribes of any pagan tendencies that might still flourish. St. Boniface prided himself as the destroyer of their greatest symbol: an oak tree in Geismar dedicated to Thor. The Germanic tribe believed that when felled, lighting would strike them all down. When Boniface felled the tree and nothing happened, he moved in and converted his counterparts to Christianity.

The eve of St. Walburga’s canonization, April 30, is still associated with pagans and pagan rituals. Traditionally, the eve of the Walburga Feast is celebrated with rites of fertility, bonfires and dancing. Lovers would commit the sex act on the fields to transfer their fertility to the soil, hoping for good yields. Witches were rumored to fly through the night, especially to the Blocksberg, a peak in the Harz Mountains often shrouded in mysterious cloud cover. A birch tree, a symbol of fertility, was erected and was the site of a traditional dance around the May Pole.

The name Walpurgisnacht was coined by Goethe in his play Faust. Today, the night of April 30-May 1 is in many European countries a reason to party. Finnland, Sweden, Holland and Denmark also observe this day that falls exactly a half year away from Halloween. And the first of May is a bank holiday, so enjoy your day off!


Johannes Praetorius: Blockes-Berges Verrichtung, Leipzig u.a. 1668



I am the Captain of My Soul

This sentence has been following me around for years now. And this week it’s become my mantra. I remember seeing it on TV at my Dad’s house in a commercial. I recall it being in a whiskey commercial. You know, like, keep on walking. But it was an ad for the Union Bank of Switzerland in 1997.

Here it is:

The poem was written by William Ernest Henley in 1875 and is called Invictus. He wrote it to symbolize his struggle with tuberculosis. He lived in a time when London was a pearl in the landscape, sarcastically speaking. Someone told me they considered filling in the Thames because it was so filthy. Just think, they could have made a handy motorway through the middle of London, like the Frankenschnellweg–the A73–the Autobahn that cuts through the middle of Erlangen. That was once a canal.

Invictus—by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Have a wonderful weekend !

The Outlaw-A German Legend #history

Eppelein awaiting execution

The Legend of Eppelein von Gailingen

After The Men lost their fervor for the Crusades and the power of the German Emperor faded, knighthood in Germany became irrelevant. The knights sat in their castles and lived on what they could take from their farmers. Slowly, this whole rank of men became impoverished. They needed to change professions. And they saw the cause of their poverty in the ever-increasing rich city dwellers and traders. This angered the old knights.

Since the Emperor did nothing more for them, they soon took to robbing the travelling merchants and thus became Raubritter or robber barons. Nuremberg suffered from this development. Many castles surrounded this rich medieval city. The robber barons lurked not only in the Fränkische Schweiz or Franconian Switzerland, but also in the west and south of the city. And the most notorious of these was Eppelein von Gailingen.

He was known to be the lord of the castles at Gunzenhausen and the one near Illesheim. His numerous attacks on trade wagons began in 1360. And still his name lives on in song and verse: in disguise he stole the golden bird house from the middle of the city of Nuremberg; another time he ambushed a rich patrician bride on her wedding day and kissed her. He was put under an imperial ban in 1369, losing all his rights and possessions.

An accomplished equestrian, he is most famous for the reckless escape right before his first scheduled execution by hanging. He made a daring leap with his horse over the trench around the castle of Nuremberg. Two hoof prints in the city wall still bear witness to this defying act.

Nevertheless, Eppelein von Gailingen paid for his crimes with his life: in 1381, he was finally caught in Neumarkt, broken on the wheel and beheaded.


Nuremberg and the Imperial Castle

 Nürnberg und die Kaiserburg
     Despite industrialization, Nuremberg was considered the best-preserved German city until its destruction on January 2, 1945, when 90 percent of the city’s medieval core was destroyed. The five-day Battle of Nuremberg in April 1945 left the rest of the city so badly beaten that the city’s fathers had thoughts of abandoning the city and rebuilding elsewhere. 
     At that time, other bombed-out German cities decided to clear away medieval debris and build anew. But in Nuremberg, after a 1948 competition for plans to reconstruct the city’s medieval core brought in 188 proposals from local architects, it was decided that old Nuremberg would be rebuilt like the old city plan.

     Following a proposal from Nuremberg architects Heinz Schmeißner and William Schlegtendal, the basic structure of the inner city, with its characteristic sequence of streets and squares would remain basically the same. The city should rise again as it was. Only the most important historical buildings such as the Rathaus, the Frauenkirche, the Sebalduskirche and the Kaiserburg castle should be exactly reconstructed. The basic plan described exactly what building materials, colors, roof-eaves and fixed angle each newly constructed building should use. (Today one is not just allowed to build a house however one wants. There are reams of building statues-reams and reams.)

     The Kaiserburg is regarded as the most important art and architectural monuments of the city and belongs to the Historical Mile Nuremberg. Archeologists have dated the foundation at or around the year 1000, but the castle’s existence is first documented in 1105. The Deep Well, dug down into the sandstone foundation has a diameter of two meters and is fifty-three meters deep. (Mind you, dug in the year 1000.) A second well by the Fünfeckigen Turm, twenty meters deep, guaranteed the water supply in times of unrest.
     Hoof prints from the daring escape of Eppelein von Gailingen can still be seen on the wall around the now-dry moat.
     Over the years after 1948, the Kaiserburg slowly took on its remembered panoramic silhouette. After 34 years, in 1981, the castle was finally deemed as ‘finished,’ that is to say, all war scars cleared away, but renovations continue today because of the damaging effect of acid rain on sandstone.
Here’s more info in English:  Imperial Castle Nuremberg

The Wartburg Castle in Eisenach, Germany

„Wart’, Berg, du sollst mir eine Burg tragen!“The Wartburg Castle in Eisenach, Germany

As legend would have it, the Wartburg Castle in Thüringen, Germany was founded in 1067 by Ludwig der Springer, also known as Count Ludwig von Schauenburg. Ludwig was a member of the German dynastic family of Ludowinger. Little is certain about the man, but he lives on in his legends and in his castle.

His nickname comes from a bold leap into the Saale River. After he’d attempted to take hold of the area west of the Saale River, called Saale-Unstrut, and stabbed the Count Palatine Fredrick III to death, he was imprisoned in the castle Giebichenstein. Ludwig was held captive for three years and faced execution. He took advantage of his stay in the castle tower and jumped into the Saale River. A servant awaited him with a boat and his favorite snow-white horse, Swan. As punishment for his murder, he built the church of St. Ulrich in Sangerhausen and later founded the monastery Reinhardsbrunn, which became the family monastery of Ludowinger.

In 1067, as legend has it, Ludwig der Springer discovered the future site of the Wartburg Castle while out hunting. He looked up to the mountain and said, “Wait, mountain, thou shalt bear a castle.” The mountain was not part of his territories, so he had his men carry soil from the land he did own up the mountain top, to the place he planned to build his castle. The Emperor approved after twelve of Ludwig’s most loyal knights drew their swords, stuck them into the soil and swore on Ludwig’s honor that the land rightfully belonged to him.

The Wartburg Castle was also the setting of Martin Luther’s secret detention by Friedrich der Weise. After being declared an outlaw, Vogelfrei or ‘free as a bird,’ as mercenary soldiers might call it, which simply put meant any one could kill him if they wanted to, Friedrich’s soldiers abducted Martin Luther and brought him to safety, in disguise, to the Wartburg where he, in the winter of 1521-1522, translated the New Testament into German in eleven weeks.

The Wartburg Castle in Eisenach, Germany
Vogelfrei: “…his body should be free and accessible to all people and beasts, to the birds in the air and the fish in water so that none can be made liable for any crimes committed against him…”

It Is Time–Flash Fiction #MondayBlogs

Stomping boots echo off the stone floors. Torch light rounds the corner and the guards’ silhouettes march in step with their shadows. Silke slowly raises her head. The smell of leather and horse mingles with the moldy straw of her cell. Keys jangle and rattle the iron lock. She wants to scratch the numerous dried cuts on her scalp—they were brutal when they shaved her head looking for witch’s markings—but her hands are chained behind her back. Pain pounds no longer in her thumbs broken by those screws, but she cannot move them.

“It is time,” Hannes the Executioner says. He uncorks a tiny ceramic flask and raises it to Silke’s lips. “Drink this. Then it will all seem like a dream.”

He gently helps her to her feet. His potion was potent and her knees give way. The scratchy grey frock sticks to the wounds between her legs. They had shaved her there, too. Hannes the Executioner catches her before she swoons.

“You must walk by yourself,” he says.

The city fathers wait by the gates of the jail. As Silke approaches, they begin the march towards the gallows. Silke follows, head bent but eyes on the crowd. Her friends. Her neighbors. Her betrayers. An apple of grassy-green horse shit hits her in the face, the cool juice dripping down her neck.

“Burn the witch!”

They stop at the base of the pyre. What a waste of firewood. Alexander had to pay for the wood, too. This wood would have kept them warm for a month. Now it will keep her warm for eternity.

Hannes the Executioner lays an arm across her shoulder. “Silke, I’m sorry. It will go quickly, I promise. Have another drink.”

He offers her the ceramic flask again and she drinks. He leads her up the makeshift steps to the top of t48852-burning-a-german-witchhe pyre and secures her chained hands to the stake with a rope. She looks at the sky. One lone hawk soars on the current, circling upwards like a soul towards heaven. She steals one last look at the mob, dirty faces twisted in rage, the sound of their anger mingling into one incoherent din.

The guards ram their torches into the dried woodpile and the flames spring to life. The soles of her feet singe. Smoke and the smell of burning flesh fill her lungs. She splutters and coughs and tries to take one deep breath. Just one. She closes her eyes and tilts her head to the sky, feels a burning warmth on her face, the lone hawk cries out, a breeze rustles through the trees, a gentle hand touches her face…

“Come out of the sun,” a man’s voice says. “You’re burning up.”

Silke stretches her legs and blades of grass tickle her toes. She opens her eyes. A lone hawk soars overhead. Alexander strokes her cheek with his finger and smiles. He stands and helps her to her feet. He kisses her cheek and leads her to the shade underneath an ancient oak tree. He lays her down. Acorns prick her shoulders and she cringes as she imagines the inflamed welts on her back, but no pain comes.

“This is the work of the devil,” Silke says. “What have you done?”

“The devil has enough work with those men and their incessant witch trials,” Alexander says. “And I have saved your life.”

“I remember this day.”

“This is the day I asked you to run away with me.”

“But I couldn’t then. I can’t now. My father needs me.”

“We can’t stay here,” he says. “They find us out. You remember how that day ended. They hurt you. They’ll find me. I’m giving us a second chance.”

Silke runs her fingers through her curly red hair. “We cannot tamper with what was. With what is. What is to come. This trick of yours is damned.”

“Anything done for love surely cannot be damned, dear.”

Friday #FlashFiction: The Borderlands Expire

The Borderlands Expire

The house was dark, the hallway lit only with a weak blue night light. He pulled his key from the lock and closed the door with a quiet click.

“Sandy?” he whispered.

He hung his keys on the hook by the door, kicking glass shards that lay on the white-tiled floor in a puddle, red wine judging by the smell. Oh God, what had she done this time?

He was later than he had hoped, hadn’t called to tell her so. He’d driven the three hours in one shot at a speed he hadn’t wanted to just to get back. She wouldn’t understand this. He paused to listen for any sign of life.

He walked into the kitchen and turned on the light. Empty wine bottles, two, stood on the kitchen counter. He peered around the doorway into the living room. A disheveled blanket, Sandy’s phone, sheet music and one violin, smashed, were strewn about on the sofa. He hated this smell of stale smoke and spilled wine.

He’d finally gotten a big break. Sandy’s brother in law, their agent, told him that someone he knew wanted to turn his spy novels into a TV mini series. That someone, he called him a producer, wanted to meet him at the Two Sheds, a nasty bar on the outskirts of Philadelphia. The brother-in-law-slash-agent told him to go for it, it could pan out. His instincts told him that the business would never work like this but he went anyway. And since his story included an orchestra scene, he thought he could get Sandy a part. She was a great violinist but her personality kept her from getting a job. Ok, the music industry was a tad competitive but if she never left the house except to buy wine and cigarettes how was she ever going to get work? Any creative business was competitive.

He climbed the steps, primed now for how he would find her, always the same; in bed, under the covers, in the fetal position. He heard no snoring so she must be awake, waiting for him. She would pounce and scratch and kick and bite. He was used to it by now. Then they would make love. She would collapse afterwards, roll herself in a cocoon of blankets and wake in the morning having forgotten the whole scene. Or so she said.

The producer had made him an offer. The dread of meeting Sandy in the state he expected to find her in suppressed any joy or suspicion he had regarding the meeting this evening. He could only think of how he used to find his mom when he came home from school. She took his dad’s death really hard.She said if she didn’t drink what else would she have? Funny, Sandy said the same thing.

The bed was empty. He hadn’t prepared for this.

His writer’s mind created a frantic set of scenarios. He saw her death a thousand times over in a split second. He flicked the bedroom light on and physically touched the bed, sheets still made up, like she was there and he just couldn’t see her. He ran through the upper floor of the house from room to room, snapping on the lights, finding one room as empty as the next. He doubled back and checked each room more carefully: bathroom, empty, no blood; spare bed room, empty, nobody under the bed; music room, empty, computer on. Hmm.

Sandy had been working on music based on his spy novels. His stories took place in a historically-fantastical feudal world. The hero of the story found that the key to break the borderlands of the feudal lord was by pummeling a stone wall with the sound of a hundred violins. Sandy had composed a haunting piece that was the fuel for his story. She’d played the melody in a five-part harmony and multiplied it to 100 voices that filled him with a feeling he as a writer couldn’t describe. Couldn’t describe in a few words but in a thousand, yes.

The cabinet where she hung her violins was ajar. He opened it and saw that her most treasured instrument, a Sergio Peresson from the 1980’s, and gold-trimmed bow were missing.

They’d been robbed! She’d been kidnapped and was hanging head down from a washline, stretched 1920’s tenement style from a fifth floor window. The perpetrators had left a cryptic message, if he could only find it. She screamed for him. He had no choice but to summon a super hero. He was sure he had the power to do it. Didn’t these powers come to light in moments like this?

Realization of just how alone he was dripped down his spine in a cold sweat. He flung open the window, looked up into the night sky, gathered all his energy and concentrated on one star, a pinpoint in the infinite mind-blowing eternity. Violin song rose and fell in the distance, gaining momentum, filling this moment with awe and appreciation.

Headlights in the driveway preceded the crunch of tires on gravel. He slowly reentered reality and watched Sandy’s car park next to his. She cut the motor and the violin song stopped. He stared dumbly as she got out, locked the door and walked towards the house.

“Oh my God, Sandy, it’s you!” he said.

“Of course it’s me,” she said. “What did you think happened this time? Kidnapping?”