Saturday, 3 December 2011

Stories in Munich

I'll be in Bavaria over the next few days.  Every time I go to Germany, I'm struck by how often I see references to folklore, stories and fairytales. I guess there are reasons for this, and as a tourist I like it  - it helps me to remember I'm somewhere different from home.     Since I probably won't be posting during my trip, I'll share some of the random quaint creatures and odd stories I've come across in Munich in the past.
One of the main squares in Munich is called the Marienplatz, and this is where you find the Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall).  This late nineteenth century building has a really huge musical clock, or Glockenspiel.  At 11 AM daily, its gigantic figures re-enact two stories, while the bells play on and on and on (and on). 

You can see a picture of the Glockenspiel below. It is very large indeed, so those metal figures are at least life size. This movie shows just some of the Glockenspiel's performance - a remarkable feat of clockwork, though I wish they'd made the bells more melodious :) 

The lower part of the Glockenspiel is the most interesting to me. It shows the Schäfflerstanz, or coopers' dance. The coopers are holding garlands, and the story says they are supposed to have danced through the streets in the 16th century when the town was hit by plague, to cheer everyone up and chase gloom away.  Their dance represents fortitude in the face of adversity.

The top half of the display plays first, and it depicts the marriage of Duke Wilhelm V and Renata of Lorraine. As far as I know, there's nothing tremendously significant about them, but you see the members of the court parading past, dressed in interesting costumes. This is followed by a jousting match between mounted knights dressed in the colours of Bavaria (blue and white diamonds) and Lorraine (red and white.). Who wins, you ask? Bavaria, of course, every time. This is after all a Bavarian clock!

The Neues Rathaus is in spiky, elaborate Gothic Revival style. Most times of day the square is so busy that it isn't creepy at all.  But in quiet corners, you may spot some fairly disturbing figures lurking in the shadows.....

What tragedy is going on here, for instance, with one figure wailing and the other serenely indifferent....

And who is this mischievous and not very pleasant gargoyle supposed to be?

Toy museums are always good places for stories, and Munich's toy museum is just off the square, in a Gothic-style tower - that's it in the centre right (below). The tower has many winding old steps - you do almost feel as if you'll end up meeting Rapunzel as you trudge up and up.

It's not a very large museum, far smaller than the wonderful toy museum in Nuremberg, but it is great, and contains many odd and quirky things. Germany is arguably the home of the teddy-bear and I really liked this cheerful fellow. I imagine him cooking a nice meal for his friends

There is a good collection of model figures, and I wondered what story was going on here. - the little man has a dancing bear, a peculiar toy when you think about it.

Not far from the toy museum, I found a large exhibition of art and craft work by senior citizens. It included a big display of fairy tale characters modelled from clay.  I knew some of the stories already, others were a dim memory from my childhood reading of those powerful and fascinating Grimm's Fairy Tales,  I suspect better known in Germany than here.  Here are the Wolf and two of the Seven Little Kids, (see one of the kids in the grandfather clock?)

I'd almost forgoten this tale, which tells how Mother Goat leaves her kids at home to go shopping. Of course the sly Wolf is waiting to get to the kids, and he eventually wheedles his way into their house despite the kids' weak little efforts to outsmart him.  He gobbles them up, and goes to sleep.   All seems lost, but their desperate Mother, finding her children gone, grabs a pair of scissors, cuts open his stomach, rescues the babies and fills the Wolf up with stones. The Wolf wakes up, goes to the well for a drink, but the stones unbalance him and he falls down and is drowned.

I found such a cute video of some tiny children performing it  here in elaborate costumes - they are having such fun in their fancy dress and I think that the young Wolf in particular is an amazingly talented actor.

Then I saw a model of "Hans im Glück" - (Hans in Luck)

This story tells how Hans gets a lump of gold for his good work, but he makes a series of disastrous exchanges and ends up with worse and worse bargains - a useless cow, a stolen pig and so on. They cause him so much grief, that when he finally ends up with nothing, he is delighted, because now he has no more troubles and this is best of all!

I found a good Lego film, made by some German children,  of an updated version of this story, here.  It is in German, but you don't need the words. You'll see how Hans, the businessman, gets a bonus and buys a car, but although all his exchanges come to grief, he ends up happy.

I knew the Four Musicians of Bremen because I remember seeing their statue when I was a child, and being told the story.    It's a nice tale of how four worn out old animals make their fortune, and these days I quite empathise with them! :)

I was mystified by the little creature below, who didn't have any identification. He resembles a mole or a bear in glasses.  Anyone know which he is?

On leaving the toy museum I nearly bumped into this life size lion figure, who somehow made me think of a judge, specifically the brilliant Australian singer Anthony Warlow in "Trial by Jury".  I know the lion is meant to be a Santa, but do you agree with me that he is like a comical judge?  Here's the link to Warlow as the crooked judge, who describes how he tricks his way into his job, uses the law to his own endsm and ends up marrying the lovely young plaintiff himself.

I then spotted a jewellery shop with a window display consisting of animals in a winter woodland, all sporting expensive rings and necklaces.

 It looked quite bizarre, and set me off trying to imagine a fairy tale about how the animals in the wood all thought so much of themselves, and were so proud,  that they dressed up like Kings and Queens. They wouldn't listen to the wise old owl who warned them that they were tempting misfortune. And so...

Well, I'm sure the Brothers Grimm would have found a story about it. 

I wonder if I'll encounter any strange creatures and stories in Munich this time. 


  1. The gargoyles are wonderful, but so are the tales and your images - oh, and the Teddy Bear!

    Have a great time!

  2. Could the mole/bear be a beaver, holding a fishing rod? It is hard to tell, and I can not think of any particular story right now that stars one, but I am sure it has its own background story.
    I like your start of tale about the woodland animals with the jewels!
    Did you ever read my story (actually my sister's) "How the cat lost its thumbs"? It is here, in case you are interested:
    Anyway, have a good trip to Munich, and I hope your choice of clothes will be just right for the weather!

  3. I really love your sister's story! It has the simplicity and cleverness of an authentic folk tale and I like the point about how you shouldn't let people wait on you all the time or you lose the ability to do things yourself. So many people try to write folk tales but they don't succeed, but I think your sister did succeed in catching the essence of folk tale.

    Is your family by any chance related to the Brothers Grimm? :)

    I have never heard a European folk tale about a beaver (or a mole. It was its paws made it seem like a mole to me, but that tail could be a beaver. The elderly sculptors were not professionals so perhaps their models weren't entirely accurate.

  4. Folk tales are often rubbish but sometimes contain history, if you search hard enough. The Irish tale of 'watching for the 'little people,' could go back to the days of 'watching for the Vikings.' Possibly.

  5. I spent 5 wonderful years living just south of Munich in Tutzing. I loved every minute and at the moment am feeling quite homesick for a Bavarian Christmas! Have a wonderful trip -- it was wonderful seeing pictures of Marienplatz and the toy museum -- brought back many many happy memories!

  6. Love all these photos and the link to the LEGO film, it was very cleverly done. Now, I know who I dance like! :-)
    I always liked Grimm's Fairy Tales and yes, they did scare me, but then again, even cartoons could frighten me.

  7. I'd guess a mole. What a treat to follow you on your travels! :)

  8. Love these gargoyles, there is always something fascinating about them, i don't know if i feel scared or not! Christmas preparations in Germany are absolutely fabulous, it is very similar to the east of France where traditions are more deeply rooted than in the rest of the country.

  9. Lovely post, lovely pictures and a lovely country, Germany..just got home from a daytrip...Thanks for sharing, enjoy your stay...

  10. Your post is wonderful, like a story itself. :)

    Gargoyles are definitely intresting creatures but like you said, when it's all quiet; they can be creepy. ;)

  11. Your series of pgotos are very interesting as always. I remembered some stories which I read in my childhood. Hava a nice trip, Jenny.

  12. Your pictures alone are a story in themselves! Gorgeous!

  13. This is a such lovely storybook trip through Munich. Those strange gargoyles are fascinating. It's been years since I was there, after a good friend married a Bavarian. They took me to my first (and only) Oktoberfest. Anyhow, those Grimm's toys are delightful. I love the dark, menacing undercurrent in all those Grimm's stories -- very different from Disney!

    Oh, your previous post on Fortnum & Mason's was like a trip through memory lane. I used to spend a week at a time at our London office on King Street, in the Pall Mall area just down the street from F&M. Of course, I was always loaded with goodies on my return trip to NYC! I wish I could get some of those Christmas crackers right now, though I can't afford the version you posted. St. James' Park right behind the office was also a beautiful respite, even for a few minutes, on my visits.

  14. Oh, enjoy Munich, what a great city! And especially to be in Germany at Christmas market time - I really miss that. Having to deal with Australian Christmases again (temps around 35-40 Celsius) is just very un-Christmas-like!

  15. @Adullamite, I have the opposite view to you about folk tales, at least the ones which have survived for centuries, they usually have a message worth saying. I think Lucky Hans turns materialism on its head for instance.
    @The Broad, so glad I could bring back some memories, and yes, I chose to go at this time because of Christmas, I love German Christmases too.
    @Kay, welcome to another "Lego" style dancer, I thought I was the only one!:)
    @DeeBee, I didn't know about the celebrations in the East of France, how interesting. I'll look it up.
    @Erna, haha I did a double take when you mentioned a day trip, then I remembered you live in the Netherlands!
    @Lina, haricot, floweringmama, thanks for the nice comments.
    @Foolish Aesthete, I like the "dark" aspect of German folklore too, but the original Disney used to have flashes of real scariness too, and that probably contributed originally to their popularity, don't you think? Like "Night on a bare mountain" or even "Sorcerers Apprentice". I like these crackers although they're nothing like the Fortnums ones!
    @Amanda, I just think Australian Christmases are a whole different thing. Personally I could do with some sunshine right now, as forecast in Munich is dire!

  16. It is good to meet you Jenny, just calling by to thankyou for a recent visit and comment you left on one of my blogs Travel Tales, it is very much appreciated. An interesting post, somehow Bavaria and Christmas fit well together.

  17. Now I see where you are! It looks like a magical place to visit. I loved all the pictures-the bear cooking especially and all those wonderful fairy tale models. Thanks for sharing all these!

  18. I'm planning I visit Munich for a weekend in March, to coincide with a friend's visit to Europe. I'm so glad I'm going! I love gothic architecture and vintage toys and I think I might just fall in love!

  19. Jenny, a lovely post, which curious that toy museum and that of histories and stories, I guess it's a very beautiful city as you reflect on your photographs. A big greeting and you enjoy it.

  20. Wonderful post. I love old fairytales and the characters you showed us are just marvelous.


  21. Enjoy Munich! I still haven't visited that city... I know, I know... it's a shame I haven't made it down there. Well, maybe you can recommend some places to me :-)

    I love folklore and ancient stories and myths... I just picked up a new verse translation of Beowulf at the English bookstore :-)
    We have a great amount of stories in Britain too, however. Like, all the Celtic / Roman warriors, old poems and songs, etc.
    Four or five years ago I bought a collection of stories which are supposed to have taken place in Dartmoor... I like that kind of stuff and I'm glad I'm not the only one to admit it on here :-)


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