Death by Porridge – The Daneil Cave in the Harz: Legends and Geology
There are several large and a number of smaller caves in the Harz mountain range, from the dripstone caves in the karst area to those in the Buntsandstein layer in the northern Harz. One of the latter became famous for serving as abode to a gang of robbers in the late 16th century. The so-called Daneil's Cave lies in the Huy, a forested ridge between Quedlinburg and Halberstadt (today Saxony-Anhalt). And of course, legends developed around a historical kernel. The cave may have been a hermit's cell in the Middle Ages, and later it was used by brigands – legendary and real.
View to the Daneil's Cave
There once lived an evil brigand chief in a cave in the Huy. His men would put up wires with little bells across the paths that announced the arrival of an unfortunate merchant, journeyman or farmer, and sometimes a maid on her way to the market in Halberstadt. The robbers would then attack the unsuspecting victims, kill them and bury their bodies in the forest, and make away with their gold and goods back to the cave. The had put their horses's shoes on backside forward and thus deceived their pursuers.
View out of the cave
One day a lovely maid names Susanne walked along the fateful path to the town to pay her father's tithes to the bishop in Halberstadt. The robbers caught her for the coin she carried, but when Daneil beheld her beauty, he forbade them to kill the girl and instead forced her to be his wife and swear a holy oath never to betray their secret cave.
So Susanne lived with Daneil and his men, cooked, washed and cleaned for them. She bore Daneil several children, but never saw them again; the cruel man did not want a baby's crying to betray their hideout. After a long while, Daneil allowed Susanne to go for walks in the forest around the cave, and it was then that she saw the wires and bells and witnessed the brigands killing a merchant, and she knew at what price the gold and gems were bought.
Beech forest surrounding the cave
Scared, Susanne ran through the forest all the way to Halberstadt, but she had sworn an holy oath and dared not confess to people what had happened to her. Instead, she sank on her knees in front of the stone statue of Roland, protector of justice, and told him everything. But a member of the town council stood near a window in the hall and heard tale. He called for a priest who absolved Susanne of her oath, so she could freely speak of her ordeals and the brigands' lair.
The Roland Statue at the Town Hall in HalberstadtErected in 1433, the statue symbolizes the rights of market, coin and toll which the town held since the 10th century, and free trade (Halberstadt became member of the Hanseatic League in 1367).
The next day, a detachment of soldiers was sent to the cave, but Daneil, alerted by Susanne's absence, had sealed the cave so well that the soldiers could not fight a way in. Then they called all the burghers of Halberstadt and the inhabitants of the surrounding villages to bring flour and heat large cauldrons of water.
The was a small hole in the roof of the cave, and people began to pour porridge into the opening. After a while the laughter of the bandits changed to cries of pain, and then everything fell silent. When the cave was opened, they found Daneil and his men suffocated by porridge.
The existence of Daneil is a legend and his end, while spectacular, not realistic, but the cave did serve as hideout for bandits at times.
One notorious fellow who spent some time in the cave was a man nicknamed Thousand Devil of Halberstadt (Tausendteufel
von Halberstadt). He was finally captured in 1600 and brought before the bishop of Halberstadt and Duke Heinrich Julius of Braunschweig-Lüneburg. His real name was Simon Bingelhelm, and he and his men were responsible for a fair number of thefts from churches in Halberstadt, Quedlinburg and other towns, the arson of Drübeck Abbey, numerous murders and some rapes. Their activities stretched as far as Aschersleben and Salzwedel.
Passages in the cave
Simon was put to the torture and finally confessed to 71 crimes, some of which took place near the cave in the Huy. Most of them were actual crimes, but some ludicrous stories about stealing Christian children he then sold to a Jew (and killed in case the Jew wasn't interested) likely have been told under torture; they confirm the prejudices that Jews used Christian infants for nefarious purposes rather than presenting facts. There may be a tie-in with Susanne's disappearing or dead babies from the legend.
Simon was dragged to the court square by hooks and executed by quartering on June 2, 1600.
Entrance to the cave with hewn stones to the left
The cave has been washed out of a rock face of the Buntsandstein (another word English has pilfered from German; for geological details see below) during the Neogene or the Ice Ages. It consists of three connected chambers which have their own openings respective entrances. Traces like holes for beams, doorframes and wooden partitions are proof that the caves have indeed been inhabited and enlaregd by human hands. Today, the cave is classed as nature reserve.
Interior of the cave with Buntsandstein layers
The Buntsandstein where the cave is located developed as sedimentary rock during the Lower Triassic about 252 to 247 million years ago.
Even further back, the tectonic movements had pushed the continents of Euramerica (Laurussia), Gondwana, and some smaller plates together into the supercontinent Pangaea. The last steps of that process happened in the early Devonian, ca. 420 -390 million years ago. Part of the process was the Variscan orogeny which formed a number of mountain systems in North America and Europe, including the mountain ranges for example in Pembroke, the Ardennes and the Bohemian massiv in the east – and those mountains know as the German mittelgebirge
like the Black Forest, Taunus, the Rhine massif and the Harz.
View into the cave
During the late Permian, the Zechstein Sea flooded what is now northern Germany – as well as lowland Britain, Denmark and northern Poland – as result of the melting of glaciers and polar ice caps (260 – 252 million years ago), but Pangaea still stuck together. Remains of the Zechstein Sea can be found in the Karst landscapes
in the southern Harz.
By the time of the Lower Triassic, the Variscan mountain ranges had eroded, but they left kernels of old rocks behind (like the granite that later rose to the surface again in the Ilse's Rock
, or the quartz veined granite of the Rosstrappe Cliffs and the greywacke in the lower layers in the Bode Valley; see this post
Buntsandstein layers near the cave
At the end of the Permian, the Paleo-Thetys Ocean broke through in what is now southern Poland and flooded the Germanic Basin in an alluvial fan formation. This happened several times through the next millions of years, so the clastic material settled down and solidified in layers. The overall climate was continental and therefore arid, so there was little erosion and chemical weathering, therefore the Buntsandstein developed in a rather pure variant with few inclusions. The Bunter
than can be found in the respective geological strata in Britain developed the same way.
Outside wall of the cave
During the Middle Triassic, the global sea levels rose and a tropical sea now filled the Germanic Basin. It left behind a layer of musselkalk, the solidified version of reefs with chalcoid inhabitants like corals and mussels.
The Triassic is named for the three layers of different sedimentary rocks: Buntsandstein, musselkalk and Keuper
, black shale mixed with dolostones that was deposed in the Upper / Late Triassic (237-200 million years ago). Pangaea broke up and the climate became more humid, with monsoon like rains, and the sedimentary rocks mirror that change. The rain and the development of rivers led to a larger erosion that also afflicted the Buntsandstein and musselkalk strata; a development that continued during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods when the continents as we know them formed.
View out of the cave
During the Cretaceous (150-65 million years ago), the Harz began to rise again in what is called the Saxon Orogeny; a subdivision of the Alpine Orogeny. During the process, the Northern Harz Boundary Fault (Harznordrandverwerfung
) developed. It forms the border between the Harz proper and the German Basin or Norddeutsche Tiefebene
(a part of the older Germanic Basin). The Harz Block was thrust over the Triassic and Jurassic strata of the southern part of the basin and tilted those formations, while in the block itself granite and greywacke that even predate the Permian were uplifted. This process goes on today.
It is the geological reason for the Buntsandstein formations originating in the Germanic Basin that today can be found in the northern foothills of the Harz, including Daneil's Cave.
Pretty Houses in Cheb / Eger
I included an overnight stop in Cheb (also known by its German name Eger) on my way to Prague, for one because the town is the site of a 12th century palatine castle – which will get its own post – and because its proximity to other interesting places like Loket Castle and Karlovy Vary. Cheb also has a pretty town centre with historical houses, so I took a little walk with my camera.
Cheb (Eger), market square
Eger, situated in the borderlands between Germany and Bohemia, has been known by both names for a long time; a charte from 1374 mentions Egra in boemica lingua Cheb (Eger, which in the Bohemian language is called Cheb). The existence of the town – or settlement at that time – dates to a charte from 1061, then named 'Egire' for the river Eger at which is situated. In Czech, the river is called Ohře; the name Cheb may derive from a word for 'river bend'.
Market square from a different angle
There had been an old Slavic fortress on the promontory above the river, dating to 900 AD. After the land had been Christianised and colonised by German settlers, it became part of the Northern Shire (Nordgau) which belonged to Bavaria. Count Diepold II of Vohburg, Margrave of the Nordgau, erected a new castle on the old site about 1120. In 1167, the settlement of Eger and the Egerland came into posssession of the Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa who turned the castle into a palatine seat (1179) and gave Eger the rights of a town.
Cheb castle, the chapel (left) and Black Tower (right)
Eger received the Nuremberg Rights in 1242 (a variant of special rights for towns; the towns in the north I blogged about usually got the Lübeck or Magdeburg Rights); in 1277, it became an Imperial city (Reichsstadt), a privilege that granted Eger Imperial immediacy, placing the town under the direct authority of the Holy Roman Emperor and not some feudal lord. Later, Imperial cities would become members of the Imperial Diet and held a vote there. Eger also also erected town walls at that time.
Old houses in Eger
For the next step in the history of Eger, we need to have a look at some geneaology again. With the death of the last male heir in May 1254, the rule of the Staufen dynasty as German kings and Holy Roman emperors came to an end; it followed a period of elected kings, most of them without much actual power and influence (1). One candidate that stood out was Henry VII of House Luxembourg who was elected king in 1308 and Holy Roman Emperor in 1312, ending the long interregnum (2). The Luxembourgians would found another dynasty that provided several German kings and Holy Roman emperors.
About the same time, the Czech dynasty of the Přemyslids endend in the male line with the assassination of Václav (Wenceslas) III in 1306. His father Václav II had chosen Eger as location for his marriage to Judith of Habsburg, the daughter of Rudolf I of Germany, in 1285; an attempt to end the feud between the houses of Habsburg and Přemyslid. Václav II also had granted the rights of coinage to the town of Kutná Hora and initiated the time of prosperity of the town.
The New Town Hall from 1722, Italian Baroque
Henry of Luxembourg did not succeed in having his son John (born 1296, † at Crécy in 1346) elected as his successor, but he succeeded in establishing the young man as King of Bohemia. John married Elizabeth of Bohemia, one of the daughters of Václav II, and was accepted as king by right of his spouse in 1310 (3). Henry died unexpectedly in 1313, which brought several candidates for the German kingship out of the woodwork. John decided to forego his own claim and supported Ludwig of Bavaria, of House Wittelsbach against his rival Friedrich of Habsburg.
As compensation (4), Ludwig pawned out the town of Eger to the Bohemian Crown, though the town retained its status as Imperial City and its rights (charte from 1322). When John's son Charles IV united the crowns of Bohemia and Germany (both 1346), and became Holy Roman Emperor as well (1355), there was no need to redeem the pawn, and Eger remained part of Bohemia.
View from town square towards the pedestrian zone
Eger joined the Catholic coalition during the Hussite Wars (details see link about Kutná Hora above) and sent troops to support them on several occasions. A Hussite army on their way back from Nuremberg broke part of the town walls and plundered the town, but could be bribed into withdrawal (1430).
The market square – Place of King George of Podiebrad (Náměsti Krále Jiřího z Poděbrady) – is named after the 'Hussite' king George of Podiebrad who succeeded the last king of House Luxembourg, Ladislaus. He was elected king by the Estates of Bohemia in 1458, the only king not of an ancient and powerful noble family, though he was a member of the civilian patriciate. Eger played an important role during the reign of King Podiebrad; he also was the last king to reside in the palatine castle.
In 1459, George Podiebrad ended a long quarrel between Bohemia and the duchy of Saxony; the borders then defined are pretty much the same as today. One result of the negotiations was the marriage of George's daughter Zdenka (Sidonie) with Albert III 'the Courageous', Duke of Saxony, which was celebrated in Eger. Albert had an eye on the crown of Bohemia, but he failed to gain it after George's death in 1471 (who had proclaimed Vladislav, the son of Casimir IV Jagiełło, his heir).
The Špalíček on the Market Square
One of the famous vistas of Eger is the Špalíček on the market square, a group of Mediaeval houses. It grew out of a cluster of market booths of bakers, butchers, chandlers and such, but also a goldsmith, which had been erected there in the 13th century. Those timber stalls, often becoming part of a family's heritage, were eventually expanded into houses with a stone basement and upper floors in half-timbered style, making up in height for the limited layout. Later, some of the houses were connected inside, creating larger entities, though the distinct facades remain.
The Chandler's Lane in the Špalíček
The two blocks are separated by the 1,60 narrow Chandler's Lane. The outer walls of the houses are still mostly Gothic, only the corner houses have been altered with some Baroque elements. Walking through that lane gives you a distinctly Mediaeval feel.
An engraving from 1472 shows three rows of those houses, but the third group was dismantled in 1809 due to its bad shape. The other eleven buildings have been restored in the 1960ies.
The Špalíček, seen from the side
Eger joined the Lutherian Reformation in Bohemia which brought it in conflict with the Catholic emperors Rudolf II and Ferdinand II of Habsburg (emperor since 1619) who were also kings of Bohemia. After the short intermezzo of the unfortunate 'Winter King' Friedrich V of the Palatinate and his wife Elizabeth Stuart, and the defeat of the Protestant party at the Battle of the White Mountain in November 1620, the Counter-Reformation was introduced in Bohemia. By 1628, most Protestants had left Eger and other Bohemian towns.
Among those who left the town was the Lutherian major Alexander Pachelbel (he held the position 1620-1628) and his brother Wolf Adam. They were members of a patrician family; their father Wolfgang († 1620) had turned an old house in Eger, dating to 1390, into a fine Renaissance four wing residence with an inner yard. After the family left the town, the house came into possession of the – now Catholic – town council.
The Pachelbel House, the site of Wallenstein's assassination
The house became famous due to the fact that the Catholic general of Bohemain descent, Albrecht von Wallenstein, one of the most influential personalities of the Thirty Years War, stayed there several times during the various mannoeuvres of the war (in 1625, 1630, 1632 and 1634). Wallenstein was assassinated by minions of the Emperor Friedrich II in this house on February 25, 1634.
The house is a museum since 1873, but unfortunately, it was closed for renovation when I visited Eger. I was a bit sad, since Wallenstein is a character who has fascinated me for years and I would have liked to see the room where he was killed.
After Wallenstein's death, the house came into possession of the Jesuites until 1735, then it became the residence of the Austrian town commander. Wolf Adam of Pachelbel never returned to Eger, but he fought – in vain – for the town to regain Imperial immediacy during the negotiatins of the Peace of Westphalia. He died in 1649, only a few months after the Thirty Years War had ended.
More pretty houses: Gabler House (left) and Schirndinger House (right)
There are some more outstanding houses in Eger. The Gabler House (photo above; the one with the red decorations) has a pretty Rococo facade dating to the 18th century. It too, had been in possession of the Jesuits in the 17th century.
The Schirndinger House is the only Gothic patrician residence in Eger that remained unaltered since the 15th century when the facade with the stepped gable and the portal was added. The house itself dates to the 13th century.
Closeup Schirndinger House
The house got a new layer of paint in autumn 2014. The colour has led to a vivid dispute, since the choice of that charcoal tone met with a fair amount of disapproval, being deemed too dark. The expert of the National Monument Institute, Jakub Chaloupka, said that old layers of cast had been discovered which all showed that almost black colour. But old postcards show the house with a paint that looks more a dark red, therefore critics assume that the black colour was caused by soot and weathering. It would be unlikely that a rich patrician chose such an unattractive colour to paint his house. Personally, I agree that a dark red might have been the more likely version (5), since it was a pretty expensice colour.
A smaller square in the old town
At the end of the Thirty Years War, Eger was occupied by a Swedish army which left after the peace. As result of the war, lands were redistributed and some borders changed. The crown lands of Bohemia remained with the Austrian Empire; Eger became a garrison town. A fired destroyed part of the town in 1809, including a number of Mediaeval buildings.
Baroque beauties: Limbeck House (the white one to the left), now Tourist Information, and Grüner House (the red one to the right; 6)
After WW1, Czechoslovakia was founded and Eger / Cheb became part of it; still with a large percentage of a German population. This was one of the reasons that the Egerland and the Sudetenland were adjudged to Germany at the Treaty of Munich in September 1938, and occupied by German troops. On April 25 1945, the 97. US Infantry Division conquered Eger; the understaffed German troops surrendered or 'disappeared'. Soon thereafter, the town was handed over to the Sovjet army as a result of the Treaty of Potsdam. After WW2, Cheb became part of Czechoslovakia; the German population was evicted.
Today, German tourists are welcome again.
Closeup of some fine half timbered work in the Špalíček
1) Among them was Richard of Cornwall, 1257-1272, a son of King John of England and brother-in-law to the Staufen Emperor Friedrich II, whose third wife was John's daughter Isabella of England, though they only had a daughter.
2) Some sources date the end of the interregnum to the election of Rudolf I of Habsburg as king in 1273, but Rudolf was never crowned as emperor.
3) After he ousted Henry of Carinthia who ruled – with little success – by right of his marriage to an elder daughter of Václav II, Anna, who died childless in 1313, thus ending any claim by Henry of Carinthia.
4) There were more details to the agreement, of course, like the support of the emperor re. the Bohemian claims to Silesia and the Polish Crown.
5) We had a similar discussion in Göttingen in the 1990ies when the decorations of a Mediaeval house were repainted with an old receipe including ox blood. The colour came out very different from what people had been used to for many years, but it has faded a bit now and looks less aggressively red.
6) The German writer and polymath Johann Wolfgang von Goethe visited the city councillor Josef Sebastian Grüner, who lived in the house in first half of the 19th century, several times during his many sojourns in western Bohemia. They shared an interest in geology and mining.