Stories about Esslingen
The city’s downtown medieval structures have given rise to all sorts of speculation, stories, and legends for many a year. To this day, Esslingen locals love hearing and telling these stories again and again.
Many locals already know the reason why they are called “Zwieblinger”. Many can also tell you the legend of the Post Michel without skipping a beat. But do you already know the many other exciting stories and historical events revolving around Esslingen?
Why Esslingen Citizens are called Onions
Once upon a time, the devil came to visit Esslingen am Neckar and rejoiced that the citizens greeted him with a smile, unaware of his true identity. As he came to the square where the weekly market was taking place, he marveled at the many goods on sale. The devil asked a clever market woman if he could try one of the red apples. However, the woman realized she was speaking with the devil because of the cloven hoofs that peeked out from under his elegant pants and the tell-take smell of sulfur. The shrewd market women handed him an onion instead of the apple he asked for and watched as the devil took a voracious bite. He shook with disgust and cried: “This is supposed to be one of your apples? The trick is on you, citizens of Esslingen! It’s an onion, a sharp onion. And therefore you shall no longer be called Esslinger, you proud Imperial Citizens, but Zwiebel (onion)!” Full of anger, he hastily left the city and hasn’t been seen here ever since.
This is why Esslingen citizens are called “Zwiebel” or “Zwieblinger” to this very day.
(Freely retold based on: Dorothee Bayer, Esslinger Heimatbuch, pg. 129 / 130. Esslingen, 1982.)
The Saga of the Post Michel
“In the year 1491, Amandus Marchthaler, a wealthy citizen of Esslingen, was slain on the road to Esslingen in Stuttgart. His death remained a mystery, as the murderer left no trace. […] More than two years later, the post rider Michel Banhard [found] a valuable ring on his daily ride from Esslingen to Stuttgart and back. He didn’t know that a murder had been committed at that exact same place years earlier. In order to get the ring safely to Esslingen, where he then planned to turn it in, the post rider wore the ring on his finger. While taking a break at an inn, one of the drinking cronies recognized the ring as belonging to the man who had been murdered. This was confirmed shortly thereafter by the nephew of the victim, Matthäus von Welz, who by that time had inherited his uncle’s wealth.
The Post Michel was then accused of murdering Amandus Marchthaler. Despite his protestations of innocence, he was imprisoned and tortured in the Wolfstor so long that he finally admitted to committing the murder and was subsequently sentenced to death by sword. He was granted his dying wish and allowed to ride on his horse to the scaffold and blow his post horn one last time. […] However, on the scaffold, the Post Michel once again asserted his innocence and claimed he would blow his post horn from this day forth every year on Michaelmas night in front of the executioner’s house in Stuttgart and Esslingen until Marchthaler's real killer was found and executed.
[…] Right on Michaelmas night (Sept. 29th) of the following year, the executioner in Stuttgart was awakened by the eerie tones of a post horn. [He saw a ghostly rider on a white horse trotting in the direction of Esslingen.] The trumpeting of the Post Michel could also be heard in Esslingen, where one could see a shadowy figure on horseback, head under his arm and horn in hand. [Matthäus von Welz fled terrified from the city in order to escape the ghost. This ritual was repeated on Michaelmas over the following years, and concern steadily grew that an innocent man had been executed.]
More than half a century later, an old man came to Esslingen [looking for a place in the hospital. Upon meeting the ghost rider on Michaelmas night, he identified himself as Matthäus von Welz, Marchthaler's nephew, and confessed to murdering his uncle out of greed. He had paid for his evil deed his whole life long because the sound of the horn followed him everywhere. The confession had cost him all the power he had left and, after a last sigh, he died. But the innocent, tortured, and executed Post Michel was able to rest in peace henceforth.
(From: Dorothee Bayer, Esslinger Heimatbuch, pg. 130-132. Esslingen, 1982. Some passages are freely retold)
Mélac and the Girl from Esslingen
During the time of the French wars (1688-1697), General Mélac swept through Swabia, destroying and burning everything in his path. Many hoped to find protection from him behind the strong walls of the free Imperial City Esslingen am Neckar. This is why Pastor Jeremias Haug of Hochdorf brought his beautiful daughter to stay with a distant relative living in Esslingen, the innkeeper of the Goldenen Adler. But out of fear, Esslingen opened its gates to Mélac who would have otherwise burned the city to the ground. Mélac moved into a room at the Goldenen Adler and met the young Katharina, the beautiful pastor’s daughter from Hochdorf, and followed her every step from that moment on. Katharina rejected him again and again, but one night accepted his invitation to the small cottage on the outer wall of the castle, which today bears the name of “Mélac-Häusle”, in order to avoid completely infuriating the general.
Mélac threatened to burn down the city if she didn’t soon bend herself to his will. Katharina then surrendered to fate and they agreed to meet in the little round turret on the Ailenberg the next day. When Mélac tried to make advances, Katharina stabbed him with a dagger that she brought with her. Wounded but not killed, Mélac took the dagger from her hand and stabbed her right through her heart. As though rushed away by a guilty conscience, Mélac stormed from the city along with his troops. Katharina, the brave girl of Esslingen, was hailed after her death as the city’s courageous savior.
This story has a kernel of truth:
Anna Catharina really did come to Esslingen in 1683, 5 years before Mélac, and also served him in the “Goldenen Adler”. Catharina gave way to Mélac’s advances, but whether she did this out of concern for the city or the need to keep the general happy is unclear. The relationship even produced a son that died before turning a year old. Although Catharina had lost her honor, society once again accepted her into their ranks. She married the Adler innkeeper Rutenberger in 1691 and they had one son. Catharina married again after the death of her husband in 1700. "The girl of Esslingen" died in April 1743 at the age of 75.
(Freely retold based on: Dorothee Bayer, Esslinger Heimatbuch, pg. 132 / 134. Esslingen, 1982.)
The Legend of the Katharina Linden Tree
The Holy Katharina of Alexandria was the Patron Saint of Esslingen’s hospital, a care facility for the poor and ill that was founded in the first half of the 13th century. She was broken on the wheel and beheaded in the year 307.
According to legend, Katharina supposedly evaded her pursuers and managed to travel from Alexandria in Egypt all the way to Esslingen. It was here that she was caught and deported back to Alexandria, where she died a martyr's death. Before her death, she bequeathed her assets to the Esslingen Hospital. Esslingen’s Katharina Hospital even has the same coat of arms as Saint Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai.
Another legend claims that Katharina was executed directly after her capture, right near the place where the Katharina Linden Tree now stands. She asked the judge for a trial by ordeal: She said he should plant a Linden tree upside down with the branches facing downwards and the stem upwards. If the tree withered, her guilt would be proven. However, should the tree begin to bloom and its roots begin to green, she would be proven innocent. The tree did bloom and was known from that point on as the Katharina Linden Tree. After her subsequent death, Saint Katharina was buried beneath this tree.
([Freely shortened and slightly adapted] Dorothee Bayer, Esslinger Heimatbuch, pg. 135-136. Esslingen, 1982.)
The Crocodile and the Devil in the Hospital Wine Press
“[The wealthy Katharina Hospital once had a state wine press because it owned numerous vineyards. Many of the city’s inhabitants offered their help for the grape harvest and apparently lined their own pockets as well.] This story is supposed to have taken place during the 1580s. It was once again peak season in the hospital wine press, […and people were cheating and stealing] when the sound of a loud bang was heard and a small, raven-black man flew out from the darkness of the scantily lit cellar. Giggling, he sat down on the rearmost wine press tree, threatened the people and began to rant and swear. He was the hospital’s cellar spirit and thought it more than high time to make sure things ran as they should. And while the lights of the cellar extinguished, one could hear the screams of those on whose backs a mighty thrashing rained down out of the darkness.
Upset about the outrageous incidents in the hospital wine press, the bailiff consulted with his helpers, including the cellar and wine master. He feared the whole hospital could come into disrepute; had a terrible crocodile not eaten a worker in the hospital cellars beneath the Marktplatz shortly before this incident? […] But of all people, it was the cellar master who the crocodile and devil had left alone. He’s known them for a long time now, he said. He has considered the cellar spirit his friend for some time, and the crocodile has also apparently gotten used to him over time. […] It wasn’t evil spirits, as the bailiff had feared, that were responsible for this dreadful state of affairs. Quite the contrary: the cellar spirit had now once again proved to be his most faithful assistant. He and the crocodile appeared only when it became necessary to restore order in the wine press. The wine master proposed to demolish the angular old wine press and build a new one in which order could be better maintained. And so it was done. As a sign of gratitude for his loyal services, a lasting monument was made for cellar’s spirit, the black devil. This monument can still be seen today on the Kielmeyerhaus.
(From: Dorothee Bayer, Esslinger Heimatbuch, pg. 137-138. Esslingen, 1982. Some passages are freely retold.)