Ghosts in the Cellar? It’s not Caspar but a little Cavalier

Petermännchen Schloss Schwerin

While over on Maria Thermann’s blog I’m discussing the beauty of northern German Castle Schwerin, the erstwhile residence of the Dukes of Mecklenburg, here at Willow the Vampire’s blog I want to tell you a little bit about the Little Man Peter or, as he’s called in German, the Petermännchen ghost that haunts Castle Schwerin.

Visitors to Schwerin Castle, a setting as fairy-tale as it gets and seemingly jumping straight out of a Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen story, will find a depiction of the little ghost in form of a small statue that perches on the façade of the castle.

Reputedly still haunting the vaults and cellars of the castle, the little ghost was allegedly a goblin which worked as a blacksmith in one of the many tunnels that connected the castle with nearby Petersberg, a local hill close to the town of Pinnow.

According to varying legends, the Little Man Peter can fly through the air and appear anywhere between Petersberg in Pinnow and Lake Schwerin, where the castle sits on an island near the centre of the lake.

The goblin played tricks and pranks on people of ill repute. Equipped with a lantern, a sword and a large set of keys, the Petermännchen is actually supposed to be a kindly creature of the night, which deals with thieves and intruders in its own magical way.

While dishonest people are plagued with nightly pranks, good and honest people are said to receive their just rewards. Soldiers, who fell asleep while on duty guarding the castle, found a good friend in the little goblin, as the little chap used to wake them up just in time before their dereliction of duty could be discovered by their superiors. Thieves would be driven from the castle.

Schwerin Castle.

Schwerin Castle. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One legend has it that General Wallenstein, in charge of Emperor Ferdinand II.’s troops during the 30-year war in 1628, thought twice about staying for a second night at Schwerin Castle, after the Petermännchen had played so many tricks on him during the first. Sadly, in reality Wallenstein did stay in Schwerin for more than one night, in fact, he made Schwerin his preferred residence, while Mecklenburg remained under occupation.

Today the residents of Schwerin regard the little blacksmith as their lucky charm. He is the official emblem of the region and in Pinnow the motto ascribed to the little goblin reads as follows:

“Dressed in blue and with a blue hat adorned with a silver plume, the red-headed and bearded Petermännchen stands in gold and green hillsides, boasting a silver trimmed lace collar and silver cuffs on his arms, a red sash around his midriff and silver spurs on his red riding boots, holding on to silver stilts with both hands.”

Sculpture of Pertermännchen in facade in the c...

Sculpture of Pertermännchen in facade in the courtyard of Schwerin Castle in Schwerin, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The description isn’t accredited to any particular historic sources so many well originate in the over-heated  imagination of the local town council, but it suggests that far from a common-or-garden variety of blacksmiths dealing with ducal stallions and soldiers’ mounts, the Petermännchen worked with precious metals down in the dark tunnels in true goblin and fairy-tale-dwarf tradition. No living human being is able to carry the heavy keys hanging from Little Man Peter’s belt, only he is strong enough.

Perhaps he supplied the wealth to the Dukes of Mecklenburg as long as they treated their peasants fairly and stopped digging for precious stones, when Wallenstein’s men arrived?

Some local legends claim he is the legitimate heir to the kingdom of Mecklenburg, others say he is cursed because when alive, he killed a priest and now he must exist as a diminutive ghost until he is freed from the curse. Old people in Pinnow claim they could hear the hammering of pickaxes deep down in the Petersberg, when they pressed their ears to the soil and listened.

It’s interesting to note that in all the depictions – there are a number of paintings – he is shown in the dress of a cavalier, a “horseman”, a heroic figure rather than a figure of ridicule. It suggests that he may have been a real historic figure rather than a supernatural one. Was he one of the duke’s little people, a person of small statue but with the wit of a giant living inside?

The statue seen today adorning the façade also shows the Petermännchen in 17th century cavalier’s clothes; however, the statue itself dates back to the 19th century. When reading up on the history of the little ghost, I kept wishing that he gave a thoroughly deserved haunting with all the poltergeist trimmings to any visiting politicians during the nasty German Democratic Republic regime, which lasted from 1949 until December 1989, when I visited Schwerin for the very first time just a few days after the fall of the Berlin Wall (officially it ceased to exist in 1990).

Coat of Arms of Pinnow (Mecklenburg)

Coat of Arms of Pinnow (Mecklenburg) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a firm believer in “we reap what we sow”, I’m hoping the Petermännchen will haunt any former Stasi people (East Germany’s notorious secret police) to its heart’s content, whenever they are foolish enough to visit the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern State Museum that dwells under the domed roof of Castle Schwerin today.

Petermännchen, please give ‘em a good kicking with your wee red boots and your wee silver spurs! They worked hand-in-glove with the governmental thieves that robbed all of us of so much world heritage and brought misery to millions of people for so many years.

For German speakers there’s more information on the little ghost on this “spooky” website:

http://www.spukorte.de/html/petermannchen_schwerin.html

Village Vampires

One of the reasons why Willow the Vampire is set in rural (fictional) Stinkforthshire-upon-Avon is that I grew up in a village and am very much aware of the advantages and disadvantages of growing up in a small community.

As a vampire Willow is an outsider – as a newcomer to the village she is also an outsider. Making friends under such circumstances isn’t easy and when you’re from a “dysfunctional” family background like Willow, it’s even more difficult to fit in.

As my lovely WP friend Michelle Barber (proud proprietor of the Loony Literature Laboratory, surrogate mother to Mildred the Cat) so astutely recognised, Willow’s first novel is a journey of self-discovery. Aged 11, the vampire child is trying to find her place in the world.

So what underlying theme will novel number two have? Well, my obsession lies with the dark underbelly of small communities and how the creatures of the night that stalk the village streets are not necessarily those fanged ones or ghostly apparitions the book title might suggest.

Although Würzburg, the setting for my second novel, was already a city during the witch trials that took place between 1626 to 1631, when hundreds of innocent men, women and children were tortured and murdered by an insane religious nutter-cum-prince-bishop regime, it was nevertheless a fairly small community by today’s standards and serves as a perfect example, how small, insular or remote communities can turn on each other for no apparent or sane reason.

"Würzburg Cathedral" is a Roman Cath...

“Würzburg Cathedral” is a Roman Catholic cathedral in Würzburg in Bavaria, Germany, dedicated to Saint Kilian (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I go to visit Würzburg next year, I hope to join a museum’s tour that deals with this issue of persecution. As part of the guided tour to the historical sights connected with the witch hunt, visitors are shown the Kiliansdom (Würzburg Cathedral) and the Neumünster (the New Minster) as well as the Town Hall, where the gruesome fate of nearly 1,000 people was decided. The guided tour, according to the blurb on their website, serves “to illustrate the religious and secular causes of the witch-hunts of the 17th century”.

Just because picturesque Stinkforthshire, a village with 5,000 souls (minus a few vampires, who are there in body but not in “soul”), is on the tourist trail, has pretty flower baskets hanging from porches and a historic fountain gracing the market place, the village is not an idyll, where no crimes are committed and no unhappy thoughts are coursing through the minds of neighbours.

Some crimes are never brought to justice – they are not even regarded as crimes in the eyes of the law. How’s this for an example?

While growing up in my very own affluent Stinkforthshire village in Northern Germany, we had a cleaning woman going round the houses of well-to-do citizens, whose hypocritical mentality saw no problem in spending her Sundays in church praying and lording it (morally speaking) over the rest of the community.

During the week, however, she would spend the time for which she got paid on snooping through her employers’ cupboards and drawers to see, what “scandals” she could rake up. Naturally, whatever she discovered, or in some cases thought she had unearthed, she would gossip about with the clear intention of causing harm.

She was the mother of a school chum of mine – which made it very awkward at times to stay friends with a girl, whose mother continuously caused a lot of grief to people. In today’s society libel is taken far more seriously than it was then and people are prepared to call in the lawyers, but back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when this village menace had her peak, this was not the case.

The twist at the end of this tale is, as you might have expected, that this gossiping banshee had an affair with somebody. When her family found out, they were devastated and for a very long time, my school chum did not speak to her mother or wanted to have anything to do with her. At long last, the evil spell was broken and from that time onwards, the gossiping menace had to hold her tongue about other people’s affairs.

Cathedral and city hall.

Cathedral and city hall. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Crimes like libel or slander often go unreported in small communities – as for making people’s life a misery by intrusive spying on one’s neighbours and criticising their every move or busy-bodies constantly turning up at their neighbours’ doorstep under some pretext to gain access into their home for the purpose of practically “running” the lives of widows/widowers or divorcees…those are in many ways also crimes, but they are not recognised by the law.

I know of one woman who was so terrorised by a couple of busy-body neighbours that she eventually fled to her son’s home at the other end of Germany, just to get some respite for a few weeks at a time.

The good end to that story was that this much-put-upon divorced, single lady discovered the joys of going abroad (on her own) and she broke free of the village-mafia trying to run her life the way they thought she should be living it. She gained in confidence on her own accord and experienced a very different life to the one her neighbours had mapped out for her.

Neumünster, Würzburg, Germany.

Neumünster, Würzburg, Germany. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If anyone’s interested in visiting Würzburg in the near future (perhaps to hear guest speaker Dr Dimitra Fimi at the university explain all things Hobbit, Tolkien and Fantasy Fiction), here are the details for the museum’s tour:

Neumünster, Würzburg, Germany.

Neumünster, Würzburg, Germany. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Duration: Approx. 2 hours, Reservations: Congress · Tourismus · Wirtschaft, Gästeführervermittlung Am Congress Centrum, Turmgasse 11, D – 97070 Würzburg, Phone +49 (0) 9 31 / 37 26 50, Fax +49(0) 9 31 / 37 36 52, E-Mail: fuehrungen@wuerzburg.de, www.wuerzburg.de/fuehrungen

As for Willow, in the course of the second novel she will discover that EVIL can lurk behind many different masks, often disguised as something quite “harmless” and “socially acceptable”.

(source of animation: heathersanimations.com, source of photographs Wikipedia)

Bear-ing up under the Strain of Battle

The association between bears and humans goes back millennia and while bears were hunted for their meat and fur, they were also hunted as a test of “manhood”, “strength” and “bravery” among men with clearly nothing better to do and not a lot happening between their ears.

In Germanic culture bears were honoured for being a symbol of the warrior class and this filtered through in language. In Old English for example the word “beorn” has twin meanings, standing for both warrior and bear in equal measure.

Steiff Display!

Steiff Display! (Photo credit: crafterm)

In Nordic cultures men were and are to this day often called Bjørn or Björn, which also means bear. It’s quite a common name and, coming from Northern Germany, I knew a quite few Björns when I was growing up. There are various rune stone inscriptions mentioning the name, so it was already popular, when the Vikings were around.

Clifford Berryman's (April 2, 1869 – December ...

Clifford Berryman’s (April 2, 1869 – December 11, 1949) political cartoon of President Theodore Roosevelt’s bear hunting trip to Mississippi that gave the Teddy Bear its name. Was published in 1902 in The Washington Post (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Legend has it that some people even have the ability to transform into bears – which makes this an interesting animal to feature in Willow the Vampire’s next adventures. According to legend, warriors dressed in bear-skins could take on some of the bear’s most important characteristics, namely power, stamina and strength, all useful things in battle and when dealing with new, devious headmasters.

The bear-skins were treated with herbs and oils, presumably in a magic ceremony. The English word “berserk” is allegedly referring to this ability of transformation. When going into battle, such bear-skin wearers would feel “invincible” and therefore fight to the death without wasting a thought on injury or harm to themselves. People believed such warriors could even walk through fire, which just goes to show how silly human beings really are – no self-respecting bear would believe such utter nonsense.

Early Greeks also believed that people could take on bear characteristics and that the gods could sometimes transform people into bears.

Perhaps it was inevitable that humans should adopt the bear as their favourite toy. Steiff teddy bears are without doubt the most famous representative of this sub-species. The company was founded in 1880 by a little old lady called Margarete Steiff, who took in her brother Fritz as a business partner a few years later.

Toymaker Margarete Steiff was paralysed as an ...

Toymaker Margarete Steiff was paralysed as an infant. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She originally made elephants, not bears, and they were not designed as children’s toys but to be pin cushions which Madge sold to her mates. When you purchase something from their shops in Germany, you’ll receive your toy in a lovely paper carrier bag that shows a drawing of the elephant on wheels, which Madge initially designed.

When she realised how much these elephants appealed to children, she started making all sorts of different animals for kids. The prototypes for Steiff elephants, cats, dogs, goats, pigs and hedgehogs were all designed and mostly made by Madge herself in a back parlour and later a small manufacturing place.

Eventually her nephew Richard joined the company in 1897 and created the typical Steiff teddy bear in 1902. The bear design was so successful that by 1907 the Steiff company was already selling just under one million teddies. Margarete created the company’s motto and it is still holding on to it to this day: “only the best is good enough for children” and I sincerely wished every single person on the planet would follow this motto!

There are few manufacturers in the world who strive to make products that come with a lifetime guarantee – we think of Swiss luxury watches or cars like a Rolls Royce when we hear of such high production values.

Steiff Display!

Steiff Display! (Photo credit: crafterm)

Making of a teddy bear 2 sewing and turning

Making of a teddy bear 2 sewing and turning (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yet, this is exactly what happens at Steiff, where each toy is tested to its absolute limits to ensure no child is harmed, no matter how much love the teddy bear or other toy is being subjected to over the years. Eyes and the characteristic metal “button” in the teddy’s ears must not come off through wear and tear; all materials used must undergo rigorous testing for their ability to withstand fire, water and far too many cuddles to reproduce by a machine.

Unfortunately, they hadn’t thought of children like me back in the 1960s, when they tested their bears – I put my Steiff bear into a cement mixer (hey, it looks a bit like a washing machine!).

The poor creature lost most of its fur, but he was still my favourite toy and once helped me to run away from home…I was about three and folded him up, climbed on his broad back and legged it across a fence that was meant to keep me safely in a garden.

Replica of the teddy 55PB of Steiff

There’s a Steiff Museum, http://www.steiff.de, in Giengen/Brenz, just off the A7 motorway.

I think Nuremberg is probably the nearest airport. Bookings must be made beforehand online; the site is available in several languages, including English.

Castle Katzenstein is nearby, which is also worth a visit (http://www.burgkatzenstein.de/allgemein_geschichte.php?language=en).

Burg Katzenstein dates back to the 12th century and is a fun day out for all ages, certainly the type of place Willow and her friends would enjoy – not to mention Willow’s four-hundred-year-old dad Dylan, who’d be familiar with the type of costumes the staff wear at Castle Katzenstein!

Bears, it seems, have their own way of dealing with humans and below you’ll find a few links to videos that show the bear vs. human situation doesn’t always end in nasty humans winning the upper hand; sometimes bears have the last laugh, and quite right, too!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E2pzHh732Y0&NR=1&feature=fvwp

(featuring a silly German woman jumping into Berlin Zoo’s polar bear enclosure = no, it’s not me!)

http://www.bear.org/website/ for more information on bears

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Wild-for-Wildlife-and-Nature/279792438707552 (how to help wild life in general and bears in particular)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4XpF04nximI

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HS4CymP-aZg&feature=fvwp&NR=1

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ubZimS4E3F0&NR=1&feature=endscreen

(the latter video is featuring a fatal panda attack, not for the faint hearted!)

(all photographs sourced from Wikipedia, animation sourced via heathersanimations.com)

Who’s afraid of Fairy Tale Forests?

Forest lake in summer

Although strictly speaking, they are not a “creature of the night”, forests scare me…perhaps because traditionally they are the natural habitat of creepy, crawling, scary things?

Growing up in Northern Germany, one is rather blessed with an abundance of forests, mysterious lakes and rivers. Am I freaked out by forests because trees are sinister ancient beings, whispering behind my back, as I’m trying very hard not to be eaten by wolves?

Erm…no…they’ve all been slaughtered by mankind, so nothing scary left in that canine quarter. What about bears? Nope, they went the same hearth-rug way as the wolves. Perhaps it’s the wild boars that still roam the Northern German forests? Nope, they are quite shy creatures and usually run away.

So why am I scared? I blame it on literature. Forests in books are often depicted as quite anti-human. Think of the forest in Harry Potter, where gigantic spiders have made their home or the way Tolkien uses trees and the forest to actually go into battle in The Lord of the Rings.

There’s also Little Red Riding Hood herself…not to mention Hänsel and Gretl, whose plight terrified me as a child – and in Germany children get to read the Brothers Grimm stories as originally intended – for an adult audience – not the watered down Victorian translations published in the English language versions of the famous fairy tale collection. Witches are burnt in ovens, children get eaten and nasty stepmothers have to dance with hot irons strapped to their feet until they die…the original Brothers Grimm stories don’t show a lot of mercy to culprits, I’m afraid.

Stamp description / Briefmarkenbeschreibung De...

Image via Wikipedia

Trees…every one of them offering a huge living space for all manner of animals, from birds, mice, bugs, slugs, worms, spiders and other insects to mischievous spirits, dwarfs (Zwerge) and fairies. Trees should be viewed as friendly, life-giving beings. Their wood can be burned to keep us warm and safe. Yet, literature rarely seems to view them that way.

Getting lost in a forest – let’s face it, who hasn’t left the trail for a clandestine pee behind a tree – is an unpleasant experience. As soon as it gets dark on a winter’s afternoon, forests turn into something unutterably hostile…a veiled threat behind every pine branch, danger lurking behind every oak and underneath every upturned elm root…the primeval fear humans have of the unknown?

Vampires are rarely seen in forests – even Willow the Vampire is suspicious of the Sacred Grove and its magical properties. Forests are not exactly a good hunting ground either – there are far too few humans in them nowadays. Modern vampires like to hang out with the young, bright and beautiful things in cities…there are easy pickings among inebriated teenagers…

TV shows like True Blood are rather unusual in that they depict vampires living everywhere, including rural areas, where the loss of victim after human victim would soon flush out the supernatural being and earn them a stake through the heart for their trouble. Not that the vampire genre is based on logic, you understand.

When I started out writing Willow stories, I wanted them to take place in a rural setting. Small villages in the middle of nowhere are scary places, too, no matter how picturesque they might appear to the visiting tourist. Just like trees they sustain a multitude of life, but make no mistake, there’s real danger lurking in Stinkforth-upon-Avon’s community!

Are trees so ancient, they can no longer comprehend the feelings and thought processes of lesser “mortals”, even vampires, who can “live” their afterlife for centuries? Are small village societies so cut off from the rest of society that they make their own rules? I grew up in one, perhaps that’s why I chose a small village as the scariest of settings I could think of.