Paying the Piper

06 26 pied piper 2Today is Rat Catcher’s Day in Hamelin, Northern Germany. It celebrates not only rat catchers, who do a nasty job and deserve to be recognised, but the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin for which the town is famous. There are actually two dates on which this event is commemorated. The other, July 22nd, was first put forward at the beginning of the seventeenth century. But my gut feeling is that it belongs here, between the wild celebrations of Saint John’s Eve and the legend behind ‘Seven Sleepers Day’ which I will tell you about tomorrow. Not everyone realises that it is not just a fairy tale. There is some truth in it.

According to the earliest sources, on this day in 1284, one hundred and thirty children from the town were led away by a mysterious piper and were never seen again. This is, of course, not a cause for celebration, it’s awful. But it’s a curious tale and its lack of explanation has made it the subject of much speculation. The story tells us that the town was plagued by rats. The piper was employed by the mayor of the town to lure the rats away. He achieved this by charming them with a tune from his pipe and led them all to the river, where they drowned. The mayor then refused to pay the agreed sum and the piper left promising revenge. He returned on June 26th, the feast day of John and Paul and this time he played a different tune. The adults were all in church as he led the children away. Up to three children were left behind to explain what had happened. One was lame and couldn’t keep up, One deaf, who could not hear the tune. The other was blind and could not see where he was going. In one version the children disappear into a mountain, in another they are drowned in the river like the rats.

06 26 pied piper

We know there is some truth in this story because the earliest written records from the town of Hamelin dating from 1384 begin ‘ It is a hundred years since our children left.’ also there was a stained glass window in the church commemorating the event which dates from around 1300. Unfortunately, it was destroyed in 1660 but the above illustration is a drawing of it dating from 1592.

The earliest written accounts do not mention rats at all, this part of the story didn’t appear until the sixteenth century. So what we have is a tale of how the children of the town were lured away by a man in a multi-coloured (pied) costume who played them a strangely irresistible tune. Some think that the children were the victims of a plague and that the piper symbolises death. Others think that the piper was a member of some odd religious sect who lured the children away. It is true that some of the features of the Pied Piper, the trance inducing music and the colourful clothes, reminded me of the people who were thought by some to have been responsible for the dancing plagues that I wrote about a few days ago. A rather uncomfortable theory is that, at a time when everyone was grindingly poor, perhaps unable to provide enough food for all their children, they may have been sold into slavery. Another explanation is that ‘children’ does not necessarily refer to very young people. It may just mean people who were born in the town. Around that time an area of Eastern Europe was being resettled following a war and young people may have been lured there in hope of finding a better life.

The tale of the Pied Piper and the missing children has now been told and retold for well over seven hundred years and has undergone many changes. It is one of the stories collected by the Brothers Grimm and it appears in a poem by Robert Browning. Like many folk tales, it has received the Victorian treatment and been re-purposed as a story with a moral message. It’s hard to know what a child is supposed to take away from this story though. The children of Hamelin are victims and really can’t help what happens to them. It is good to learn that we shouldn’t renege on a promise, but probably if we learn anything from this story it is not to live in a time when the previous generation has taken loads of stuff and then decided not to pay for it. Hmmmm…

Parental Guidance

06 13 struwwelpeter 1Today is the birthday of Heinrich Hoffmann, who was born in Frankfurt am Main in 1809. He is most famous for writing a book called ‘Struwwelpeter’ which has been frightening generations of children since 1845. It contains ten stories outlining the disastrous consequences of poor or reckless behaviour. For example, Harriet, a girl who plays with matches, is burned to death and a boy called Conrad who keeps sucking his thumb has them snipped off by a tailor with massive scissors. Many of us have grown up with this book of cautionary tales and a lot of us have wondered why.

Some of Hoffmann’s stories seem like cruel things to read to small children, especially at bedtime. But that wasn’t how he saw them. He wrote the stories because he had been looking for a picture book to give to his three year old son for Christmas and was disappointed by the quality of what was on offer. So he decided to write one himself. His friends thought it was so good that they persuaded him to publish it. The book’s original title, which is a bit of a mouthful, so I’ll shorten it to: ‘Funny Stories and Whimsical Pictures… for Children Aged 3 to 6’, tells us, not only that it was a work of humour, but also the age of its intended audience.

06 13 heinrich hoffmannI really wanted to find out what sort of a man would write such a book and give it to his small child. Heinrich seems to have had a difficult time at school. He was thought lazy because he was easily distracted. Then he was subjected to an extremely punishing educational regime by a strict father. Details of Heinrich Hoffmann’s actual life have proved hard to come by, in English at least. Especially as he unfortunately shares his name with Hitler’s personal photographer. Hoffmann became, in his day job, a doctor. His first post was in a morgue in Frankfurt, probably making sure that all its customers were really dead, before they were taken away and buried. At the time the book was published he was working in a paupers clinic and had a second job teaching anatomy. None of his work paid very well but, in 1851, he was made doctor at the Asylum for the Insane and Epileptic, in the centre of Frankfurt, after a friend retired. He was shocked by the conditions there and quickly made plans to build a new hospital on the outskirts of the town. He managed to raise the money from private citizens, which he said he did by being “really quite unpleasant and annoying.” He gave the job of designing the hospital to an architect whose wife suffered from a nervous disorder and together, they travelled Austria, Holland, Belgium, France and England, looking for all the best that the modern European asylum could offer. The hospital’s thirty acre site included gardens and also areas for farming and growing vegetables. As well as segregating the male and female patients, he also made sure that the more excitable inmates were kept separate from the quieter ones. Unusually, for that time, there were also no bars on the windows. Hoffmann lived in the hospital with his family.

06 13 irrenschloss

He may have been the first person to practice psychiatry that was specifically tailored to children and adolescents, but again details are scant. Hoffmann is often cited as making an early description of the syndrome we now call ADHD which is illustrated in his story ‘Zappel-Philipp’ (Fidgety Philip) about a boy who can’t sit still. This is considered proof that the condition is not a modern phenomenon. As an anatomist, he firmly believed that the causes of mental disorders lay in the brain. He performed many autopsies on deceased patient who had suffered psychiatric and neurological disorders to try to determine the anatomical cause. His successor at the institute held similar beliefs and, in 1888, employed a doctor named Alois Alzheimer.

So, Hoffmann was not a cruel man. He genuinely loved his son and he devoted his life to helping children with behavioural problems. Not all his stories end in untimely death. There is one about a boy who falls in a river, because he is too busy looking at swallows in the sky to look where he’s going. But he is rescued and is fine. Then there is a story about three bullies who get dipped in a pot of ink for teasing a black boy. Hoffmann’s stories are really no worse than ‘The Boy who cried Wolf’ and he was mostly only trying to point out life’s pitfalls in a way that was memorable. A story about a little girl who catches fire is certainly shocking, but it did happen. One of my great aunts was burned to death as a child, back in the nineteenth century, because she was standing too close to the fire and her nightdress caught fire. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with warning children that the world can be a dangerous place.

It’s a Mystery

04 30 kaspar hauserToday might be the birthday of Kasper Hauser. I say ‘might’ because of the great mystery surrounding his sudden appearance in the town of Nuremberg in 1828. The boy carried with him two letters. One addressed to the captain of the 4th squadron of the 6th cavalry regiment, Captain von Wessenig. The anonymous author said that the boy was given into his custody as an infant on October 7th 1812 and that he instructed him in reading, writing and the Christian religion, but never let him “take a single step out of my house”. The letter stated that the boy would now like to be a cavalryman “as his father was” and invited the captain either to take him in or to hang him. The second letter seemed to be from his mother to the person who had written the first. It stated that his name was Kaspar, that he was born on 30 April 1812 and that his father, a cavalryman of the 6th regiment, was dead. Both letters were in the same handwriting and it is now generally supposed that Kasper had written both of them.

When spoken to he would only repeat the words “I want to be a cavalryman, as my father was” and “Horse! Horse!”. He seemed physically healthy but intellectually impaired and he soon became the subject of much curiosity. He would eat no other food but bread and water.

People generally assumed that he had been raised half wild but Kasper proved to be a quick learner and later he was able to tell a different story of his previous life. He said that for as long as he could remember he had been kept in a small darkened cell with a bed of straw and two horses and a dog carved from wood to play with. Each morning he found bread and water next to his bed. Sometimes the water would taste bitter then he would sleep for longer and wake to find his straw had been changed and his hair and nails had been cut. He said that, not long before his release, he had been visited by a man who concealed his face. He had taught Kasper to walk, to write his name and to repeat the words “I want to be a cavalryman, as my father was.” but he didn’t know what it meant.

04 30 kasper's drawingKasper was given into the care of a schoolmaster called Georg Friedrich Daumer, who found out that he had a talent for drawing. That’s one of Kasper’s drawings on the left. Daumer also conducted some odd experiments on him, including some sort of magnetic experiments. Some believed, at that time, that the body was full of magnetic humours that could be drawn about to some effect, but more of that next month when it will be Franz Mesmer’s birthday. Kasper claimed that the north pole of the magnet made him feel as though his stomach was being drawn out and that he could feel a current of air coming from him. The effects of the south pole, he felt less keenly, but said that it blew upon him.

Kasper suffered a number of mysterious wounds. The first, he claimed had been inflicted by the man who had visited him in the cellar whilst he was captive. On October 17th 1829, he was found in the cellar of Daumer’s home with a severe wound on his forehead. He claimed he had been attacked whilst sitting on the privy. The trail of blood showed that he had first fled to his room before climbing through a trap-door into the cellar. This has led to speculation that he inflicted the wound on himself with a razor that he afterwards took back to his room before hiding in the cellar. Kasper was taken to another house where he was kept under guard, but later suffered another wound to the side of his head. He claimed he had been standing on a chair, reaching for a book, when he fell, knocking down a pistol on the wall which had gone off. Both of these incidents happened shortly after Kasper had been accused of lying, which was something that he did frequently.

In 1831, an English nobleman took an interest in Kasper Hauser and gained custody of him. His name was Philip Henry Stanhope who was half brother to the adventuring Lady Hester Stanhope, who I wrote about in March. Stanhope had Kasper removed to Ansbach but, although he continued to pay for his upkeep, concluded that Kasper was a fraud. On 14th December 1833, Kasper returned home with a deep stab wound in his chest. He claimed that a stranger had stabbed him then given him a bag. After a search, a violet purse was found which contained a folded note written in mirror writing. This is what it said:

Hauser will be

able to tell you quite precisely how

I look and from where I am.

To save Hauser the effort,

I want to tell you myself from where

I come _ _ .

I come from from _ _ _

the Bavarian border _ _

On the river _ _ _ _ _

I will even

tell you the name: M. L. Ö.

04 30 kasper's noteThe note was folded into a triangular shape, in a way that Kasper always folded his own letters. It also contained one grammatical and one spelling error that were typical of him. Also, although he seemed keen for the purse to be found, he never asked what was in it.

Kasper died from his wound three days later. No one really knows what happened. His death was as mysterious as his sudden appearance. Some accused Stanhope of being complicit in his murder. Others, that he stabbed himself to gain attention. Some have speculated, as they did in his lifetime, that he was the son of the Duke of Baden, who had been switched at birth so that someone else could inherit his title. Recent DNA tests have proved inconclusive but the story is an unlikely one. Probably, we’ll never know Kasper’s back story but he has inspired numerous works in print and on film, including Werner Herzog’s ‘The Enigma of Kasper Hauser’ which is where I first came across him back in the 1980s.


01 10 robot metropolisOn this day in 1927, Fritz Lang’s film ‘Metropolis’ premièred at the Ufa-Palast am Zoo in Berlin. Metropolis is a hugely important film in the history of science fiction. Unfortunately, as it’s still under copyright, there aren’t a lot of images I can show you. However, I feel almost certain that, even if you haven’t seen it, you’ll have seen stills from it elsewhere. I can show you this robot though and you will probably recognise its influence on C-3PO in Star Wars.

Metropolis is set in the year 2026, not so far away now. It shows us an urban dystopia where the rich live in a futuristic city that is powered by workers who toil all day at huge machines and are forced to live underground. I don’t want to spend too long on the plot. It would take a long time and it isn’t really the film’s strong point. Basically, Freder, the son of the man who runs the city falls in love with a working class prophetess, Maria, who wants to bring both sides of the society peacefully together. There’s a bad man, who has the wonderful name of Rotwang, with a robot and he uses it to create a double of Maria, who causes all sorts of trouble. She incites the workers to destroy their machines, which causes their underground city to flood, threatening the lives of their children. Obviously, there’s a lot of stuff about mistaken identity but the right Maria (bad robot Maria) gets burned at the end. The good Maria, Freder and a splendid fellow called Josaphat save all the children and everyone is very sorry, except Rotwang who falls off a roof.

Although it is now considered one of the greatest films of the silent era, and pioneering in the genre of science fiction, not everyone shared this opinion at the time. The New York Times called it: “A technical marvel with feet of clay.” HG Wells was similarly unimpressed. He thought Lang had failed to appreciate that the point of machines was to free people from drudgery, not to make their lives harder. He thought it was a silly film. Even Fritz Lang wasn’t that keen on it once it was finished, but there may be other reasons for that. The book on which it was based was written by his then partner, Thea von Harbou, who became, in later years, a very enthusiastic Nazi. Also the Nazis loved the film, which could have been another reason he grew to dislike it.

However, all that said, Metropolis is indeed a technical marvel. It was one of the first feature-length films and in its original version ran for 152 minutes. Its cast was largely unknown and Brigitte Helm, who played both Maria and the robot, had no previous film experience and was only nineteen years old. There are some glorious sets designed by Erich Kettelhut, Otto Hunte and Karl Vollbrecht. The huge machinery is amazing and the very utilitarain underground workers city is contrasted by the soaring Art Deco city above ground. There is a dark, gothic cathedral and Rotwang’s house and laboratory are different again. Special effects expert, Eugen Schüfftan, created pioneering special effects for the film, including one which was named after him. Parts of the city were built in miniature and the Schüfftan process uses mirrors so make it seem as though the actors are occupying the tiny sets. It was a technique that was widely used in the first half of the twentieth century. Although it has now largely been replaced by green screen, it was used as recently as 2003 in ‘Lord of the Rings: The return of the King.’

Another triumph was the robot’s costume. It was made over a life cast of the actresses body and, when it was realised that the original plan of using beaten copper would be far too heavy, sculptor Walter Schulze-Mittendorff happened upon plastic wood filler. He found he could roll it flat and drape it over the cast, then cut it to make a sort of armour. He then sprayed it with a mixture of resin and bronze powder. Although it allowed for a little movement, it was still very difficult to wear. Brigitte Helm was terribly scratched and pinched by it, despite many attempts by the stage hands to file down all the sharp edges. People felt so sorry for her that they kept posting coins through the slots in her costume which she used to buy chocolate in the canteen. During the transformation scene, she fainted because it took so long and she couldn’t breathe properly. Brigitte couldn’t really see why it had to be her inside the costume at all, it could be anyone. No one would even know. Lang’s answer was that he would know.

Brigitte wasn’t the only one to suffer during the production. It took over a year to film and Lang made them repeat many of the scenes over and over. By the time Gustav Fröhlich, who played Freder, had spent two days throwing himself at the feet of Brigitte, he could barely stand. Spare a thought also for the five hundred child extras, who were from the poorest parts of Berlin. During the scenes when the underground city floods, they spent two weeks struggling in a pool of water that was intentionally kept rather too cold by the director.

As for the famous robot transformation scene that was so difficult for Brigitte, it isn’t clear, even now exactly how it was done. The circular lights that move up and down over the robot were not added afterwards, as they would be today, but filmed directly into the camera. It definitely seems to have involved circular neon lights, probably moved up and down with invisible wires, and putting the film through the camera many times.

Metropolis is a visually beautiful film, if a little slow by today’s standards. It has been much cut about both to make it shorter and to get rid of some of the elements in the original that were not liked. For example, it was all a bit communist for an American audience. The original cut was thought to be lost, but an uncut version was found in Argentina. It has suffered rather over the years but has been restored and an almost complete version was released in 2010. It’s been interesting to watch this film again knowing about all the inventive techniques and the difficulties everyone had to put up with just to get it made. The actors must have felt, at times, as though they were really living in a city that was ruled over by an uncaring despot.


01 04 brothers grimmToday is the birthday of Jacob Grimm, The eldest of the folk tale collecting Grimm brothers. He and his brother Wilhelm were born in Hanau in what is now Germany. Jacob in 1785, Wilhelm, a year later. I don’t particularly favour Jacob above Wilhelm, It’s just that I wanted to write about them and needed to pick a day. Germany was, when they began to collect their stories, a fairly loose collection of states, part of which had been invaded by Napoleon. German people had a strong need to hang onto their national identity. Many felt that this identity was to be found in the popular culture and amongst the ‘volk’, the ordinary working people. This was one of the things that led them to make a collection of German folk tales. Another was that peoples’ work patterns were changing in a way that meant they had less time for storytelling. Jacob and Wilhelm wanted to capture the tales and write them down before they were lost.

Their first collection ‘Kinder – und Hausmärchen’ (Children’s and Household Tales) was published in two volumes in 1812 and 1815. They claimed, or at least heavily suggested, that the stories were all German in origin and collected from the humblest of people. Neither of these were really true. For example, they presented ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ as uniquely German. It isn’t, there are loads of versions that come from all over Europe. It dates back to at least the 10th century. There are even echoes of it in the Elder Edda in a story about Thor dressing up as a bride to retrieve his stolen hammer. There are similar stories from Russia, from North Africa, even from China. The protagonist was not always a wolf, sometimes it was an ogre, sometimes a werewolf. 01 04 little red riding hood doreWerewolves were a very real thing to medieval Europeans. Real people were tried, found guilty and executed horribly for being werewolves. Sometimes Red Riding Hood takes off her clothes and burns them on the fire before getting into bed with the wolf. Often the wolf tricks her into eating some of her grandmother’s flesh. Variously, she is eaten and that is the end of the story, or she is saved by a man, a woman, or just saves herself. No one can say where the story came from of what it was originally about. Perhaps it is a story about how night swallows day. Perhaps it is a rite of passage story, perhaps it is a warning against sexual predators. Perhaps it is all of these things.

Some of the tales were collected from written sources, others from their friends and family. A major contributor, Dorothea Viehmann, was the wife of a middle class tailor. Also she was a Huguenot, so basically French. Definitely not a German peasant. Nor were the stories written down exactly as told, but were embellished with each succeeding edition of the tales. Also as they became more famous, they were inundated by people sending them their own versions of the tales. So they had more material to work with. We can’t really accuse them of changing the original stories, because folk tales are stories that have been changing all the time for ever. As we have seen, there are no definitive versions.

The first edition didn’t really go down that well. It was never really meant for public consumption and was certainly not aimed at children. Yet that was the general complaint: These stories were terrible for children. This was not really the fault of the Grimms. They had collected stories from adults, some of which were to be told to other adults. They were not cosy bedtime stories for children. In their original version of Rapunzel, the witch who locked her in a high tower finds out that she has been visited by the prince, not because Rapunzel complains that the witch is so much heavier than the prince as she climbed up her long plait of hair, but because she is clearly pregnant. As the Grimm brothers began to perceive a new market for their work amongst the rising middle classes, they began to tone down their stories. They began to add more Christian elements to them and to add morals. They took out obviously French stories like ‘Puss in Boots’ and ‘Bluebeard’ and also references to fairies, which were similarly, a bit too much of a French thing. They removed the sexual references, but not really that much of the violence. Certainly Hansel and Gretel are taken to the forest on the orders of their Stepmother, rather than their actual mother, as in the first edition. But they are still abandoned in the forest to starve. In their other stories, the murders, the dismemberments, the cannibalism are all still there.

The Grimms being, as they were, all about German Nationalism and identity, suffered rather after the Second World War. Hitler loved them and demanded that every school should teach the stories. The tales are full of fearless and heroic German Boys. The Nazis even made a film of Little Red Riding Hood where she is rescued at the end by an SS officer. The Grimms were tainted by Hitler’s enthusiasm for them and, after the war, they were banned in a lot of places. They are not universally liked today, particularly by parents who want to keep their children away from such violent stories, but also because quite a lot of the female characters are rather insipid and helpless.01 04 hansel and gretel They lie about, sleeping or dead or something while they wait to be rescued. But if you pick your stories you can find some good female role models. Gretel is pretty smart, the way she tricks that witch into getting into the oven and, as when I mentioned Bluebeard in an other post, I point you heavily in the direction of ‘Fitcher’s Bird’.

The final edition of their tales though, from 1857, with which people are generally most familiar, is a much altered version of the original. Recently, Professor Emeritus, Jack Zipes from the University of Minnesota has published the first English translation of the Grimm’s first edition. There, you can read a story of a mother who is so poor and hungry that she plots to kill and eat her own children and how a whole family die horribly as a result of two children playing a game called ‘Butcher and Pig’ So now we have both ends of the Grimm spectrum. Their (slightly) sanitized final version and the glorious originals. Which ever you choose, lots of people will die in truly awful ways, but what are these dark evenings for if not a scary story?

Beware of False Prophets

12 10 johannes stoefflerToday is the birthday of Johannes Stöffler, who was born in 1452 in Justingan, in what is now southern Germany. Stöffler was a scholar who, in time, became parish priest of his home town. But in his spare time he made astronomical instruments, celestial globes, clocks and orreries. One of his globes still survives in a museum at the Old Castle in Stuttgart, it’s a beautiful thing. He also wrote a proposal for changing the calendar on which the Gregorian Calendar would eventually be based. But these things are not why I want to talk about him today. As well as being excellent in the fields of mathematics and astronomy, he was also interested in astrology. Although astronomy and astrology are now two very different things, until the late sixteenth century, they were basically the same, so we can’t hold that against him. But he did do something pretty stupid.

In the year 1499, he predicted that, on February 20th 1524, a universal flood would cover the whole earth. He based his prediction on the fact that, on that day, most of the known planets (there were only six) and also the sun would be in conjunction in the constellation of Pisces. As Pisces is the sign of the fish, he felt this was an indication that the whole world would be drowned. There were, at that time, plenty of people who enjoyed predicting the end of the world, just as there are now but Stöffler was pretty prominent. By 1507, he occupied the first ever chair of astronomy and mathematics at the University of Tubingen and, in 1522, he was made rector.

As the date of his prophecy drew ever closer, more and more people heard about it. Panic set in. Over a hundred pamphlets were published on the subject. The value of waterside properties plummeted and people began to build boats.

Not wanting to be outdone, English astronomers announced that there would indeed be a flood, but it would begin on February 1st, in London. A fortress was built at the Priory Church of St Bartholomew the Great and equipped with two months worth of supplies. When the day came, 20,000 Londoners headed for the hills and waited. Nothing happened. Everyone went home. The astrologers had to admit they were wrong. They said that they had been out by a hundred years and, in fact, the flood would come on February 1st 1654, thus absolving themselves of any personal responsibility.

Their failure did nothing to dampen fears among the landowners and nobles of continental Europe. Economically, it was an excellent time for boat builders and merchants were doing a roaring trade selling emergency supplies. Rivers were full of new boats packed to the gunwales with food and water. One of the biggest was an ambitious three-storey ark, built on the Rhine, for a German count called Von Iggleheim for his friends and family. Early on the morning of the 20th, he boarded his ark and had his servants drag all the supplies aboard. The spectacle drew quite a lot of interest. Some were just curious, others were there to jeer. Then… it began to rain. It didn’t rain a lot, but it was enough to panic the crowd. They rushed to board Iggleheim’s ark and any other boat nearby. Hundreds were killed in the ensuing chaos. When the count refused to let anyone aboard, they dragged him off his boat and stoned him to death.

The year 1524 would eventually prove to be one of the driest on record. Stöffler was also forced to revise his prediction. He said it would actually happen in 1528. It was a bit reckless of him to predict a date within his own lifetime, because it didn’t happen then either and people sort of stopped believing he could predict the future. But according to one story I read, he once predicted that, on a certain day, his life would be put in danger by a falling body. Wisely, he chose to spend the day inside. Whilst indoors, having a discussion with friends, he reached up for a book. The whole shelf came loose and hit him on the head, he was quite badly injured. This is a great story and I wish I could corroborate it with a more contemporary account, but I can’t, so I hope it’s true.

In 1530 his whole university was forced to relocate to the countryside due to a plague epidemic. He removed himself to Blaubeuren. Where he died in 1531. Of the plague. It’s a pity he couldn’t have predicted that instead.

Undecorated With Limbs

09 22 EmmeramToday is the feast day of Saint Emmeram of Regensburg. It seems a while since I came across a crazy martyrdom story. So here is what Arbeo of Freising says about what happened to Emmeram. The saint was a bishop of Poitiers who travelled to Regensburg in Bavaria because it was full of pagans worshipping idols and he wanted to convert them to Christianity. It seems that Emmeram saw this work as a kind of battle for which his ultimate reward would be martyrdom.

Theodo I, Duke of Bavaria welcomed Emmeram to his court and things went pretty well for about three years. Then he asked for permission to go on a pilgrimage to Rome. Before he was able to leave, he was visited by the Duke’s unmarried daughter, Ota. She was pregnant with the child of a man in her father’s employment. If the truth was discovered, both she and the baby’s father would face the death penalty. Ota begged for the bishop’s help. Emmeram advised her to name himself as the father and then abruptly left on his journey to Rome. But after three days he stopped at a place called Helfendorf and waited.

Meanwhile the Duke and his son, Lantpert, had found out about Ota’s pregnancy and been told that Emmeram was responsible. Lantpert was furious. He gathered together a group of friends and set off to avenge his sister’s honour. He found the bishop waiting for him at Helfendorf. Emmeram denied his accusations and asked to be allowed to proceed to Rome and seek judgement from the Pope on the matter. Lantpert and his posse tied the bishop to a ladder and proceeded to torture him. They began to cut off his limbs and extremities piece by piece. First his fingers then his hands, followed by feet, legs, arms, nose, ears, tongue and finally his genitals. Then they left him for dead. But Emmeram was found still living by his companions, Vitalis and Wolflete. Somehow, even though his tongue had been cut out he managed to ask for water and Vitalis answered: “Why do you seek relief, when nothing of you remains but your stubby trunk, undecorated with limbs? I would think you should wish for your death rather than live with such shame.” Emmeram replied that he didn’t want to die quickly. It seems the longer he could drag it out, the more likely God was to notice him.

The story tells us that his body was shining with a wondrous light, I don’t know whether his skin shone or whether the light was shining out of his wounds, either way it sounds pretty disturbing. They tried to take his body to a nearby church at Aschheim, but he died on the way. We are told that on the spot where he died, for ever afterwards it was always spring. Against his wishes, he was buried at Aschheim. Afterwards it rained for forty days, an indication of his displeasure. His body was removed to Regensburg. There is now an abbey there that was built in his name. There they keep his leg bones in a silver box, so presumably his friends gathered up all the bits of him that were cut off too.

Man Who Would Be King

08 13 otto witteToday I give you Otto Witte, who is described in wikipedia as a German acrobat and fantasist. Today’s post is based entirely on the testimony of Otto Witte, so it’s unlikely to be true. Let’s not let that get in the way of a good story though.

Otto was crowned King of Albania on August 13th 1913 and reigned for five days. In 1913 Albania broke away from the Ottoman Empire and it is certainly true that they were looking for a king for their new country. At that time Otto was travelling the Balkans with a carnival troupe along with a friend, a sword swallower named Max Schlepsig. Otto himself was performing as a fire-eater. It came to their attention that the Albanians were about to offer the throne to Prince Halim Eddine of Turkey. Otto bore a striking resemblance to the prince and decided it would be fun to turn up and claim the throne. He telegraphed ahead to tell the Albanians that the prince was on his way. Then he went shopping for a fancy costume. He bought himself a colourful military uniform and a bunch of impressive looking medals.

He arrived in the capital, Tirana, suitably clad and was greeted with great ceremony and crowned king. It wasn’t long before the real Prince Halim heard about it. The deception was revealed and the prince demanded Otto’s immediate arrest. He managed to escape, but not before he had helped himself from the treasury and declared war on Montenegro.

When Otto arrived back in Germany he announced himself as the King of Albania. He was immediately arrested and admitted to a psychiatric hospital for treatment. But then his story began to appear in newspapers. He was declared sane and released. For the rest of his life he insisted on being called Your Majesty. If his mail did not arrive addressed: To the Former King of Albania, he refused to accept it.

Otto Witte also claimed that he had eloped with the daughter of the Emperor of Abyssinia and formed a political party called The Party of the Middle Class, Peasants and Showmen that had nearly 100,000 registered members. I’d love to believe Otto’s story, it’s magnificent. Though I should probably point out that there is no such person as Prince Halim Eddine.