From: Thomas Kettenring
Subject: The Truth About Hansel And Gretel
Organization: FB Physik, Universitaet Kaiserslautern, Germany
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Thomas Kettenring)
This posting should have been finished yesterday, but I didn't make it.
If you want to make a longer thread out of it, please be aware that it is
posted to three groups. It is relevant to sci.skeptic and talk.origins
because it's a fine example of the scientific methods often used there.
[Quotes are my translations from German. TK]
This is a review of a book by Hans Traxler, "Die Wahrheit ueber Haensel
und Gretel", German for "The Truth About Hansel And Gretel". Traxler
relates the story of the amateur archaeologist Georg Ossegg (born 1919
in Prague), who made astonishing discoveries but is, alas, not as
well known as he should be because of the resistence to his ideas
coming from established experts.
Heinrich Schliemann, who refused to look at Homer's Ilias as on a
myth without basis in reality and went to Asia Minor to find the ruins
of Troja using Homer's descriptions, impressed Ossegg deeply, as he
himself had from early childhood taken "fairy tales" as gospel. E.g.
when he was eleven, he made experiments to verify what the Grimm
Brothers had written about the behaviour of sweet porridge when
cooked for longer time, but all his attempts to make the substance
multiply and fill whole streets failed. So he developed another
explanation of the phenomenon described by the Grimms: Hungry people
often suffer from hallucinations.
So from the moment he read a book about Schliemann's life, he was
possessed of the idea of digging up the Witch's hut. In 1945, war
threw him at a location where there were good chances of finding it:
a small village in the Spessart. Later, in 1962, his profession - he
was a school teacher - led him back there, and he remembered the
clues he had found seventeen years ago - people talking of Witches
Wood. Now he started to read Grimms' Fairy Tales as a documentary
The father, "a poor lumberjack [..] (lived) in front of a big forest."
Where else should a lumberjack live? The first sentence that gives
a - very encrypted - geographical hint is this:
"Oh father," said Hansel, I'm looking for my white kitten, it
is sitting on the roof and wants to say goodbye." The woman
said: "Fool, that's not your kitten, it's the morning sun
shining on the chimney."
Ossegg infers that the chimney must have been in back light, as that
can easily result in such an illusion. Therefore the lumberjack's
house must be east of the forest. From the geographic properties of
the Spessart mountain range he concludes that the house must be on a
Then luck led Georg Ossegg to the path the lumberjack's family once
trod. Strolling through the forest, he had a strange feeling, and
suddenly it came back to him: he knew this path. An illustration
from 1818 he found in one of his Grimm editions exactly depicted
the trees. The illustration and a photo are shown in Traxler's
book: they are remarkably similar.
The scientist followed the path to the east but it ended on a
field. Hansel's and Gretel's parental house doesn't exist anymore.
It was pulled down in 1954 when the Autobahn Frankfurt-Wuerzburg
was built. The last owner, a Georg Scheidthauer, got a
compensation of 18,760 DM. In the book there is a photo of Ossegg
pointing to the place where the house once was (designated by white
lines), with the motorway in the background.
The next problem was where to search for the resting place. The text
says "we will.. lead the kids out into the forest where it's
thickest; there we will make a fire for them..!" That's clearly
nonsense. No lumberjack would make a fire in the forest "where
it's thickest". Ossegg therefore looked for a big clearing.
To this behalf, he proceeded as the text said: he filled an eight-
year old boy's trouser pockets with pebbles "the size of Batzen
(coins)." The boy started at the place where the house once was
and dropped a stone everytime when he was barely able to see the
last one. But the experiment failed: there was no clearing.
When Ossegg repeated it, this time dropping the pebbles himself,
he found a meadow when the stones were used up.
As an adult has a wider horizon than an eight-year old, the distance
between two pebbles was greater, and that prolonged the way to the
resting place. Ossegg had to conclude that Hansel and Gretel were
not children but had the size of adults. The Grimm Brothers had
manipulated the text.
Soon he found more evidence, as a rope around a tree (25 m above
the ground; it was later carbon dated to be 315 years old). That
was the tree about which the text says, "since they heard the blows
of the axe, they believed their father was close by. But it wasn't
the axe but a branch he had tied to a tree which was moved by the
Through systematical search Ossegg finally found the remains of the
Witch's house. The book shows many photos: Ossegg working at the
site, the partly burnt female skeleton found in one of the ovens,
a reconstruction of the house, baking tools, a gingerbread recipe,
fossilized gingerbread, and a broken doorhinge - the first evidence
that Hansel and Gretel had violently intruded into the house.
"Two adults, seemingly by chance, come to a lone house in the woods
and kill the woman dwelling there. Why?" Ossegg asks himself.
The clue lies in the gingerbread recipe he finds *hidden in a niche
in the wall*. By logical steps he reaches the conclusion that the
"witch" - rather an ingenious confectioner - lived in the woods
because she had reason to distrust other confectioners who were
envious of her invention, a then unheard-of delicacy called
"Lebkuchen" (gingerbread). According to Ossegg, the "witch" was
killed by a colleague who found her at her hiding place. But he
didn't find what he was after: the recipe was hidden in the wall,
and three centuries later Georg Ossegg found it.
Piece after piece the puzzle assembles. Evaluating the dialect in
the witch's first spoken text in the tale "Knuper, knuper, kneischen,
wer knupert an meinem Haeuschen?" Ossegg finds she must come from
the area around Wernigerode, Harz. In the archives he finds the
"Wernigerode manuscript", which describes the interrogation of a
Katharina Schraderin, called "the baker witch" (Wirkliche &
akkurateste Beschreybung der hoch Notpeinlichen Befragung der
Katharina Schraderin genant die Bakkerhexe).
The whole picture:
Katharina invents the gingerbread. Hans Metzler, a colleague,
tries to marry her to get at the recipe, but she doesn't want him.
So he denounces her as a witch, and she is interrogated by the
inquisition and found innocent (as told by the Wernigerode
manuscript). Failing that, Metzler goes to Katharina's house in
the woods, accompanied by his sister Grete as a false witness, and
kills Katharina Schraderin. He doesn't find the recipe, so the
murder was unnecessary. All he can find is some Lebkuchen; he
takes them with him and tries to bake his own.
Metzler is tried for murder, but somehow the judges believe his
version of the man-eating witch, and he is found innocent.
He goes to Nuremberg, where he spreads them as the famous Nuernberger
Lebkuchen. (Ossegg used Katharina's recipe to make some Lebkuchen;
they taste similar to, but not quite the same as, Nuernberger
Lebkuchen.) He dies as a wealthy citizen.
Some facts point to the hypothesis that the Grimm Brothers knew the
truth, but concealed it for ethical reasons.
Traxler's book is one of my favourites. That's how science should
be - serious but interesting!
Hans Traxler, Die Wahrheit ueber Haensel und Gretel
(c) 1978, Zweitausendeins Versand Dienst GmbH, Postfach, 6000
Frankfurt/Main 61 Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag, 1983, 1987
thomas kettenring, 3 dan, kaiserslautern, germany
Johannes Scotus Eriugena, the greatest European philosopher of
the 9th century, said that if reason and authority conflict,
reason should be given preference. And if that doesn't sound
reasonable to you, you'll just have to accept it.
The Truth About Hansel And Gretel
Organization: Memorial University of Newfoundland
From: email@example.com (Hans Rollmann)
Your Haensel and Gretel posting from 2 April was supposed to be finished
yesterday. That's April 1st?! Need I say more! Not bad.