Travellers in Swabia should never forget to take a brief look at the Black Forest; not for the sake of the trees, although such vast numbers of tall, beautifully grown fir trees are not to be found just anywhere; but because of the people, who differ remarkably from the others around them. They are taller than common people, broad of shoulder, with powerful limbs. It is as if the strengthening perfume that drifts through the fir trees of a morning has, from their earliest days, granted them the ability to breathe more freely and see more clearly, and given them more steadfast, albeit rougher courage than those who inhabit the river valleys and plains.
The first lines of the tale that is probably Wilhelm Hauff’s most famous fairy story: Das kalte Herz, translated into English as “Heart of Stone”. It’s the story of Peter Munk, nicknamed Kohlenmunk-Peter. Deep in the Black Forest, he runs his late father’s charcoal-burning business. But Peter has a dream – he fantasises about having great wealth and enjoying great respect. In other words, about everything a charcoal burner doesn’t have. To achieve his goal, Peter ultimately enters into a disastrous agreement with Holländer-Michel – Dutch Michael.
For a hundred years, he has haunted the forest, and it is said he has helped many to grow rich, but at the cost of their poor souls.
Dutch Michael promises Peter immeasurable riches. But in exchange, he demands Peter’s heart.
»Look!« said Dutch Michael, »all these have discarded life’s fears and worries. None of these hearts now beats fearfully or anxiously, and their former owners are contented to have rid their house of such a restless guest.«
»But what do they have in their breast in its stead?« asked Peter, who was almost overcome with dizziness, given all he had seen.
»This«, answered the other, and handed him a stone heart out of a drawer.
Foto: © Wilhelm-Hauff-Museum