When Santa brings Nothing but Disappointment

A relief of Götz von Berlichingen in Germany c...

A relief of Götz von Berlichingen in Germany containing the famous phrase. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since some of you rather liked my last post about historical figures becoming the inspiration for fantasy writers, I thought you’ll probably enjoy this next character as much as the eternal prankster Till Eulenspiegel.

I may have mentioned this historical jester and his castle Burg Hornberg before, but such a colourful knight as Götz is certainly worth spending more time on.

Götz von Berlichingen lived in 850-year-old Hornburg Castle for 45 years (from 1517 to 1562) and became the inspiration for Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s 1773 drama of the same name. Goethe is to Germans what Shakespeare is to the English speaking world – a famous poet, literary giant and bon vivant himself, Goethe couldn’t resist writing up Götz’ colourful adventures and adding a little literary embroidery to them.

The Hornburg is a partially ruined castle perched on a steep outcrop high above the Neckar River valley, overlooking the village Neckarzimmern that is located between the German towns of Bad Wimpfen and Mosbach in the Federal State of Baden Württemberg. Sadly, I never got around visiting the Hornburg when I lived in this part of Germany, but I’m determined to make it next time. Götz’ Hornburg is the largest and oldest of the valley castles and a favourite tourist destination on the Goethe trail.

English: The Iron Hand (Eiserne Hand) of Götz ...

English: The Iron Hand (Eiserne Hand) of Götz von Berlichingen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The original Hornburg was built in the 11th century and was purchased by Götz von Berlichingen in 1517. He must have enjoyed living in this mighty stronghold, since he remained at the Hornburg until his death in 1562. The Hornburg was subsequently bought by Reinhard of Gemmingen in 1612 and the Gemmingen-Hornberg family is still the Hornburg’s owner today.

Left uninhabited for nearly 100 years, it was partially restored in 1825 and has housed a museum since 1968. Click on the Google link below for some truly stunning pictures of the Hornburg, Neckar River valley and the village:


The Hornburg has its own informative website at http://www.burg-hornberg.de/

Just click on the coat of arms in the centre to get into the site and scroll down on the Start page until you get to the choice of languages – English is one of them.

The Hornburg is truly an amazing residence, boasting walls that are almost 3 metres thick in places and lovely Romanesque arched windows.

In a separate wing its current lord and master, Baron Dajo von Gemmingen-Hornberg, no doubt enjoys the splendid views over his terraced vineyards. It is possible to view the public rooms of the castle and participate in wine tastings held in the historic library, but only by making an appointment with the guided tours in advance.

Originalrüstung von Götz von Berlichingen zu H...

Originalrüstung von Götz von Berlichingen zu Hornberg. Museum Burg Hornberg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s worth going on a tour, if you love wine and the cool romance of underground vaults – the wine cellars are 40 metres long and boast 6 metre high vaulted ceilings.

Such a 30-minute guided tour with wine tasting isn’t cheap – EUR 30.00 per thirsty person, but you should remember Baron Dajo needs to pay for the upkeep of this amazing castle and he has to put up with a lot of tourists quoting Götz’ most famous catch phrase every day.

Our Knight of the Iron Fist was renowned for his earthy mode of expression and didn’t shy away from getting involved in brawls. His famous catch phrase was preserved for eternity by Goethe, whom I always envisaged with a big grin on his face, when I was a lowly literature student reading his drama of Götz’ adventures.

The vineyards encircling the Hornburg were as famous in their own time as they are now – dating back to at least 1500, they produced many fine wines that delighted the palate of Emperors in their day. You can read more about the vineyards and wine-making at the castle on the above mentioned website.

Knight Gottfried von Berlichingen – called Götz by his contemporaries – was probably born in 1480 and became notorious as the knight with the iron fist on account of his wearing a gauntlet made from iron that could be most persuasive when applied to the noses and chins of his opponents.

Gottfried came from a noble and ancient family, the Berlichingen in Württemberg, and he was a Franconian Imperial Knight and mercenary (in German = ein Fränkischer Reichsritter).

For some 47 years he fought in a variety of military campaigns, including the German Peasant Wars and 15 feuds he recorded as being of his own making in his autobiography. He came to the assistance of friends, who had managed to get entangled in feuds and he helped out in battles against the rich cities of Ulm and Augsburg in Bavaria and against Cologne, not to mention the nasty Swabian League and the Bishop of Bamberg, a gorgeous medieval city to which I have already devoted a post.


Hornburg (Photo credit: igelchen)

It is rather unusual to have so much contemporary detail on an Imperial Knight, as celebrity autobiographies hadn’t really been invented, yet. German playwright Goethe used old Götz’ writings as the basis for a play about the knight’s life and the drama was first published in English in 1799 as Goetz of Berlichingen of the Iron Hand .

Also unusual for the time, Götz lived well into his 80s, rather surprising for somebody with such a quarrelsome temperament and difficult to reconcile with his profession as mercenary and knight of the Imperial realm. I doubt very much the real Knight von Berlichingen had much in common with Goethe’s literary version.

As a literary character he was part maverick and free spirit, a rebellious poet with a national backbone and a man full of integrity. Goethe’s version of the man rebels against an over-refined and deceitful society, but is ultimately a victim of the laws and contemporary understanding of justice of that very society.

So what about the famous quotation, the knight’s catch phrase that is regarded as vulgar today as it was during his lifetime?

h63 knight in armourIn Goethe’s third act, Götz finds himself under siege by the Imperial Army in his castle at Jagsthausen, which stands in for the Hornburg inhabited the historical Götz. Asked to surrender by the captain of the besieging army, our plucky knight opens a window, sticks his iron fist out and shouts down to the uplifted heads of his attackers: “Surrender? Me? Who do you think you’re talking to? I’m a robber baron! Tell your captain, my due respect now as ever goes to His Imperial Majesty, but your captain, he can lick my arse!”

Goethe used a quotation from Götz’ autobiography, who said in an albeit different context: “er solte mich hinden lecken”, (freely translated as: “He can lick me on the behind”), which is a little less vulgar but nonetheless indicative of the way in which the historical Götz (or do I mean hysterical?) dealt with his contemporaries, when they irritated him.

So, after this valuable German lesson you’ll know how to respond, when Santa brings you woolly socks instead of that e-book reader you’ve had beady eye on all year.

My final blog for the year will be part 20 of Merlin fan fiction Let the Questing begin, which I’ll try to publish before the final episode of the BBC’s Merlin airs on TV.

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