M: This room deals with a particularly grim chapter in Siegburg's history – the witch trials. The installation commemorates those events. The woman stands on a panel that’s engraved with the names, and dates of death, of 33 women and four men who were sentenced and executed as witches or sorcerers in Siegburg between 1636 and 1638.
F: Siegburg was surrounded by the turmoil of the 30 Years' War. The town was besieged several times between 1618 and 1648 and conquered by various warring parties. There were shortages of supplies, and people had very little hope of life ever improving.
Times of uncertainty and crisis provide an ideal breeding ground for superstition. In Siegburg as elsewhere, people blamed a supposed "witch cult" for all their misfortunes – the war, crop failures, disease.
M: In 1636, a woman called Kunigunde Meurer was accused by her neighbour of having cursed him with a serious illness. The pair had previously been involved in a dispute about a loaf of bread.
Up to that point, charges of witchcraft had been dismissed by the Siegburg court. But this time, Siegburg’s highest judicial authority, Abbot Bertram von Bellinghausen, was absent. And the mayor, one Wilhelm Kortenbach, embarked on a period of blood-soaked terror. A witch-finder called Franz Buirmann was summoned from Cologne and became his henchman.
F: The court sat here in the town hall – in the presence of Mayor Kortenbach, the lay assessors and the court clerk. Suspects were “put to the question”, in other words, interrogated under torture, right here in these cellars. Racked by pain, they gave up the names of relatives, neighbours and friends, and claimed to have seen them all in an alleged "witches’ dance".
M: Those found guilty were strangled and then burned at the stake. Kunigunde Meurer was the first of at least 37 victims.
F: Perhaps you’re wondering why the woman in the installation looks just like a museum visitor.
M: We wanted to show that those being condemned were just ordinary women – not vile hags riding on broomsticks.
Foto: © Dagmar Trüpschuch