These stories appeared in Germany sometime before 1500. The first known English translation was completed in 1515 and consisted of 95 tales. It has been speculated that the author, about whom nothing is known, only wrote some of them and the rest were collected from other sources.
Eulenspiegel is rumored to have been a real person but almost nothing is known about him. Those stories that did become public over the years were very popular because he wasn’t just a simple fool but rather a prankster who purposely found ways to make trouble. He wandered throughout Germany into towns and villages and upset every one he came in contact with.
I ran across a recently published book containing a small collection of these stories while on a business trip to Germany. The book opened with a “Foreword”. My translation of it and the stories follows.
Dear reader, even those of you who have never been to a circus know what a clown is. You know a clown is someone who does funny things, is dressed in colorful and funky clothes, has a very curiously painted face and who makes us laugh.
In a circus, a clown is always running along in back of prancing horses – then tries to hop into the air only to fall on the sandy floor and do a somersault. He tries to do a great magic trick only can’t seem to make it work. And while all the clowns are always doing everything backwards and wrong, you can’t help but laugh while watching them.
Now, try to imagine this, just such a clown left the circus one day and started walking through the countryside. He had no money, not a penny, and had not told the circus ringmaster or anyone else that he was leaving. All he was wearing was his crazy costume. He had no suitcase, no walking cane, had no real schooling, parents he could scarcely remember and no rich relatives either.
He simply walked away from the circus grounds and wandered down the country lane through woods and fields until he came to another small village. There he saw a big, fat baker standing in front of the open door to his bakery. The baker saw him coming down the street and muttered, loud enough for the clown to hear him, “Will you look at that! What a strange looking person this is!”
“Are you referring to me?” said the clown, “Why, I happen to be a wandering baker’s assistant. Would you by any chance have some work for me?”
Sounds crazy doesn’t it, that the clown would say that. But what was even crazier is that the baker hired him on the spot – someone who had never in his entire life baked any bread or rolls or even kneaded dough, much less baked any apple turnovers. It’s hard to imagine what he was going to do.
You and I know he was going to make trouble for the baker, nothing but trouble, and then the unsuspecting baker would have to fire him leaving him to continue on his wandering. And that’s exactly what happened.
By and by he arrived at another little village where a shoemaker who was standing in the door of his shop saw him and called out, “Hey, and what kind of person might you be?” “Me?” answered the clown, “Why I am a wandering shoemaker’s apprentice.”
Hearing this the shoemaker said, “My Oh My! That is wonderful. My assistant is in the hospital. Come in. Come in. By tomorrow morning I have to have new soles put on twenty pairs of boots.”
Of course, the clown knew absolutely nothing about making or repairing shoes so you can imagine how mad the shoemaker was when, after having tried all night to have the clown resole the boots, all that he managed to do is ruin more than what he repaired.
Can you believe that there could be such an unusual and funny person as the clown? No? Well, believe me it is the truth! Of course, he lived a long time ago. In the Middle Ages, 600 years ago, there was a circus clown who traveled all through Germany causing trouble and being a nuisance wherever he went. He was such a trouble maker that his countrymen would be left seeing red whenever he showed up.
The clown’s name was Till Eulenspiegel. While he was with the circus the trick he was best at was balancing and dancing on the high wire. But he never enjoyed performing in a circus or at fairs because he didn’t like that people laughed at him. He would rather do things that would let him laugh at people. So he left the circus and wandered up and down the German countryside and, given a chance, quickly agreed to any kind of work offered him in trades that he knew absolutely nothing about. In order, he was a baker, shoemaker, tailor, sentry, fortuneteller and doctor; ironsmith, cook and pastor; carpenter; butcher, coal stoker, and a University professor. There is hardly a trade or profession he didn’t try his hand at and not a single one he could learn to do.
So, Till Eulenspiegel was not only the greatest clown of all time, but he was also the most unique because he behaved like a clown, not in a circus, but in every day life. Of the many that he made fun of or fooled, the intelligent ones, after thinking about it, couldn’t help but laugh at themselves and held no ill feelings toward Till.
But most of those he fooled became and stayed very angry at him and couldn’t wait to seek revenge. That was a dumb thing to do because most of them had a poor memory while Till’s was excellent and, after a year or two, he would return to the same village and fool them a second time. Till always had the last laugh.
There are many, many stories about Till that have been passed along by story tellers and can be found in old books. If they were all to be published in one book it would be so big and heavy that you couldn’t lift it. So I’m only going to tell you about twelve of his more unusual adventures and, as is only right, I will start with the first one – the story of Till’s baptism.
Why Eulenspiegel was Baptized Three Times.
It is sad but true that the young baby Till was baptized three times. Who knows, maybe that’s the reason he grew up to be such a funny clown. Everything is possible! Well, anyway, at least the tiny Eulenspiegel was born only once.
And that happy event occurred between the cities of Lueneburg and Braunschweig in the village of Kneitlingen. Because this village was very small, it did not have its own church and the little boy had to be baptized in the nearby village of Ambleden. Here there was a nice church the pastor of which was Arnold Pfaffenmeyer.
Pastor Pfaffenmeyer did a great job conducting the baptism service. Till’s mother had to remain in bed at home because she was ill at the time but all the other ladies from Kneitlingen that had gone to attend the services were very pleased and thoroughly enjoyed themselves even though Till cried and carried on the whole time. That was his first baptism.
After the services everyone went to the local inn. First, because Till’s father had invited them all and, secondly, they were all very thirsty. That can easily happen.
All the beer was free; there was a lot of noisy conversation, joke telling and even some singing. The midwife who had carried the baby from Kneitlingen on its home-made pillow of fancy lace and had held it at the baptism fount had the greatest thirst and drank the most beer. By late afternoon the festivities began breaking up and the villagers started to wander back along the dusty road to Kneitlingen. By then everyone was a little tipsy including the midwife.
When they came to a narrow, wood bridge over a small stream she also started across but, halfway, suddenly became very dizzy and tumbled off the bridge into the small stream together with Till still tucked into the covers around his lace pillow. That was his second baptism.
Fortunately, neither of them was hurt but they looked a sight. It was the middle of the summer and the little stream was very muddy and full of goop. The midwife howled, Eulenspiegel’s father shouted at her, and little Till screamed his head off. Children you have to believe me when I say that Till was about the dirtiest little baby you ever saw, covered with muck from head to toe.
When they arrived in Kneitlingen, little Till was immediately stuck into a bathtub where he was washed and had water poured over him long enough until he looked clean again. And that was, so to speak, his third baptism.
The next day, when Pastor Pfaffenmeyer heard what had happened he shook his gray head and said, “Baptized three times! No child can stand that much. Once is more than enough. I sure hope everything will turn out alright for that little boy.” As we will discover, the good pastor was right to find cause for concern.
How Eulenspiegel Danced on the High Wire.
Even as a young boy, Till already had the reputation of being a real brat. He continually made his neighbors in the village of Kneitlingen mad every chance he got. Whenever he pulled a prank, they always complained to his parents but most often were unable to prove that it had been him. Even so, his father would then give him a good spanking all the while thinking, “The villagers must be right and, in any event, it will do him some good.” without really being sure that he should be spanked.
Well, needless to say, that did not make little Till very happy. So he would think of even more and worse things to do to the neighbors which, in turn, made them angrier, the end result being that he got spanked some more.
Over a period of time that became such a strenuous activity for his father that the poor man sickened and died.
It was then his mother left Keitlingen with the young Till and moved to the small village she had been born in which was located on the banks of the Saale river in central Germany. In the meantime, Till had reached his sixteenth birthday and she expected him to start learning a trade. But Till was having none of that. Instead, by using the wash line his mother had strung in the attic of their house, he taught himself how to walk and do tricks as a tight rope walker.
Sometimes his mother would almost catch him at it and he would then quickly climb through the attic window on to the roof. There he would sit out of sight and reach until she forgot about him again. Their attic window overlooked the Saale river and, once Till reached the point where he was becoming quite good at walking along the tightly stretched wash line, he attached it to the outside of the window. Then he managed to get the other end across the river and attached it to the attic window of the house on the other side. Once in place and stretched tight he returned to his house and began to walk across the line.
Well, you can imagine the amazement of the children and neighbors as they watched Till crossing over the river while balancing on the rope. With mouths and eyes wide open they held their breath as Till slowly and balancing carefully walked along the line without falling off. They had never seen anything like it.
A crowd soon gathered on both sides of the stream with everyone staring up at Till. His mother, becoming aware of something going on outside, ran up to the attic and looked out the window and with a shriek held her head in her hands for there was her son, over the middle of the river, doing fancy tricks while balanced on her wash line. Without thinking, she grabbed the paring knife that was in her apron pocket and with one swift slice, cut the rope.
Till, who hadn’t noticed his mother, immediately fell, so to say, right out of the sky into the river and got a sudden and unexpected bath. The children, neighbors and, in fact, everyone that had seen this happen laughed their heads off. Many shouted and yelled nasty things and made fun of him. This made him very angry.
He scrambled over the bank of the stream and, sopping wet, went strolling home, acting as though nothing unusual had happened. However, he was already beginning to plan how he could get even with the neighbors and pay them back – with interest.
It took only until the next day for him to get his revenge. He again stretched the line but this time from a different house than his mother’s because he didn’t want to take another bath. He was of the opinion that repeated bathing made one’s skin too thin. So he stretched the line between two other houses and across a street instead of the river and as high in the air as he could in such a manner that his mother couldn’t see it from their house. Naturally, the children, neighbors, farmers and their wives again came running to see what he was doing. They laughed and make fun of Till the whole while he was preparing the line and asked him if he was going to fall from the line again. Some even shouted that in order for them to be properly entertained he should make sure that he falls.
Till said, however, “Today I’m going to show you something even better. All you have to do is take your left shoe off and give it to me as I get on the rope. Without your doing that I won’t be able to show you my latest trick.”
At first they were reluctant to do so but then one and another pulled their left boot off and in no time at all Till had one hundred and twenty left shoes and boots. He tied them all together by their laces and climbed on to the rope carrying a small mountain of shoes. Below him, staring up with anticipation stood one hundred and twenty onlookers, each wearing only one shoe. Then Eulenspiegel started across the line carefully balancing his heap of shoes and slowly moving one foot ahead of the other. When he arrived in the middle he started untying the laces and shouted, “Now, watch this!”
And then he let the one hundred and twenty shoes fall to the street below. “There, you have your boots back,” he cried, “But be careful that you don’t get them mixed up.” There now lay one hundred and twenty boots, clogs, sandals and shoes in the middle of the street surrounded by one hundred and twenty people who unfortunately had only one foot shod. Like mad men, they all jumped on the pile of shoes and looked for their own. In minutes there was a battle royal taking place in the street.
People were hitting each other, tearing each other’s clothes and hair and yelling, crying and shouting.
It took one hour and forty-three minutes for everyone to finally find his or her own left shoe. But you should have seen the poor villagers. They were bruised and battered and had holes in their pants. There were seven teeth lying in the street and nineteen farmers and eleven children could barely crawl back to their homes. Every one of them swore that if they ever got hold of Till they would beat him within an inch of his life but that was not about to happen.
You see, for three months Till never left his house but stayed close by his mother. This made her very happy and she told him, “That’s much better my son, you are finally beginning to learn to behave yourself. The poor soul – she should have known better.
How Eulenspiegel Slept in a Beehive Basket.
At one time Till went with his mother to a neighboring village for the dedication of a new church. As usual, he did not behave and drank too much beer, so much that he was feeling dizzy before the afternoon was over. He became very tired and, trying hard to keep his eyes open, looked for a nice, shady spot to take a little nap.
While walking through a quiet, secluded garden next to the church which belonged to a bee keeper he noticed a bunch of large baskets standing on a row of benches. Some of the baskets had beehives in them with live bees but, as he looked in the baskets, he found an empty one. He lifted the lid, crawled into it pulling the lid shut in back of him, made himself comfortable and promptly fell sound asleep. He slept all afternoon and into the evening while his mother meanwhile looked for him throughout the church grounds and among the partygoers. Not finding him she finally decided that he must have gone home by himself.
Around midnight two thieves came sneaking into the beekeeper’s garden to steal a beehive so they could sell the honey. “Let’s take the heaviest one,” said one of the thieves. “The heavier it is, the more honey it will have in it.”
“You’re absolutely right,” said the other one as they went down the row of baskets lifting each one up. The heaviest one was, of course, the one Till was sleeping in. So that’s the one they picked, each grabbing a side of the basket, lifting it up and carrying it out of the garden, huffing and puffing as they headed for another nearby village.
With all the shaking and noise, Till woke up mad because the two men had bothered his sleep and, worse yet, he noticed they were carrying him to a village that he didn’t even live in. After letting himself be carried for a short while he reached out from under the basket lid and gave the leading thief a mighty tug on his hair.
“Ouch!” cried the thief, “Have you gone crazy?” He naturally thought that the other thief had pulled his hair and started loudly yelling at him.
The second thief couldn’t figure out what was going on and shouted back,
“You’re crazy yourself. I’m lugging the heavy end of this basket like a furniture mover and you think that I have the energy left to yank on your hair? You’re nuts!”
Till thought that was pretty funny and in a little while reached out again in the dark and yanked the hair of the thief in the back so hard he pulled some of his hair out.
“Hey, what are you doing?” shouted that thief with a screech of anguish. “First you imagine that I tugged at your hair and now you yank on mine so hard you almost pulled my whole scalp off. Cut that out you Crum bag.”
“Idiot!” growled the first one. “It’s so dark I can’t even see the street we’re walking on and I’m holding my end of the basket with both hands and you think I can reach in back of me and tear your hair out? You’ve lost your marbles.”
With that they continued yelling and shouting back and forth so much that Till almost laughed out loud. But that would have given the game away so he kept quiet and waited another five minutes.
Then he reached from under the lid, carefully took a good grip on the leading thief’s hair and pulled back so mightily that the back of the thief’s head hit the rim of the basket with a loud crash. At the same time Till stood up in the basket, turned around and hit the second thief smack in the face with both his fists.
Both thieves let out loud screeches, dropped the basket and started hitting each other. Yelling, shouting, scratching and pummeling they became all entangled and fell to the ground, rolling around until they finally broke apart and, even with their continuous shouting, couldn’t find each other in the darkness, nor the basket they had dropped. All this while Eulenspiegel kept happily quiet and in a short while, after the two thieves had wandered off, he fell sound asleep again and had a very nice rest until the rising sun woke him up in the morning.
When he finally woke up and crawled out of the basket he headed down the road, not toward his mother’s village but in the other direction looking for other interesting adventures. Along the way he came upon the castle of a great knight and talked the knight into hiring him as his groom. But the knight soon found out that Till didn’t even know how to ride a horse so it’s no wonder that he immediately fired him and had him thrown out of his castle. But Till cheerfully continued on his wandering way, deciding not to go home anymore, but look for further things to do that would annoy people.
How Eulenspiegel Healed the Sick.
It’s a known fact that the branch will grow as the twig is bent. That is also true of little children who, because their father died when they were very young, were not disciplined enough and became very naughty. As they grow older they become even more mischievous. And that is the way it was with Till Eulenspiegel, the older he became, the more trouble he got into. He changed his jobs even more often than he changed his shirt. Wherever he found work, he couldn’t stay there very long or chance being beaten half to death or even being hung from a tree branch. Before he was even twenty years old, because of his having to continually keep wandering, he had learned the whole of Germany as well as he knew the back of his own hand.
One day he arrived at the big city of Nuernberg where he managed to bring about one of his best known and most audacious tricks. Walking through the city, he put up posters on all the church doors and the pillars of the courthouse advertising himself as a famous doctor who could perform miracle cures. It didn’t take very long before the Director of the Hospital of the Holy Ghost found Till in the city square and said to him, “Dear Honorable Herr Doktor! We have so many sick people in our hospital that we don’t know what to do. We have no empty beds left and have almost run out of money. Could you perhaps give us some learned advice?”
Eulenspiegel scratched himself behind his left ear and, after considerable deep thought answered, “Of course I can, my dear man, but you must realize that professional advice of that magnitude is very expensive.”
“How much?” asked the Director and Till answered, “Two hundred Guilders.”
The Director was shocked to hear how expensive the “Herr Doktor’s” advice would be and asked him exactly what would they be getting for such a large sum of money.
“If you will pay me that amount,” was Eulenspiegel confident reply, “I will cure every single patient you have lying in your hospital in a single day. If I should be unable to accomplish that, I will give you back every penny of my fee.”
“Amazing!” said the Director, “That would be wonderful.” And without further ado he hired Till on the spot. He immediately had Till accompany him to the large ward on the second floor of the hospital where all the patients were. There he introduced him and told them they were to listen to their new doctor and follow his advice without question. Then he left Eulenspiegel to his business while he returned to his office on the first floor.
Till started going from one bed to the next visiting each patient. To each one he said exactly the same thing in a quiet and confidential voice. “I’m going to help all of you,” he whispered, “You my friend and the one next to you too. I have a recipe for a wonderful drug that will cure you all. To start with I have to burn one of you in a bonfire until you are just ashes and then I will blend those ashes into a secret mixture which I will give you in a small dose. I have already decided how to pick out the patient that I will use for that purpose. It has to be the sickest one in the hospital. That’s only sensible, don’t you think. Yes, well, that’s what we’ll have to do.” With that, he would politely bow to the patient and continue even more quietly, “In a half an hour I’m going to go get the Director and have him ask all of you who aren’t too sick to get up and leave the hospital. It might be smart to hurry when he asks that because the last one out of the hospital will be the sickest one and that’s the one I’ll unfortunately have to burn to ashes. That is what Till whispered to each patient as he went from bed to bed.
When he was done he went down to get the Director and told him he was done. All the Director would have to do is go up and ask which of his patients had been cured. The Director did so, announcing in a loud voice, “All of you who are well enough to leave are hereby released from the hospital.”
In three minutes the entire ward was empty. The patients ran, stumbled, pushing and shoving in their haste, hobbling as fast as they could. Some had been lying in that ward for as long as ten years.
The Director was speechless. He ran to his office and brought back a purse with two hundred and twenty guilders that he handed to Till. “Here you are Dear Doktor. I’m giving you an extra twenty guilders. You are without a doubt the best doctor in the world.”
“Absolutely,” said Eulenspiegel. With that he tucked the purse in his coat pocket and headed out of Nuernberg as fast as he could.
By the next morning all the patients had returned to the Hospital of the Holy Ghost
and had found their way back to their beds. The Director was beside himself, “I thought you were all cured?”
Then they told him what had happened the day before and that none of them wanted to be the one who would be burned to ashes.
“What a dunce I’ve been,” cried the Director. “That crook put one over on me and I even gave him twenty guilder more than he asked for!”
When Eulenspiegel Baked Owls and Monkeys.
On one of his travels, Till came to the city of Braunschweig and looked for an inn that he’d heard about. Not finding it, he stopped at a bakery and asked the baker how he might locate it and the baker gave him very good and clear directions. However, when done, the baker asked, “By the way, what is it you do?”
“Me?” said Till, “Oh, I am a wandering baker’s apprentice.”
Well, that made the baker very happy because that is exactly what he had been looking for - an apprentice or journeyman to help him in his shop. And so it came to be that Till was hired on the spot for an agreed amount of salary together with room and board.
For the first two days the owner only rarely had occasion to leave his bakery shop and go into the kitchen at the back to see Till at work. So it’s no wonder he didn’t immediately discover that Till knew as much about baking as a cow knows about playing the piano. On the third day, however, the Baker wanted to leave the shop early. Perhaps he was tired and wanted to get a really long good night’s sleep or maybe he wanted to go bowling – we don’t know - in any event, he said to Till, “ Today you have to stay here alone and do all the baking by yourself. I’ll be back here early in the morning.”
“That’s O.K. with me,” was Till’s response, “But what do you want me to bake?”
Well!” was the baker’s angry response. “I never heard anything so dumb. You are a baker’s apprentice and surely shouldn’t have to ask me what you should be baking. Maybe you should bake owls and monkeys!” He could just as easily have said “violets and puppy dogs” but he just couldn’t think of anything else at the moment because he was so angry for having been asked such a stupid question.
As soon as the baker had gone, Till started busily to work. He made a great big batch of bread dough, kneaded it, let it rise, shaped it carefully into rolls and then, from ten at night until three o’clock in the morning, he baked nothing but owls and monkeys.
When the owner stepped into the shop early the next morning he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. At first he thought he had stepped into a zoo. Everywhere he looked there were crispy crusted little animals and not a single bread or regular roll to be found.
What have you baked?” he cried as he slammed his fist down on a table in a rage.
“Well, you can certainly see,” said Till calmly, “Owls and monkeys - exactly like you asked me to. Aren’t they cute? I hope you find them so because I worked very hard to make them.”
His smart-alecky answer made the baker even angrier. He grabbed Till by the collar, lifted him up and shook him as hard as he could and yelled at the top of his voice, “Out of my house! Now! Get out of here you ragamuffin.”
“First you have to let go of me,” cried Till, “Otherwise, how can I leave?” The baker dropped him and Till started heading for the door.
“Wait a minute,” said the baker, “You have to pay me for all the dough you ruined.”
“Only if you let me take my cute little animals with me,” answered Till. “If I have to pay you for the dough then they all belong to me.”
The baker grumpily agreed and, after paying him the amount he wanted, Till packed all of the owl and monkey shaped rolls into a large basket that belonged to the baker and, without a further word, left the shop.
At noon there was a large crowd, as usual, in the city square. Some farmers had set up stands and all the workers and their wives were taking the lunch hour to shop and visit. Till stood in the middle of the square with his large basket next to him and started selling his owls and monkeys as fast as he could and ended up making a very handsome profit. Word of what he was doing began to spread around and finally reached the ear of the baker. He quickly closed his shop and ran to the square. “That crook has to reimburse me for the wood he used in the oven to bake his silly animal rolls,” he shouted as he ran through the cobblestone streets, “And a rental charge for the oven too. I’m going to have him arrested and locked in the city jail.”
But when he came to the square, Till Eulenspiegel was long gone. He had sold every one of his owls and monkeys and even had gotten a dollar for the basket he’d taken from the baker. For the whole remainder of that year, the Braunschweiger dwellers chuckled over what Till had done to the poor baker.
How Till Became a Sentry.
At one time Till found himself in the service of the Count von Anhalt. It was during a time when the count had ordered all his knights and their squires to come to his castle. Surrounding the castle was a sturdy wall outside of which lay the town of Bernburger which itself was surrounded by the farms and fields that supported the town and the castle inhabitants. A large number of robber knights had been pillaging the farms, stealing the cattle and burning the hay fields. They had even raided the outskirts of the town and the count had called his knights together to protect his family and his neighbors.
Eulenspiegel was ordered by the count to occupy a room at the very top of the tallest castle tower. He was to keep careful watch over the surrounding countryside each and every day and, should he see the robber bands approaching, he was to blow a trumpet as an alarm.
It so happened he could also look down into the open courtyard of the castle and see the knights and their squires sitting at long tables and eating and drinking to their heart’s content all day long. Being so busy entertaining themselves, the count and his knights completely forgot about Till and to send food up to him. Because the tower was very tall, even when he shouted at them as loud as he could, they couldn’t hear him. He was forbidden to clamber down from the tower since there would be no one watching out to prevent the robbers from approaching.
One day at noon he spotted the robber band riding on horses coming towards the town. As they passed some farms, they drove the cattle away and set fire to their barns then rode away. Eulenspiegel lay in front of the tower window and quietly watched all that was going on. The trumpet he left hanging on a peg on the wall.
After a while one of the farmers came running in to see the count and reported the terrible things the robbers had done. The knights quickly saddled their horses and rode out of the castle in a cloud of dust but the robber band together with the stolen cattle was no longer to be seen or found.
When the count returned to the castle he was very angry. He climbed to the top of the tower getting madder with every rung of the ladder. “Why,” he thundered at Till, “Why didn’t you blow your trumpet when you saw the robbers coming?”
“Why should I?” answered Till. Did you send up anything for me to eat and drink? I for one can’t blow a trumpet before having had a decent meal.”
Sometime later, the count and his knights had found the robbers and fought them. After driving them off they had collected all the stolen cattle and driven them back to the castle. They herded a dozen of the cows into the castle courtyard where the butchered them and roasted them on spits. Now they all sat in the courtyard drinking wine and eaten roasted beef.
Till was still in the topmost room of the tower and could smell the roasts but again they had forgotten about their sentry. Without hesitating, Till reached for the trumpet and, holding it of the window, let out a long blast.
The count and his knights left the food and wine sitting, put on their armor and galloped out of the castle gates. They were hardly out of sight when Till climbed down from the tower, loaded his arms with food and wine and climbed back up again. Then he ate his fill, so much so that he couldn’t get the top button of his pants closed.
When the count returned he was again very angry. He climbed the ladder to the top of the tower and said, “You must have a screw loose. What is it with you that you blow the alarm when there are no robbers to be seen?”
“Oh, that’s the fault of being too hungry,” answered Till. “When that happens one begins to fantasize and see things like when you have a fever.”
“That’s ridiculous,” said the count. “Someone who blows the alarm when there is no enemy to be seen and doesn’t blow it when the enemy is in sight is not the sentry I want.” With that he appointed someone else to be a sentry and demoted Till to be a servant to an infantry soldier. In this new job he was to run out of the gate with the infantry and help fight the robbers. That did not sit well with Eulenspiegel.
The next time the robbers were spotted he managed to hang back and was the last one out of the gate and, after the robbers had been chased away, he managed to be the first one back through the gate. He did this every time the knights and infantry had to run out of the castle and fight the enemy. After a while the count became suspicious and asked Till what he was doing.
“It’s like this,” answered Till, “Since I didn’t get enough to eat when I was your sentry I was not in the best physical condition. Therefore I did not have the energy to be the first out of the gate to face the enemy. Then I had to run back as fast as I could in order to be the first one in the castle to get something to eat. To be frank, all this running back and forth has not been good for my health.”
“You are an absolute nitwit,” cried the upset count, “I think I’ll just have you hanged.”
“Oh no!” was Till’s response. “That would be bad for my health too.” And with that, he tied his little travel bundle together and left the castle and the village of Bernburg as fast as he could.
When Eulenspiegel Bought Some Dirt
The Count of Anhalt was not the first German Noble to threaten Till with the gallows. Not too long after his experience with the nobleman he received the same threat from the Earl of Lueneburg. Till had done a bunch of foolishness in the capital city of Lueneburg and the Earl had him arrested and escorted to the border of his little domain where he told him in forceful terms, “Get across the border and keep going. If I ever catch you in my city again I will see to it that you are hanged.”
With that there was no holding Till back, he was gone like lightning. Sometime later in his travels he found that he would have to cross the Earl’s territory again or make a very long and tiresome detour. Remembering the Earl’s warning he bought a horse and a small cart and, just before crossing the border into the Earl’s domain, he stopped at a farm where he could see the farmer busily plowing a field. For one shilling he bought enough dirt from the farmer to fill the cart to the brim. Then he sat down in the cart and covered himself with dirt so only his arms and head could be seen. In that manner he drove the horse at a gentle trot across the border. If you and I had seen him then, he would have looked just like a flower pot on wheels.
As he was passing the Earl’s castle at Lueneburg he was spotted by the Earl’s guards and stopped. When the Earl was summoned he was furious. “It’s you again!” he shouted, “You know I told you to never appear in my land again. Get out of the cart. Now! As I warned you, we are going to hang you from the nearest tree.”
“Wait just one moment,” calmly replied Till, “I am not on your land! The land I’m in I recently bought from a farmer. First he owned it and now I own it. It doesn’t belong to you. So how can I possibly be on your land?”
The Earl was struck dumb on hearing that. Till was right, you know, he was indeed in his own land.”
“Alright,” cried the Earl, “You’ve managed to evade the hangman this time. Get out of here quickly before I change my mind. If you ever show up here again I’ll see to it that you hang high together with your horse and cart too.”
And Eulenspiegel left as fast as the horse could go headed for some other, new adventure.
How Eulenspiegel Taught a Donkey to Read.
At one time in his travels Eulenspiegel began visiting one University after another and at each he made himself out to be a very learned person. He maintained that he was an expert in all subjects and knew just about everything. As a matter of fact, being really quite smart, he was able to correctly answer may of the questions put to him. But, of course, he was only interested in fooling and teasing the professors and students and did so very well upsetting them terribly.
On one of these occasions he found himself at the University of Erfurt. Word of his pranks and shenanigans had preceded him and the professors and the Dean of the University had decided they would not let themselves be fooled as others had. They puzzled over what sort of problem they could present him with that would make him, and not them, look foolish. “We are not going to let him treat us like he did those at Prague,” said the Dean, referring to a particularly nasty thing he had done at that University, “We are going to find a way to do him in.”
After much thought and many suggestions they finally decided on an idea they were sure would work. They bought a donkey and dragged the poor, nervous animal to the inn where Eulenspiegel was staying. There they asked him if he was a good enough teacher to be able to teach the donkey how to read.
“Absolutely. Nothing to it,” was Till’s confident reply. “But you have to appreciate that, since a donkey is a particularly stupid animal, the time it will take me to teach him will be quite long.”
“Well then, how long?” asked the Dean.
“My best estimate would be at least twenty years.” answered Till.
Now, just between you and I, the reason he picked that length of time was because he reasoned as follows: Twenty years is a long time, by then the Dean could have died in which case my problem would be over. Or, I might die with the same result. Or, the donkey could die which would be the best solution.
After some thought, the Dean agreed that would seem to be a fair estimate whereby Till said he would require the sum of five hundred guilders for his services. The Dean gave him an advance on that fee and he and his professors left Till alone with his four-legged student.
After they had gone Till brought the donkey into a stall at the rear of the inn. Then he went and found a large, old book that he brought to the stall and laid into the feed trough with the pages opened. Taking some loose hay and oats, he laid them between the first few pages of the book. The donkey was carefully watching him and as soon as Till stepped back the donkey tried to get at the feed. It took him a little while but he soon learned that by pushing the pages aside with his nose he could reach the hay. When he finally could find no more hay he let out a loud and unhappy “Ee-Ah, Ee-Ah!” (In German, the letter A is pronounced AH)
This pleased till very much and he began training the donkey to find his feed in that way going over the method time and time again. When a week had passed Till visited the Dean and announced, “Would you like to take the opportunity to visit my student and see how he has progressed?”
“Of course,” agreed the Dean, “I’d be delighted. Has he been able to learn anything so far?” he continued with a snicker.
“Oh yes,” was Till’s proud response. “He’s already learned to read and pronounce a couple of letters of the alphabet which, you’ll have to agree, is quite exceptional for such a short period of instruction.”
That very afternoon the Dean with his professors and students all appeared at the inn and Till led them to the stall. He placed the book in the feed trough while the donkey watched him carefully with mouth watering because he had not been fed all day. The donkey quickly and with great energy started leafing through the book, pushing page after page aside with his nose. But this time Till had not put any feed between the pages and the Donkey soon let out a loud and angry “Ee-Ah, Ee-Ah!”
“See that,” said Till, “He’s already learned the letters E and A. Tomorrow morning I’m going to start teaching him the letter O and U.”
Well! Needless to say the Dean and his fellows were furious. In fact the Dean got so red and angry Till was afraid he might have a heart attack. Till opened the stall, gave the donkey a slap on the rump and shouted at him, “Get out of here. They may want to hurt you. Find some other things to learn.”
Then he ran into the inn, grabbed his bundle which he’d packed beforehand and went running out of the city with the advance of his fee secure in his pocket.
How Eulenspiegel Enlightened the Tailors.
Once while in the city of Rostock Till sent a letter to the surrounding villages and towns. In this letter he invited all of their tailors to come to Rostock on a certain day since he was going to reveal to them a wonderful skill that he had learned which would improve their art and would be of great value to them and their children.
And it came about that on that appointed day there were to be found thousands of tailors in the city. Eulenspiegel led them out of the city to a large open meadow where he asked them to sit down on the grass and first enjoy themselves with food and drink so they could rest up from the long trip that most had made. After a while they asked him to make a speech and describe the extraordinary information he was prepared to give away for the benefit of their profession, helping them and their children in the future as he had promised.
“My dear masters of the tailoring profession,” Till then announced. “I want to emphasize what I’m about to reveal to you requires your full attention. To accomplish the difficult work of tailoring you need a pair of scissors, a yardstick, a thimble, a needle and some thread – nothing else is necessary. And, most important, always remember that, after having threaded a needle, you have to tie a knot in the end of the thread otherwise you will have done all your sewing for nothing and the stitches will just pull out. Now – does anyone have any questions?
The tailors all looked at each other dumbfounded and with long faces. Finally one shouted, “Now I’ve heard everything! Is that the only reason you had us walk the many miles to get here to Rostock? What you’ve just told us we’ve know for a thousand years.”
“For a thousand years?” asked Till. “How old are you anyway?”
“I’m twenty-five.” answered the tailor.
“Well, there you are,” said Till. “How can you have known that for a thousand years? “
He looked around at all the tailors and, acting offended by their reaction, continued, “I had only the best intentions in trying to help you. If you don’t want my advice than you can simply leave.”
That was too much for the tailors. They went wild, yelling and shouting and starting to chase him so they could beat him up. But Till ran into a nearby house that had two doors. He ran into one and out the other and thereby managed to escape and, although they searched for him for many hours, they never found him.
However, those tailors that lived right in Rostock had themselves a good laugh. “We knew that Eulenspiegel was going to pull one of his pranks and can’t believe you traveled all this way only to get fooled. You really must be a bunch of dumbkopfs.”
That made the other tailors so mad that a big fight started between the tailors from Rostock and all the others. They were all pretty well bruised and banged up afterwards except for Till who, of course, was long gone.
How the Wind Blew Away the Apprentice Tailors.
One time Till stayed fourteen days in the small city of Brandenburg. He rented a room at an inn that had cheap rates and was therefor a favorite place for of wandering craftsmen to stay. The inn was located on the city’s marketplace and a Master Tailor lived in an adjoining house with three apprentices. On nice days the apprentices would come out of the workshop in the house and set up a big board on four wood posts that were stuck in the ground. Then they would sit like Hindus on the board, their legs folded under them, and sewed jackets and pants and whatever else needed tailoring.
Whenever Till would walk by them they would get angry because, for some reason, they couldn’t stand him. Probably it was because he was just ambling around and enjoying himself instead of working like they were and also maybe because he always wore his silly clown costume instead of a nice, well-fitting suit that he could have ordered from their master. They had great fun making loud jokes about him, threw pieces of leftover cloth at him and even stuck their tongues out.
One night Till left the inn very early in the morning while it was still pitch dark. He sneaked up to the front of the tailor’s house and secretly sawed most of the way through each off the four posts. That morning was the day of the large farmer’s market and the market place was soon full of townspeople and vendors. It was a beautiful warm day so, as usual, the apprentices soon came out of their workshop, placed the large board over the posts and took their positions with legs tucked under, and started working. Their sewing needles were moving so fast that they almost turned red from friction.
Now it was the custom in Brandenburg at that time that the city’s swine herder, on market day, would gather together all the pigs that had been raised by the neighbors and shopkeepers and were ready to take to the butcher. And this day too he did his usual duty by standing in the middle of the market place and loudly blowing his horn. So, here were the apprentice tailors, busily working away when the horn blew and all the pigs were allowed to run out of the houses and into the market place for the herder to collect. Naturally the pigs ran helter-skelter every which way, and when they came to the posts in front of the tailor’s house they found them very nice for rubbing their itchy backs against. Now things happened very quickly - the posts that were part-way sawn through collapsed, the board fell crashing to the ground and the three apprentices flew in a high arc out into the middle of the place right under the feet of the surprised shoppers.
Out of the crowd of people one could hear a loud shout, “Help! Help! The wind is blowing the tailor’s away!”
You and I know, of course, who was doing the shouting. And, the tailors knew also because they recognized the voice. Well, you can imagine how mad they were. They were angry enough to kill Eulenspiegel if they could have gotten their hands on him.
But, they never really even tried because they were afraid of him. As long as Till remained in Brandenburg they stayed in their workshop instead of coming out in front. Even on the hottest days they sat working inside, sweating and grousing. They thanked heaven when one day they saw Till finally leaving the city carrying his little bundle of possessions as he started on another of his wanderings.
As soon as he was gone they again set up their board outside and let every passer-by know in a most arrogant manner, “It is very lucky for Eulenspiegel to have gotten away otherwise we would have beaten him unmercifully.”
How Eulenspiegel Fooled the Furriers
On a day shortly before Shrove Tuesday, Till found himself in the city of Leipzig and the idea came to him that he should be able to find some work at one of the furriers that Leipzig was famous for and had many of. But it so happened that, at a recent Fair in Leipzig, a furrier from Berlin had told them the story of the problem he had with a certain Till Eulenspiegel who had started to work for him in preparing a dozen beautiful wolf pelts. Instead of doing a good job he had snipped them into little pieces so they could not be used to make the little stuffed wolves and teddy bears that he had intended to make. There was only one way to “pay” Her Eulenspiegel and that was with enough solid slaps that poor Till’s ears turned red.
So, since the furriers of Leipzig had no desire to have their expensive fur pelts ruined by him, they refused to hire Till. And because they didn’t give him any work it didn’t take long for Till to get pretty mad. How to get back at them? You and I know he would find a way! He finally got an idea when he heard that, during the Lenten carnival days, the furriers planned to have a special feast served at Leipzig’s largest inn. This inn featured a visitor’s table where important visitors to the city would be entertained and it would be at this table that the dinner would be served.
In the guesthouse that Till was staying at there lived a great example of a fat, spoiled large house cat. Till went to their cook and asked him for the pelt of a rabbit that the cool had skinned for that night’s rabbit stew. He then snatched up the cat and brought it to his room where he sewed it, scratching and kicking, into the rabbit skin. Next he glued a false moustache to his upper lip, put on a different coat and went out to stand in front of city hall looking like a farmer with something to sell.
When he saw one of the furriers approaching – it was one of those who had turned him away – he asked him if he might be interested in buying a nice, fat rabbit. The furrier was on his way to the inn and, considering that the rabbit would be very well fitted for adding to their special dinner, he was happy to buy it from Till.
Grabbing it by the ears he carried it, scratching and kicking, to the inn. When the other furriers sitting at their special table with their guests saw how lively and rambunctious the rabbit was they were amazed and intrigued. One of them who had his large dog tied in the garden outside suggested, “That rabbit is such a lively one why don’t we have a little fun with it?”
Nothing to it but wipe the beer foam from their lips and hurry outside where they let the dog loose, and then the rabbit. To their surprise the rabbit first jumped right at the dog and, with a loud “Hiss”, swatted him one on the nose then turned and ran up a tree. There it sat on a branch and let out a loud, “Meow! Meow! Meow!”
Now it was suddenly clear too the furriers that they had been tricked. Not only that but they had also been cheated because you can’t very well turn a cat into a nice rabbit roast. They were as angry as mad cats themselves and swore that, if they ever caught the chap who had deceived them they would beat him black and blue.
Since Till, in a manner quite different from his usual custom, had disguised himself when he sold the “rabbit”, the furriers didn’t discover who it was that fooled them until much later and by then Till was long gone from Leipzig having fun making other people angry.
How Eulenspiegel Bought Up all the Milk
One day Till found himself in the large northern city of Bremen. This was a place he had not yet visited and he wanted to do some great mischief that the city dwellers would remember him by.
Bremen has a large market square and, on the morning when all the farmer’s maids come to sell their milk, he appeared with a huge, wooden barrel which he set up in the middle of the square. As the maids appeared from all of the surrounding towns and villages, carrying their large milk containers, he offered to buy all their milk at a very good price. One after the other, they eagerly emptied their containers into the barrel while Till marked the amount each one had sold to him on the side of the barrel with a piece of chalk.
In a while there wasn’t a drop of milk to be found in the marketplace except for that in Till’s barrel and that was full to the very brim and its sides was completely covered with his chalk markings. Meanwhile a lot of people had gathered in the market and the large crowd watched what Till was doing, wondering what he was going to do with all that milk. You and I know they would have better spent their time wondering about more important things because Till’s doing was only going to lead to some foolishness.
When there was no more milk to be bought the farm maids started asking for their money. “Gosh,’ said Till, “Right at this moment I don’t have any money, but I’m going to be back here at the market in fourteen days and then I’ll pay you everything I owe you right down to the penny.”
Well, you can imagine the hull-a-balloo that caused. All the maids started shouting and yelling calling him a crook and a thief and shouting for the police to come and arrest him.
“What do you want of me,” shouted Till at them, himself now getting angry too. “I promise I will pay you but if that doesn’t satisfy you, just to show you how honest I am I’ll make you a deal. Those of you who don’t want to wait for fourteen days have my permission to take their milk back out of the barrel. But, pay strict attention, don’t take out more than you put in.”
That raised an even greater cry. The maids shouted so loud that three windows in the courthouse shattered. The farmer’s maids all stormed the barrel with their pails, bottles, cans and pots. Because they each wanted to be first the result was a complete riot. They hit each other with their pails and the milk splashed high into the air covering them and their clothes. Finally, the huge barrel tipped over and the whole market place was covered with milk. It looked like there had been a milk storm that day. The maids fell, flopping around in the milk, and all the other people watching laughed so hard they thought their sides would split. No one in Bremen had ever seen a funnier sight.
And what about our friend Eulenspiegel? Well, you should have learned by now, at the end of this little book, where he might be. Where was Eulenspiegel? Whenever and wherever he had pulled one of his tricks, he had quickly disappeared.
Off he would go, over hill and dale, along rivers and through forests and fields until he would come to a place where he hadn’t yet fooled anyone. That situation would be quickly corrected. And, once he had completed the task he’d set for himself to his own satisfaction he would put on his walking shoes and be off again leaving behind those to whom he’d proven they were dumber than he was.
So he lived and behaved to a ripe old age. He always found a new village, town or city where the people could be fooled because in those days- as now – there were a lot of dumb people around. They never seem to die off.
Afterword and One More Story
The Eulenspiegel stories were first published in 1515 and consisted of 96 stories in German. The author was not named and is unknown to this day. The original publication was illustrated with numerous wood cuts. It was rumored that Till was a real person but very little was known about him except he is believed to have died in 1350, possibly from the black plague. The stories included on this site are those that have been most popular and that have been republished most frequently. This has occurred only in the last century because, due to many of them being bawdy and scatological in nature, they were banned in Germany and also in the Western countries where translations had been made available, mostly in Holland, France, Italy Spain and England and America. Many were recognized as having the possibility of making good stories for children and in later years they were “bowdirized” that is, censored by purging the offensive language.
Richard Strauss composed a tone poem “Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks” Op 28 and the story of Till was made into comedic movie in Germany in 1975 and a popular animated film in 2003.
Whatever may be conjectured about the source or validity of the stories, this is certain, if there really was a Till Eulenspiegel, he was not a fool, but a rogue who made sure to cause trouble. He went about every day in the guise of a simple peasant to all the villages, towns and cities in Germany and upset virtually everyone by his contrary ways, foolish misinterpretations, and the pranks he perpetrated, especially on those who egoistically considered themselves to be better than others and they particularly included the townsmen of his day and members of the clergy and the nobility.
Here is a final story, a translation I found on the internet, from a later period of his wanderings.
How Till Eulenspiegel Travelled Around With a Skull
The 31st story tells of how Eulenspiegel travelled around carrying a skull, in order to hoodwink the people and collect a fortune in donations.
Till Eulenspiegel had become known throughout the land for his pranks. Wherever he had once been, he was no longer welcome, unless he perchance succeeded in disguising himself and nobody recognized him. It finally happened that he no longer dared to support himself with his laziness, since he had been fairly well-off since his youth and had made quite a bit of money from his tom-fooleries. Since, however, his pranks were so well known, he had to come up with another idea, how he might earn some money without actually working for it, when he finally came upon the idea to pass himself off as a relic-seller, and travel through the land with his relic.
He got together with a student, disguised himself in a priest's cassock, took a skull and had it inlaid in silver. He went to the district of Pommern, where he knew the priests were more used to drinking than preaching, and where he found a baptism or wedding or any kind of gathering he approached the village priest, saying he wanted to preach and share the wonders of his relic with the villagers by letting them touch it. He promised the priest half of all the donations he received. Those ignorant priests would do anything, as long as they could earn a few dollars on the side.
And when the majority of the congregation had gathered, Eulenspiegel climbed up into the pulpit, talked a little about the old testament, carried around the gospels with the tabernacle and chalice, in which were placed the consecrated hosts, and told them all that this was the most holy of places. Meanwhile, he would talk about the head of Saint Brandanus, who had been a holy man, and whose skull he had with him, and with which he had been ordered to make a collection in order to build a new church. And, of course, this could only take place through their generosity; but he was bound never to take money from a woman who had committed adultery, saying: "Should any such woman be here, let her simply remain standing. Because when she tries to offer towards the collection while guilty of adultery, I'll refuse, and she'll remain standing, put to shame! Follow only this rule!”
And he let the people kiss the skull, which may as well have once been the head of a blacksmith, which he had found in a graveyard. He then blessed the farmers and their wives, descended from the pulpit and stood in front of the altar. The village priest would begin to chant and ring his altar bells. Then, both the good and wicked wives would walk up to the altar with pious faces, pressing so close together that they began to cough and choke. And the women with a guilty conscience and the ones who had actually sinned, they always wanted to be first with their donations. So, he took the offerings of the good and wicked alike, and rejected nothing. So the gullible women firmly believed in and fell for his foolish tricks, since nobody wanted to be the one woman who remained standing. Those women who had no money gave him their gold or silver rings, and everybody watched everyone else, whether they would make a donation. Those who had made a donation believed that somehow they had thus proved the faithfulness of their marriage and removed any suspicions of adultery. There were even a few who went up to the altar two or three times, so that everybody would see it and any rumors about them would stop. And Eulenspiegel got the best collection he had ever had. When he had finally collected all he could, he told them all under threat of excommunication to go forth and sin no more, since they were all free from sin; after all, had any of them been impure, he wouldn't have taken their offering.
So, all the women were happy, and wherever Eulenspiegel went, he made a fortune. The people all mistook him for a pious preacher, and he was free to continue his pranks.