Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Frau Hulle

On the Schellenberg between Heimbuchenthal and Wintersbach there used to stand a stately castle. In the courtyard of this castle there grew a beautiful linden tree. The tree was very tall and the saying went that as long as the linden stood and stayed green, the castle would also bloom. Woe betide though if the linden were to be destroyed for then the castle and its inhabitants would also meet the same fate.

In this castle, there once lived a great lord and his two sons. The eldest son was tall and handsome and the youngest was short and ugly who, in childhood sadly broke his leg and was from then on known as 'Twisted Jakob'.

The lord of the castle was old and sick. Sensing his end was near, he called his sons to his bedside. It was not easy for him to speak, his voice was weak and shook with each word:
'My firstborn, from this day forth, I give you my castle and this wooden coffer filled with gold. Swear to me though that you will always keep our dear Jakob by your side and that you will always be a good brother to him. Make sure all his needs are taken care of!'

With an earnest face, the eldest son gave his word that he would take care of his brother and on that self same day, their father began his eternal sleep.

The old lord was hardly in the ground before the eldest brother broke his word and increasingly came to treat Jakob worse than the day labourers did. No longer would Jakob be allowed to sit at his table to eat nor live in his castle. Instead, the poor Jakob was cast out to sleep in the stall with the horses and eat with the dogs from a bowl.

It didn't take long for Jakob to decide that it would be best to leave his hardhearted brother as soon as he could and so one morning, Jakob went to his brother and said:
'Give me my share of our inheritance, I want to go into the wider world and try my luck elsewhere.'

The new lord of the castle however gave him nothing and just had Jakob thrown out of the castle.

Defeated, Jakob wandered into the surrounding forests and came to rest completely exhausted under a tree, where resting his head on his knees he cried bitterly. When he finally looked up, he caught a glimpse of an old woman on a spinning wheel. Strange. Jakob had heard no sound of her coming. With the nodding of her head, the greyhaired woman peddled the spinning wheel. Jakob had no idea that it was Frau Hulle that was approaching him.

The good hearted old lady wanted to know why Jakob had been crying so bitterly.
'What do you care of my fate. You can't help me.'

Frau Hulle replied:
'You're 'Twisted Jakob' from the Schellenberg castle, aren't you? I know you and your wicked brother. I can help you if you trust me.'

Her words went straight to twisted Jakob's heart as they were the first kind words he'd heard since his father had passed away.
'My brother forced me to eat with the dogs from their feeding bowl! And when I went to ask for my portion of the inheritance, he threw me like a beggar from my father's castle!'

The old lady comforted him:
'Come with me, after exactly three years, we'll go to see your brother again. Perhaps he'll repent in the meantime and give you what's rightfully yours.'

Jakob agreed immediately and Frau Hulle took him with her to her house and Jakob quickly became her indispensable helper. In the summer he cultivated her flax field, cut fence posts in the winter for the vineyard farmers and sail masts for boatmen. Frau Hulle was occupied for the entire time with her spinning wheel.

In the spring, the pair brought their wares to the Main to sell. If Jakob found it became too difficult to carry the fence posts and sail masts because of his lameness, then the good Frau Hulle would take them from him with her scrawny arms and throw them into her shoulder basket as though they were little more than bails of straw. Between Hasloch and Faulbach there was a stone on the way where they would stop to rest each time and in the place where Frau Hulle would lay down her shoulder basket, there are indents in the path from the weight of that load that are still there to see to this day.

Jakob did all he could for Frau Hulle and she taught him everything that there was to know about farming, so that in the end, he understood the land better than one who was born a farmer.

When the three years were up, Frau Hulle told him that they were going to see his brother that day and immediately picked up her distaff, put on her shoulder basket and together they set off for the castle.

When they arrived, they found the wicked brother sitting lazily under the linden tree. Seeing their approach, he asked them what they wanted. Frau Hulle's voice was authorative as she spoke:
'You know exactly what you are guilty of when it comes to your brother. Today we want you to finally give him his rightful inheritance!'

The firstborn brother arrogantly replied:
'If you don't leave and go back to where you came from, I'll rip your wobbly head off and as for 'Twisted Jakob', I'll lame his other leg!'

The old lady was so angry, she took her distaff and stabbed it into the linden tree. At that moment the birds flew away and from the roots to the highest branches the tree began to tremble – from the roots to the branches, the life's blood of the old tree began to drip onto the floor. Soon, the leaves turned brown and fell off.

Frau Hulle shouted:
'Unspeakable one! As with the linden tree, so shall it be for you and the castle too!! You will whither and nevermore know luck!'

With those words, she and Jakob turned and left the castle.

As predicted, so it happened and the castle began to wither away little by little as the linden tree had. Every storm brought the fall of a tower or wall, the rain soaked the roof tiles away and soon the roof trusses became dilapidated. The servants no longer wanted to live in the castle and in the end, only the lord was left living in the cellar where he would sit on his wooden coffer keeping a jealous watch.
At midnight, on the feast of St Martin (11/11) there was a great storm and the withered linden tree finally fell – exactly on the cellar door, blocking the exit. The wicked brother pushed with all his might but the door would not move even the smallest amount. As the the Schellenberg had already been abandoned by all who had lived there, there was noone left to hear his cries for help and so he was left to starve to death on his chest of gold.

Frau Hulle however, knew exactly what had happened and the day after the death of the firstborn son, she went into the courtyard, cleared away the linden tree and opened the gold chest. She divided the brothers' inheritance exactly and put what was rightfully Jakobs into her large purse. At the exact moment when she left the cellar, it collapsed in on itself and she went back to her house.

There, she spoke with Jakob:
'Now, each person has what is his, just as your father decreed. Take what is yours, however being a nobleman no longer has meaning for you. Become a farmer and you will be blessed with yet more luck. Live well and you will never see me again.'

Jakob took his leave and from the money, built a beautiful farm on the Hunsrueck mountain range near Altenbuch. He married a nice lady and fathered many sons and daughters. His barn saw no pestilence and his fruit trees stayed free from caterpillars. Nor did a single hailstorm come over his fields. At harvest time, sometimes Jakob would find that the work had already been done when he came to his fields early in the morning. The sheaves would already be cut, bound and put into piles. His neighbours would then puzzle over who had done such a good thing for him but only Jakob knew that it was Frau Hulle that she was still by his side.

When his first son was born, the happy Jakob decided he should try to find Frau Hulle to tell her of his luck and so he took to the road. He searched the whole day but could find neither the little house where she had lived, nor valley where the little house had been. In the evening, tired he set out for his farm again.

In the end, Jakob died at a very good age. His farm and courtyard still stand to this day and are owned by a farmer by the name of Hunruecks-Philipp.

From the book 'Es Spukt in Franken' by Michael Proettel,
Translation by Catherine Heath


Mark Andersen said...

See now I'm even more glad I started a blog because now I can easily follow yours. Sweet!

Birka said...

I'm glad you're on blogspot too Mark! I can't stand LJ nowadays - it's too messy in terms of format. I much prefer this and it's nice to be able to catch up with your adventures in beerland.

I am considering taking my previous posts from LJ and making them into a book though - there's some messed up stuff in there, about a decade of it lol.