Saturday, March 10, 2012

Cologne Part 4: Great St. Martins Church & Heinzelmännchen Fountain

A beautiful example of Roman architecture, Great St. Martin Church is nestled in a square of restaurants and shops on the riverbank.  Its foundations rest on remnants of a Roman chapel (circa 960 AD).  The church, like everything else, was badly damaged by bombings.  Restorations were completed in 1985.*

Another unique landmark of downtown Cologne is the Heinzelmännchen Fountain.  The fountain depicts a well known folktale from the area in which, in times past, tiny elf-like men sneaked into the homes of deserving townspeople at night to finish any work left undone.  According to the tale, the people of Cologne had easy lives, awaking to find their chores already complete, until one night a curious housewife caught the Heinzelmännchen at work, scaring the little helpers away forever.  Below you can see the housewife in the center, lantern in hand, as she discovers the little men at work.  In the panels along the bottom of the fountain the Heinzelmännchen are shown completing various tasks for the townspeople.

Here is one version of the tale, translated from a German poem written in 1987 by V B Postreiter Verlag, Halle -- 

How comfortable it used to be at Cölln 
With the Heinzelmännchen there! 
If one was lazy 
One just rested on a bench and took it easy. 
They came by night before one even thought about it: 
The little men - and they swarmed 
And clapped, made noise, and plucked and pulled, 
And hopped and trotted, polished and scraped. 
And before a lazy fellow woke up 
His entire day's work was done.

For the baker master there was no problem: 
The Heinzelmännchen baked the bread. 
The lazy lads lay down, 
And the Heinzelmännchen became active - 
And strained with the heavy sacks, 
And kneaded thoroughly 
And weighed it precisely, 
And lifted and shoved and swept and baked 
And knocked and chopped (wood to heat the oven). 
The lads snored in unison 
While the fresh bread already came out.

At the butcher the same thing happened: 
Journeyman and apprentice, both at rest. 
Meanwhile came the little people 
And chopped up the pig every which way! 
This all went so quickly, like the mill in the wind. 
They chopped with the ax, 
And carved and skewered, 
They washed and ground, they blended and mixed, 
And stuffed and cleaned up. 
As soon as the apprentice opened his eyes - 
Wapp! The sausage was hanging ready to be sold.

The carpenters stretched themselves 
Out on the shavings and relaxed. 
In the meanwhile came the band of ghostly spirits 
And saw what was to be done. 
They quickly took up chisel and ax and saw; 
They sawed and pierced and planed and broke, 
Plastered and domed and trimmed,   
Glued parts together as tight as hawks 
And put the beams into place. 
Before the carpenter knew what happened, 
Klapp, The whole house was finished!

In a tavern it was like this: 
The wine and barrel maker drank until he slumped down 
At an empty barrel and fell asleep. 
The little people cared for the wine 
And sulfured all the barrels. 
And rolled and lifted with winches and pulleys 
And swayed and sank and poured 
And stomped on the grapes, 
And mixed and tasted. 
And before the cellar master woke up, 
The wine was already perfected and well-made!

One time a tailor had a serious problem: 
The ceremonial coat was supposed to be ready; 
He just lay down on his ear and took it easy. 
So they slipped in eagerly 
Unto the tailor's table 
And cut and arranged, 
And sewed and pinned and fastened and fitted, 
And smoothed and inspected 
And plucked and pulled. 
And before our tailor awoke, 
The mayor's coat was already finished!

Curious was the tailor's wife 
And found herself a way to pass the time: 
She scattered some peas the next night. 
The Heinzelmännchen came cautiously: 
One tripped, fell down in the house, 
They slipped down the steps 
And plopped into vats! 
They fell with a bang, 
They hollered and screamed and cursed! 
She jumped at the noise with a light: 
Husch, husch, husch - they all vanished!

Oh my! Now they are all gone, 
And none of them are still here in this place!
One can no longer rest as before, 
One must do everything for himself! 
Every one must 
Be industrious himself, 
And scrape and polish 
And run and trot and dress and iron 
And pound and chop and cook and bake. 
Oh, that it would be again as it was back then! 
But this beautiful time will never come back again!**


  1. the story reminds me of the shoemaker and the elves. i'm guessing that's the origin of it. i find the idea of fountains depicting folktales amazing.

    1. That's what I assumed, too. The stories are very similar.

  2. what a great town.... thanks for taking us on your adventure!

    1. It was wonderful! Glad you enjoyed it. :)


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