Sarah Weik / Übersetzung: Dorothée LanghoffChristian Buck

Little Odenwald, Great myths

Water maids and witches millers, white women and green hunters—the Little Odenwald is a legendary place. Miriam and Peter Seisler went on a research adventure to find old stories from around their home region Schönbrunn and they have found more than expected. Now, they take care that these stories don’t fall into oblivion again.

Once you follow Miriam and Peter Seisler into the Little Odenwald, mystical creatures will keep you company soon. Such as the Poppele that nobody has ever seen—but heard. When it moves through the woods here, it sound like a stick put between the spokes of a bike: “Tock. Tock. Tock.” Peter stands still and listens to the forest. Withered leaves rustle under his feet, some mist wafts between the trees and morning rain drips from the leaves. There is no “tocking” today. But nobody would be surprised if there was one. Because the couple tell the legends of the mystical creatures in their home region so passionately and lovingly as if they knew each of them personally.

The Kirchl: A place of power for Miriam und Peter Seisler.

The couple is standing close to the Kirchl, a late Gothic pilgrimage chapel, not far from the Schönbrunn municipality. The Höhenweg path from Eberbach to Aglasterhausen used to run along here. Today, however, the little church is surrounded by oak trees and little firs and stands right in the middle of the forest. For Miriam it is a place of power, a place where she can recharge her batteries. “No matter how stressful the day is: Every time I come to the Kirchl, I am able to unwind. It exudes such a pleasant sense of calm.” The site has not always been a Christian place of worship. Miriam and Peter are convinced that people have come and gathered here since time immemorial to worship saints and deities, long before a chapel was “placed on top” by the Church. Such steeped-in-legend places of power exist everywhere in the Odenwald. And the two explorers have become experts in tracking down these sites and their stories.

The passion for history brought Miriam and Peter together.

It was the passion for history that brought them together. They first met at Karfunkel-Verlag publisher’s, who published the “Zeitschrift für erlebbare Geschichte” (magazine for tangible history) of the same title. Miriam was an editing assistant and Peter completed a period of training there. Why of all did he go to this rather particular publishing house? His wife laughs: “Because he is very particular as well.” Peter smiles. The Middle Ages, role-playing games and the fantastic and mystical world have always fascinated him. Today, they live in an old farmhouse with groaning wood located in the Schönbrunn part of town called Schwanheim—together with their three children, a dog and a cat. It is located close to the village that Miriam grew up in: Allemühl.

“We always took our children out into the woods or to one of the numerous castles that line up through the Neckar valley,” Miriam explains. To make the trips more exciting, also for their children, she used to investigate the history of the castle beforehand and her husband used to present it there. “We have seen them all, be it Minneburg or Burg Stolzeneck. The more adventurous getting there and the more decayed, the better.” In her research, Miriam came across the steeped-in-legend Burg Hundheim close to Neckarhausen. “I thought: What? I thought this castle doesn’t actually exist,” she recalls the scene. But the family collected clues indicating its existence and finally went looking for it with some maps at hand. “We disturbed a horde of wild boar when we got there,” says Peter laughing. Finally, they found the old castle—right in the middle of the forest. “Or what was left of it, rather.”

 “I wanted to record the stories of my home region”

This sparked their urge to research. Old books and maps began to pile up in their home. Miriam shows us some of them: an old book of pictures about the Odenwald, a book with Hessian legends from 1853, another one containing the Odenwald midwinter figures drawn in on self-made maps by an amateur historian that meticulously documented, which figure used to bring presents in which village. “Incredible, right?” she says quietly and strokes the old, yellowed pages. She discovered most of the books, many of which are unique pieces, online in the Zentrales Verzeichnis Antiquarischer Bücher (central register of antiquarian books). “She is our truffle pig,” says Peter and laughs. The deeper she delved into the subject and the more legends and stories she collected, the more she realized that there was a blind spot: “We couldn’t find a book of legends particular to our home region—the Little Odenwald.”

An old book containing the Odenwald midwinter figures drawn in on self-made maps.

They decided to change this reality. “As a matter of fact, people mainly refer to the Hessian part of the Odenwald when they talk about it. The Baden part is somewhat neglected,” says Miriam. “But I do feel like an Odenwald local and I wanted to record the stories of my home region.” So she started to search specifically for legends about the Little Odenwald in old books—and has found a surprisingly large number of them. “They added up to 25 legends just in our little community here.”

The Kirchl, a late Gothic pilgrimage chapel, not far from the Schönbrunn municipality.

Some of which she knew already from when her father and grandfather told her stories. “My grandpa used to advise me not to come home late, because otherwise Nachtkrabb would come and get me. This was one of the creatures they scared children with.” He also told her the story of the Hexenmüller (witches miller), who would cast a spell on the game in Allemühl to make it more easy to shoot. Miriam found a number of legends about white, helpful women, such as the kind water maids from Aglasterhausen, who lived in the bathhouse well and would bake a cake or two for hard-working men. Finally they noted all legends down, thus creating the book “Zauber, Spuk und Wasserfräulein” (magic, spook and water maids), which they published at their own expense. “And it became an overnight sensation, says Miriam. “I luved it!”

“She is our truffle pig,” says Peter about his wife.

We came up with the idea for another book soon afterwards. About a “matter very close to the heart” for Miriam: women’s legends from the Odenwald. “There used to be so many strong female figures, goddesses and priestesses. They were good creatures that were admired and worshipped—until the Church came to demonize these women and to make them evil and deceitful figures.” Miriam’s intention was to give these women back “their” stories. Together with her husband, she criss-crossed the Odenwald in search of women’s places of power. She shows us some pictures of wells overgrown by moss and mysterious springs. She doesn’t want to reveal where the places are in order to protect them from large numbers of visitors. “These places will reveal themselves to whom are meant to find them,” says Miriam with a bit of a defiant tone. “And this works only through the legends and not by means of a map or Instagram.”

“The stories ground you. They tell you about your roots”, says Peter.

Peter reports on the many aha moments they had during their research: “In the legends, you find so many elements that you can see in other cultural environments as well. In Celtic telling or Nordic mythology. There is lots of interconnection, it is all linked together.” Not least because of this fact he finds it important to collect and record these legends. “The stories ground you. They tell you about your roots and connect you with the world of the people, who used to live here much earlier.” They are working on their third book now. It is about the Rauhnächte (‘rough nights’ following Christmas) and Weihenächte (Christmas Eve) in the Odenwald. “We are not least doing it for our children,” says Miriam. “We want to keep and pass on these stories. They will be lost, if we don’t record and guard them—it would be a treasure lost.”


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