Klara Hahn watercolor fairytale illustration about the mermaid melusina from luxembourg

Melusina - Luxembourg

Many hundreds of years ago a noble knight, Count Siegfried, lived at Körich Castle. Once he lost his way while hunting, and toward evening he found himself in a narrow, deep, and wildly overgrown valley. This was the Valley of the Alzette at the place where today the suburbs of Luxembourg City picturesquely blend with the cliffs. Rising before him, the count could see sheer rock cliffs, upon which stood the ruins of an ancient Roman castle. Suddenly the sounds of wonderful singing fell upon the startled knight’s ears. After listening for a time, the count hurried in the direction that the sounds were coming from, and soon he discovered a maiden sitting among the castle’s ruins. Captivated by her beauty, he stood still. It was Melusina, the Nixie of the Alzette. With a fixed gaze Siegfried stared at the otherworldly vision. Seeing the handsome knight, the maiden covered her face with her green veil, then disappeared with the last rays of the evening sun. Overcome with fatigue, Count Siegfried lay down beneath a tree and fell asleep. The next morning the song of a bird awoke him from a blissful dream. He got up and followed the river. He soon found himself in the familiar vicinity of Weimerskirch, and from there he returned straight away to his homeland.

The vision of the beautiful maiden and her wonderful singing had mightily captivated the count’s soul. He often returned to the place, now very dear to him, in order to see her and hear her again. Once he met her in the valley, for she took pleasure in the count’s visits, and she had fallen in love with the handsome knight. He rushed toward her, declared his love for her, and asked her to become his wife. She consented under the condition that she not be required to leave the cliffs, and that he would never ask to see her on Saturdays, when she wished to be alone. Under oath the count promised this to her.

Siegfried entered into an agreement with the Abbot of St. Maximin near Trier to trade the former’s fruitful commune of Feulen near Ettelbruck for the latter’s infertile rocky cliffs and their surrounding woodlands. Because it would have taken years of time and great expense to build a castle on the rocky cliffs, where he could take Melusina home as his wife, Siegfried gladly accepted the help of Satan, who offered to build the castle for him and make him exceedingly wealthy if the count would surrender himself after thirty years. At the top of the cliffs a magnificent castle appeared overnight, proudly looking down on the valley below.

Siegfried married the beautiful Melusina and lived happily with her. Melusina presented him with seven children. However, every Saturday the nixie remained hidden from all eyes, retiring to her room and locking the door. This proceeded for many long years without her husband asking her what she was doing on those days. However, his friends, who with time learned about the situation, planted seeds of distrust in the count against his good wife. Now, at any price, Siegfried wanted to know why Melusina withdrew from him every Saturday. The next Saturday he secretly approached her room. From inside he could hear the sound of rushing and splashing water. Looking into the room through the keyhole he saw his wife in her bathtub combing her long blond hair with a golden comb. Her beautiful limbs ended with a horrible fishtail, with which she was splashing waves. The count uttered a cry of horror, and in the same moment Melusina sank into the depths of the cliffs. Siegfried had lost her forever.

Golden Eel - Bruges

Long ago, when the Golden Handrei was still called the Sint-Gillisreitje, the water of the canals was so pure that it was filled to the brim with all kinds of fish. You only had to throw your net in to the water and within minutes it would be filled miraculously with perch, bream, pike, carp, roach and eel. There was a lot of fishing going on in the canals. But it was generally known, to better stay away from eel. The eel looks like a snake-like creature, that lazily lay under the mud all day and only comes out at night. The animal must therefore be possessed by the devil the people of Bruges said. There was an unwritten law that prohibited fishing for eels. You better not get the devil out of the water …

Now there was a man, it is said that he came from Lissewege, who did not care much about those laws and traditions. One evening he laid a trap in the Sint-Gillisreitje. The next morning, he picked it up full of winding eels. His eyes sparkled with pleasure because he caught so many delicious fish. His wife would make a nice mess of it. They would not have to fear for a hungry stomach for a few days.

To his surprise he saw that there was also a beautiful golden-yellow eel winding between the others. Curious, he lifted the trap a little higher to hoist the golden eel on dry land. As he was pulling the fish out, a strong, golden hand suddenly arose from the water. It grabbed the fisherman by the ankle and dragged him into the water. No one has ever heard anything from the poor wretch and since then the inhabitants of Lisseweg have been called mockingly “the eel catchers”.

watercolor illustration Klara Hahn: multicolored eels. Text: not all that glitters is gold. Fairytale: golden eel - bruges

Romeo & Juliet - Verona

Verona is in general known as the setting for the shakespearean drama. The balcony of Juliet is a tourist magnet. I asked a lot of locals if they knew any legends about the city. Nobody could tell me one. Online i didn’t find specific ones either, so i looked in to the Romeo and Juliet Story, everybody seems to be crazy about. The story about the tragic lovers was no original by Shakespeare. Back than it was “chic” to copy themes from Italian stories. Tales exist because of reason, for example to warn young children to stay in at night. Legends additionally often are centered around true events or involve famous people from the past. 

Tho the Casa di Julietta with her statue, grave and balcony and the  lesser known Casa di Romeo want us to believe the lovers were real people, that’s not true. In the time the stories were written, there was a family feud: Italy was divided by the Ghibellines and the Guelphs. The influential families in every city swore their allegiance to one of those factions. Everyone who had something to do with the rivaling family was a enemy too. So the starcossed lovers with there intrusive families could have been from everywhere in Italy.

But Shakespeare might still have taken inspiration for real life. Some Shakespearean scholars believe that the writers patron, Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, inspired Shakespeare’s Romeo. Henry’s  stepmother was a descended from the Viscount Montagu. Sounds a lot like Montague. Henry Wriothesley had an unapproved relationship with Elizabeth Vernon. Queen Elizabeth I was not amused about their marriage, the queen put them both in jail as their union was a political threat to her reign.  Unlike the real Romeo and Juliet, the Wriothesley and Vernon were later released and  lived “happily ever after” outside prison.

Casanova - Venice

Giacomo Casanova was a real person but already in his time a literal legend. He is a lot like the Venice - the city - itself, especially in his time. The republic of Venice  and its capital in the 18th century was a cultural seductive epicenter with ruthless politicians and colorful celebrities.  eared  One can say many things about Casanova: lover, asshole, hero, rapist, seducer, etc. I mean the word Casanova is still in use today to describe a person who romances everybody. 

Born 1725 to two actors, Gaetano Casanova and Zanetta Farussi, he not only inherited his acting skills but also mother/father complex. Left by his mother at a young age to tour Europe,   and his father died. As a child a “witch” treated him for his nosebleeds and told him he’d be visited by a beautiful stranger. Later that night, a dazzling woman climbed down the chimney and spoke to him in words he couldn’t understand, and kissed him. In his book L’Histoire de Ma Vie – The Story of My Life he writes that this was the first of many times, a woman’s touch changed the course of his life. His health improved & in less than a month he learned to read. Casanova said about himself: “I was born for the sex opposite to mine”.

Casanovas life was filled with wondrous, adventurous stories like that.  That’s why the lines between reality and fiction get blurred when it comes to Casanova and years, hundreds of years, later people still are obsessed with him. Despite reaching impressive heights in society for his station, Giacomo Casanova’s connections couldn’t buy him freedom — or innocence. In 1753 he returned to Venice but had to run from the inquisition. He got arrested but he pulled off one of the greatest jailbreaks in history on Halloween 1756. Next he turned his back on Venice to continue a life of unapologetic debauchery else where.

Stone Bridge - Regensburg

In the rich city of Regensburg there once lived two master builders who were known up and down the land for their skill and their daring constructions. They loved to compete. No one could say which Master was the better. One day, when one of them was commissioned to build a cathedral in Regensburg and the other to build a bridge over the river Danube, the cathedral builder said to the bridge builder: “If nobody wants to tell us which one of us is the better builder, let’s find out for ourselves. If the first mass is held in my cathedral, before one can travel on dryfoot to town over your bridge, you must admit that I am the best.“ „It won’t come to that, because my bridge will certainly be finished before your cathedral”, said the other one, but took up the bet. As a symbol, they agreed on three gold taler, shook hands and set out to outperform the other.

As soon as the bridge builder arrived at the Danube, he wanted to get started. It was clear to him that his bridge would be the far more imposing structure. After all, it would be the only way between Ulm and Vienna where you could cross the Danube without a boat. That was probably more extraordinary than a church like you could find one in every city. So,
 - full of energy - he immediately began his preparations. Although he had begun building the bridge in a warm summer, a rainy autumn soon followed. The Danube rose and the river current tore already built parts of the bridge with it. In the cold, icy winter it was difficult to continue working on the bridge. Slowly, the bridge builder began to question his plan. And the coming spring and even the summer didn’t bring any nicer weather.

So the bridge builder from the Danube had to watch the cathedral grow, while his own project hardly progressed. Gradually he became more and more hopeless. Could he still catch up with the head start that the cathedral builder now had? Or he’d have to give up because of the terrible weather. Desperately, he pulled his hair. No solution was in sight.

One evening, when he was already exhausted from the hard work in his workshop, he had an idea. If not the devil - the smartest scoundrel in the world - who could help him? And as if called, he suddenly heard a hiss and the smell of sulphur penetrated the air. The flames in the dining room flared up, and a rough, deep voice spoke to him: “You and I, we both don’t have to fool ourselves, we both know you’re the better builder. But isn’t it a bit unfair that building a cathedral is such an easier  task? He doesn’t have to keep wrestling with the masses of water all the time, rebuild layers and bridge pillars, only because up there someone can’t close the heavenly gates and it pours in streams.” The bridge builder was a bit uncomfortable about the sudden appearance of the Devil. Nevertheless, he had to agree with the Prince of Hell.

The Devil laughed happily: “Let me make you an offer. I will help you finish your bridge before the conceited cathedral master can his little church. All you have to do is promise me the first three souls to cross your bridge.” After a short hesitation, the bridge builder closed the deal with the Devil.

After this exciting evening, the bridge builder immediately fell asleep in his workshop, woke up the next day and wondered if he had only dreamed what had happened. But from now on there was no cloud to be seen in the sky when he and his companions went to work, and the river bed did not hold any surprises in store, and the flow of the Danube subsided. The bridge grew stone by stone so fast that it soon caught up with the church. And the construction of the cathedral was plagued by misfortune. One time the wrong stones were delivered, another time they started building a chapel on the wrong side. So it happened that the Steinerne Brücke was finished and the cathedral did not even have a second tower. Grinding his teeth, the cathedral builder had to agree that the bridge builder had won the bet.

On the day of the opening of the bridge, everything that had rank and name gathered in front of the Stone Bridge. The citizens of Regensburg couldn’t wait to enter this marvel themselves and walk from Regensburg to Stadt am Hof without any effort. At the front of the crowd stood the three highest officals of the city. They wanted to cross the new bridge first. The builder stood at the front of the fence and was flattered that so many people had come to admire his masterpiece when the familiar smell of sulphur appeared.

The bridge builder became frightened, having forgotten that he still owed the devil his share of the bargain. Nervously, he looked behind him at the three city officals and the crowd of people pushing forward to set foot on the bridge. Just as the mayor was about to cut the ribbon to open the bridge, the bridge builder stopped him. He took his hat off his head with a heavy heart, waved it in front of his dog’s nose and threw it on the bridge, so the dog chased after it as he always did. But one soul was not enough. The bridge builder grabbed a hen and a rooster, who were picking grains between  the crowd, and hurry the feathered cattle over the stone bridge.

Meanwhile the Devil hid under the bridge and rubbing his hands with anticipation, looking forward to his promised souls. When he saw the animals, he foamed with anger, grabbed them and tried to tear down the bridge. He stood in the middle of the bridge and pressed against it with all his might. But the Devil had helped the builder so much that even he could not bring down the bridge. Roaring with anger, he jumped into the Danube. And where he disappeared, the Danube swirls, which are still known today, were created.

Fat agnes - Regensburg

In the free city of Regensburg lived Klara, the daughter of a tinsmith, who was usually called the “Liebfrauenbildlein”; because she was exceedingly beautiful in face and figure. She grew up to be, god-fearing, devote and honourable, as it befits a fine virgin.

One Sunday, when she returned home from the early mass, it happened that a stately nobleman came in her way; he was dressed in velvet and precious finery and wore a heavy gold chain on his chest and a beret with big feathers on his head. And when he saw the lovely maiden, he stopped and looked after her, almost shocked, until she went around the corner. The next Monday, according to her habit, Klara was at mass at St. Cassian’s, and when she stepped out of the church, the nobleman stood there and greeted her. And on Tuesday he greeted her again and suddenly put a little letter into her hand. Hence the virgin blushed deeply and thought she was holding a glowing coal between her fingers. But she did not want to drop the letter in fear of the gossip. Instead she carefully hid it in her scarf, with the intention of throwing it into the fire at home. And if she had done so, she would have been spared great suffering.

But in her small chamber she thought different, because she liked the delicately folded parchment, but especially the gold embroidered ribbon with which it was wrapped. And as she was pondering and turning the little letter back and forth in her hand, suddenly a little voice, like the chirping of a cricket, said to her: “Well, you foolish thing, why do you hesitate so long? Hot off the press! Dead letters don’t bite.” But whoever spoke like this? It was a tiny, barely inch-high woman, crouching in a corner at the fireplace. At first the maiden was horrified by the spook; but because the little one seemed to be untroubled and even acted friendly, she let herself be persuaded and reached for the scissors. And at the moment the tape was cut, the woman grew one finger length higher.

On Wednesday, Klärchen did not go to mass, but locked herself in her chamber as if she were ill. In the meantime, however, she looked for the letter again and read how the nobleman had developed a fierce love for her and could never let go of her and wanted to serve her as an honourable, honest suitor. Such a thing was written in the letter with even fancy words. And while she was still reading, the woman appeared again and cried, “Listen, my daughter! Don’t you hear the sound of spurs in the alley?” And Klärchen hurried to the window and saw the nobleman walking along. He noticed her hiding behind the curtain, because the lovesick have hawk’s eyes. And he greeted up, and she greeted down. But the woman giggled up her sleeve and was growing as high as a shoe, even though it had only been finger-length before.

Thursday, during the meal, the tinsmith scolded his daughter, “You dream in broad daylight and throw more salt into the soup than my palate would like, and the cat steals the meat from the pot before your very eyes.” Towards evening, in the twilight, the woman came back and carried a box of ebony under her arm and said, “Take it. It’s a memento from your suitor.” But Klara stepped back and replied: “Go away, temptress! A virtuous virgin shall not take gifts.”

Then the woman departed grumbling; but at the door she turned around again and said, “A gift is better than a purchase. Think well and see what you despise.” With these words the little woman opened the box, and – o glory! – 
Inside was a magnificent necklace of vain gold and richly set with pearls and precious stones. The flickering and sparkling enchanted Klärchen and her eyes began to sparkle too. She took the box and stepped in front of the mirror and enjoyed the finery very much. The woman applauded and shouted: “Now you may carry your nose as high as the Countess Monika does.” 

On Friday they went so far that the nobleman climbed over the garden wall in the darkness and came into the alcove for a little chat. – The little woman was already a cubit high today. – The nobleman talked quite intimately with the tinsmith’s daughter and told her even more beautiful things than he had written in the letter. Meanwhile the woman kept watch at the entrance of the alcove, and – lo and behold! – with every word of love and every handshake it grew an inch in height and an inch in thickness.
And when the couple stepped out of the alcove on Saturday, there stood a superhuman-sized woman with the circumference of a beer barrel. Klara was frightened and screamed, “What are you doing here, you brute?”; But the giantess just laugh loud and replied: “How, my daughter, do you not know your old friend anymore? I am Fat Agnes, and you have kept me well and fed me so much that I, at first a tiny thumb, have grown so tall and fat.”

It is to be known, however, that the fat Agnes was a hellish ghost, which was roaming the city at the time. Initially in the form of a thumb-length woman, it lured people from the right path by those idom and common phrases that guilty pleasure uses to gloss over its actions. And where it was not banned by prayer and devoutness, it stayed like a vampire and sucked itself full and prospered and grew to a ghastly monster.

Klärchen, poor Klärchen: After the nobleman had had his amusement with her for some time, he left her, not bothered by her reproaches and tears, and married the daughter of a rich family. Same things happened to other virgins who had been involved with Agnes, and some of them fell so low that their names were later found in the register of the Reichstag, who, as is well known, was entrusted with the care of the travelling prostitutes. As far as the menfolk were concerned, the ghost especially seduced young people, who had untold amounts of money in their fingers. It whispered in their ear: “A few pennies will not harm your Lord – he does not feel it. A penny ain’t a silver coin!” Several of these bewitched journeymen started just with a grab into the cash register and ended up as highwaymen.

Such moral corruption made the wise council of Regensburg very much concerned, and they seriously thought about how to master the spook. Physical weapons, however, did not work on him, and so the venerable Minorite Monks were approached for aiding and abetting. According to the legend, they did not easily banish the ghost into the deep cellar of a desolate house at Bäckenspreng. It could still be heard whimpering and groaning for many years afterwards, to the horror of everyone passing by, in the time between the sounds of prayer and the crow of the rooster.