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Morgen im Riesengebirge by Caspar David Friedrich

The Riesengebirge (English: Giant Mountains) is a low mountain range in southern Lower Silesia on the border between Silesia and Bohemia, between the upper courses of the Elbe and the Oder, and has been a well-known tourist region for centuries.

Im Riesengebirge, 1922 German tourism poster


A lofty and rugged group on the boundary of Silesia and Bohemia, between the upper courses of the Elbe and the Oder. They form the highest portion of the Sudetic system which separates south-east Prussia from the Austrian empire, and finds its natural continuation towards the N.W. in the Erzgebirge, the Thuringian Forest and the Harz Mountains. Adjoining the Isergebirge and the Lausitzergebirge on the W., and the Eulengebirge and the Adlergebirge on the E. and S.E., the Riesengebirge proper run S.E. and N.W. between the sources of the Zacken and the Bober, for a distance of 23 m., with a breadth of 14 m. They cover an area of about 425 sq. m., three-fourths of which is in Austrian, and the remainder in Prussian territory. The boundary line follows the crest of the principal chain or ridge (Riesenkamm), which stretches along the northern side of the group, with an average height of over 4000 ft. The principal peaks are the Reiftrager (4430 ft.), the Hohe Rad (4968 ft.), the Great Sturmhaube (4862 ft.), the Little Sturmhaube (4646 ft.), and, near the east extremity, the Schneekoppe or Riesenkoppe (5266 ft.), the loftiest mountain in northern or central Germany. Roughly parallel to this northern ridge, and separated from it by a long narrow valley known as the Siebengriinde, there extends on the S. a second and lower chain, of broad massive "saddles," with comparatively few peaks. The chief heights here are Kesselkoppe (4708 ft.), the Krkonose (4849 ft.), the Ziegenriicken and the Brunnenberg (5072 ft.).
From both ridges spurs of greater or less length are sent off at various angles, whence a magnificent view is obtained from Breslau to Prague; the lowlands of Silesia, watered by the Oder, and those of Bohemia, intersected by the Elbe and the Moldau, appearing to lie mapped in relief. The summit is crowned by a chapel dedicated to St Lawrence, which once also served as a traveller's shelter. Since 1850 the chapel has been restored to its religious use, and a hotel for the accommodation of tourists is built close by. A remarkable group of isolated columnar rocks are those known as the Adersbacher Felsen in a valley on the Bohemian side of the Riesengebirge, 9 m. W.N.W. of Braunau. On its northern side this mountain group rises ruggedly and precipitously from the Hirschberg valley; but on its southern side its slope towards Bohemia is very much more gradual. The scenery is in general bold and wild. The Bohemian ridge is cleft about the middle by a deep gorge through which pour the headwaters of the river Elbe, which finds its source in the Siebengriinde. The Iser, Bober, Aupa, Zacken, Queiss, and a great number of smaller streams also rise among these mountains or on their skirts; and small lakes and tarns are not unfrequent in the valleys. The Great and Little Schneegruben - two deep rocky gorge-like valleys in which snow remains all the year round - lie to the north of the Hohe Rad.
Nearly the whole of the Riesenkamm and the western portion of the southern chain are granite; the eastern extremity of the main ridge and several mountains to the south-east are formed of a species of gneiss; and the greater part of the Bohemian chain, especially its summits, consists of mica-slate. Blocks of these minerals lie scattered on the sides and ridges of the mountains and in the beds of the streams; and extensive turf moors occupy many of the mountain slopes and valleys. The lower parts of the Riesengebirge are clad with forests of oak, beech, pine and fir; above 1600 ft. only the last two kinds of trees are found, and beyond about 395 0 ft. only the dwarf pine (Pinus Pumilio). Various alpine plants are found on the Riesengebirge, some of them having been artificially introduced on the Schneekoppe. Wheat is grown at an elevation of 1800 ft. above the sea-level, and oats as high as 2700 ft. The inhabitants of this mountain region, who are tolerably numerous, especially on the Bohemian side, live for the most part, not in villages, but in scattered huts called "Bauden." They support themselves by the rearing of cattle, tillage, glass-making and linen-weaving. Mining is carried on only to a small extent for arsenic, although there are traces of former more extensive workings for other metals. The Riesengebirge has of late years been made easily accessible by railway, several branches from the main lines, both on the Silesian and Bohemian side, penetrating the valleys, and thus many spots in the Riesengebirge are a good deal frequented in the summer. The Schneekoppe and other summits are annually visited by a considerable number of travellers, notably the spas of Warmbrunn (near Hirschberg) and Flinsberg on the Gneis, and Gorbersdorf, known as a climate health resort for consumptives. The Riesengebirge is the legendary home of Number Nip (Ri bezahl), a halfmischievous, half-friendly goblin of German folklore, and various localities in the group are more or less directly associated with his name.[1]


Älteste Darstellung der Sagenfigur des Rübezahls in einer Landkarte von Schlesien von Martin Helwig aus dem Jahre 1561 (links).jpg
Alexander Pfohl „Rübezahl, der Herr der Berge“, um 1941, Aquarell und Pastell (links), Ansichtskarte (rechts).jpg

German Miners in Silesia believed since the 16th century that Rübezahl watched over them while mining for coal, but they never mentioned his name for fear of mine collapse or flooding. Those who were good and kind to Rübezahl would receive gifts like medicines and food. Or maybe he would lead them to his treasure trove under the mountains. For those who teased him for his name, or cheated others, he would find revenge. In Silesia, Rübezahl was the guardian of the poor mountain people. Usually he is pictured as a monk like figure in grey robes, in his arm a storm harp. And when he walks, the earth beneath him trembles. But he’s also imagined as a wizard looking being in grey robes and a pointed hat. One of the earliest images is found on a map of Silesia drawn by German cartographer Martin Helwig in 1561. Tucked in at the bottom of the Schneekoppe Mountain you see a small figure with horns and a forked tail. Riebezagel. In High German Riebe - Devil, and Zagel – tail. A devil like image. Although he is called by many names: Treasure Keeper, Lord of the Mountains, Lord John, Prince of the Gnomes, and Riebezagel, it’s the name "Rübezahl" that stuck. And this is the name that causes his anger. Rübe = Turnip, Zahl – Count. Count Turnips? He got his name from a German fairy tale (Märchen); Once upon a time the Prince of the Gnomes captured a Princess, and took her away to his mountains. She was lonely, and he felt sorry for her, so he used his magic, and transformed turnips into members of her court. The problem is, the turnips would rot, and he would have to make more. She sent him to count how many turnips (or turnip seeds in some versions) he had left. Then, while he was distracted, she escaped.[2]

The stories go back to Germanic Mythology, to the Wild Hunt (Wilde Jagd) of Wotan. Rübezahl has appeared frequently throughout German literature, music and culture since the 1500s. He was first mentioned in literature in a poem called Ribicinia by Franz von Koeckritz in 1565. The stories of Rübezahl were also captured by German polymath Johannes Praetorius, who was born Hans Schultze (1630–1680), in his book “Deamonologia Rubinzalii Silesii” in 1662 (depicted as a ghost or even demon). Over the next few hundred years the stories were retold by Johann Karl August Musäu in “Legenden vom Rübezahl”, and Carl Hauptmann’s “Rübezahl-Buch”. Not to be left out, Otfried Preußler’s (Der Rauber Hotzenplotz) wrote “Mein Rübezahlbuch” for kids. Although he is described as a giant, Rübezahl is actually a Woodwose… a native spirit of the mountains and forest. He’s not a demon or god, just a big prankster and shape shifter. His powers were over the weather, and supposedly, was responsible for lightening, thunder, fog, rain and snow in the mountains… even if the sun was shining.

Benevolent to the meek but wrathful to the insolent, Rübezahl is a mythical spirit who has been guarding the mountains of Bohemia and Silesia since pagan times. This the guardian spirit of the Krkonoše Mountains appears prominently in German, Polish and Czech folklore. If you're ever caught wandering in the mountains, it's probably a good idea to find out what you're up against [...] Guardian Rübezahl is a mountain spirit (woodwose) who lives in the mountains. This mountain range is situated between the historical regions of Bohemia and Silesia (now the border between Poland and the Czech Republic). These lands were populated by Germanic tribes and it was these Germanic peoples who created the legend of Rübezahl [...] In the legends, Rübezahl appears as giant, gnome or mountain spirit. He is known to be incredibly unpredictable; capable of helping people but also of exacting terrible revenge on those who he perceives to have wronged him. Attestations of Rübezahl have been found from as early as pagan times, however, the earliest known depiction appears in 1561 on map of Silesia drawn by Martin Helwig (a Silesian cartographer). On this map, which Helwig compiled from surveys and information from local inhabitants, Rübezahl appears as a horned demon [...] Rübezahl is the Lord of Mountain Weather. He is often depicted as a cloaked old man, much like Wotan (the German name for Odin, King of the Norse Gods). His unpredictable nature is derived from the fact that he sends rain, snow, fog, thunder and lightning down from the mountaintops, even when the sun is shining. This characteristic has also drawn comparisons with the Wild Hunt, a spectral hunting party that erupts through the night sky causing storms to ravage the country. In European folklore, the Wild Hunt is often depicted as being led by Odin [...] He is the keeper of the legendary storm harp, which when played is capable of summoning a tempest in the clearest skies, and when he walks, the ground trembles before him. He can take any form he wishes, from the old cloaked woodwose (mountain man) to an old crone, or an enormous giant. Over the centuries, Rübezahl has evolved from the demonic lord of the weather to the guardian of the poor who live by his mountains. He is known for giving food, particularly sourdough bread, to the people, as well as teaching them the art of medicine and inventing the speciality regional soup, keyselo. Rübezahl often tested people, to check if their hearts were pure. If you passed his test, he would guide you to the treasure located deep within his mountains. He also defended the poor against invaders, as well as German landlords who were exploiting their tenants. The origin of Rübezahl’s name has been subject to many different interpretations. The author and folk story collector, Johann Karl August Musäus, wrote a story entitled: How Rübezahl Got His Name. In this story, Musäus uses the German word for turnip, Rübe (plural: Rüben), to explain how Rübezahl got his name. It goes like this: Rübezahl abducted a beautiful princess and took her high into the mountains. She complained of being lonely and so Rübezahl turned the turnips in the fields into her friends and family. However, as the turnips start to wilt, the apparitions of her friends start to fade. The princess complained to Rübezahl, asking him to count (Anzahl in German) the turnips to make sure they were all still there and as he did so, she made her escape. Another interpretation of the name is gleaned from Martin Helwig’s map. Since the demon appears with a tail, some have speculated that is name might have evolved from Riebezagel, Riebe being the demon's name and zagel meaning tail in Middle High German. However, it's important to remember that, despite its unclear origin, the name Rübezahl is an offence. Mere humans must refer to him with respect, as Lord of the Mountain, Treasure Keeper or even Lord Johann (which is what he is called by the herbalists he taught medicine to). [...] He has also been the subject of many different musical ventures. He has appeared in operas, such as Franz Danzi’s The Mountain Spirit (1813) and Louis Sphor’s The Mountain Spirit (1825). Even today, in modern music, Rübezahl is still sometimes mentioned. The rockband Amon Düül II featured a song called The Return of Rübezahl on their 1970 Yeti album, and, in 1982, Dschinghis Khan had their own song, simply called Rübezahl. Rübezahl is a staple of German folklore and culture. His statue can be found at the Märchenbrunnen in Berlin and he continues to inspire authors and artists to this very day - in fact, he's supposed to have provided J. R. R. Tolkein with inspiration for the character of Gandalf in Lord of the Rings! If you ever find yourself in the area, you can visit the Rübezahl Museum in Görlitz, which opened in 2005.[3]

Riesengebirglers Heimatlied

Riesengebirglers Heimatlied.jpg

The "Riesengebirglers Heimatlied", which was entered in the hut book of the Riesengebirgsbaude (Petersbaude) in autumn 1914, is the cornerstone of today's Riesengebirgslied. The song was composed by the young teacher Othmar Fiebiger (1886–1992), born in Altenbruch in 1886, who was an enthusiastic mountain lover and pianist. German teacher and musician Vinzenz Hampel (1880–1955) wrote the melody for it in 1915. Because this song sang about the "German mountains", which the occupying Poles and Czechs saw as revanchism, the song was put on the index in the GDR. O. Fiebinger, who was expelled to Erfurt in the GDR at the time, did not have a happy time there because of this and moved to Bensheim on the Bergstraße in the FRG. Here he added the fifth additional verse in memory of the expelled Sudeten Germans and Silesians. Two more stanzas were added after 1945 by an unknown author. The original four verses are:

1. Blaue Berge, grüne Täler,
mitten drin ein Häuschen klein,
herrlich ist dies Stückchen Erde,
und ich bin ja dort daheim.
Als ich einst ins Land gezogen,
hab´n die Berg´ mir nachgeseh´n.
Mit der Kindheit, mit der Jugend,
wusste nicht wie mir gescheh´n.
O mein liebes Riesengebirge,
wo die Elbe so heimlich rinnt,
wo der Rübezahl mit seinen Zwergen
heut' noch Sagen und Märchen spinnt.
Riesengebirge, deutsches Gebirge,
Meine liebe Heimat du!
2. Ist mir gut und schlecht gegangen,
Hab' gesungen und gelacht,
doch in manchen bangen Stunden
hat mein Herz ganz still gepocht.
Und mich zog's nach Jahr und Stunden
wieder heim ins Elternhaus.
Hielt's nicht mehr vor lauter Sehnsucht
Bei den fremden Menschen aus.
Du mein liebes Riesengebirge,
wo die Elbe so heimlich rinnt,
wo der Rübezahl mit seinen Zwergen
heut' noch Sagen und Märchen spinnt.
Riesengebirge, deutsches Gebirge,
Meine liebe Heimat du!
3. Heil'ge Heimat, Vater, Mutter;
und ich lieg an ihrer Brust,
wie dereinst in Kindheitstagen,
da von Leid ich nichts gewusst.
Wieder läuten hell die Glocken,
Wieder streichelt ihre Hand,
Und die Uhr im alten Stübchen
Tickt wie grüßend von der Wand.
Du mein liebes Riesengebirge,
wo die Elbe so heimlich rinnt,
wo der Rübezahl mit seinen Zwergen
heut' noch Sagen und Märchen spinnt.
Riesengebirge, deutsches Gebirge,
Meine liebe Heimat du!
4. Und kommt's einstens zum Begraben,
mögt ihr euren Willen tun,
nur das eine, ja das eine,
lasst mich in der Heimat ruh'n.
Wird der Herrgott mich dann fragen
droben nach dem Heimatschein,
zieh' ich stolz und frei und freudig
flugs ins Himmelreich hinein.
Bin aus dem Riesengebirge,
wo die Elbe so heimlich rinnt,
wo der Rübezahl mit seinen Zwergen
heut' noch Sagen und Märchen spinnt.
Riesengebirge, deutsches Gebirge,
Meine liebe Heimat du!

English translation (partial)

Verses 1 and 2, with refrain:

1. Blue mountains, green valleys,
And in their midst, a small house,
This piece of earth is wonderful,
And this is where I am at home.
When first I left for a new land,
The mountains regarded me wistfully.
As a child, as a young man,
I knew not what would become of me.
Oh, my dear Riesengebirge,
Where the Elbe so furtively snails,
Where to this day the Rübezahl and his dwarves
Still spin legends and fairy tales.
Giant Mountains, German mountains,
My dear homeland you!
2. I’ve had my ups and downs,
I have laughed and sung merrily.
And yet in some anxious hours,
My heart has throbbed silently.
And after many a year and many a hour
Drew me back to my parents house.
For sheer yearning I could no longer endure
Another moment among strangers.
You, my dear Riesengebirge,
Where the Elbe so furtively snails,
Where to this day the Rübezahl and his dwarves
Still spin legends and fairy tales.
Giant Mountains, German mountains,
My dear homeland you![4]

Further reading

External links


  1. Riesengebirge
  2. Rübezahl! The legendary Silesian Lord of the Mountains!
  3. William Nehra: German Folklore – Rübezahl, 2020
  4. Source: Riesengebirglers Heimatlied, Lyrics: Othmar Fiebiger (1914), in Heimatlieder der Sudetendeutschen, edited by Walli Richter. Munich: Verlagshaus Sudetenland, 1994.